Sermon - Christ The King
Sermon preached Stir up Sunday 2005, Last Sunday before Advent
By The Reverend Charles Royden
Matthew 25: 31-48
"When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. "Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.' "Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?' "The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.' "Then he will say to those on his left, 'Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.' "They also will answer, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?' "He will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.' "Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life." (This is the word of the Lord –Thanks be to God)
As some of you will know I recently bought a new car. I had decided to buy a second hand Citroen Picasso, but Corinne really had set her heart on a Land Rover. In the end I gave in, I agreed on the condition that it was one of the low emissions ones. I am such a push over.
Anyway I had to read the manual and learn how to use this new vehicle. It has a three year guarantee on everything so if anything goes wrong they should fix it. But you have to do as it says in the manual. You can drive it through 26 inches of water, not 27, you can go over mountains and ridges and but should do so at an angle so that the thing doesn’t fall over. I have learned all of these things because you never know when you will have to cross difficult terrain. Pot holes on Avon Drive and the like.
At the end of the manual of instruction there is a warning section. Do as we have said, if you fail to observe these instructions, then your warranty may be invalid, or you might even kill yourself. It is in bold and it stands out to all foolish drivers. The warning section proclaims to the driver ‘disregard this advice at your peril.’
Perhaps the first thing to say about the reading from Matthew today is that it is like a warning message. Matthew puts it at the end of a large section of teaching, just before he starts to look at the events leading up to the crucifixion. Jesus speaks using words which immediately attract out attention, there will be a judgement day, everybody will be called to account, they will be gathered to await the verdict at the end of time and there will be a separation. The reading today is a conclusion to the teaching of Jesus and it is a warning. If you ignore what Jesus has said then there are consequences. His teaching is not just a good idea, it is imperative that you take notice and listen.
Jesus uses language which reinforces the seriousness of his message. Of course Jesus never imagined that we 2,000 years later would be listening to his teaching in England, in our very different culture. Jesus expected that the conclusion of world history would be very soon. And he spoke to an audience of people who were largely Jewish. He used language which would be understood by the Jews. In the Jewish consciousness.
The Jews always believed that the Messiah would come and judge and the imagery which Jesus of a shepherd separating the sheep from the goats would have been instantly familiar to his hearers. It was always believed by the Jews that the Messiah would come and be a judge. Often that work of judgement was thought of as the Messiah being like a shepherd (Ezekiel 34:11,23). But Jesus tells his audience that the rules of division have been changed. No longer is it a case of Jews on one side, separated from everybody else. There is still a division, but from now on the basis for that division is Jesus himself. As the Messiah, Jesus has changed the goal posts.
But remember that what we have is an image, one chosen for his audience. Over the years Christians teaching has taken the imagery used in passages like this and made it into literal doctrines. Eternal judgement and eternal life have been described with spectacular realism and attention to detail.
I cannot say what judgement will be like, I believe that we must leave such things to God, such decision are ‘above my pay grade.’ But what we can say is that Jesus wants his hearers to take his words with great seriousness. His warning is this. His favour rests upon those who decide to do the work he has given us to do. Those who choose to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, care for the sick, and visit those in prison, these are the ones who will find blessing. There will be many people who consider themselves to be the righteous ones, but they are not living the way of Christ at all. They choose to ignore the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, and those in prison.
Christians have tried to weaken the words of Jesus somewhat by imagining that Jesus is not speaking here about acts of service, but rather such things as our reaction towards missionaries. However, the teaching of Jesus throughout the Gospels is that we must show acts of love towards all people and so this is entirely consistent with the understanding that Jesus is asking for us to treat all people with acts of kindness.. We must treat kindly everybody with acts of mercy, even our enemies.
The faithful will see everyone as a brother or sister in Christ and will respond to the need to care for all God's children. The unfaithful will keep to themselves and cling to what they have, remaining safe from the risk of contamination by the vulnerable and unwashed. This was not the way of Jesus, who went out of his way to befriend those society treated as outcasts or immoral.
Judgement is an interesting thing, because I am not sure that we have to
wait for a coming judgement, and I very much doubt that all the living and
the dead will be gathered on some great plain while Jesus goes up and down
saying 'you're in, you're out.' Etc.
Judgement is something which we bring upon ourselves, and we do it now, while we are living, there is no need to wait until we are dead. We are judged in this life, there is no need to wait for the next. The rewards are great for those who seek to do the will of God. Those who embrace the kingly purpose, receive power and meaning in their lives. They will walk their days with a Saviour King who transforms them again and again into a people who take joy in helping others.They will delight in working to change oppressive systems and human structures that fail to serve the needy and work against relieving troubled lives and broken sprits.
Very often Christians have taught that when we stand before God, we will be asked what we believed, how true our theology was, or how often we worshipped in church. Jesus sounds a warning today that rather we will be confronted with a record of how well we cared for others.
We should not be surprised that God is so concerned about social justice. We have a Messiah who was born in stable. Seeking justice is not an option for the Christian it is our inescapable duty.
Poor and vulnerable people have a special place in God’s heart. And those who help them do as well. As Christians, we are called to respond to the needs of all our sisters and brothers, but those with the greatest needs require the greatest response. This gospel teaching reminds us that ultimately, we will be judged by how well we live out the social teaching of Jesus Christ. We will be judged by whether we have responded to the call to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, shelter the homeless, welcome the stranger, serve those who are ill, and visit those who are in prison.
We must not forget that we are also called to work for social change in the structures of our world and for empowerment of those in need. We are called to ask why people are hungry or thirsty or homeless or refugees or without medical care or in prison. We are called to look at
- the structures that keep people from earning the food they need
- the policies that keep people in the developing world from a healthy water supply
- the economic forces that have some people living in substandard homes
- the government rules that make life hard for refugees and immigrants
- the failure of some to see basic medical care as a human right for all
- the injustices in our criminal justice system.
At some time we have all been sheep and we have perhaps all been goats. We are seldom all good and all bad, I am sure Jesus knows how to work this one out. But the serious point is that God notices what goes on and he cares. God thinks that the lives we lead here on earth are of consequence, they matter. Therefore the way that we treat others has importance to God, he takes note. In so much as we show kindness and mercy, we demonstrate the presence of God within us and we are citizens of the Kingdom of Jesus. For this reason we might one day be surprised as to who is a sheep and who is a goat.
We often end our service with the words go in peace to love and serve the lord, in the name of Christ. The two go together, love and service. It is the love of Christ which we see when people care for each other. Care for others is self validating, it does not have to have a Christian badge on it, it is good in itself a holy act. God has a people who are known to him alone, his friends are characterised by their actions towards those in need.
Pelagius taught that Christ showed us how we must live and if we follow his example we will achieve our eternal reward.