Sermon November 23: To Me

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Faith United Methodist Church

November 23, 2014

Christ the King Sunday

Rev. Krista Beth Atwood

Scripture: Matthew 25:31-46

Prayer of Illumination:        

Reign in our hearts, O God, and shape us as your people. Help us celebrate all the ways you reveal Christ to us ~ through our giving, our receiving, our serving, our witness, and our worship. Amen.

Sermon:                                To Me       

This is one of those Sundays when our liturgical calendar doesn’t line up too well with our cultural celebrations. As Americans we are whetting our appetites for turkey and stuffing and pumpkin pie. Some of us will be traveling quite a distance to be with loved ones. Gary, Ben and I will be driving to Maine on Wednesday to visit family. Others among us will be welcoming out-of-town guests or visiting friends for the feast. And in addition to Thanksgiving, our culture tells us that the Christmas shopping season is about to begin with Black Friday, Shop Local Saturday and Cyber Monday.   It’s a busy time!

Our liturgical calendar, though, doesn’t include Thanksgiving, Black Friday or even Cyber Monday. The liturgical calendar was, in fact, established several hundred years before the pilgrims ever set foot on what would become American soil. The events we celebrate in the liturgical year are beyond nationalities and today’s commemoration ~ Christ the King ~ has nothing to do with earthly rulers or celebrations of patriotism. Today we turn our focus to the reign of Christ in our lives today and in the age to come.

 To help us in this, our lectionary gives us one of Jesus’ teachings. In it, Jesus describes the end of the age, when he will separate his people as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats in his flock. The sheep are those that visited the sick, gave food to the hungry, shared water with the thirsty, and clothed the naked. It’s these that will inherit the Kingdom of Heaven because, as Jesus said, “…just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family you did it to me.” The goats, on the other hand, don’t make out so well. They are the ones that didn’t visit or give or share or clothe. They will be sent to the eternal fire. “…just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.”

In this teaching we hear Jesus’ description of the final judgment. Those things that Jesus identified as essential to entering the kingdom of God are things as simple ~ and as complicated ~ as feeding the hungry, giving water to the thirsty, clothing the naked, showing hospitality to strangers, looking after the sick and visiting those in prison. As our Seasons of the Spirit puts it, “It is about living in a relationship that enables us to become the person, the people, we are intended to be…”

This is not a comforting teaching, though. Like the last two weeks of parables, this is a difficult one. All three ~ the foolish bridesmaids, the fearful servant, and now the sheep and the goats ~ are about judgment and judgment is not always a very comforting topic. When I look at my life I recall times when I gave to those in need and visited those who were struggling. I also recall times when I walked by or looked the other way. I remember instances when, rushing to my next appointment, I didn’t think I had enough time to help. This parable reminds me that pretending not to notice is not an excuse. Neither the sheep nor the goats saw Jesus in the people in need. They both had to ask, “When was it that we saw you…..” The sheep just chose to respond in the spirit of Jesus.

This also reminds me that in his ministry Jesus noticed people and responded. Jesus saw the needs. He spent time with people who were suffering. The people he encountered struggled with physical, emotional and spiritual ailments. Jesus didn’t look the other way. To live like Jesus is to be aware. John Wesley, the founder of the Methodist Church, once speculated, “One great reason why the rich, in general, have so little sympathy for the poor, is, because, they so seldom visit them…one part of the world does not know what the other suffers.” Perhaps this is an invitation to put ourselves in places where we can see the need and to open our eyes to what’s already around us as though we are seeing Jesus.

We have to remember, though, that reaching out to those in need is not just about getting our ticket into heaven. It isn’t so much about “us” giving and “them” receiving. It’s about what happens in that encounter. Relationship. It’s about living in community with a spirit of generosity. Again, as our Seasons of the Spirit puts it, “As Jesus’ disciples perform acts of mercy and justice, they encounter the living presence of Christ in one another. When we decide to follow Christ with abandon and give generously to those we meet, we just might be surprised by what we receive. …just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family you did it to me.

This parable humbles me. I seek to live honoring Christ as the King of my life, yet this parable reminds me of all the ways I fail to follow Christ everyday. It stings. “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me…” I fail in generosity. I fail in compassion. I fail in love. On this Christ the King Sunday I know I have fallen short of my Christian calling and I repent.

And in that repenting I get to turn around and I get to try again. Advent is just around the corner and in a short time John the Baptist will again appear in our Scripture readings. He will cry out from the wilderness inviting us, “Repent for the Kingdom of God has come near.” I don’t think I will ever be perfect, but I know that in Christ I am given new life, a fresh start. And I know you are too. And that is the Good News.

As the church we have an amazing calling. We are called to be in relationship with the world as Jesus would, with love and hope and healing. Our hope is, that when we encounter the world in this way we encounter Christ himself in our world. As Sarah Dylan Breuer reminds us, “This invitation is not for after we die – the chance to act is gone then. It is an invitation for this moment, this day, this generation.” …just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family you did it to me.

Jesus spoke of feeding, clothing, visiting. He didn’t say, “I was sick and you healed me. I was in prison and you set me free.” Living the Kingdom doesn’t take incredible strength or skill. It does take some faith, some courage and a lot of support from our brothers and sisters in Christ as we risk being in relationship with each other. We can see one example of this right before us today. Our cornucopia overflowing with food for those who otherwise wouldn’t have a Thanksgiving feast to share. Together we have touched numerous lives. Thanks be to God!

After worship we will pack up the food to be taken to the food shelf. Then we will decorate (festoon) our sanctuary for the next liturgical celebration ~ Advent! Tonight our interfaith community will gather in Burlington to reflect on our national holiday of Thanksgiving and what that means to us as people of faith. Later in the week many of us will gather around tables laden with turkey and the ‘fixins’ and we will give thanks for pilgrims and Native Americans who, for a moment, shared in the spirit of generosity.

And we will remember that no matter where we live, we are part of a greater Kingdom where Christ reigns. A kingdom where the sick are visited, the hungry are fed, and where there are no least because everyone is in Christ. …just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family you did it to me. Amen.