Saturday, November 22, 2014

You Know Where to Find Him (Christ the King, Nov 23 2014)

Homily:  Yr A Reign of Christ, Nov 23 2014, St. Albans
Readings:  Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24; Psalm 100; Eph 1:15-23; Mt 25:31-46

Creative Commons - Photo by Michael Swan
What would it look like if Christ was king?

Today, in this our final Sunday of our church year, we celebrate a festival day which we call Christ the King, or sometimes, the Reign of Christ.  And so it makes sense, I think, to ask the question: 

What would things look like if Christ was King? 

What would our lives, our communities, our world be like if they were the way Jesus wanted them to be?

What would things look like if God was in charge?

I think it’s safe to say that they’d look a lot different than they do today.  On Thursday evening we had an event here at St. Albans called Stolen Sisters where we learned about the thousands of murdered and missing aboriginal women in Canada.  We heard about how predators often target these women because they know that we as a society value them less than we do non-aboriginal women.  We learned about how aboriginal girls as young as seven to twelve years old are lured and abducted by human traffickers and forced into prostitution.

If Christ was king, that wouldn’t happen.

This week, we had a memorial service at Centre 454 for men and women who have died this year in the shelters and on the streets of our city.  What I found particularly poignant was that most of those we remembered died before the age of 60. In fact studies have shown that the average life expectancy for a person experiencing homelessness in Canada is 39 years.

If Christ was king, it wouldn’t be like that.

How do we get from here to there?  From our present reality to that promised reality of God’s kingdom of peace and justice.

The prophet Ezekiel in our first reading has a vision of the day that God himself will put a stop to injustice and oppression.  Using the image of a shepherd, which was a political and a royal image, Ezekiel dreams of the day when God will act to cast aside earthly rulers, take on the role of shepherd and king and put things right.

For thus says the Lord God:  I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out.  I will rescue them, I will gather them and bring them into their own land.  I will feed them, I will gather the lost and I will bind up the injured and I will strengthen the weak.  I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep.

That’s what it will look like when God is king.  But that’s not all.  Because in this great vision of Ezekiel’s, God pledges not just to care for those who are in need, but also to stamp out the root causes of that need.  For there are things that will not stand when God is king.  No one will be allowed to do violence to another.  No one will be allowed to take the food that should go to the hungry.  No one will traffic seven year old girls and sell them into a life of prostitution.  No one’s life will be cut short because of homelessness.  Oppression and injustice will be no more.  And so, of the sheep who have become fat and strong by pushing and butting the weak aside, the Lord God says through Ezekiel, I will judge.  The fat and strong I will destroy.  I will feed them with justice.

Because in order to get from here to there, there are things that will have to go.  Oppression, violence, injustice, these will not stand and will have to be destroyed in order for God’s reign to be fully realized.

That is Ezekiel’s vision of how God will lead us from our present reality to his promised reign of peace and justice.  That’s how it will look when Christ is king.

But there is another question of importance for us this morning, and it is this:

How do we allow this great vision of God’s future reign, the day when Christ is king, to shape our present reality?  What difference do these promises make for us today?

We’ve come to the end of our year of readings from the Gospel of Matthew.  Do you remember the very first words of Jesus public ministry that Matthew records?  “Repent, for the kingdom of God has come near.” 

We know that God’s kingdom is not fully realized in our world today.  But it is close enough for us to glimpse, close enough even to grasp.  How do we bring this great vision of the future into our lives today?

Today’s gospel is Jesus final public speech, not by choice, but because the next day he would be arrested.  It’s his last chance, his final attempt to get his message across.

Did you get the message?

Actually, it’s hard to miss.  It’s repeated four times.  We are called, we were created, we are commanded to respond to human need with loving service.

When you see the hungry, give them food.  When someone is thirsty give them something to drink.  Welcome strangers.  Give clothes to those who are naked.  When someone is sick, take care of them.  Visit those who are in prison.  The list is repeated, four times, in its entirety, in today’s gospel.

We live in a world where people are hungry and thirsty even though there is enough food and drink for all.  We live in a world where people are intentionally marginalized and made to feel unwelcome.  We live in a world where those who are sick and in prison are often isolated and lonely.  There are times when we respond to these needs with loving service.  Thank God for those who do.  But there are times when we don’t.  Why?  Sometimes it’s deliberate.  Sometimes it’s because we’re afraid, because we ourselves feel vulnerable. Sometimes it’s because we fail to see the needs around us, because we’re too busy or too focused on ourselves.  Sometimes it’s because we’re caught up in social structures and global systems that create injustice and suffering and we just don’t know what to do.  In theological language, all of this is called sin.

And Jesus says in today’s gospel “this will not stand”.  That God will not allow it to stand.  That God has promised to put the entire world right, showing up sin for what it is, judging it and destroying it so that it no longer has the power to infect his good creation.  That when God’s kingdom comes on earth there will be no more neglect of neighbour, there will be no more failure to respond to another’s need, there will be no more doing evil and injustice to one another.

This is Jesus’ last chance, and he wants to make sure we get the message.  That’s why he repeats it four times.  That’s why in today’s gospel, Jesus talks about judgement and hell. 

And he does get our attention, at least in part because we have unresolved issues with hell.  And I could say a lot about that, and I have on other occasions, and for those who wish I’d be happy to give you the links.

But for today, I want to say this.  In many ways the whole question of heaven and hell, of the sheep and the goats, comes down to this:  do you want to be with God or not?

Because if you want to be with God, to experience God deeply and truly, to be in relationship with the one who created you, then you can start now, and this is how  you will find God.

You will find God in the one who is hungry.  You will discover him in the one who thirsts.  You will meet her in the stranger.  You will experience him in the one who needs clothes.  You will care for her when she is sick, you will visit him in prison.  When you meet and care for those in need, you will meet and care for God, face to face.

This is the surprising twist in today’s gospel, the unexpected turn that neither the sheep nor the goats were expecting.  Jesus, Christ the king, is to be found in the poor and oppressed of our world and it is in service to these that you will have your deepest and most profound experience of God.

You know, I can’t make this stuff up.  Sometimes I have a hard time grasping it myself.  But this is the surprise of the gospel of Christ.  The kingdom of God is in our midst, here and now and you know where to find it.  Repent, for the kingdom of God is near.


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