There’s something I feel I should make clear, right at the very beginning of what I have to say this morning.
Everyone is welcome at St. George’s. Every single human being. Every single child of God. Everyone.
Now, when I say that, I suspect many of you immediately think of people who are marginalized, those who have often found themselves unwelcome in other spaces. And that’s an absolutely true conclusion to draw. Those who are poor, those who are victims of oppression or bigotry, those whose customs and accents are unfamiliar to us, all are utterly welcome.
But I’m also referring to another group of people you may not have thought of so quickly, when I spoke those words of unambiguous welcome. I meant those who disagree with me, as well. Those of you who may hold views that deviate from mine, about matters big or small, all of you are just as welcome and your place at God’s table is set, too.
I say that because such things cannot be taken for granted right now in our country. It serves no purpose to pretend otherwise, either. Truths demand acknowledgement, even if they are hard. And it is a hard truth, but truth nonetheless, that many, many people in this nation are feeling unhappy and afraid and as though they do not understand the people around them.
This is true of people who agree with me. This is, I believe, also true of people who disagree with me.
If there’s one thing the kingdom of God must do, it is supplant all human divisions. If there’s one role God’s church must play, it is to be a sanctuary for all. If there is one word God’s message must convey, it is love. For everyone.
With all that said, however, there are other truths to acknowledge. There are other roles the church must play, too. And we must all abide together as those truths are spoken, and as the church does its work.
It’s not an easy thing, navigating those waters. It’s not easy to speak things that I believe need speaking, yet acknowledging that there any many who may disagree, and who not only need to be welcomed but know without a doubt that they always will be.
God never promised us an easy go of things, however.
There’s no truer example of this than Jesus Christ, of course. Today is the day we celebrate his kingship, the feast day of Christ the King. But let’s look at the form his kingship takes. Look at the reading we have from our Gospel.
We don’t see Jesus riding triumphantly into Jerusalem. We don’t see him rising from the waters of the Jordan to hear the voice of heaven proclaiming God’s favor. We don’t even see the risen Lord ascending into heaven to take his place upon a throne.
We see him hanging on a cross. We see him mocked. We see the only person to acknowledge his kingship is a criminal hanging on a cross alongside him.
It’s not an image that aligns with our usual picture of kings. No crown except of thorns. No throne. No banners or armies.
But of course, we think of Jesus’ kingdom in different terms. We modify the rules in our heads for a spiritual kingdom, a kingdom of heaven. We maintain a separate set of expectations for rulers here on earth. Kings on earth are meant to be powerful. They build castles and hide us within the ramparts. We hope they will be just, too, but above all else the kings of this world are mighty.
I challenge that dual set of expectations.
I believe with my whole heart that leaders of this world should follow a Christ-like example. (This doesn’t mean I expect all world leaders to be Christian! I can think of several world leaders throughout history who lived and led in a Christ-like manner despite adhering to other religions.) I don’t believe that our expectations of love, mercy or justice should diminish for those we choose to lead our nation.
Christ showed compassion to the least of those who sought after him. So should our leaders. Christ welcomed strangers to his side and saw in despised foreigners the potential to be neighbors. So should our leaders. Christ put the welfare of God’s children ahead of his own interests. So should our leaders.
The words of Jeremiah are unambiguous when it comes to leaders who don’t meet godly standards.
“Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! says the Lord.”
God isn’t talking about the wolves or thieves that may menace a flock. God is talking to the shepherds. And when the coming of Jesus is foretold later in the prophecy, it’s righteousness and justice that are used to define the kind of king he will be.
These are the truths we’re told about the kind of king Jesus is. These are the things we believe that make him worthy of being followed. These are the things we should expect of our leaders even now.
It’s troubling to consider that saying these things may have a controversial tenor to it. I’d hope reading the lessons in scripture about the kingship of Christ and what they mean for our leaders now would be pretty straightforward, quite honestly. Yet I fear we are in times where things I consider straightforward may sound controversial anyhow.
But no matter how divergent our views about the world around us may be, we are gathered under the rule of one God. There is one kingdom to which we all eternally belong. In the days ahead, the weeks ahead, the months and years ahead, let us cling to that truth above all else.
All of us are children of God. All of us are welcome here. All of us have a place at the table.
All of us. Amen.