As you all know, I’m just getting started to get settled in Westport. Its lovely—and my little place is close enough to the ocean that I hear it all night.
I’ve started to meet and talk with people and get to know people. It’s a lovely little community, isolated, small, a little discouraged like the rest of the harbor. One of the things I am always listening for is how people talk about other people. Of course, we have all heard the conversations around immigration this week and the anger at “the illegals.”
And I’ve noticed that Westport, like all of our towns, has a word for people who are poor or who are experiencing homelessness. Derelicts. Now, of course, most people in Westport are poor, just like at least 50% of the harbor is poor. But we always reserve our words of derision for people who are more down and out than we are. In Aberdeen, its “the takers.” In Monte and Elma, its “the undesirables.” In Westport, it seems, its “the derelicts.”
And I started thinking. The word derelict refers to something abandoned—an abandoned home, an abandoned car, an abandoned ship. In this case, perhaps it refers to abandoned people in abandoned places.
Sometimes, on the harbor, like lots of other small towns, it can feel like the world is passing us by. Abandoned in this global race for money and power. Abandoned, after the world no longer needs our timber or our fish or our labor.
So, on to the gospel text this morning. None of you are probably surprised that our gospel text is one of my favorites. We use this text a lot to talk about how we should care for people in need and do the work of God in the world.
But I think its more than that. It is Jesus saying—the poor, the suffering, of the world? They are me. I am them. I take their side.
It seems fitting to me that this is Christ the King Sunday.
Christ, the Derelict King.
Christ, the King of the Abandoned.
The King of prisoners and derelicts, of sex workers and illegals.
Not the king of empires, whether the empires of Rome or old Europe, or even our own American empires.
The King instead of the common people, of the poor. The King of the hungry and sick. The Abandoned King of Abandoned People.
Matthew’s Jesus loves the language of apocalypse and of judgment. And so the Jesus of Matthew today draws us a picture. This Abandoned King, the ragged rabbi who calls himself a king, paints a picture of he himself judging the nations. Just imagine for a moment—this ragged, wandering rabbi who was born into a two bit town with a bad reputation, this preacher who will be arrested in just a day or two and executed—he claims that he will judge the nations.
And he doesn’t tell a story just of individual people who will go to heaven or go to hell. We like to read it this way, but that is not Jesus’ point. It’s the story of Jesus, the ragged rabbi, standing before all the people, all the nations of the world and entering into judgment. Those who have cared for their people, those who have healed the sick and fed and cared for their people, those who have visited and freed their prisoners—they have done it to Jesus himself. But those who have oppressed their people? Who have imprisoned them, who have left them hungry and naked, who have left them to die? They, they will be judged. God will not let them get away with harming others.
I have to say, I find this really good news.
For me, anyway, this judgment is good news.
It is good news that the people who sleep under bridges and along our rivers will be honored and protected.
It is good news that Christ the derelict king will take the side of his people.
It is good news that our tiny towns are not abandoned by God and that God will judge those who have abandoned us.
This is good news.
Every day, I watch people struggle to survive. Struggle to just stay alive in this county. And I watch people die.
And people struggle for a reason. We struggle because this town and these places are abandoned, with so few jobs left. We struggle because health care is so very limited to more and more people. We struggle because land and resources are all in very few hands. We struggle because housing is so poor that people live without running water and electricity, in places overrun with bugs and rodents, and the people who own those places do not improve them and we do not hold them accountable. We struggle because those in power are ok with the way things are. We die because—who cares about derelicts and undesirables and takers and illegals anyway?
It was Thomas Jefferson who said, in what is otherwise a very problematic quote; “I tremble for my nation when I reflect that God is just and his justice will not keep forever.”
And, so, how does God do this? How does Jesus’ justice come?
Some explosion in the sky?
A bolt of lightning?
I don't think so. I think it happens through us.
Through those who refuse to forget. Who refuse to give up. When we sit down at table together. When you bring us meals. When we demand to be noticed.
Have you been noticed the story coming out of Fort Lauderdale these past few weeks? In Fort Lauderdale, FL it is illegal to feed people on the street. This old guy has gone to jail twice because he refuses to stop. I joked with our team the other day—would they be willing to go to jail? Yesterday, one man called me and said; “I want to you know, I’d be willing to go to jail.” That is how judgment comes. Churches across the country are starting to open their doors and offer sanctuary to immigrant families and individuals in danger of deportation. That is how judgment comes.
When the “takers” take back their power and demand life and dignity. When we begin to hold our leaders accountable for the common good. When we refuse to allow our neighbors to be hungry or live in poverty. That is how judgment comes. Not vengeance—but justice.
The men and women of the harbor—they are Jesus’ people. They are Jesus, living among us, here and now. Christ the Derelict King fights for his Derelict people, here and now. Through us.
And so we are not abandoned after all. God is with us, working through us. Together, we demand judgment and justice. And when we do, the voice of that ragged rabbi rings down to us from 2000 years; “When I was hungry, you gave me something to eat, when I was naked you clothed me, when I was sick you visited me, when I was in prison you came to me, when I was a stranger, you welcomed me. You are doing this for me.”