A Sermon for the Last Sunday after Pentecost: Christ the King + November 26, 2017

St. Catherine’s Episcopal Church
Chelsea, Alabama
Sunday, November 26, 2017

The Last Sunday after Pentecost: Christ the King + Year A
First Lesson: Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24
Psalm 95:1-7a
Second Lesson: Ephesians 1:15-23
Gospel: Matthew 25:31-46

Now, O Lord, take my lips and speak with them. Take our minds and think through them. Take our hearts and set them on fire for your Gospel. In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

24133440_1556888177735766_1956799327_nAbout three years ago, while I was in seminary in Alexandria, VA, and preparing for my ordination as a deacon, I had the opportunity to attend the funeral of a beloved member of our seminary community, the Rt. Rev. Mark Dyer, who was the former Bishop of the Diocese of Bethlehem and professor of systematic theology and spiritual formation at the seminary. Bishop Mark was loved by many people. Throughout his ministry, he lived his life according to the Gospel of Jesus and remained committed to the mission of the Church. He was perhaps most known for his ecumenical work among Episcopalians, Lutherans, and Orthodox Christians. In his final years, even though his health began to diminish, he continued teaching classes at the seminary, and for those of us who were fortunate enough to have him as a professor before he was too sick to continue teaching, we lovingly referred to our time with the bishop as “Story Time with Bishop Mark.” Like Jesus, the bishop loved to tell stories. He especially loved telling stories about ordinary people doing extraordinary work in the building up of God’s Kingdom, people such as Mother Teresa and Archbishop Desmond Tutu. Telling stories was Bishop Mark’s way of illustrating for us his understanding of who God is and how God continues to be present in our lives. It was his way of saying that the Kingdom of God is not in some distant, unreachable place. The Kingdom of God is here and now, and we, as followers of Jesus, have been called to make God’s dream a reality, a dream that God has had for us since the very beginning of creation. That is the inheritance that God has prepared for us- a kingdom- one where God’s dream of reconciliation is fully realized.

Over the past several weeks, we’ve been hearing a lot about the Kingdom of God (or the Kingdom of Heaven, as it’s referred to in Matthew’s Gospel) through the parables of Jesus. In today’s Gospel lesson, we hear Jesus’ description of the Final Judgment, something that he doesn’t mention very often in the Gospels. Upon hearing our lesson for today, one could easily come to the conclusion that God’s desire is to separate the “sheep” from the “goats,” to rain down judgment on those who have turned away from God. One could easily assume that God is waiting to punish us for the sins that we’ve committed against God and one another, but I don’t believe this to be true. I believe that it’s God’s desire to continually draw us closer so that we might become that which God created us to be. God’s hope is for us to live fully into the vows that we’ve made as followers of Christ and to become that which we receive in the Eucharist, the Body of Christ, broken and freely given for the life of the world. Jesus offers us instruction on what we must do in order to live as God has called us to live. Jesus says, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” In order to follow Christ, we must be willing to be conformed to the very image of God.  In order to follow Jesus, we must become like him. We must feed the hungry and give drink to those who are thirsty. We must welcome the stranger and clothe the naked. We must take care of those who are sick and in prison. The only other option is to turn away and deny the one who calls us to take up our cross.

In the early 90s, Bishop Mark wrote, “Christianity has had five significant yard sales. Each one has had to do with the church’s struggle to resist the temptation to domesticate God’s vision, to settle for change when God seeks transformation.” Of course, if we know anything about the purpose of having a “yard sale,” we know that its most important function is to rid ourselves of things that we consider no longer important or things that seem to take up too much space in our homes. Bishop Mark believed that the Church is currently in its sixth “yard sale.” If that is indeed true, then we have some difficult questions to answer concerning our role in the fulfillment of God’s Kingdom. What is it that we are being called to give up? What is getting in the way of our ability to serve as the hands and feet of Christ in the world? Perhaps, part of what we need to rid ourselves of is the increasing notion that there exists a line between church and the rest of the world as if we’re supposed to act differently on Sunday mornings than we do during the rest of the week. Perhaps, we must also let go of the idea that the ministry that we’re called to do in Christ’s name is safe and comfortable when, in fact, it is the very opposite. Jesus tells us that, in order to follow him, we must be willing to take up our own crosses and to serve others, especially those who are counted as the least among us. When our Lord does return in the Final Judgment, we won’t be judged by how we treated our friends and loved ones. We’ll be judged by how we treated the hungry and the thirsty, the strangers in our midst, those without clothing and shelter, the sick, and those in prison. We’ll be judged, dear friends, by how we treated those whom the world has rejected.

In one of his final lectures to our class, Bishop Mark shared with us words that I will hold dear for many years to come. He said, “When you do exactly what Jesus is doing in the New Testament, you and Jesus are doing the same thing. If you are doing the same thing, Christ lives within you. The mission of Christ is his identity. Therefore, when Jesus is doing his ministry, you know exactly who he is.” My brothers and sisters, the same is true for us. When we do the work that we’ve been given to do in the restoring of God’s creation, we participate in the same redeeming work that God began through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ.

At his funeral three years ago, I discovered that Bishop Mark kept a special prayer taped to the inside flap of the Prayer Book that he used each day. I imagine that it served him as a reminder of who he was and to whom he belonged. May it serve us likewise, and may it also serve as a reminder of our dependence on God’s grace in all that we’re called to do as heirs of God’s Kingdom.

Let us pray.

Eternal Light, shine into our hearts.
Eternal Goodness, deliver us from evil.
Eternal Power, be our support.
Eternal Wisdom, scatter the darkness of our ignorance.
Eternal Pity, have mercy upon us; that with all our heart and mind and soul and strength we may seek thy face and be brought by thine infinite mercy to thy holy presence through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

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