The Raggedy King
Sermon delivered at Dayton First United Methodist Church, November 23, 2014
31 “Now when the Human One[a] comes in his majesty and all his angels are with him, he will sit on his majestic throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered in front of him. He will separate them from each other, just as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.33 He will put the sheep on his right side. But the goats he will put on his left.
34 “Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who will receive good things from my Father. Inherit the kingdom that was prepared for you before the world began.35 I was hungry and you gave me food to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger and you welcomed me. 36 I was naked and you gave me clothes to wear. I was sick and you took care of me. I was in prison and you visited me.’
37 “Then those who are righteous will reply to him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you a drink? 38 When did we see you as a stranger and welcome you, or naked and give you clothes to wear? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’
40 “Then the king will reply to them, ‘I assure you that when you have done it for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you have done it for me.’
41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Get away from me, you who will receive terrible things. Go into the unending fire that has been prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 I was hungry and you didn’t give me food to eat. I was thirsty and you didn’t give me anything to drink. 43 I was a stranger and you didn’t welcome me. I was naked and you didn’t give me clothes to wear. I was sick and in prison, and you didn’t visit me.’
44 “Then they will reply, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison and didn’t do anything to help you?’ 45 Then he will answer, ‘I assure you that when you haven’t done it for one of the least of these, you haven’t done it for me.’ 46 And they will go away into eternal punishment. But the righteous ones will go into eternal life.”
Judging a book by its cover
As a general rule, people are really good at judging books by their covers. I’m not saying this to point fingers at anyone in particular. We all do it, and don’t you dare argue. We have entire industries devoted to judging by physical appearance: the fashion industry, the cosmetic industry, and the beauty pageant industry to name only a few. Now, one can be forgiven for thinking that judgment by appearances is limited to only a few professions and spheres of influence—that’s what we are led to believe, after all. On the contrary, numerous studies have been conducted on the benefits of physical attractiveness.
A study from the University of Colorado has found that attractive people are often viewed as being healthier people, as well as being generally perceived as more intelligent, likeable, and trustworthy. Psychology Today found that attractive people are more persuasive than less attractive folks, leading them to be more influential in politics. Not only that, in a study conducted among 300 business executives, the more attractive among them were found to make more money on average. When you look at the numbers, it’s hard to argue that people judged to be more attractive tend to have an advantage in life. It’s no surprise, then, that we want to imbue Jesus Christ with these very same qualities of attractiveness.
Christ the King?
This Sunday, the week before Advent, is commonly known in the church as Christ the King Sunday, a Sunday in which we highlight the identity of Christ as our holy king. It’s an excellent thing to keep in mind as we enter in a season of waiting for the King to come. When we think of Christ as King, we imagine him as one robed in white, resplendent in majesty and beauty, overwhelmingly beautiful and shining with all the glory of heaven. Additionally, we have been conditioned by Hollywood to think of Jesus as a very handsome and attractive person.As a result, what we have most often in popular portrayals of Jesus in film, television, and other forms of art is what I like to call “Kenny Loggins Jesus.”
I say that because in most of these portrayals, Jesus looks eerily close to the famous singer/songwriter Kenny Loggins. Long flowing sandy blond or brown hair, full beard, chiseled European facial features, pale skin, Kenny Loggins Jesus has for centuries been the go-to western idea of Jesus. Why is this?
Well, for the most part, the Kenny Loggins Jesus only emerged out of the 1500s Renaissance era. European artists fell in love with classical Greek and Roman aesthetic style, from architecture to visual art. Along with that is a fascination for the idealism of beauty best represented by young, symmetrical men and women, and we have a new archetype for Our Lord and Savior. As artists continued to do this, over time, a tradition developed of portraying Kenny Loggins Jesus, until it became the default. All this is to say that, if we take a close eye to scripture, and how scripture talks about Jesus, we would see that this is pretty far from how Jesus actually was, and even less how Jesus wants us to see him
Who others saw
I want to first go back a ways and look at the book of Isaiah, chapter 53. In here we see predictions about the Messiah, the one who is to come. Now, in all fairness to the text, while Isaiah is a prophet and speaks great truths about God, we have to keep something in mind. Prophets in the Bible are usually never making predictions about the future. Instead, they are talking about the injustices and the evils that they see in THEIR TIME going on around them, and warning of the consequences of these evils. So when we see Isaiah talking here about how “God’s Power” or “The Lord’s Arm” is revealed, what he’s talking about is the kind of person that he sees being mistreated in his own time.
The first thing he talks about is that this person is NOT ATTRACTIVE. Isaiah 53:2 says: “He possessed no splendid form for us to see, no desirable appearance.” People didn’t like to see him, and didn’t want to see him. In other words, he probably wasn’t handsome, let alone did he look like Kenny Loggins. Going further, we see that when the Messiah comes, we’re going to hate him. Isaiah 53:3 states:
“He was despised and avoided by others;
a man who suffered, who knew sickness well.
