A sermon for the Feast of Christ the King Year A
Ezekiel 34:11-16; 20-24; Ephesians 1:15-23; Matt 25:31:46
“Stir up, O Lord, the wills of your faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may by you be plenteously rewarded through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen”
Or indeed as some of us may have learned in days gone by
Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may of thee be plenteously rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
It is the last Sunday of the Christian Year today. But in the Christian Calendar, it isn’t a time for looking back. Quite the opposite. It’s a time to look forward, to look at the rewards which await, and to consider the path we tread towards them.
We don’t often stop to think about Christ in Glory. We often pray in the name of Jesus Christ who lives and reigns with you…..but by this time of year, Jesus is firmly a baby in our minds….no matter how much we resist the pull of the retail industry to started celebrating Christmas somewhere in August.
And in the run up to Easter, we think about the adult incarnate human Jesus, and then we face the mystery of the resurrection. We skirt neatly over the Ascension, trying to comedy images of a pair of sandalled feet disappearing into a cloud…and then it’s Pentecost and we have the coming of the Holy Spirit, and through ordinary time we are back to thinking about Jesus ministry on earth.
We don’t much think about Jesus Christ NOW. Seated in glory at his Father’s right hand. We especially tend to avoid thinking about Christ the Judge – the stern ruler, whether judging fat and thin sheep or sheep and goats.
Ezekial’s prophecy from the Old Testament is not only clear, it was probably well known to both Jesus and to Matthew. Jesus says he will be the Prince, the Son of David who will sit on the throne of glory. “All the nations will be gathered before him” – so this prophecy doesn’t just apply to the Jewish people, it applies to everyone. And then, judgment, based on our actions.
As Christians, as those who profess to follow Jesus, we have no excuse and nowhere to hide. We have to help the least of these. Jesus went to the places on the margin as well as in the centre, he cast demons out of people living in graveyards and rubbish dumps, he healed people with leprosy who weren’t allowed into towns and villages, he ate with tax collectors and he travelled to and preached in places in the middle of nowhere. We have our example to follow, and we will be judged on our actions.
Christ, our King, the one given all authority, judges everyone, not just those who follow him. What did we expect of one who has been mad head of all things over the church, and has had all things put under his feet? There is a point to being a Christian, and it is that longing to receive God’s blessing, and to spend eternity in God’s loving presence.
So why do we get a bit nervous when we think about this? We often use imagery of God, and of Jesus as loving. We think of the “good shepherd” – but even the imagery of Ezekiel and Matthew it is clear that the shepherd is only “good” if you are within his protection. If you are a goat trying to hide among the sheep, you will be found out (and as an aside, if you look at pictures of ancient breeds of sheep and goats, some of them are quite hard to tell apart). If you are wolf trying to attack the sheep, the shepherd is your enemy.
Why so nervous? Could it be because judgment, final judgment is God’s, not ours? Are we perhaps unclear about the criteria? But again, here is what we are supposed to do, to serve those in need. To clothe the naked, feed the hungry, welcome the stranger, care for the sick, visit those in need. And we are supposed to do these things in Jesus’ name. It’s not that hard. Except that it can be. Doing those things takes time and effort and energy, not to mention money. But more than all of that, it involves taking risks. Suddenly being a Christian isn’t a cultural thing to do, or a nice thing to do, or a sociable thing to do or a friendly thing to do. It doesn’t stop at being a lovely trip to a friendly service and a pleasant cuppa and chat. It doesn’t even count if you know all the words to Away in a Manger. To be a Christian is to take risks.
It is Stir Up Sunday as well as Christ the King – and maybe the two sit together rather well. It is the end of a year, and time to review what we do personally about living our faith, and about thinking and discerning what God wants us to do, and where we can serve in the future.
There is nothing comfortable about being stirred up, there is nothing comfortable about being judged, and there is nothing much comfortable about being a Christian. Except that we have a God who created us in God’s image, and who encourages us to grow more and more, and who sent Jesus to show us the way of life by his life, and to give us the chance of eternal life by his death and resurrection.
My prayer is that we will, as a community, be stirred up, that we will hear God’s voice, and discern the needs we can meet – that we will do so together, supporting one another in prayer and practice.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, Amen.