The Sunday of Christ the King, Ted Hicks, November 22, 2020

“ … the surprise of the Christian story is not that God sometimes comes disguised as a poor person but that – counterintuitively – such a one is exactly who God is. God’s truest nature is revealed in simplicity, humility, and vulnerability. What was in Jesus’ heart to reveal and what has become largely lost in our own tradition is this: that when we are vulnerable in our own struggles and moved to acts of compassion for others, then we are as close to God as we ever shall be.  If we do hail Jesus as a king on this Sunday or any other day, we need to realize that his version of such an exalted office defies cultural stereotypes.”

Ted’s invitation to reflect on a parable of Jesus

on the Feast Day of Christ the King.



From Psalm 95, “Psalms for Praying: An Invitation to Wholeness”, Nan C. Merrill, Continuum Press, 2002

O come, let us sing to the Most High,

Creator of the Cosmos;

let us make a joyful song to the Beloved!

Let us come to the Radiant One with thanksgiving,

with gratitude let us offer our psalms of praise!

For the Beloved is Infinite,

the Breathing Life of all.

The depths of the earth belong to Love;

the height of the mountains as well.

The sea and all that is in it,

the dry land and air above,

were created by Love.

O come, let us bow down and give thanks …

blessed to be invited to friendship

as companions along the Way!



“Hard Times Come Again No More”, Stephen Foster

In a version by Mavis Staples:

(bypass any ads if you can – and excuse the American emphasis)



A Parable of Jesus from Matthew 25:31-40, 44-45

‘When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the nations one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that 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 something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”  Then those at his left hand also will answer, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?” Then he will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.”





There are many folk tales from many eras and many cultures about a god coming to Earth in the guise of a poor person and going door to door to discover what is in the heart of those who claim to be a devotee.

One such example in this genre tells of a French shoemaker from Marseilles, Father Martin as his neighbours fondly call him.  In this story, Father Martin is moved by reading from his bible about the visit of the Magi and their gifts for the infant Jesus. He wishes he could have been there himself to offer his gift of a pair of little shoes, toasty warm and beautifully crafted.

That night, he has a dream in which a voice tells him that, in fact, the Saviour will visit him the very next day.  So, in the morning and throughout all that cold winter’s day, he remains vigilant, watching at his window for Jesus to come by.  Instead, a number of other folks wander by whose plight moves his heart to invite them in: a simple cup of hot coffee for one; a chance to sit in front of his warm fire for another; a rest along the way for a sickly woman trying to get to the hospital with her shivering baby cradled in her arms, with a piece of bread for the woman and, for the child, warm milk and those very shoes for his otherwise bare feet. At the end of the day, he tries to reconcile himself to his disappointment by saying that his dream of a visit from Jesus was just that: a dream and no more.

But that night he has another dream.  And I am sure you can guess what that dream revealed.  Exactly.  That he did meet Jesus, in that child for sure, but also in each of the other folks to whom he offered shelter and aid. For “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”

One of the ironies in the whole story of Jesus is that it itself is one of those tales about a god coming to Earth in the guise of a poor person.  For our Christian tradition speaks of Jesus as God-in-the-Flesh.  And the god who is revealed in Jesus is not one of status and power and majesty but of humility and vulnerability.  A god who, by extension and in Celtic understanding, is also present in the simplest, most commonplace aspects of the natural world.  In that fawn and that leaf.  In that gust of wind and that tiny ripple lapping at the shore.  In that person in the headlines and all those persons never mentioned.  In the person nearest you and the person nearest them.  And maybe especially in those we casually overlook or whom we might be tempted to shun or judge or fear.

So the surprise of the Christian story is not that God sometimes comes disguised as a poor person but that – counterintuitively – such a one is exactly who God is: God’s truest nature is revealed in simplicity, humility, and vulnerability.  What was in Jesus’ heart to reveal and what has become largely lost in our own tradition is this: that when we are vulnerable in our own struggles and moved to acts of compassion for others, then we are as close to God as we ever shall be.  If we do hail Jesus as a king on this Sunday or any other day, we need to realize that his version of such an exalted office defies cultural stereotypes.

It has been said that the measure of the humanity of a society is how it treats its most vulnerable members.  There is controversy as to who actually said that first.  According to my friend, Google, some claim Ghandi, some Hubert Humphrey.  I would claim that the essence of that thought – maybe not in those very words – can be traced back to Jesus in the parable we are looking at today and in the entire witness of his life.  And maybe such a thought is at the heart of the teaching of any tradition whose ethic is rooted in love.  And, of course, the point is not to argue over the source of the quote but to actually take it to heart and live it out and build a new world order around it.

And when we do take it to heart, it certainly does apply to our individual choices to respond to persons who cross our paths.  But notice a key word in the parable: “nations”.  It is not a crowd of individuals who stand before the king in this parable.  It is all of history’s nations, each one treated as “a person” in itself.  Of course our individual attitudes, choices, and actions matter but what matters even more is how we provide as a society for the most vulnerable among us.  The underlying exhortation in this parable is not only for individuals to respond compassionately to the needs of other individuals but also – and maybe even more so – for us together to be advocates and actors in building up a society that takes care of each other and sees that no one falls between the cracks.

