REIGN OF CHRIST
26 NOV 2017
Who is your God? Whom will you serve? You have a lot of choices these days it seems. You can choose to serve the god of wealth and comfort; you can choose the god of patriotism. Maybe it is the god of work; I see far too many people spending their days in miserable enthrallment to career. Maybe you serve the god of drugs and substance abuses. For anyone who has struggled with alcohol or substance abuse you know it can become your god.
But, as Joshua said, as for me and my house we will serve the Lord. We will choose to serve the living and true king. But having said that, what on earth do we mean by that? Just what is Jesus, or for that matter Paul and Ezekiel, saying to us about what it means to serve the true king? I once thought, as I read Matthew, what was asked of me was to literally feed the hungry, clothe the naked, tend to the sick, visit those in prison. But that, folks, is only the tip of the iceberg. Yes, it means that we need to take the Matthew 25 pledge and do all of those things, but not just because it is the “right” thing to do. We do not, should not, engage in noblesse oblige, the duty of the nobility. We do not serve those who need us because it is our duty; we do it because Christ is in each and every person with who we have contact. I tend to this little flock because each and every one of you is Christ and because I am the hands and heart of Christ in this world. You have a Giving Tree because Jesus needs you. Yes, Jesus needs you. This is a different kind of king!! This is a king who says I came for all of you, I died for all of you, and I am where the least of you resides, just as I did when I walked the earth.
Think of yourself as a member of a family. Now I know some of us love our families of origin and some hate them, so that the word family can have divergent meanings for each and every one of us. But Jesus brings us all together as a divine family; the entire human race is a family and Christ is a king who is with each and every member of that family. Our genes tell us that we, in the end, are all closely related and all have common ancestors. Jesus tells us as much when he says that he is in each and every person whom we serve. Does not Jesus say that “I was hungry, thirsty, a stranger, sick, and in prison.” The Reign of Christ is not at all about belief; there is nothing, nothing at all in Matthew or any of the readings for today that talks of orthodoxy or right belief. It is all about action and deeds, all about what we call orthopraxy: right action. Faith in this passage is what we do and not what we say or confess.
It is not about wealth or the accumulation of wealth. In fact, Ezekiel roundly condemns those over fed sheep who trample the pasture and foul the water for others. I could think of some more recent examples of those who want all the good stuff for themselves!! That is why I asked that the omitted verses be read. I think God knows what to do with all the overly fat sheep.
How do you view this last Sunday of the church year, this Sunday we call Reign of Christ? So you see it as a day when we turn to Jesus as sovereign and worship him, or as a day when we recognize that this kingdom, the time that is here but not yet here, is about justice and compassion and living in solidarity with those who are marginalized, unjustly imprisoned, hungry, cold, without shelter, or sick.
Robert Roth puts it this way: “Matthew 25:31-46 is “the Great Judgment,” the place where Jesus spells out clearly what God’s ultimate judgment looks like. There is nothing about belief or doctrine. No mention of whether one has had a personal, emotional conversion experience. Nor even any reference to homosexuality, alcohol, swearing, or forms of worship.”
I have been, am, and will be guilty of being self-righteous and failing to come anywhere close to living up to the pledge of Matthew 25. Sometimes I respond by ignoring, sometimes by donating, but far less often by doing. But doing justice, practicing compassion, fighting violence, defending those who need defending are all the stuff of Matthew 25. The people who heard the words of Jesus were all confused, both those who practiced justice and those who did not. Both called Jesus “Lord” but clearly it has nothing to do with what we call Jesus; it has everything to do with how we choose to follow him.
Maybe it would be easier if that judgement day came when we were facing eminent death. It is said that Constantine postponed his baptism until he was on his death bed so that he would not sin after baptism, believing that what was required was right belief and that baptism itself was salvation from damnation. But this passage should catch us all up a bit short for it requires us to be vigilant all the time. Actually vigilant is not the right word; what is right is that we need to be actively engaged in the work of Christ in this world; yes, the work of Christ. If we think that means there is no hope for us, that we cannot possibly achieve that type of perfection we also miss the message. God, and Christ, are shepherds. When we stray they will come looking for us and lead us back to a good and safe pasture, if we are willing.
So, my people, I again ask you how you intend to observe the Reign of Christ. Do you believe that it is a matter of right belief, that salvation comes from confessing Jesus is Lord and then you are home free, or do you believe that the Kingdom is all about seeking Jesus in the world in which we live now? I have seem much wailing and gnashing of teeth over what perhaps are trifles and complete oblivion to gross injustice.
I come up short; you come up short, all God’s people come up short. How is that Good News? It is good news because we know that, while sometimes we behave like one of the fat sheep or one of the goats, we also are hungry in our own ways and that, if we are willing, we can be fed by God. The feast that is endless, the lamp that is always burning. Then we have, as people fed in the spiritual food of the Sacrament of his body and blood and we are sent, once again, into the world. Each week we are renewed and reminded that the work of Christ is the work of the world and it is both in and out of our doors. There are times you do not feel like being here because you have your own hunger and thirst. We need to tend to those needs in one another. Then we need to turn to the world around us.
Perhaps none put these words to practice, the rubber to the road, then the Benedictines. Benedict said:
Let all guests who arrive be received like Christ, for He is going to say, "I came as a guest, and you received Me" (Matt. 25:35). And to all let due honor be shown, especially to the domestics of the faith and to pilgrims.
As soon as a guest is announced, therefore, let the Superior or the brethren meet him with all charitable service. And first of all let them pray together, and then exchange the kiss of peace. For the kiss of peace should not be offered until after the prayers have been said, on account of the devil's deceptions.
In the salutation of all guests, whether arriving or departing, let all humility be shown. Let the head be bowed or the whole body prostrated on the ground in adoration of Christ, who indeed is received in their persons.
After the guests have been received and taken to prayer, let the Superior or someone appointed by him sit with them. Let the divine law be read before the guest for his edification, and then let all kindness be shown him. The Superior shall break his fast for the sake of a guest, unless it happens to be a principal fast day which may not be violated. The brethren, however, shall observe the customary fasts. Let the Abbot give the guests water for their hands; and let both Abbot and community wash the feet of all guests. After the washing of the feet let them say this verse: "We have received Your mercy, O God, in the midst of Your temple" (Ps.47:10).
In the reception of the poor and of pilgrims the greatest care and solicitude should be shown, because it is especially in them that Christ is received; for as far as the rich are concerned, the very fear which they inspire wins respect for them.
What does that look like for you and for us, as St. Paul’s, as Episcopalians, and as Christians? It means practicing radical hospitality, here and in our lives. It means always and everywhere recognizing Christ in everyone you meet. If we begin to do that, one at a time, who knows where it might lead and then, just maybe, we can announce that the Reign of Christ is arrived!! Amen