November 23, 2014
+ So, this is obviously not a question you hear too often, but: How do you know if you’re a church geek?
You know how I know I’m a church geek? Because these last few days, even though I’ve been sick, the most persistent buzz I’ve been hearing from my Facebook friends has been whether or not we should be celebrating this Sunday as Christ the king Sunday.
The argument has been that this is not an “official” feast in the Episcopal Church. Although the scriptures for today and the collect we just prayed would show that a pretty argument can be made that this should be celebrated as Christ the King Sunday, it is not officially defined as such according to the Prayer Book.
See, church geek stuff.
Let’s face it, most of us really just don’t care. And I like celebrating this Sunday as Christ the King Sunday, because preaching about the Kingdom is a good thing. Also, it’s an important Sunday for another reason. It is the last Sunday in that very long, green season of Pentecost.
Today, for the Church, it is New Year’s Eve. The old church year of Sundays—Church Year A—ends today. The new church year—Church Year B—begins next Sunday, on the First Sunday of Advent. So, what seems like an ending today is renewed next week, with the coming of Advent, in that revived sense of longing and expectation that we experience in Advent.
Today, we also get to hear Jesus tell us that story of the sheep and the goats. Now, I actually love this parable—not because of its threat of punishment (which everyone gets hung up on), not because of its judgment. I love this story because there is something beautiful and subtle going on just beneath the surface, if you take the moment to notice. And that subtle aspect of this story is this:
If you notice, the reward is given not to people who work for the reward. The reward is not given to people who help the least of their brethren because they know they will gain the reward. The reward is granted to those who help the least of their brethren simply because the least need help. The reward is for those who have no regard or idea that a reward awaits them for doing such a thing.
Now I don’t think I need to tell anyone here who the least of our brethren are. The least of our brethren are the ones who are hungry, who are thirsty, who are naked, who are sick and who are in prison. I think this ties in beautifully to our own ideas of why we do what we do as followers of Jesus. Why do we do what we do, we must ask ourselves? Do we do these things because we think we’re going to get a reward for doing them? Or do we do these things because by doing them we know it goes for a greater reward than anything we ourselves could get?
In our Gospel reading today, we find that the Kingdom of God is prepared for those who have been good stewards, to tie into our theme from last Sunday, which was our Stewardship Sunday. It is prepared for those who have been mindful of what has been given to them and have been mindful of those around them in need.
For us, we need to realize that the Kingdom is prepared for us as well. It is prepared for us who have sought to be good stewards without any thought of reward. It is prepared for us who have simply done what we are called to do as followers of Jesus.
For us, in our own society, we find that these same terms found in Jesus’ parable have a wider definition. Hungry for us doesn’t just mean hungry for food. It means hungry for love, for healing, for wholeness.
Thirsty doesn’t just mean for water. Thirsty for us means thirsty for fairness or justice or peace.
Naked doesn’t just mean without clothing. It means, for us, to be stripped to our core, to be laid bare spiritually and emotionally and materially.
To be sick, doesn’t necessarily mean to be sick with a disease in our bodies. It is means to be sick in our hearts and in our relationships with others.
And we all know that the prisons of our lives sometimes don’t necessarily have walls or bars on the doors. The prisons of our lives are sometimes our fears, our prejudices, our addictions, our very selves.
To not go out and help those who need help is to be arrogant, to be selfish, to be headstrong. To not do so is to turn our backs on following where Jesus leads us. Because Jesus leads us into that place wherein we must love and love fully and give and give freely—of ourselves and of what we have been given.
I like that because that is definitely what we have all been striving to do here at St. Stephen’s. We practice our radical hospitality to everyone who comes through our doors. And, I think, we accept everyone who comes through those doors fully.
Here, we not only welcome people, but I think we allow people to be the people God created them to be—without judgment, without prejudice, just as the Kingdom no doubt will be. And is.
Again, that brings us back to Jesus’ parable. The meaning of this story is this: If you do these things—if you feed the hungry, if you give drink to the thirsty, if you welcome the stranger, if you clothe the naked, if you visit the sick and imprisoned—if you simply respond to one another as just human beings—if you do these things without thought of reward, but do them simply because you, as a Christian, are called to do them, the reward is yours.
The Kingdom is not only awaiting us in the next world. The Kingdom, when we do these things, is here. Right now. Right in our midst.
As Christians, we should haven’t to think about doing any of those things. They should be like second nature to us. We should be doing them naturally, instinctively. For those of us who are hungry or thirsty, who feel like strangers, who are naked, sick and imprisoned—and at times, we have been in those situations—we find Christ in those rays of hope that break through into our lives.
It is very similar to the hope we are clinging to in this moment as we enter Advent—that time in which the light of Christ is seen breaking into the encroaching darkness of our existence. And we—in those moments when we feed the hungry, when we give drink to the thirsty, when we welcome the stranger, when we clothe the naked, when we visit the sick and imprisoned—in those moments, we become that light in the darkness, that hope in someone else’s life. We embody Christ and Christ’s Kingdom when we become the conduits of hope.
So, as we celebrate the end of this liturgical year and set our expectant eyes on the season of Advent, let us not just be filled with hope. Let us be a true reflection of Christ’s hope to this world. Let us be the living embodiment of that hope to those who need hope. And in doing so, we too will hear those words of assurance to us:
“Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for….”