You can tell a lot about a person by their accent and dialect. Now I’m not proposing that we judge people on the way they speak, rather I’m talking about the impact our place of origin has upon certain elements of our behavior and speech patterns. Do you call fizzy drinks soda, pop, or coke? Your propensity for one over the other can be a hint to whether you were raised in the midwest, the northeast, or the south. Whether you call the door that you lift up to access the engine on a car a hood or a bonnet can be a hint about whether you grew up in a Commonwealth country or in the United States.
Accents and dialect, word choices, regional styles of dress and fashion, all of these elements become ingrained in our lives so that, at some point, we don’t even think about them anymore, so much so that we tend to not notice these elements in others when they are the same as us but only when they differ from us. If you’re walking the halls at a school in almost any state or region in the United States and you ask where the nearest drinking fountain is nobody will give you a second glance, but if you ask where the bubbler is people will likely take notice. The point is, the way we act, the way we speak, the words we choose to use, and the way we present ourselves to those around us are directly influenced by our place of origin and are recognized by those around us, especially when they differ from the norm for the region in which we find ourselves.
Today is the Feast of Christ the King. It is a Sunday that is set aside, just prior to our entrance into the season of Advent, to focus on the kingship of Chirst. Insofar as Advent is the season in which we anticipate the coming of Jesus, both in His nativity and in His promise to come again to establish the fullness of His kingdom on earth, we have an opportunity today, on the Feast of Christ the King, to remember that we are anticipating the coming of the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. We are not anticipating the coming of just anyone; we are anticipating the coming of the King of the Universe and of All Creation.
Today, then, of all days, it is especially important for us to remember what it means that we celebrate Jesus Christ as King. So my question at the outset is, do we live as if this is the truth? Does this reality, the Kingship of Christ, change how we live, how we think, and how we speak?
This goes along with a theme that tends to wind its way through many of my sermons and much of my teaching, and that is the theme of our citizenship in the Kingdom of Heaven. If Christ is King, then it stands to reason that He has a kingdom. He does indeed have a Kingdom and we are members of that Kingdom as members of His body, the church. When we are baptized, we are renouncing our membership in the Kingdom of the chaotic world around us and we are embracing the reality of His Kingdom Come, here and now, and our desire for His will to be done, here and now.
If we have truly renounced the chaotic kingdom of the world in which we were born and have truly embraced a new citizenship in the Divine Kingdom of God, then it will change how we think, how we feel, how we act, and how we speak. Consider what Jesus said in our Gospel Lesson today:
When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.” Then the righteous will answer him, saying, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?” And the King will answer them, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.”
Notice how this statement from Jesus begins with an introduction, “When the Son of Man [that is, Jesus Christ] comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne.” What Jesus is about to proclaim is in the context of His position as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, sitting on His throne with all the nations of the world arrayed before him, separating those people who are His, which is to say, those people who have renounced the kingdom of the chaotic world and embraced the Kingdom of God, separating them from those who have chosen to remain in the Kingdom of the chaotic world.
He then says, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” The implication is that what He is about to say constitutes the basis by which He recognizes His sheep. He then gives the well-known explanation that when He was hungry the sheep fed Him; when He was thirsty the sheep gave Him drink; when He was a stranger the citizens of His Kingdom welcomed Him; when He was naked the citizens of His Kingdom gave Him clothes; when He was sick or in prison His true followers came alongside Him and comforted Him. The ones who did these things are then called “righteous”; after which these righteous ones ask when it was that they actually did all of these things. The King looks at them and replies, “As you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” In other words, when you lived your life in this mode of compassion, kindness, generosity, forgiveness, and love; when you treated others according to this divine standard, the same divine standard that I have modeled for you through my own ministry on earth, it’s as if you were demonstrating that character to me as well.
