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The Game Of Life

Matthew 25:31-46

The Rev. Jon Roberts

26 November


Calvary Episcopal Church

Indian Rocks Beach, FL

31 “When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33 and he will place the sheep at his right hand, but the goats at the left. 34 Then the King will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35 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, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see thee hungry and feed thee, or thirsty and give thee drink? 38 And when did we see thee a stranger and welcome thee, or naked and clothe thee? 39 And when did we see thee sick or in prison and visit thee?’ 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.’ 41 Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; 42 for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see thee hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to thee?’ 45 Then he will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me.’ 46 And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

The Game Of Life

Christ the King, Cecilia Lawrence, 2014

When going through your ups and downs,
Remember that Christ is the king,
So crown Him with many crowns. [1]

How many crowns does one need, to be considered a king? In the game of checkers, there are twelve red and twelve black checkers that begin the game. The goal to win is to be the last one on the board by using strategy to “jump” the opponent. If you jump them on your turn, then you take them off the board. Sometimes you may get lucky and jump two or even three at a time. Of course, the object for your twelve is to get as many as you can to the opposite side, safely where they get “crowned.” You can only advance if uncrowned. You cannot move backwards. Your checker can become a king if it can survive the one-way journey across without getting jumped. Once crowned a king, by stacking a removed team checker on top of it, you have a lot of power as you can now move forward or backward. You can have several kings if you have several of your checkers reach across safely and the more you have, the better your odds at winning. This game has been around since a checkerboard was found in Iraq (Ur), dating from 3000 BC. Almost everyone today knows how to play the game and it’s fun.

Apparently there has been another game, like this one, that has been around much longer. It is the one called the Game of Good vs. Evil, and it has only one outcome. The King always wins. On the board are human beings, with the intent on traveling from life to death, hoping that at the end, they will be rewarded and granted new powers. There are lots of ups and downs. Many are jumped by the opponent, the devil, and taken off the board. So many, so fast against an opponent that seems to know every move. No matter if all go at the same time, this adversary seems to know how to prevent each checkered soul from reaching the opposite end of the board. It does not seem fair. The devil taunts the humans at the end of each one. Then, to the devil’s surprise, one makes it through. How is this possible? He had not seen this move. It is because it belonged to Jesus. He waited his time. His appearance was no different than the others. Instead of taking to the left or the right, he managed to go right down the middle, in clear sight. Once he arrived, he was crowned. The devil tried to pin him in, to corner him, but Jesus was free. With a steady, methodical approach, he began to cast out the works of the devil and took each of his minions off the board, to the end, where only he remained.

There are so many ways we can relate this game to the spiritual battle waged each day between God and the adversary, the devil. It seems that we humans do not stand a chance of crossing safely unless someone can rescue us or return us to a place of redemption. Jesus had a one-way course. He could only advance, from his birth to his death. He zig-zagged with the use of parables to avoid entrapment and being jumped by the religious and political leaders of his day. He was not a threat until he got closer to the end. In the Gospel today, Jesus gives us one last parable to get a glimpse of the lowly checker that would one day be crowned, a shepherd who would eventually become a king. He said, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” Since this game of life began, the foundation, the very playing board itself was structured for us to learn. On it is a victory to which the King intends to win for all creation.
The tip is once more in that phrase, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”[2] Who then is saying this in the parable? It is the first-person pronoun of “I”. The “I am” is Jesus, the Son of God and Jesus tells his disciples and those nearby, that when they gave food to the “Son of Man”, when he was hungry, water when he was thirsty, clothes when he was naked, welcomed him when he was a stranger and visited him when he was imprisoned, they will be blessed. Translate this to mean, they will be saved an inherit the victory of eternal life. They still did not understand. They knew Jesus. He was their teacher, their rabbi, one to which they had grown close, following, and living with for nearly three years and one who they loved, but who is he really?

Many today do not know Christ. They take it upon themselves to be the sole checker to make a feeble attempt to get across the game of life alone. Jesus, the Son of God, the Son of Man did not design nor purpose us to do this alone. In fact, the human family cannot do it alone. The community to which we live cannot do it alone. The nation that we pledge allegiance cannot do it alone. The world cannot do it alone. There must be Christ in the center of this battle for kingship. The ones who hunger and thirst, who are naked and unwelcomed, the imprisoned are those who have been taken off the table by the fierce opponent, the devil, but Jesus has the final say. It is to him that all nations, all communities, all families, and all individuals must bow.

The poor and destitute live a checkered life, becoming the many crowns that crown our Lord. In the hymn, "Crown Him with Many Crowns" by Michael Bridges, this composition in 1851 rose to fame in the church, especially around Christ the King Sunday. It has six stanzas, sung on this day with pomp and ceremony to glorify Jesus. Many are unaware that another six stanzas were added by Godfrey Thring and appears in many hymnals today. It is the ninth verse that gives a beautiful illustration of what happened that day Jesus reached the other side of the board and conquered death. It goes like this:

Crown him the Lord of light,
Who o'er a darkened world
In robes of glory infinite
His fiery flag unfurled.
And bore it raised on high,
In heaven--in earth--beneath,
To all the sign of victory
O'er Satan, sin, and death.[3]

In the crowning moment, Jesus says, “You are blessed by my father, inherit the kingdom.” Jesus knows the ups and downs of life and is aware of our struggle to cross over to the kingdom promised. As the sheep of his pasture, we sometimes travel through a darkened world, yet our eyes should be on the fiery flag unfurled, the cross, the sign of His victory over death. Those who died for him, whose piece was taken off the board by the devil, will be restored. Like the four evangelists who proclaim His name in the four corners, in the symbolic form of an angel (St. Matthew), a bull (St. Luke), a lion (St. Mark) and an eagle (St. John) they cry out his name as the King of kings and Lord of lords, bringing good news to the poor and destitute. They caution the goats who have gone wayward, and they give encouragement to the sheep who remain on course. Those who sit at the left hand are accursed, and those who are on the right will be saved. Those who want to advance through the game of life, who thirst for righteousness, who hunger for his namesake, who are naked and vulnerable, but have courage to proclaim the name of Jesus, are his sheep, his many crowns.

The Son of Man, who St. Matthew refers, is crowned, becoming the Son of God for all to see. In his humanity, through the trial of the cross, he crosses over and, in his resurrection, he is lifted high. The victory over death and the promises to be heard by both the sheep and goats, those on the right and the left, are in front of us. We are all on this game of life and we should be asking ourselves, “When did we visit you?” Where are you with him? Are you visiting those who are alone? Are you attending to those who are isolated and imprisoned in sin. He will send you plenty of opportunities, so, as you travel through this game of life, with all its ups and downs, remember, Christ is the King. Crown him with many crowns.

[1] The Rev. Jon Roberts
[2] Matthew 25:31-46
[3] Godfrey Thring, “Crown Him with many crowns”, vs. 9

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