26 November 2023
Sermon By: Rev. Dr. Robin A. Reed+
Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24
Sunday Cycle of Prayer
The Church of Nigeria (Anglican Communion)
St. James Church, Leesburg
Christ Church, Longwood
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.
Christ the King: Be restored in Him...
Have you had your Annual Wellness check-up this year? You know the routine primary care appointment in which after getting a reminder from the office you
visit the lab, provide at least 5 tubes of blood, wait several weeks for the results
and visit your physician for the annual poking, prodding, and questions about your lifestyle.
Yearly wellness checks can be uncomfortable experience particularly when we are poked or prodded in SOME places especially if we know our health isn’t up to speed after a season of eating more and moving less. But if we have a family history, and most of us do, of high cholesterol or blood pressure, cancer or heart issues, we tend to follow up because wellness checks can catch questionable concerns and so we can choose to make healthy changes, drinking more water, being more active, and my least favorite, reducing our chocolate, dessert or sugar intake.
At times these annual wellness check identify new matters, low or high lab levels,
skin abnormalities, or even suspected cancers that require further assessment and diagnoses to remove or manage life-threatening conditions and restore us to health.
Today in our Gospel lesson, the only account of the Last Judgement in the Gospels,
Matthew reminds us of the importance of an annual “Spiritual” wellness check.
A spiritual wellness check is not to scare or condemn us but to invite us to reflect and review our spiritual health. How are we living in God’s Kingdom here on earth Where are we serving our brothers and sisters in need? Are we responding like goats or sheep?
God, like a caring physician with a “tough love approach,” wants us to open the eyes of our hearts to enlighten us to act more often like sheep than goats, experience his Hope, be fully restored in the love of Christ our King In our hearts, church, community and the world.
Matthew, over the last three weeks, has warned us to be awake, prepared, ready for Jesus’s second coming as Christ our King. Today Matthew describes our “last exam”, what Jesus will ask us at His Second coming as Christ the King. Historically Matthew’s message unfolds on two levels, Matthew predicts judgement on Old Testament Israel for crucifying Jesus, with the Second Jerusalem Temple destruction in 70 AD AND Matthew foretells Christ’s Second coming at the end times, Judgement Day. All of us and all who have gone on before us will gather around Christ the King in his glory and then be separated by our King into two groups. The sheep - the blessed righteous will sit at the King’s right hand and inherit the Kingdom Christ has prepared from the world’s beginning foundation. But the goats - the cursed evil-doers will go left and enter into the eternal fire of punishment prepared for the devil and his angels.
Now in our hierarchical society we are taught, and tend to, judge others as “Haves” and “have nots” due to their knowledge, fame, fortune and/or social status.
However, Christ the King creates a radically new social structure- a circle in which every human being is acknowledged as created in God’s image and expected to be treated with dignity. There are no haves and have nots in the God’s Kingdom.
On Judgement Day Christ the King will ask each of us about our response to human need set before us. Before I reflect more upon this question let me clarify,
I don’t believe Matthew is saying “Good works are your ticket to heaven.” For as Paul wrote to the Ephesians (2: 8), we are saved by our faith and by God’s grace.
Faith is the essential ticket to heaven. Christ will welcome any of us in faith
even in the last moments of our lives. Remember the penitent thief breathing his last breaths, hanging vulnerably from the cross, realizing he had lived his life as a goat, acting insensitively toward others, focusing solely upon himself, avoiding and denying the “have nots” in need. But as he believed and trusted in God his heart was warmed, the eyes of his heart enlightened and Christ welcomed that old goat to heaven where he became a newborn sheep.
For those of us who have believed in and followed Christ much of our lives, Christ calls us to live our lives acting like sheep, sharing our lives in community, giving of our time, talent, and treasure out of gratitude for Christ’s mercy and grace.
Christ expects our WALK to match our TALK, to be people of integrity, with our words and actions reflecting our beliefs in and witness to Christ’s universal love.
