Grace to you and peace from God Our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.
Pastor Alan Watt
If you were here last
Sunday, you might remember I mentioned how much I love reading bumper
stickers—because sometimes they’re funny and sometimes they say a lot about
people. Here’s one I saw when Deborah and I lived in Sarasota, Florida. In
bright colors it read: “Jesus is Lord over Sarasota!” That sounds great,
doesn’t it? At the time it reminded me that we Christians indeed believe that
Christ is Lord over all the earth. So, when seeing that sticker, I imagined
there were probably similar ones for cities throughout the country.
At the same time,
while we would in one way agree with the message on that sticker, we also would
have to admit that, by the look of things, it certainly doesn’t seem
that way. In other words, the world doesn’t seem to reflect, to be at all in
step with what we read, for example, in this passage from Paul’s Letter to the
…at the name of Jesus
every knee should bend,
in heaven and on earth and
and under the earth,
and every tongue should confess
that Jesus Christ is Lord…[i]
Sadly, the world
doesn’t seem all that different today than in ages past. To be sure, it is in
terms of advancements in medical science, in all kinds of time-saving devices,
and so on. But throughout history one constant, one unchanging reality, is human
nature, which means that many people are just as greedy, power-seeking,
mean-spirited, and indifferent as they have always been. If Jesus is Lord over a
city in Florida and, for that matter, everywhere else on earth, then why
doesn’t it look that way?
I was reminded of that
last week when someone asked me about this day in the church year. The question
was, “How did Christ the King Sunday become part of this liturgical season?
Where did it come from?” As often happens in this time of my life, I had to
refresh my memory, which means I ended up googling it—looking it up on the
internet. Some of you might be interested in its origin. Unlike other special
Sundays that we celebrate, Christ the King is, in its background, relatively
modern. It was established less than a hundred years ago—by the pope of that
time. “In the aftermath of World War I,” he recognized that, while battles
were no longer being waged, true peace still did not exist. Hostilities remained
among a number of nations. For instance, Communism in Russia was expanding far
beyond its borders. And in Germany, the National Socialist Workers’
Party—that is, the Nazi Party—was already growing in popularity. In
contrast, increasing numbers of people seemed to be turning away from the
Church. So the pope “instituted the feast of Christ the King…to remind
Christians that their ultimate allegiance was to their spiritual ruler in heaven
as opposed to” their rulers on earth.[ii]
After another World War and hundreds of conflicts since then and up to
the very present, we continue to need reminding that Jesus is Lord of all.
So it’s up to us to
remember “that Christ must reign in our hearts, in our minds, in our wills,
and in our bodies.”[iii]
And today’s gospel does that in an unmistakable way. Jesus predicts just what
the king of kings will be looking for when returning to his people—when it
comes to those who are hungry, thirsty, naked, sick, or in prison. “Truly I
tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my
family you did it to me.’”
Those words say it
all, don’t they? Yet they also can sound overwhelming, as in this story. A
priest and a deacon are sitting in a parish office, having a conversation. Then,
looking outside, the deacon sees an old, stooped-over man with long, unkempt
hair and beard to match. Wearing tattered clothes and worn–out shoes, he’s
making his way up the road toward the office.
The deacon asks the
priest: “Say, do you know who that fellow is who’s making his way to the
Leaning over his desk
to look through the window, the priest sees the man, nods his head, and answers
with a sigh: “Yes, I do. It’s Jesus—the fourth one this week.”
Sometimes living under
the kingship of Christ can seem like an insurmountable task: We might say to
ourselves: “What difference can I make? How much is truly expected of me? What
if I end up neglecting myself?”
These are all
reasonable questions. And the needs out there are so great. We all have our
limits. We all have our own needs to care for.
Yet God still gives us
more resources, more abilities, more energy than we might think we have. And we
have a wonderful testimony to that in a short story by Leo Tolstoy—the Russian
author best known for his novels, such as War
and Peace. The story related to today’s gospel is entitled, “Where Love
Is, God Is.” Here’s a version of it.
In a…town there
lived a cobbler, Martin…by name. He had a tiny room in a basement,
the…window of which looked out onto the street. Through it one could…see the
feet of those who passed by, and Martin recognized the people by their
boots….There was hardly a pair of boots in the town that had not been once or
twice in his hands….he worked well, used good material, and did not charge too
much…; so he was well known and never short of work.
Martin had always been
a good man; but he suffered great losses in his life… His wife had died,
leaving him with a young son… No sooner had the boy reached an age when he
could help his father...as well as be a joy to him, than he too fell ill
and…died. Martin gave way to despair so great…that he prayed again and again
that he too might die…
One day an old man
from Martin’s home village stopped to see him on his way back from a
pilgrimage. Martin opened his heart to him, telling him of his sorrow….The old
man replied, “God gives you life, and you must live for Him. Read the
Gospels…You have it all there.”
That same day Martin
bought himself a Bible and began reading….He continued reading every night,
and the more he read the more clearly he understood…how he might live for God.
And his heart grew lighter and lighter….His life became more peaceful and
One night, while he
was sleeping, Martin suddenly heard a voice, and he woke up. “Who’s
there?” he asked. He…looked at the door, but no one was there.