It’s like one’s accent or dialect. The longer you live in a place the more you take on the regional and local idiosyncrasies of the place, regardless of where you were born. If you were born in Alaska but lived a chunk of your life in West Virginia and Texas, the “y’alls” and “all y’alls” will have become part of your character of speaking simply by your proximity and constant interactions with the specific vocal traits of those places. It is the same with our citizenship in the Kingdom of Heaven. Even though we were born into the Kingdom of the chaotic world, if we have renounced that world and embraced the Kingdom of Heaven, the longer we live in the reality of that divine Kingdom the more the characteristics and traits of the Kingdom of God will rub off on us and become part of our own character and way of thinking.
The flip side of the equation is frightfully true as well, though, and Jesus explicitly addresses it. As we read in our Gospel Lesson, the Son of Man, that is, Jesus, sends those on His left into eternal torment because when He was hungry they did not feed Him, when He was thirsty they did not give Him drink, when He was naked they did not clothe Him, and when He was sick or in prison they did not give Him comfort and compassion. Those who are about to be cast aside question the judgment, and declare that they never rejected the King. His response is that insofar as they rejected food, drink, clothing, and comfort to the least amongst them, so too they rejected it to Him. Those who rejected the compassion, kindness, love, and forgiveness that is characteristic of the kingdom of God are essentially those who have rejected the Kingdom of God itself. They were born into the Kingdom of the chaotic world and never truly renounced that citizenship and never truly embraced citizenship in the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God was freely opened to all humanity through Christ’s work on the cross and through His resurrection, however so many people choose to live their life apart from that kingdom as they remain entrenched in the kingdom of their birth.
In other words, their accent and dialect never changed because they were never truly living in the Divine Kingdom. One’s accent doesn’t change simply from taking an occasional vacation or visit to another part of the country or world. A person can even frequently, maybe twice a year on major holidays or even on a weekly or monthly basis, visit another region without the accent of that region becoming their own. When one goes on such a visit the reality is that they have never truly left their place of origin; they are not fully committed to the culture and traditions of the place they are visiting for they have not determined it to be their home. As a result, they are not motivated to adopt the character traits of the place they are visiting because they know they are not citizens of that area; they know they are simply passing through and are therefore not interested in giving up the character traits of their place of origin.
It is the same way for us and our citizenship in the Kingdom of Heaven. There are those who are content with living their whole lives as citizens of the chaotic world. They may make periodic visits to the Kingdom of Heaven through church attendance, even regular church attendance; they may know enough about the Kingdom to speak intelligently about it, but in the end, the question for them is whether they have decided to truly adopt the Kingdom of God as the Kingdom of their own citizenship; it is a question of whether they have chosen to accept Jesus Christ as their sovereign King.
This is the real question for us today, on this feast day of Christ the King. Are we just visiting this Kingdom as tourists or are we actually committed to this Kingdom as our home and ourselves as true citizens? Have we accepted Christ as our King, or are we just showing proper respect to a foreign dignitary who we feel has no authority over us? If we have truly accepted Christ as our King, if we have truly renounced our citizenship in the kingdom of the chaotic world and have truly embraced citizenship in the Kingdom of God, then it will change our character, it will change our speech, it will change the way we think and the way we feel… it will change our lives. The longer we spend in the Divine Kingdom, participating in the traditions and practices, the way of speaking and acting, the more our very thoughts will be conformed to the thoughts of God himself.
As we prepare ourselves, in anticipation, for our celebration of the first coming of the King, in His nativity, and as we also prepare ourselves in anticipation for His return to fully establish His Divine Kingdom on earth, may we take time to reflect upon our own citizenship and our own oath of fealty to the King of Kings and Lord of Lords. Let us ask ourselves the questions I asked at the beginning: Do we live as if this is the truth? Does this reality, the Kingship of Christ and our own citizenship in His Kingdom, change how we live, how we think, and how we speak? In other words, when people hear me speak, or see how I act or how I think, will they recognize that my accent is different than the accent of the chaotic world around us, or will they simply accept that I am just like them? May the accent of the divine kingdom, an accent of compassion, of love, of forgiveness, of mercy, may the accent of God himself be evident on our lips and in our lives.