The Pas Last Sunday after Pentecost – Reign of Christ
26 November 2017
Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24
Destitute king, one with the hungry, the naked, and the scorned: may our faith be proved not in dogma and piety but in serving you in the last and the least; through Jesus Christ, the stranger’s Lord. Amen.
This is the end of the year. I know it doesn’t look like the end of the year. We haven’t celebrated Christmas, yet, nor enjoyed eggnog with all the trimmings with friends. But this is the end of the churches year, this is when we turn our hearts, our minds, our attentions to Christ’s promise to return to us as our saviour, as our king.
This is the time of the year when we focus on everything that we’ve learned, that we’ve listened to, that we’ve absorbed regarding the love that Jesus has taught us, the love that God has lavished upon us, upon all of creation since the beginning of the world.
This is the time when we focus on Christ returning to us in his glory, to judge the righteous and the unrighteous, as Jesus promised before he ascended to heaven.
We know that Christ’s return will be unexpected. We know that our aim as Christians is to wait for Christ to come again in his glory, as our judge.
And this will be a surprise to us because we know Jesus as our friend, our advocate before the Father, as the one who teaches us how to love as we are loved.
But when Jesus comes in his glory, we won’t know what this will look like, and in many places, in many ways, we will not recognize this event in our lives until it has happened. And this is what Jesus is talking about in our gospel, for today.
Jesus tells us: “31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.” (Mt 25:31-32)
So, we need to ask ourselves, what is it that God, that Christ, is expecting to see? Is seeing in how we live our lives, today, yesterday, and even tomorrow? After all, this isn’t a theoretical question. This is something that will happen, one day, because the gospel begins with the word “when.”
If you think about it, the rest of today’s gospel, the rest of the text talks about how we live our faith, how we demonstrate our lives of faith, and how we live into that by seeking and serving Christ in the world around us, or not.
So, let’s look at the lives of two cousins. Alejandro and Jose.
Alejandro attends church every Sunday. He always sits in the same place, in the church, and he makes an appearance at every extra prayer service, bible study, and potluck meal. He’s the centre of attention at the studies, and at the potlucks, the life of the gathering.
He looks after himself, he enjoys the periodic spa day, he has a good house and hires a housekeeper to keep everything in order. He’s always well dressed, and he like to “keep up with the Jones’s”.
He’s always seen at the community gatherings, and he’s got the right photo ops going on, on his Facebook page. If there is a photo to be taken, he’s almost photobombing the occasion in order to be in the shot, to be seen to have been in attendance. He even makes the right donations to the right charities in the right way, and the press can verify this. To look at him, he seems to be making all the right moves, the right donations, the right actions at the right time.
Jose, on the other hand, is as equally busy an individual as Alejandro. He comes to church when he can, but that’s not always possible, and when he comes, he’s often just in time, and slips into the first available pew. He also follows the news, as much as his cousin, but you’d be hard pressed to find photos of Jose doing anything in the public eye.
Rather, he periodically misses church because he’s busy volunteering at the local homeless shelter. He’s serving at the soup kitchen, he contributes to donation kettles around and that benefit the community, as well as to food drives.
He helps with children’s programs, and when he finds the time, he delivers meals for ‘meals on wheels.’ He’s not overly concerned with the community’s opinion of him, as long as he’s able to make an effort to meet the needs of individuals in the community who need a helping hand, or a strong shoulder.
So, when Christ returns in his glory, what is it that will be looked for, looked at when “All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.”? (Mt 25:32)
In many ways, we, humanity today, strive to compartmentalize our lives. In many ways, society encourages this kind of separation of the parts of our lives into manageable and easily hidden one part from another.
In a way, society encourages us to wear masks, one mask for how we are at home, one mask for how we are in society, one mask for the work place, and so on.
But God sees through all of that. God sees past all of the masks, the layers, the compartmentalization we impose upon ourselves and our lives and sees the real person underneath it all.
This is where the imagery of Jesus comes thorough, where Paul’s talk of living our lives of faith in and through everything that we’ve encountered, experienced, and continue to live.