Then however he heard
quite distinctly: “Martin…! Look out into the street tomorrow, for I shall
He rose from his bed,
rubbing his eyes,…not knowing whether he had heard these words in a dream or
awake. He…lay back down to sleep.
Next morning…he sat
by the window…and whenever anyone passed in unfamiliar boots he would stoop
and look up, so as to see not only the feet…, but also the face of each
passerby…A street cleaner passed by, wearing new...boots. Soon an old man came
near the window, shovel in hand and shabby shoes on his feet….His job was to
help the street cleaner and so he began clearing the snow in front of the
…after Martin had
done some more work, he again looked out the window…The old man had leaned his
shovel against the wall, and was…resting himself, trying to get warm. So
Martin…made some tea. Then he tapped the window. When the man came nearby,
Martin beckoned to him to come inside, going to open the door.
“Come in,” Martin
said, “and warm yourself…sit down, and have some tea.” Filling 2 cups, he
passed one to his visitor, who quickly emptied it...“Have another…,” While
he drank it, Martin kept looking out into the street.
“Are you expecting
someone?” asked the visitor. Then Martin told him about his dream and the man
was deeply moved. After a time of silence the man thanked him, saying
“You have given me…comfort both for soul and body.” Then he got up and
Martin returned to his
work, stitching the…seam of a boot, but also looking out…the window, waiting
for Christ…Two policemen walked by, wearing government boots…; then a master
of a nearby house, in shining galoshes…Finally a young woman came up
in…peasant-made shoes….Martin glanced up at her through the window, seeing
that she was a stranger, poorly dressed, and with a baby in her arms. She
stopped by the wall with her back to the wind, trying to wrap the baby up,
though she had hardly anything to wrap it in….
Martin rose and, going
out of the door and up the steps, he called to her. The woman…turned around.
“Why do you stand out there with your baby in the cold? Come inside. You can
wrap it up better in a warm place. Please, this way”…Down the steps they
went into the apartment. “There, sit down…near the stove. Warm
yourself…” He left, soon returning with some bread and a bowl of soup that
he then heated for her. While she ate, he held her baby.
Soon she told him her
story. She spoke about how her husband was a soldier, who had received orders to
leave for a faraway place. When her baby was born, she lost her job, but had
found a new one she was about to start.
Then Martin got up. He
went and looked among some things…hanging on the wall and brought back an old
cloak. “Here,” he said, “though it’s old, it will keep your little one
warm.” She answered, “The Lord bless you, friend.” Martin then told her
his dream, and how…the Lord had promised to visit him that day. “Who knows?
All things are possible,” said the woman And she got up and threw the cloak
over her shoulders, wrapping it round both herself and her baby and he saw them
Sitting down to work
again, he watched every time a shadow fell on the window to see who was
passing….After a while Martin saw an old woman selling apples…Only a few,
however, were still left in the basket. When she sat it down on the path to rest
her arms, a boy…ran up, snatched an apple…, and turned to run away. But the
old woman…caught the boy by his sleeve, holding it tightly with both hands.
She began threatening to take him to the police.
Martin rushed out the
door and up the steps….“Woman,” he said, “forgive him for taking the
apple….He won’t do it again. Let him go!” She released her hands from his
clothes. Before the boy could run away,…Martin stopped him, saying, “Ask for
her forgiveness!...And don’t do it again.” And the boy began to…beg for
“God bids us to
forgive,” said Martin, “or else we shall not be forgiven. Forgive every one,
and a thoughtless child most of all. ”The boy then offered to carry her basket
for her. She gave it to him, and they went down the street together….
When they were out of
sight, he went back down into his apartment. Soon he noticed the lamplighter of
the town passing on his way to light the street lamps….So Martin} gathered his
tools,…put them away, and lighting his own lamp, placed it on the table. He
took the Bible down from the shelf. Suddenly the book opened up all on its
No sooner had it
happened than he seemed to hear footsteps…Martin turned round…and saw
people…standing in a dark corner…A voice whispered out to him. “Who is
it?” he asked.
“It is I,” said
the voice. And out of the…corner stepped the old man with the shovel who
smiled and then vanished.
“It is I,” said
the voice again. And out of the darkness stepped the young woman with the
baby…and she smiled and the baby laughed, and they too vanished.
“It is I,” said
the voice once more. The old woman and the boy stepped out and both smiled, and
then they too vanished….
Although startled by
his visitors, Martin quickly took his Bible to begin reading at the place where
it had opened.
I was hungry, and ye gave me meat. I was thirsty, and ye
gave me drink. I was a stranger, and ye took me in….Inasmuch as ye did it unto
one of these my brethren, even these least, ye did it unto me.
grew glad….He understood that his dream had come true; the Savior had really
come to him that day, and he had welcomed him.[iv]
Whenever we see,
whenever we do, the same, we know that Jesus is indeed Lord over all the world.
We don’t experience it in a bombastic, flashy way. Instead, we feel it, we
sense it, as a quiet power that endures in spite of so many other things—ugly,
violent things—going on around us.
Christ will come again
in all his glory, in his own good time. We know he will come, for among
ourselves we have already witnessed signs of his return.