St. John's, Centreville
November 26, 2017
Proper 29 A (Christ the King)
Take my lips, O Lord, and speak through them; take our minds and think with them; take our hearts and set them on fire, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
Today is the last Sunday in the season of Pentecost, the last Sunday in the Year A lectionary, the Sunday that is known as Christ the King Sunday. On this Sunday, we recognize the kingship of Christ, and we look at the time when we will be judged by God according to our faith and how we have cared or not cared for others.
The theme of our gospel lessons these past three weeks has been the tragedy of missed opportunities. Three weeks ago, the religious leaders missed the opportunity to model humility to the people. Two weeks ago, the foolish maidens missed the wedding feast because they did not bring enough oil for their lamps. In last Sunday's gospel lesson, the slave with the one talent did not take the opportunity to increase what had been given to him by the master.
In today's gospel lesson, we have the vision of judgement day, when we stand before the throne of God and are separated on how we used the opportunities we had to help those in need. We are all offered many opportunities to help others. Did we respond or not?
God does not have unrealistic expectations of us. God does not say that we must solve the problem of world hunger by ourselves or figure out how to house all the homeless of the world. But we are to be aware of the needs of those around us and respond as we are able. Jesus said to those who were separated, "as you did it not to ONE of the least of these, you did it not to me." Jesus didn't say because you didn't help hundreds of people in need - he said because you did not help ONE of these that you were separated. We often think our works have to be on a grand scale or they don't count. God says help one person, feed one person, clothe one person, show compassion to one person. Jesus answers those who entered eternal life, "As you did it to one of the least of these, you did it to me." Serving others is like serving Jesus himself.
I think what Jesus is saying is to be alert to the needs of others, to not be so engrossed in our own needs, in our own world, that we do not see what is happening to people around us. Because Jesus calls us to see Christ in each other, not just in the people who are like us and live like us, but in everyone - the homeless man on the street, the woman on parole, the new employee at work, those living in refugee camps, the hungry children, the unemployed. Jesus calls us to look into the eyes of every person we meet and see Christ in them. Because Christ IS there, whether we see it or not, whether they see it or not. Christ is in each and every person, young and old, rich and poor, sick and healthy.
How we treat each other is the basis of how we will be judged by God. We will be judged by our actions, the things done and the things left undone. Prayers are good and necessary. But we can't just stop there. Actions are part of our Christian responsibility.
Martin Luther King once said that the tragedy of the civil rights movement was not just the evil done by bad people, but the indifference of the "good" people to speak out against the hatred and discrimination, of not taking advantage of opportunities that were open to them.
In Matthew's gospel, Jesus sits on the throne of judgement and divides the sheep from the goats - those who have seen and responded to the needs of others and those who have not.
In a commentary on this gospel lesson, Sue Armentrout writes, "I wonder if there is an animal that is a cross between a sheep and a goat. If there's not, there should be, because from the description in Matthew, I find that most folks I know, including myself, do not quite fit into either of the two categories. I have qualities of the goat and qualities of the sheep, and these qualities are manifested depending upon the circumstances."
"Thank God that my entire sheep-goat self is made righteous by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ! I still have to live with the unsettling thought that every one of my actions or inactions has cosmic consequences, even if I sometimes think that nothing I do matters at all. Everything I do or say matters to others, and to God."
She continues, "And so on this Christ the King Sunday, as we ponder Christ's reign in heaven, above all powers temporal and eternal, the task we share below has become even more urgent in its demands to save whole nations facing famine, people living on the street or worse because of inadequate housing, and an estimated 65.3 million refugees worldwide - likely the largest population of refugees and asylum seekers in human history, dying on land and in seas in their attempt merely to live."
"Perhaps never before has the challenge been greater. As sheep-goats ourselves, we are called to gather all of us and to proclaim that to worship Christ the King is to learn to be like him, with arms outstretched."
A legend is told that a 19th century Danish sculptor named Bertel Thorvaldsen made a clay model for a statue of Christ the King - arms outstretched and raised high, and his head held up in triumph. The sculptor molded the form and left the clay figure to harden overnight. The next morning he came back into the studio to finish his work. He couldn't believe what he saw! The weight of the soft clay had been too much for the inner structure. Instead of a head held high, the figure was bent downward and the arms had sagged and fallen low.
Initially the sculptor was shocked and disappointed. But as he looked at the statue again, he saw that the open arms seemed to express something beyond the kingly triumph and victory. The new posture and gesture revealed a loving welcome and an open forgiveness.
On the day of judgement, when we come before the throne of God, we will be responsible for how we have or have not cared for those in need. But we will be judged by a loving and welcoming and forgiving God who wants us all in the kingdom of God.
Opportunities abound for us to help those in need as Jesus did. May we keep our eyes and our hearts open to see and the act on those opportunities. "As you did it to one of the least of these, you did it to me." Amen.
*Quotes from "Synthesis" , Proper 29 A, Nov. 26, 2017