I always wanted to be a knight. That was my boyhood dream. My father had this Civil War sword that hung on the wall and when no one was watching I would take it down and sneak off into the woods. There I would slay dragons, rescue maidens in distress and discover great mysteries. The books I read as a boy fed these childhood fantasies. I loved King Arthur, the Knights of the Round Table and the quest for the Holy Grail. I loved The Narnia Tales and I imagined myself a faithful knight for King Aslan battling the forces of darkness. I read and reread all of Tolkien’ s works. I yearned to fight beside Aragorn and Gimli, to be a part of a great fellowship on a mission to save all that is good and holy and right in the world. I yearned to be noble and pure of heart and willing to give it all. These stories and books would sometimes move me to tears. I would read a chapter and be so full of emotion that I would grab that sword and run off into the woods. There I would swing it for what seemed like hours, battling evil, holding my ground, giving my allegiance to the King and his higher calling.
These were not militaristic fantasies. It wasn’ t the slaying of dragons or the fighting of Orcs that I found so important. These boyhood daydreams can’ t be reduced to the pull of testosterone, some fascination with violence, or the desire to play war. No, even then I knew that what moved me so much was the idea of being part of something bigger than myself, being part of something great and noble and giving my life to that cause. What moved me was finding a King I could kneel before, to whose allegiance I could swear, for whose cause I could live and die. I can remember feeling so sad every time I finished one of those books; not only because the story was over but because real life seemed so different here there were no great Kings or Queens worthy of my allegiance. Good and evil wasn’ t as clear in this life as it was in those wonderful books. No one needed knights any longer. Eventually I put the sword back up on the wall and didn’ t take it down anymore. As I grew older these beloved books gathered dust on my shelves. At the time I thought I was putting aside my childish ways and growing up. I know now that actually I was giving up the only dream that ever made any sense and letting go of the only calling that ever set my blood on fire.
Today is the last Sunday of the church year; it is called Christ the King Sunday. Next Sunday is the first Sunday of Advent and the beginning of another liturgical year. Our lessons for today are like a last plea, a last proclamation to all of us to get the message, to hear the news, to understand fully what Christian discipleship is all about. We have been building towards today’ s gospel for weeks. Sunday after Sunday we have been hearing lessons of warning, lessons of judgment, lessons of preparation. Week after week we have been getting our orders, Jesus has been giving us instructions, the lessons building upon one another preparing us for today. We’ ve been told the greatest commandments to love God with all our heart and soul and mind and to love our neighbor as ourselves. We’ ve been told that to be leaders we must be servants, that to be great is to always serve others. We’ ve been told that we have been given immensely valuable talents and as God’ s servants we only fail our King if we fail to use those talents. And then today it all comes to a head. In today’ s lesson Jesus tells us about a King who not only cares about the suffering but who identifies himself directly with the hungry and the poor, the stranger and the prisoner. Not only should we love God and love our neighbor – but when we love our neighbor we are in fact loving God. We are told that we will be judged and it is the doing of faith and not just the having of faith that will form the basis of our final judgment.
And here lies the heart of the Gospel. On this last Sunday of the year it is all tied up neatly for us. When we see the suffering, the poor, the lost and the needy we see God. It is that simple. And when we love and care for these people our King tells us that we are in fact loving and caring for God. Conversely, when we fail to clothe the naked we fail to clothe God. When we fail to feed the hungry we fail to feed God. When we fail to offer hospitality to the stranger we fail to welcome God. When we fail to care for the sick and the prisoner we fail to care for God. In this climactic passage Jesus tells us that worshipping God and compassion for the suffering are the same thing. We can’ t worship God without serving others and when we serve others we are in fact taking part in the holiest of worship.
For me these are some of the most important words in the Bible. Because it is here that I found that great and worthy King I yearned to serve as a child. It is in these words that I found a quest worth taking, a cause worth living and dying for. The great stories of my youth aren’ t fairytales that end sitting on the shelf they are in fact stories that lie at the center of life. We are the knights; we are the princes and princesses, the children of our King. We are not those of noble birth, rather we are those of noble re-birth. We have been knighted not by the sword but by the waters of baptism. My childhood yearnings have some true. There is a cause bigger than ourselves, one worth fighting for, one worth our allegiance, worth our lives. There is a quest the quest to give love in a world no less threatened by evil than the most gruesome tales about Camelot or Middle Earth. It isn’ t a sword of steel that we need but these two hands of flesh put to work in service.
Why do so many people love that old hymn Onward Christian Soldiers? Some would say it is because we too often confuse faith with patriotism, because we have these militaristic urges. But I disagree. I think this old hymn is so beloved because deep down inside all of us crave something larger than ourselves worth fighting for. We crave something grand, something heroic, something noble. Well we have it. As servants of a King who lays down his life for the weakest among us, we have it in abundance. The truth is the Holy Grail waits to be found. Not the Holy Grail of The Da Vinci Code, but the Holy Grail found in the empty pockets and purses of the poor, in the tears of the hungry and the lost, in the despair of prisoners and in the cries of the oppressed.
On this Christ the King Sunday we should do as St. Paul says in his letter to the Ephesians. Let us take up the whole armor of God, fastening the belt of truth around our waists, and putting on the breastplate of righteousness. As shoes for our feet we should wear whatever will make us ready to proclaim the gospel of peace. And with all of these, let us take up the shield of faith, the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit. Because our King is good, his justice is sure and his quest is worth the offering of our lives. Amen.