Last Sunday of the Church Year November 23, 2014
Matthew 25: 31-46 Mt Olive Lutheran Church
The Royal Family
Garrison Keillor has been broadcasting his radio show “A Prairie Home Companion” for decades. The centerpiece of the program is his “News From Lake Wobegon” monolog, which can sometimes be alike a sermon. But it's a sermon that tells a human interest story without drawing out all the analogies and implications the way a real sermon would. In the sermon today I would like to paraphrase one of his monologs and offer some commentary appropriate for this Last Sunday of the Church Year.
Grace Tollefson was a quiet and sensible girl from a respectable Lake Wobegon family. But right after high school she surprised everyone and married a man named Alex Campbell, over the objections of her family and friends, of whom they did not approve. Alex drove a sports car, told bad jokes and kept a bottle of whiskey in the trunk. Grace and Alex moved out of state and had three children in rapid succession, Earl, Marlys, and the youngest, Walter.
When Walter was three years old, Grace and Alex's marriage dissolved due to Alex's bad habits. Grave was forced to move back to Lake Wobegon. Her brother got an old green trailer for her and the children to live in, that he placed in the yard next to his house. The ladies of the church donated some second-hand furniture for them to use. Everyone in town was condescendingly nice to them. Grace always felt as if people were looking at her and thinking, “We told you so. We were right. Look at what you've done to yourself.”
It wasn't pleasant and it wasn't easy, but Grace and the children struggled and endured. When Grace was feeling particularly good, or particularly bad, she would say to the children, “What are we going to do when our ship comes in?” They would imagine buying dollhouses and ponies and such. On day Grace received a letter form a man in Philadelphia named D.R. McKay who asked her for some information about her family history, which she begrudgingly sent him. A few days later she received a large manila envelope. The information inside said that Grace and her children were the heirs to the Scottish Royal Throne. Grace told the children, but being skeptical, she ordered them to tell no one.
Months and years went by and manila envelopes from Mr. McKay kept coming, with more and more evidence that Grace and her children were indeed the Scottish Royal family. He wrote there were efforts afoot to restore the Scottish throne to its rightful heirs, and they could expect a proper coronation in Edinburgh anytime. Knowing that they were royalty gave Grace, Earl, Marlys and Walter a sense of honor and dignity, although they were poor and looked down upon. It gave then hopes and dreams. They were determined that when they ascended the throne, they would be honest, noble admirable royalty.
After a time the condescending attitude of the people of Lake Wobegon got to be too much for her, and Grace moved her family to St. Paul. Earl and Marlys graduated, moved out on their own, and did well. Walter went to a local college and continued living with Grace. One day a man called Walter from Philadelphia who said he was Walter's father. He said he needed $5,000. He had been convicted of a crime, and was too old to go to prison, so he was leaving the country.
Walter asked Alex what he crime was. He said he had been running a genealogy scam. He never hurt anyone, he said, he only told people what they wanted to hear. Walter knew then what had happened. “How could you do this to us?” Walter said. Alex said, “I knew the Tollefsons would pity you and I didn't want you growing up that way. I wanted you to be proud of who you are.” Walter said he would send him what money he could.
Grace knew Alex had called Walter but was clueless as to why. “Did you tell your father we're royalty?” she asked. “No,” Walter replied, “There will be time for that later.” Then Grace said, “Oh Walter, what would I do without you? You're so strong. You're so good to me. You're a prince, you know. They can put a crown on a dog and call it a prince, but you're a prince through and through. They may not know it now, but soon they will. Next year we'll be in Edinburgh with bands playing and flags flying and people cheering...”
The commentary: We, you and I, are royalty and it's no hoax. All who are baptized into Christ are brothers and sisters of Jesus. We are the family of the one true King. The world doesn't see us that way. The world may be mean and insensitive to us. But we are princes and princesses in the Kingdom of God.
Our lives may look dim to us sometimes. We find ourselves struggling to make it through unpleasant circumstances. But we have an enduring hope, and it's not a false hope. When our lives are through, whether we die or Jesus comes again, we will be in paradise, our existence will be pure bliss, we will behold the beatific vision. With a future like that guaranteed, we are freed to live nobly in this world. We can be kind, honest, generous.
Perhaps most impressive about Walter was that even when he was shocked by his father's dishonesty, and how he had misled the family, Walter did not strike back in anger. Who would have blamed him if he had? But instead, Walter, who grew up believing he would be a king someday, demonstrated the kingly virtue of mercy. Like a true king, he was merciful. Isn't that how Christ our King shows us his glory today? Rather than zapping us with thunderbolts the moment we sin, Christ shows patience and gives us time repent and be forgiven. That's how he shows his power and might, in mercy. Jesus delays his return to earth not because he's old and slow, but because he wants to give all people more time to come to him in faith and be saved.
How do we know if we have saving faith? In the illustration Jesus used the sheep on his right hand didn't know that they were faithful. Jesus recounts all the good things they did, good deeds that grew out of faith, like feeding the hungry, and the sheep didn't know they were doing them for Christ. Likewise those who were not faithful and neglected the needy did not realize they were disrespecting Christ. How awesome it is to think that Christ is among us disguised as the poor and needy. The downcast and, the outcast people of this world are the real royalty and we should be serving them.
To know that Christ is among the hurting is especially good news to us when we are hurting. We know that Christ knows our pain. He suffered as much as we do and more. In our lives, at different times, sometimes and sometimes at the same time, we both get to minister to others in Christ's name, and we get to receive the ministry of others in Christian love, just as Christ once suffered for us and now he relieves our suffering. In life we get to both give and receive mercy. And in the end, it's all God's grace. That's the mystery of God's fatherly, kingly love for us. Amen.