Gathering the scattered

The days are getting shorter, and the colors around us are changing; pumpkin orange and corn yellow are fading and the richer tones of cranberry red and spruce green are coming to the fore. The days are getting shorter, the temperature outside is finally catching up with the season, and we start dreaming in the middle of the afternoon about being at home, cozy and warm, with the people we love and the music we have known forever. We want to bake cookies, we want to send cards, wrap presents, and light candles.

The days are getting shorter, and we look forward to the long night when shepherds hear the angels sing, “To you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is the Messiah, the Lord.” We look forward to finding the child lying in the manger, wrapped in swaddling cloths. And we look forward to asking again with hushed wonder in our voices,

What child is this who, laid to rest, on Mary’s lap is sleeping? Whom angels greet with anthems sweet, while shepherds watch are keeping?

and to respond with joy, “This, this is Christ the King…”[1]

Toward the end of Second Samuel, we read an old man’s last words, written down so that generations to come would know and remember:

One who rules over people justly, ruling in the fear of God, is like the light of the morning, like the sun rising on a cloudless morning, gleaming from the rain on the grassy land.[2]

The hope for one who rules over people justly goes back as far as historical records, legends and ancient epics can take us. And the hope for one who rules in the fear of God is as old as the sad reality of rulers who abuse their position for selfish ends. The prophet Jeremiah accused the king of Judah,

Woe to him who builds his house by unrighteousness,
and his upper rooms by injustice;
who makes his neighbors work for nothing,
and does not give them their wages;
who says, “I will build myself a spacious house with large upper rooms,”
and who cuts out windows for it,
paneling it with cedar,
and painting it with vermilion.

Are you a king because you compete in cedar?

Did not your father eat and drink
and do justice and righteousness?[3]

It wasn’t the king only whom the prophet accused in the name of God:

Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture![4]

The leaders were responsible for the destruction of Jerusalem and the exile of God’s people, but the scattering didn’t begin when the captives were taken to Babylon or the refugees fled to Egypt. The ‘scattering’ had begun when families were driven off their land because they couldn’t make their debt payments and when the workers who built the spacious houses and paneled them with cedar were not paid their wages. The ‘scattering’ had begun when the king and the leaders of the people attended to their own real estate interests instead of pursuing justice and righteousness. The ‘scattering’ had begun when personal desires and ambitions pushed the needs of the poor to the margins of attention – and this is where the prophet’s indictment concerns us all, where we can’t deflect its force to hit somebody else or pretend it will remain safely enclosed in a long-ago past, in a country far, far away. God’s people are scattered when our attention is absorbed by our own needs and desires until there is no time left, no energy, no love to attend to the needs of others, particularly those left to fend for themselves. Again and again, God’s commandments draw our attention to the widows and orphans and strangers, to those whose lives are vulnerable and fragile and whose position in the community carries little influence, but whose wellbeing is the measure by which the community as a whole is judged.

We hear a lot these days about being divided – red and blue, black and white, rural and urban – but those simple dualisms are too simple to reflect the many shades of purple we represent and the complexity and diversity of our life together. I believe Jeremiah’s ‘scattered’ captures much better how fragmented our common life has become; thankfully the prophet also points to the way out of this mess for God’s people: I myself will gather them, says the Lord. Our God indicts us for our scattering ways, and judges us for fragmenting the unity of life on God’s earth, but God also gathers us:

I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.[5]

The prophet’s words point to God’s faithfulness, and for the church they point to Jesus who has compassion for us because we are like sheep without a shepherd. The promise points to Jesus, the curious king who builds his spacious house with living stones and whose upper room is large so he can gather us in, all of us scattered ones.

What joy to hold the baby in our hands and sing, “This, this is Christ the King…” This is the long-awaited one, the righteous one, the one of whose kingdom there will be no end. Today is the last Sunday of the church year when the church celebrates the reign of Christ the King. We continue to use kingdom language, even though most nations have banned kings and queens from our political life. Many say, and with good reason, that we shouldn’t call Jesus “the king”, because our imaginations are already overstuffed with men sitting on thrones or high on the horse. Yet we continue to use the language, and not just out of respect for tradition. We use it, because we trust that Jesus has the power to transform and redeem all of life, including our imagination and our language. Robert Capon wrote,

We crucified Jesus, not because he was God, but because he (…) claimed to be God and then failed to come up to our standards for assessing the claim. It’s not that we weren’t looking for the Messiah; it’s just that he wasn’t what we were looking for.[6]

He wasn’t what we were looking for. He doesn’t fit our patterns and molds, but remakes them. We use words like Messiah, Christ, and king, but it’s not the words that define who Jesus is; it’s the other way round. His life gives new meaning to the old language. His death and resurrection open the door for us to life that is nothing but life.

On the night of his birth, the angels sang and we were glad to join their heavenly anthems. Then the air was filled with song and possibility, the small cradle was big enough to hold all our hopes and expectations. But on the day of his crucifixion there were no anthems, only a cacophony of scorn, “Hey, Savior, show us some salvation!”

“He saved others, let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God!” the leaders were laughing.

“If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” the soldiers jeered at him.

And one of the two criminals joined them in taunting Jesus, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!”

The scene looks like an obscene joke, with the punchline written on a sign and nailed over Jesus’ head, “This is the king of the Jews.”

Amid the abuse and the clamor Jesus remained silent. “Father, forgive them,” he prayed, “for they do not know what they are doing.” Forgive whom – the soldiers who, as always, were only following orders? Forgive those who gave the orders? Forgive the leaders who assure us they always act with the best interest of the state or the temple or the church or the nation in mind? Forgive all of us who are trapped in sinful modes of relating, thinking, speaking, and acting? Forgive us and our scattering ways? Forgive us who can find a moment of unity only by ganging up against him?


This kingdom, his kingdom is not a new and improved version of the kingdoms of the world, it’s their end. It’s the end of our royal ideologies and our dreams of domination. It’s the life of Jesus alive in us.

Delores Williams remembers Sunday mornings from her childhood when the minister shouted out, “Who is Jesus?” And the choir rsponded in voices loud and strong, “King of kings and Lord of lords!” And then little Miss Huff, in a voice so fragile and soft you could hardly hear her, would sing her own answer, “Poor little Mary’s boy.” Back and forth they sang. “King of kings and Lord of lords,” the choir thundered; and Miss Huff sang softly, “Poor little Mary’s boy.”[7]

We long for a world where justice and righteousness prevail, and we already live in that world because Mary’s boy is the Ocne whose kingdom has no end. With love and mercy he invades the world to build his reign. His pierced hand will hold no sword but a shepherd’s staff. On his haloed head he will wear no crown but the splendor of his mercy. Never will his might be built on the toil of others, but he will walk and work with us on the journey to the city of God. ‘The Lord is our righteousness’, it will be called, and the keys to his city belong to the poor.[8]


[1] What Child Is This, Chalice Hymnal #162, words by William C. Dix.

[2] 2 Samuel 23:3-4

[3] Jeremiah 22:13-15

[4] Jeremiah 23:1

[5] Jeremiah 23:5

[6] Robert F. Capon, Hunting the Divine Fox (New York: Seabury Press, 1974) 90-91.

[7] See Barbara Lundblad

[8] Jeremiah 33:16; some of the words are from Gian-Carlo Menotti, Amahl and the Night Visitors

Looking for audio of older sermons? Check out our Sermon Audio Archive.