God encourages us, through the teachings of Christ through the letters of Paul, to live fully into the promise of Christ, but not just in words, rather in action as well.
Paul tells us in the reading from Ephesians, today, “16 I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. 17 I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. 18 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, 19 and his incomparably great power for us who believe.” (Eph 1:16-19a)
Society may demand masks and compartmentalization, over our behaviour so that it’s always ‘best foot forward’, so that we can keep a ‘stiff upper lip’ and so that ‘to pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps’ has become more than a mantra, its become a marker of individual success or failure in life.
In contrast with this is the love, the teachings, the demonstrations of Jesus, to treat others are we wish to be treated, to serve Christ in the world around us, and to do so with a whole heart, with an honest approach, and without fear of retribution.
So, how do we reconcile these two visions of the world? How do we reconcile our lives so that our faith is demonstrated authentically?
Paul chooses to applaud our authentic demonstrations of faith. Paul chooses to applaud the authenticity of our faith.
When Christ returns, what will be said? What will be seen? How will Christ respond to the intentional separations we’ve created in our lives between our lives of faith and our lives in the world.
When we look at the tale of Alejandro and Jose, which is more authentic? Alejandro and his spotlight seeking life that doesn’t pay more than lip-service to a life of faith, a life of service in Christ’s name, compared with Jose who works behind the scenes to see that the world feels the love of God in every action, in every way that he can.
How will Christ respond to these two? Will Alejandro be sent with the goats, while Jose is seen amongst the sheep? How do we reconcile these separate visions in our own lives?
Perhaps the reason Christ hasn’t yet returned in his glory to judge amongst the nations is because we’ve not yet been able to live into the promises of Jesus, into the hopes of Paul.
God knows how hard headed, hard hearted humanity is able to be. God knows that we’re not ready to face anything close to the second coming of Christ in his glory. God knows that we, as the children of God are, stuborn, and foolish, and headstrong, and still yearning to feel the warmth and the tenderness of the love that only God can lavish upon us.
So, God holds out hope for each one of us, that we will set aside the hollow aspects of society, of vanity, of self absorption, and whole heartedly accept the love and the teachings of Christ, living into the promises of the gospel, the promises of the teachings of Christ to serve as we are served, not just today, not just when we’re in church but every day, and wherever it is we find ourselves in the world.
Today we celebrate that Christ, our sovereign, our king, our lord and saviour, will, when humanity is ready, return in his glory.
Christ is the one who is able to fully love us, no matter what the muck is that we’ve wallowed through and feel engrained in our pores, we are loved. Whether we resemble Pig Pen, from the Peanuts cartoons, or whether we resemble Lucy, we are still the children of God, and we are loved.
What God is looking for is how are we able to live into the promises, into the love, and into the teachings of Christ, our lord, our saviour, our sovereign, our king.
The examples are before us, the examples are within us, when we live into the teachings of Christ, not just on the surface of our lives, but to the very depths of the hearts where Christ lives.
We may not, yet, live into the hope that Christ speaks of today, when he tells us what it will be like when he returns in his glory, but there is still hope, there is still time to try it out, to get it right, to learn in the depths of our socks what it is that Christ is talking about when we’re told to love our neighbour, when we’re told to treat others as we wish to be treated, when we’re told to seek and serve God, Christ in the world around us.
Because Christ tells us, “‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did/did not do for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did/did not do for me.’” (Matt 25:40b, 45b)
But this hasn’t come to pass, yet, so there is time.
For all of us, there is time to learn what Christ has given his life to teach us. there is time for us to live out the promises of our baptism, when we “put our whole trust in his grace and love” (BAS pg 155)
But it doesn’t stop there. Our baptismal promises, when we “proclaim by word and example the good news of God in Christ?” and when we “seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving your neighbour as yourself?” (BAS pg 159)
Because tomorrow is still a promise, and in that promise, nothing has yet been written. Its all up to us how we will live into the promises of Christ, today, as the new liturgical year begins, as the chances begin, once again, for us to live into the promises of Christ, into the teachings of the King, before he comes again in his glory.