I had a dream come true myself a few years back when I was able to spend most of a year and a bit living and working with the Church of the Saviour in the Adams Morgan district of Washington, DC.  Here was a church that recognized itself as an agent of Christ-like compassion in its neighbourhood.  Not long after its founding, it was moved to reach out to children warehoused in what was called Junior Village, apparently an absolutely horrible place for orphaned children.  As the people in that church began to respond to the needs of these children, they were gradually awakened to a whole cluster of issues that contributed to the miserable state those children were confined to – poverty at its base and a slew of related consequences and causes: racism, addiction, illiteracy, lack of affordable housing, domestic violence, unemployment, inadequate health care, and so much more.  So they began to take action. One thing led to another as the broader picture came into focus: buying up and renovating old tenements and turning them into decent and affordable housing; opening a medical clinic especially for people without green cards or health care plans; building a hospital designed for patients living on the streets; adult literacy classes; an employment bureau; afterschool programs for kids; support programs for parents; a 3-stage addiction recovery program; and more as the tentacles of poverty in that neighbourhood became more and more exposed.  And always motivated by two things: the love of God and the presence of Christ in each person. For this was not social work; this was discipleship.

Now don’t think that this was a large group of skilled and wealthy people because that was just not the case. One day I heard Gordon Cosby, their founding minister – in his characteristically sly southern drawl – call themselves “just a bunch of runts”.  What that bunch of runts did have was faith and determination and compassion and a healthy dose of naïve foolhardiness to take risks and make a difference.  Fools rushed in to entertain angels but not in that case unawares. Rather, with full awareness that each person in need in that neighbourhood was Christ in their midst, caught in the systemic currents insidiously at work there.  And the Christ in them recognized and reached out to the Christ in others to address their pain and the reasons for it.

Denman Island and the Comox Valley are quite different from that neighbourhood in DC.  The needs there were pretty blatant and extreme. The needs here – or wherever you may live – are more subtle, more hidden, probably. But you don’t have to scratch the surface too deeply to find pockets of human pain everywhere, even here.  I can’t speak for Denman Island but I do know that’s true on the other side of Baynes Sound where I live.  Even if I do live in a more sheltered part of the Comox Valley where there is often a knee-jerk NIMBY first response – Not In My Back Yard.  Please, can we be YIMBY people instead – Yes In My Back Yard people?

Now I suspect I am preaching to the choir, so to speak.  That you are more likely among those who already do notice, do care, and do respond when human pain crosses your path.  Whose back gates and maybe front doors are open, not shut and bolted.  But I am sure the truth is that the need anywhere is always greater than the response.  And that there are always forces of resistance to acknowledging and responding to the people themselves and to the underlying dynamics that cause human pain and brokenness in the first place.

I am also quite aware that the example of what the Church of the Saviour is doing in their backyard in DC is daunting by the length and breadth and depth of its efforts. But it is important to remember that it all started because a small group of very ordinary people saw the plight of children in care and dipped their toes collectively into the water.  And over time waded in further and further as one thing led them to understand and respond to another.

As Denman Island United Church intentionally seeks an innovative and compelling way to be church in this community, may its unfolding story become a contemporary version of the old tales about Christ being recognized in the faces of the hurting ones passing by – who are then welcomed in and offered partners to work with them in addressing their overt situation and its underlying causes.


For Further Reflection:

  1. What are the needs in this / in your community?
  2. What is already being done to address these needs and to reach out to the people involved
  3. Who, if any, are the people and issues that are falling between the cracks?
  4. How might I/this group respond where we see issues, needs and people neglected?
  5. What are the currents of resistance to the people, to the issues, and to getting involved?


From “Song of Faith”, a statement of faith of the United Church of Canada

We are all touched by brokenness: the rise of selfish individualism that erodes human solidarity; the concentration of wealth and power without regard for the needs of all; the toxins of religious and ethnic bigotry; the degradation of the blessedness of human bodies and human passions through sexual exploitation; the delusion of unchecked progress and limitless growth that threatens our home, the earth; the covert despair that lulls many into numb complicity with empires and systems of domination. We sing lament and repentance.  Yet evil does not—cannot—undermine or overcome the love of God. God forgives, and calls all of us to confess our fears and failings with honesty and humility. God reconciles, and calls us to repent the part we have played in damaging our world, ourselves, and each other. God transforms, and calls us to protect the vulnerable, to pray for deliverance from evil, to work with God for the healing of the world, that all might have abundant life.  We sing of grace.  Amen



Drawing from Hebrews 13:1-3

Let us keep on loving one another as kin in Christ:

Remembering to offer hospitality to strangers,

for we might be welcoming angels unawares;

Remembering those who are in prison,

as though we were in prison with them;

Remembering all those who are suffering in any way,

as though we are suffering as they are.

For the Christ in me offers peace to the Christ in you,

and through us to all we meet.




This time in a version by Arlo Guthrie, Jim Wilson, Vanessa Bryan & friends

with an added contemporary ending


Peace to you.



The site of the former Palace Theatre in Courtenay where there are plans to build affordable housing.

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