Kings. We really don't know what to do with them here in America. We say that Elvis was the “King of Rock 'n' Roll” and Michael Jackson was the “King of Pop,” but for the most part we've done pretty well without them for some 238 years.
Nevertheless, Americans really do love to gossip about British royalty. Part of us has a grudging awe and admiration for someone who, by the accident of their birth or through “divine right,” gets to own an entire country. There seems to be something magical in the concept.
I've never seen royalty myself, but my late dear ol' dad, back in his “regular army” days before the Second World War, had the honor of standing guard for their Royal Majesties King George VI and Queen Elizabeth when they visited the US in 1939. Dad thought the queen was a charming and radiant woman, but he really was unimpressed by the king, whom he described as looking slack-jawed and confused.
If you've seen the movie The King's Speech, a wonderful bio pic about George VI, you won't wonder too much at my dad's impression. It seems that the King was, by nature, a fairly unimpressive guy. He suffered from a crippling stutter and an almost equally crippling personal insecurity. He was second in line to the throne behind his flamboyant and dazzlingly charming brother, King Edward VII. It was only when Edward's romantic difficulties forced him to abdicate that George was forced into the top spot—a position he feared and never coveted.
The British journalist Alistair Cooke once commented that few constitutional crises were ever more fortunate for the British people than Edward's abdication. The faltering and shy George turned out to be a much better symbol for the war-beleaguered nation than the dashing and charismatic Edward. George was the king to whom the average citizen could relate—a man obviously distressed by the nightmare of war, but doggedly determined to see the thing through shoulder to shoulder with the rest of the country.
In today's gospel lesson (Matthew 25: 31-46), the King of Kings exercises his magisterial power to judge between the sheep and the goats. But, judgment aside, he is a very unimpressive king. He comes to us hungry like the unemployed dad who arrived at my church door last week looking for food donations. He comes thirsty like the thousands in sub-Saharan Africa who lack access to clean drinking water. He comes naked like the inner-city school kid whose single mom can't afford to buy her a good winter coat. He comes as a stranger like the three Afghan women refugees who explained in their broken English that they were told a church might help them out with living expenses. He comes sick like the victims of HIV/AIDS, malaria, and the ebola virus. He comes to us in prison and on parole and addicted to drugs and alcohol. He comes as a battered wife and an elderly veteran in a nursing home. He comes as a young girl with an eating disorder and a young gay man bullied by his classmates. He comes weak, insecure, lost, angry, afraid, and in millions of different forms which have no claim on our earthly admiration. But he comes.
And, as his loyal subjects, we are called to serve him.
The Evangelical preacher and activist Jim Wallis tells the story of Mary Glover, a poor woman who volunteered at a food cupboard in Washington, D.C., a mere twenty blocks from the White House. Mrs. Glover relied on the cupboard for food assistance herself, but joyfully gave of her time to hand out groceries to hundred's of disadvantaged people living in the capital of the wealthiest nation on Earth. Each Saturday before the cupboard opened, Mrs. Glover led the volunteers in prayer, a prayer which always ended, “Lord, we know that you'll be comin' through this line today; so, Lord, help us to treat you well.”
God bless you, my fellow subjects. Thanks for reading.