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 Philippians:

            …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 door?”

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 joyful….

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 come.”

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 basement window….

…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 left.

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 out.

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 her pardon.

“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 own….

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.

…Martin’s soul 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.

 

[i] Philippians 2:10-11a.

 

[ii]https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Christ_the_King.

 

[iii]http://thepracticingcatholic.com/2011/11/20/catholicism-101-the-history-of-christ-the-king/.

 

[iv]http://www.online-literature.com/tolstoy/2892.