When I needed a neighbour

Celebrating ‘Christ the King’!

I’ll admit I struggle with the language of Kings and Queens, because of the inevitable inference that there are those who are not Kings and Queens. The rest of us. God described it well to Samuel when the elders of Israel came and asked for the King to reign over them. God said, this is how your King will behave:

He will use your sons in his army. He will make them build weapons of war. He will make them farm for him and will take all the best for himself. Your daughters will cook for him. He will take 10% of the best of everything that you have. You will complain to God about your King, but God won’t listen.

1 Samuel 8:11-18

If that is what a King will be like, then “no thanks” is my answer.

But at this moment I say to myself. Stop, Graeme. Stop. This is Jesus we’re talking about. Jesus who died on a cross rather than bring down all the angels of heaven to fight for his life. Jesus who said, Father, forgive them: they don’t know what they’re doing. There, on the cross, Jesus forgave us. Now a King who would die for me, when I’m the enemy, is a King I would be honoured to serve.

Christ the King: Don’t forget that ‘Christ’ isn’t Jesus’ surname; it is a Latin term roughly meaning God’s anointed one sent to save us, our saviour the King, the Hebrew word is Messiah. Thinking about having a ‘Saviour’ as a King is helpful in understanding the reading from the Old Testament, where the Prophet Ezekiel, says:

‘I, The Lord God, will search for them. I will rescue them and bring them to their own land. I will feed them and give them a safe place to live. They shall rest and have the richest food. I myself will look after them, I will find them when they are lost, and I will bind up their wounds when they are injured. I will strengthen those who are weak.’

Ezekiel 34

“I will rescue them from where they are lost.”

Then into this story comes Jesus, the Messiah, the Christ: God’s anointed saviour:

Jesus recalls Ezekiel’s story, and, referring to the glory and power that he will have when he returns says that he will gather them from where they are lost, and they will inherit the kingdom that has been set aside for them. ‘Inherit the Kingdom…’, only the heirs of the current King get to inherit their Father’s Kingdom and here Jesus is saying that this Kingdom is there to be inherited.

By whom?

By those Jesus has sought out. How will Jesus recognise his people? Jesus talked about sheep in the story… Did you know that 2000 years ago it was difficult to tell sheep and goats apart? If you do not believe me, have a search for “Jacob’s Sheep” on Google – they are very goat-like.

So how will Jesus recognise those who love him? Can you remember the old hymn by the pacifist Sydney Carter, “When I needed a neighbour, Were you there, were you there?” Can you remember the chorus? “The creed, the colour, the name won’t matter…” we’d use different language these days, but basically;

  • The creed, the things we say we believe, that won’t matter
  • The way we look, the shallowness of our skin, what our background is, it won’t matter
  • The name, the labels we give oursleves – it doesn’t matter

We need to move beyond shallow judgements and look at what Jesus will see: “When I needed a neighbour were you there, were you there?”

Jesus says, “Feed the hungry. Give drink to the thirsty. Welcome strangers. Clothe those who are naked. Visit the sick. Visit those who are imprisoned.” It is all summed up in the two commandments: “Love God and love you neighbour”:

  • The creed… what we say we believe… it won’t matter.
  • The shallowness of what we look like… it won’t matter.
  • The labels we use to describe ourselves… it doesn’t matter.

Feed the hungry.

Give drink to the thirsty.

Welcome strangers.

Clothe those who are naked.

Visit the sick.

Visit those who are imprisoned.

Then regardless of anything else: Christ will call himself your King and you will inherit the Kingdom God is preparing for you. Amen.

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