Like someone from whom people hid their faces,
he was despised, and we didn’t think about him.
Now, it doesn’t say that he WAS sick, he just knew sickness well–and suffered greatly for it.
Now I want to point your attention to this next set of verses because it’s very important. It’s going to explain what’s going on, what this sickness is, and why he’s sick, why he suffers so much. Isaiah 53:4-6:
It was certainly our sickness that he carried,
and our sufferings that he bore,
but we thought him afflicted,
struck down by God and tormented.
5 He was pierced because of our rebellions
and crushed because of our crimes.
He bore the punishment that made us whole;
by his wounds we are healed.
6 Like sheep we had all wandered away,
each going its own way,
but the Lord let fall on him all our crimes.
This Messiah we are looking forward to? This savior? This king we so desperately want? We’re going to hate him. Why? Because he REMINDS US OF OUR OWN SICKNESS. He’s going to come, and he’s going to emerge, not up from the heavens, but from our feet, like a root from the dry ground, ground that we’d never expect a root to shoot from. He’s going to come, and we’ll never suspect he’s a king because he doesn’t look like a king; he looks like an average, not especially attractive dude– a solid 5 on a scale from 1-10. We’ll look at him, and we’re going to be ashamed, ashamed because it was us that is reflected in him, and it is our sins that he bears.
That’s how is seen in Isaiah, and the Gospels bear that truth. Nowhere does it talk about how Jesus looks, because his looks were so unremarkable that people just didn’t remark upon it.
Who Jesus wanted us to see
So we’ve talked about how he was seen; but what did Jesus want us to see when we looked at him? Well, for that we go back to Matthew 25, where he starts off saying that when in the fullness of time he comes to us with all the beauty and majesty of God’s throne and heavenly armies, then it’s going to be quiz time.
Now, when people read this passage, we often focus on is the action of Jesus separating people into sheep and goats. While that is a factor of the results of the message, that’s not at all the focus of the message. No, the focus of the message is almost all on WHO JESUS IS, not who we are; who we are is of secondary importance to what Jesus is talking about. If we don’t understand who Jesus is in this passage, we don’t understand this passage
Jesus goes to great, even poetic, lengths to illustrate who he is. He goes on this long excursus on how he has entered each and every one of our lives–and in both cases of sheep and goats, neither side knew who he was. He says that the sheep clothed him when he was naked, fed him when he was hungry, gave him a drink when he was thirsty, took care of him when he was sick, and visited him when he was in prison. The goats, on the other hand, didn’t do that. Each group asked him when this happened, neither side remembering when they did it.To each group he said, when you did it to “the least of these,” you did it to me.
Who is the least of his brothers and sisters? LITERALLY ANYONE could be one. That is the point–Jesus appears to us most often in people we don’t recognize, and honestly, people we wish we sometimes could ignore. Who among us has not, at one point, seen a panhandler on the street and struggled not to make eye contact? Who among us has shrugged when asked if we have spare change? I know I have, and I can almost guarantee you that you have too.
But let’s take it a step further: who among us has not written off a group of people when we hear about them on the news? Who among us has not generalized about the appearances of a person and extrapolated values and actions onto them without knowing them? Who among us would not give a second thought to lumping people into certain categories when they hear about them on the news?
I’m talking to a predominantly white audience here at Dayton First Methodist. (keep that in mind here.)what generalizations, stereotypes, and values to you immediately put upon people when you hear these groups of people?
Black people? What you do to them, you do to Jesus.
Asian people? What you do to them, you do to Jesus.
Mexican people? What you do to them, you do to Jesus.
Let’s try another tack. Undocumented, illegal immigrants? Jesus was not a Roman citizen–in essence, he was an undocumented foreigner in Roman territory. What you do to them, you do to Jesus.
Disabled people? What you do to them, you do to Jesus.
Poor people? Jesus had no home–“the son of man had no place to rest his head.” What you do to them, you do to Jesus.
Middle eastern people? What you do to them, you do to Jesus.
I could literally go on all day, but I think you are beginning to see my point.
So my question to you today is this:
Who do you see?
Jesus, scripturally and historically, does not look like the popular depictions of him in our culture, this is a fact. In fact, if we were to see a picture of him, we probably would not recognize him. Over time, we have sanitized him. Beautified him. Turned him into something that is pleasing to the eye, someone who is appealing, attractive, palatable, familiar, and even comfortable. Jesus was none of these things. Isaiah predicted it, and who he was bears it out.
Jesus reminds us of the best parts of our nature, and also the worst parts of who we are. When we see him, we are reminded of our failures, of our sins, of the times when we failed to recognize him among us. Now there is good news–Jesus is more than willing to forgive us! And thank God that he does! Before we can get there though, you need to do some self-examination.
Where have I seen Jesus, and where have I missed him?
Who do you see?
When you can answer that, only then can you understand what it is to be forgiven, to be loved by God, and to know who God is.