A sermon by the Rev. Sarah Holmstrom – Nov 26th, 2017 Christ the King Sunday
Happy New Year! Well almost. We have come to the end of another church year and you would think that we would be presented with a Gospel that is well, a bit more celebratory. What we have instead is the last of the judgement parables in Matthew’s Gospel. Maybe that is something to celebrate? Before we can put it behind us for another year, we must as the great collect of a few weeks ago calls us, read, mark and inwardly digest.
As you are well aware, the parables of judgement that have been our weekly nourishment for the past several weeks, leading up to this Christ the Kings Sunday. And in a similar manner to the ten virgins, the workers, and today’s sheep and goats, they catch us by surprise. They catch us by surprise because they sound offensive, we don’t understand them, or perhaps because we were not prepared. I want to suggest for us this morning that there is Good News to be found among these parables.
I think that it is fitting that these passages from Matthew come to us at the end of our church year as we anticipate Jesus’ coming, for the first time as at Christmas, but also for the last. They are the kinds of passages that get us to reflect upon our Christian life both individually and corporately as those who make the claim, “Jesus is Lord.” On December 31st much of the world will make new resolutions in many areas of their lives: work, health, relationships. Christ the King Sunday affords us the opportunity to take a look at the year that has past and ponder whether or not Jesus is really Lord of our life in every area. Just how does a passage like today’s Gospel do this? Well, I was helped by a colleague of mine who said that these passages are like the speed signs you see while driving that tell you your speed and you make the necessary adjustments so you don’t get a ticket. Or the signs on the QEII that tell you road conditions and give you reminders to buckle up and give room for the person in front of you so you don’t end up in an accident. A person can go about NOT heeding these rules and reminders but eventually it will catch up to them and that is what our passage is like today.
Truthfully, if we have been following Jesus closely, we will already be aware that Jesus has been calling us to a righteousness that exceeds the Pharisees. Jesus rejects any acclamations of “Lord” from anyone who hears his word but does not do it. The judgment criteria is, as we have heard all along, have you lived out your baptismal vocation?
In our passage about the sheep and the goats, the road sign message we are given, at the very least, is “treat everyone as being created in the image of God.” Christian or not we are all cut from the same divine cloth. In fact, when it comes to respecting the dignity of all human beings, the difference between a Christian and a non-Christian is that we are without excuse. Jesus’ answer to “when did we see you?” could also have read, “when not?” Our lives are to reflect the Divine image in which we were made and a life of mercy is what Jesus holds before to day as to what that looks like. On this Christ the King Sunday we are to reflect on the fact that our lives are to look like lives that truly believe Jesus is Lord. In other words, does the “Lord, Lord” that we declare match our life?
Now, before we think this means we have to go out and create world peace, notice in this parable, Jesus does not call us to the grandiose. He doesn’t make any commands to end poverty and homelessness in ten years nor put an end to all wars and human violence. He does call us however, to offer a cup of water, give away the extra apple in our lunch box to the hungry person, welcome the stranger, offer our jacket, and visit someone who is sick or in prison. We are simply called to be who we are, lights shining in a dark world where even though this is much pain and suffering and for all intents and purposes it does seem that Jesus is not Lord, our simple acts proclaim and hold up for the world, Jesus is Lord.
Every year around this time some of the classic Christmas films come out on TV. There are two in particular wherein the central characters are asked to take stock of their lives. The first one is A Wonderful Life, where the main character is shown how valuable his life is to the fabric of the life of the community he was a part. The message was that the measure of your life is not the job you have or prestigious things accomplished but the way in which you touched the hearts and lives of those around you. The other movie is A Christmas Carol, where the character of Scrooge was like the goats in our passage, until he was graced with an experience that gave him a chance to amend his life.
We must be reminded, that unlike in these movies, good behavior doesn’t result from mere human effort but from the power of God’s Spirit at work in the life of one who is wholly submitted to Jesus as Lord. Nevertheless, they both act in a similar way to Jesus’ parable wherein the criteria of judgment for a faithful life is the life of mercy that we have lived.
Jesus is concerned about how believers have lived out their baptismal vocation and let their light shine before others so that all may see their good works and give glory to God. It is not the glamourous that matters but what we do and how we live our lives moment by moment, knowing that it matters not just in the present but also in the future. And so, as we reflect on the year that has past let me ask us: did those we encounter meet Jesus? Does our being a followers of Jesus Christ make a difference for the world around us?
Why does this matter? I just finished reading a fascinating book called iGen: Why Today’s Super Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy – and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood. There are many interesting facts about this generation born after between 1995 and 2012 that “likes their phones more than people.” A few in particular strike me. The first is that iGen’ers are more likely to post social justice stuff online BUT less likely, in fact not likely at all to act in regards to what they posted. They’ll judge the heck out of you on social media but won’t lift a real-life finger. There are many interesting reasons for this phenomenon, the most notable being, they don’t like face to face interaction and it might be unsafe. This is interesting because what it means is that altruism will continue to decline. And if Christians are called to live in obedience to Christ’s commands without thought to what it costs to us then we need to think about what his means as we raise the next generation.
The other interesting fact about iGen’ers is that they do not like conforming to anything: patterns of life, authority, etc. They value individualism which means someone telling them how to live is, well, out of the question. Not surprisingly we see young people rejecting religion at a higher rate than ever before. This generation is the first to not have any clue what church is or who Jesus is. It is simply not in their experience. So again, words and phrases that you and I are familiar with such as, “take up your cross and follow me,”; “whoever hears these words of mine and does not do them cannot be called my disciple”; are not only counter cultural, they are not even on the table for these young people.
I actually think these shifts in the iGen are not just the fault of iPhones and the internet but also that these young people are products of a culture that has also gone this direction. Whatever the case, the consequences are not good. iGen’ers are lonelier, less connected, are at higher risk for anxiety and depression, and most alarming of all, are dying by suicide at rates we have never before witnessed. Just to give some perspective, you cannot get in with a psychologist at the UofA unless you are at the point of wanting to commit suicide, the waiting lists are long and for too many students it’s not enough and it end up being too late.
So again, what does this have to do with our passage this morning? It means that kingdom living, it starts now. It means being a light in a dark world and witnessing to the hope that is in Christ. It means, as a professor of mine used to pray, becoming more like God’s Son, Jesus Christ, for the world desperately needs us to be this. We need to live our lives in obedience for the sake of the world not just as matter our salvation but the salvation of the world. Contrary to what the world might tell us, living in this way really is a matter of life and death right now.