Sermon for Christ the King 2017

Sermon for Christ the King 2017

 

Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24; Ephesians 1:15-end; Matthew 25:31-end

 

 

Come Holy Spirit and touch my lips; Come Holy Spirit and illuminate our minds; Come Holy Spirit and fill our hearts with love.  Amen.

 

 

In 2001 I was admitted to hospital for a week with a rather serious infection.  My temperature was so high that I would go into something called a ‘rigour’ status where my body would not stop shaking or moving and the only way to stop it would be for me to be sick.  It was horrendous particularly as Gareth and Graeme were only 12 and 9 at the time and had to be looked after by others.  It was the week before I was due to start the autumn term of teaching and whilst supply teachers could cover everyone knows that if you miss the first couple of weeks with a new class it is very difficult to then set the expectations and standards as well as develop trusting relationships.  I was immensely worried about everything on top of being in a lot of pain and very ill.  And I don’t do ill.  I don’t do being dependant on others - even less then than now.

 

But I will never forget one night waking and the shaking starting again, the sickness arriving and the hopelessness descending.  Was this ever going to pass?  But this time was different for on the side of my bed, without me even calling her, sat a nurse.   She just sat and held my hand, stroked my hair, called me ‘sweetheart’ and told me that whilst I was ‘very poorly’ I would be ok.  In that moment her gentle voice and touch held such hope and such understanding that I could almost hear the swish of her wings as she left the room.  There was no name for this lady and I have no idea who she was.  She was a visitation from God in that moment to offer me the love he wanted to show me.

 

Hold onto that thought for I will come back to it in a moment.  Firstly, though I want to take you further back in my life to when I was about 10 years old.  My dad had been made redundant (I’ve spoken to you about that situation before)….but mum and dad were really struggling to put food on the table.  There were no food banks to turn to and they were getting the benefits available to them but feeding 3 growing, hungry children was tough.  One morning I opened the front door and on the doorstep  was a large potato sack filled with food of all kinds, jars, tins, fresh and dried and sat on top of the sack was a note - it read ‘man cannot live by bread alone’ and was decorated by a massive smiley face.  There was no signature and I have no idea who put it there.  When I saw it, though,  I knew this was a visitation from God.  There was the distinct sound of the swishing of wings somewhere off stage left.

 

I don’t know whether either of these people in my life who have had a profound effect on me both in terms of my physical and emotional well being as well as my spiritual journey of faith would count themselves as ‘sheep’ serving Christ through their actions but in those moments they did.  They weren’t grand gestures done for their own glory and I suspect that the nurse would just say she was doing her job but they were moments in my life that gave me hope and showed me the love of God.

 

Sometimes, particularly when we hear passages from the Bible about judgement it can make us less comfortable sitting in our chairs and the passages we heard this morning are about the judgement that will come when Christ the King comes in all His glory.  And yet we should also be comforted too that it is in the little actions that we do for others that we can show the love of God most. These readings this morning, however are about noticing - noticing when we are shown God’s love and also noticing when we offer it.  Noticing the person who walks by or lies ill, or goes hungry as Christ notices us.

 

Jesus speaks here of the final judgment being like a shepherd separating sheep and goats (shepherds would have grazed them in mixed flocks). Separating sheep from goats in western countries is not difficult, as the sheep have been bred to accentuate their wool production so they look quite different. However, sheep and goats in Asia and Africa are often similar in appearance because they are in fact of the same kind in terms of DNA and species.  Non-shepherds find it difficult to distinguish such sheep and goats, but the real shepherd knows the difference and easily separates them. For example, there are differences in behaviour: sheep tend to follow; goats go their own way. 

Jesus tells us in the Gospel according to John that he is the good shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep.  He does not say I am the good shepherd who lays down his life for the goats.  At the judgment on the last day when Christ’s authority will gather people of every nation and every language, he, the Great Shepherd will know the difference and will separate those who followed Him from those who went their own way.  Those who recognised Him and those who could not see.

Essentially Jesus says you are all of the same kind but some of you will have your eyes open and others will not.  It will be no defence on the last day to cry out – “when Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty, when did we see you as stranger or naked, sick or in prison? When Lord?”  For as we are told here, and in many other places in the Gospel, the least are our Lord.  Each and every person is our Lord – for each and every person has been made in the image of God and despite what we might think God loves them as much as he loves us.

As individuals this is enormously challenging but it is just as challenging, if not more so to work out what our reaction to this reading should be as a church.  Constantly ‘Seeing Christ’ in our world means having to open our eyes to the suffering around us. And that is not an easy prospect - shutting our eyes would seem to be the best thing on most days but as a quote I read the other day said, “we are at a very important time in history….things are changing.  When a butterfly transforms from a caterpillar it’s very violent and confusing in the chrysalis.  That’s what we’re witnessing now, on our planet.”  The transformation process doesn’t come easily - I’m sure that moving from death on a cross to standing in the light of the early morning sunshine on that first Easter Day wasn’t comfortable and wasn’t easy.  But noticing the capacity for resurrection out of death and being prepared to ‘give it a go’ was what made it possible for you and me.

Noticing the capacity for transformation in our world then is being prepared ‘to give it a go’ on behalf of Christ.  It may mean we are poorer in time, energy, happiness, comfort or skills but it may mean we offer the love of God to someone who needs it most - simply because we can see Christ in everyone.

Seeing Christ in ourselves is challenge enough for we all know that there are aspects of our personality or behaviour that we would rather not allow others to see or know about let alone seeing Christ in others who perhaps have damaged us, offend us, hurt us or ignore us.  Yet this is what Christ the king, our judge, sets before us today as King of Kings and Lord of Lords.  As a servant king who comes to bear all that cannot be borne by us in our world.  The one who is capable of undoing the sin of all of us.  The One who has dominion over all things – in earth and in heaven, above and below because of the cross.  The one who poured out his love for us on the cross because he could always see that we were made in the image of God.  The one who as he lifted his head in pain only saw the weakness of humans and understood it.  On the cross Jesus is the people of God – you and me.  Jesus is the homeless person, the dirty person, the criminal, the paedophile, the sick, the dying, the person who does not know what it is to have a healthy mind.  And it is our role as people who claim to be sheep – those who follow – to see Christ in each one of them for if we choose to see Christ in people we can transform their lives.

The last and perhaps shocking thing about this parable is that there is no mention of faith in Christ at all.  Instead we will be judged on those times where we have offered generosity, love, compassion and hope to others around us - the judgement is for you and me as Christians but also for our neighbours - muslim, hindu, jewish, atheist, buddhist, Sikh etc etc.  Perhaps that adds to our discomfort this morning?  Maybe we thought that as Christians we were safe!  The whole point of this parable is that the minute you think you are safe you have stopped noticing what you are not doing or you are noticing too much what you are doing and doing it for the wrong reasons.  In the last judgement we are told that all nations and all people will recognise Christ as Lord, even if they haven’t until that moment and in that moment all we have done for the least around us will be held to account.

Challenging - yes.  Uncomfortable - yes.  Shocking - yes.

But I come back to those stories at the beginning - they were small things that had a huge impact upon my life and helped to make huge transformations.  God does not ask us to change the world in one go but to act justly and seek mercy for all around us - just notice Christ beside you today and in the days to come and in the small acts we can bring the Kingdom to earth.

 

Amen.

 


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