Now none of are like Christ able to share with everyone whose heart was open.
As human beings we are prone to sin, often forget to ask for God’s wisdom and have limited time, talent, and treasure. As a result at times we act like goats
ignoring folks’ needs in our lives, giving help with strings attached expecting thanks, publicity or praise, getting stuck in ruts, worrying only about ourselves.
And there are times we act like sheep, proclaiming God’s word in action, fightingfor justice for others, Loving quite instinctively and naturally because as we journey with Christ and open our hearts, Christ opens and frees our hearts from the
calcified places of discrimination and prejudice toward others and ourselves and infuses us with His inclusive unconditional love so we can claim our own, and see others’ deepest identity as children of God.
In our annual “spiritual” wellness check up Christ calls us to look for the calcified places of fear or pride in our hearts which lead to our goat behavior so He can cleanse us with his power and reveal the deep places of love of His love for us to embrace the needy.
In Matthew’s account of Judgement day Jesus offers guidelines on how to embrace the needy in a sheeply manner through five traditional and simple Jewish acts of mercy feeding the hungry, quenching the thirsty, welcoming a stranger, cheering up the sick, visiting those in prison. Those in prisons with metal bars and barbwires
and in prison with hidden, shrouded restraints.
These are five simple acts which each of us can do for the “least” of God’s family for in doing so we do so for Jesus himself. And yet what keeps us from helping all people across all nations, especially the least, the weak, vulnerable, powerless,
those on life’s margins the smallest.
At times, I suspect we all struggle with others some are those we see as have nots, thems to our us. We struggle with folks who are different from us in some way. In ability, age, culture, ethnicity, gender, gender identification, political beliefs, religion or race.
Sometimes we fear these others and other times the thems are just people we find hard to like because of their actions and yet Jesus calls us to treat them with kindness and love. Jesus calls us to look beneath the labels we tend to give others at first or second or third glance to become acquainted with them, to hear their story and to know them as human beings, for in doing so we are likely and celebrate our common human needs to be safe, belong, have a meaningful purpose
and to be loved.
And we can discover that Jesus, a God who loves each of us, is with each of us, our family, neighbors, rivals and even all who are needy Jesus promises us in the messiness, chaos, and divisions we create in life, places of hunger and thirst, loneliness and sorrow, poverty and imprisonment Jesus is with us, Jesus is with them, Jesus is with all.
Jesus can be seen if we are open and aware in the face of every human being if we look beneath the surface to true, deeply human, and authentic human life. While acting like goats we might label others as “thems” or have nots but Jesus sees, calls, and embraces all as children created in His image. And Jesus wants to free each of us, all of us to stand around the throne with him and sit at His right hand.
Our calling is to be like sheep with open hearts and minds, arms and hands in love, receiving Christ’s love, living in Christ’s love and being joyful to share Christ’s love. Even when we don’t realize we are doing so Mother Theresa, in her years of serving the poor, sick, and dying on the Streets of Calcutta was often asked by her admirers “How can you keep serving with such vigor? What’s your secret?”
“Whenever I meet someone in need,” replied Mother Theresa it’s really Jesus in his most distressing disguise. It’s Him I help.”
Today is Christ the King Sunday time for your annual spiritual check-up. I encourage you: pray with the Great Physician and ask yourself:
Where do I see Christ in others even in the most distressing disguises?
Where, even at this point in my life, do I tend to ignore, turn away,
or deny a brother or sister in distress rather than take time to see the face of
Christ within them?
Where and when am I acting like a sheep and where and when am I acting like a goat?
As you do your spiritual wellness check may Christ the King give you the courage to ask the difficult questions and Enlighten the eyes of your heart, to know His unconditional love for you so you can share your time, talent, treasure, and love with our brothers and sisters in need.
Cover Image: https://thepropertyofjesus.blogspot.com/2014/11/the-feast-of-christ-king.html