Sermon for Sunday, November 23, 2014 || Christ the King, Year A || Matthew 25:31-46
When I was a kid, there was a series of books called the Magic Eye books. Each page of these books was filled with what looked like very precise and geometric versions of Jackson Pollock’s art work. The pictures were just jumbles of kaleidoscopic lines and shapes, and if you didn’t know any better, that’s all you saw. But the trick with these books was that if you looked at the pictures a different way – sort of squint a bit – then you saw an image hiding beneath the jumbled surface picture. I’ll let you in on a little secret: I never once saw anything besides the geometric Jackson Pollock’s. No matter how often I lied to my friends and said, “Of course, I can see the person walking the dog,” I just could never get my eyes to focus correctly to see the hidden images. Let me tell you, it was quite frustrating.
Every single day, we live in a world like the Magic Eye books, and the feast we celebrate today reminds us of the true picture buried beneath the jumble of lines and shapes. The foundation of our existence is the reign of our king Jesus Christ. This fundamental reality of existence is, if you will, the image concealed beneath the geometric Jackson Pollock. The kingdom of Christ is our true home; this is where we live and move and have our being. But most of us spend much of our time seeing only the jumble of lines and shapes, all the clatter of this broken world that redirects our attention away from the reign of Christ. I could never see the image hidden in the Magic eye, and my success rate at perceiving the reign of Christ in our midst isn’t much better.
And yet, I believe Christ isn’t through with me yet. Unlike other kings, who might have cast me from their service upon my first failure, Jesus, in his mercy, gives me a second chance. And then a third chance. And then a fourth chance. That’s what mercy is, by the way. Mercy is the action of giving someone another chance.
In today’s Gospel lesson, neither the sheep nor the goats see into the heart of the Magic Eye picture. When the king says those famous words about being hungry and thirsty and alien and naked and sick and imprisoned, both groups ask, “Lord, when was it?” When did we see you in these circumstances? And he responds, “That was me. I was there shining from within the least of those who are members of my family.” One group serves and the other does not, but neither group knows whom they, at least, have the potential to serve. They do not have Kingdom Eyes. They do not see the presence of Christ buried beneath the need.
When we see those who are in need, we have so many different reactions. We might cringe and turn away. Or we might be spurred to help, to show compassion. We might be paralyzed by indifference. Or we might reach out in love. We might wonder where the reign of Christ is in the face of so much need. And that’s when we need to pray for Kingdom Eyes, so that, with God’s help, we can see the presence of Christ in the least of the members of Christ’s family. And in witnessing that presence be spurred to help, to show compassion, to reach out in love.
But even when we witness God’s presence amongst the need in this world, even when we see the image hidden beneath the Magic Eye picture, we are not guaranteed to respond in a way that makes the reign of Christ more complete in this broken world. And this is where the mercy of Christ returns to this sermon. You see, none of us is a sheep or a goat. It’s just not that cut and dried. Sometimes we act like one and sometimes like the other. But Christ is not through with us yet. We have a second chance to respond with compassion when we see Christ’s presence in the least of these. And then we have a third chance. And then we have a fourth chance. That’s what mercy is. Through the mercy of God, we have a chance each and every day to respond with compassion when we say, “When was it, Lord? When did we see you? Oh, right there…today…on the street corner.”
The Latin phrase for “Have mercy on me” is Miserere Mei, which is the title of the song I’d like to share with you to close this sermon. This is a song about second and third and fourth chances. It is a song about seeing the reign of Christ in the midst of need and praying for the will to engage that need.
Miserere Mei, by Adam Thomas
Lord, I saw you yesterday
You were holding a cardboard sign near the highway
I tried not to notice when you looked at me
All I saw were a duffel bag and tattered jeans
I looked without seeing
I felt without feeling
You were so easy to ignore
How can I stand here being
A rich man while I’m stealing
The lives of the least of these your children, Lord?
Lord, I saw you on the TV screen
Your belly distended, your arms so lean
You looked at the camera, your dark eyes burned
But I pressed fast-forward till my show returned
I’m all the time pretending
The next time you’ll be sending
Me out to serve is not today
But I feel my lethargy is ending
My tattered heart is mending
When next I see you Lord help me not to turn away.
Lord, I saw you at the hospital
You were lying in a bed surrounded by white-coated people
You watched me standing frozen at the door
I was looking for the courage to take one step more
I feel myself regressing
My lack of faith is pressing
Me to rely on self alone
I am always second-guessing
When I should be confessing
That I will trust your strength O Lord and not my own
Lord have mercy on me.