03 December 2008

Christ the King - Sermon

(Photo: Creative Commons license by David Silverline http://www.flickr.com/photos/darwinist/23092205/)

Christ the King Sunday Matthew 25: 31-46

23 November 2008

Preach by Stuart Pike

Today is Christ the King Sunday and we think, not only about our King, but also about inheriting the kingdom. This is also the Sunday we have designated as the Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund Sunday. There might be some who think it unlikely that we would pair Christ the King Sunday with World Relief and Development issues. Royalty on the one hand; poverty on the other. With what logic can we make the connection between the two? We don’t have to because Jesus does it for us.

Jesus is indeed our King, but he is a King who puts all the ways of the world upside down. If he is to be our King, we must follow his lead. We are to live the kind of life that Jesus shows us by example.

In Matthew 25 we have the vision of the Son of Man (Jesus Christ), coming in all of his glory as a King to judge everyone. And he will separate the sheep and the goats. We get the story. The sheep go on the right hand, and the goats go on the left. If there is any confusion about which side you want to be on, you definitely do not want to be a goat on the left hand side. Because they get sent into eternal punishment. Not a wholesome prospect at all. But let us look at how the King determines who is the sheep and who is the goat.

Jesus calls the sheep to him because when he was hungry and thirsty, or a stranger, or sick or in prison, the sheep helped him. When they say they don't understand, Jesus explains that when they did it to the least, then they did it to him. Jesus identifies with the poor and the sick and the needy, and today, Jesus is made known to us in a special way among the poorest and least in the world.

There is no clearer indication in all of the scripture of how we are to find Jesus in our lives today. Jesus is all around us. But do we recognize him?

I will always be haunted by the vision I had in Madagascar of a young girl of, perhaps, seven years old. She was begging on the streets and on her back, strapped on by a piece of cloth knotted at her front, was her infant brother. Both of them were filthy - their clothes, their hands and faces were the colour of the street.

She was packing up to go to wherever she called home and she headed down a laneway when I was still fifty metres off. When I reached the laneway I could see her slowly walking, about to cross at the next street over. I felt helpless and at a loss of what to do. I was with others and we were heading to our comfortable hotel to have dinner. In the next split second, my friends had caught up with me and I simply continued to walk with them along the boulevard. “What could I do to really make a difference in their lives”, I thought. How could I leave my hosts? I took one last glance down the alleyway to see this little girl, who was Jesus, carrying her heavy burden as if it was a cross. But she didn't mind, because her burden was her baby brother. I knew in that particular moment, that I was a goat.

You see, the goats are defined not according to any bad that they did. They are goats because they didn't do anything at all. They didn't do anything horrendous, such as to attack the person in need. They just didn't do anything at all. This is the clincher. Jesus doesn't accept the excuse that we didn't do anything. Not doing anything is condemnation in itself. This is the answer to the question. We prove ourselves by the good use of our power. Condemnation comes by either the mis-use, or the lack of use of our power.

In our society today, this lack of use of power is the usual sort of sin. There aren't too many of us who go out of our way to do evil. But there are many who don't do what they could do for good. Most goats aren't black with sin - embroiled in hatred and greed and envy and perversion. Most goats are just luke-warm - not doing anything, just stumbling around until they stumble over the precipice. They don't go out with a bang, or even with a whimper. They just go out.

Now before everyone gets worried and stays awake at night wondering whether they are more goat-like or sheep-like, I think it is important to realize who we are. We are the Church, and we are members of the flock. With Christ as the King in our lives, he is the head of the body which is the Church. If we have taken our promises at baptism seriously, and if we trust in Jesus, then in the end, we will be on the good side. Christ not only promises the new kingdom to those who follow him. Christ also promises the transformation of our hearts. There should be signs of those transformed hearts in our lives, though.

Make no mistake it isn't by good works that we earn our way into heaven (for we are saved by grace through faith in Jesus Christ our King) - we don't get to heaven because of the work we do for the poor, or through the amount of prayer that we do. Jesus says in today's gospel reading, "Inherit the Kingdom." That means the kingdom is freely given. However, if we truly follow Christ our King, then there will be works there as evidence of our transformed hearts. We will do these things because Christ is indeed our King - a King who has it all wrong according to the world. A King who has it all right according to our hearts.

What can we do to reach out to the poor, the hungry, the sick or those in need?

There’s a lot which we can do through the Church. The Primate’s World Relief and Development Fund is a direct and obvious way in which Canadian Anglicans make a difference. This year it is the 50th anniversary of the formation of the Primate’s Fund. It started right after the Spring Hill Mine disaster which claimed the lives of 74 miners in Nova Scotia. Anglicans across Canada responded to the call of the Primate to provide support for the families of those who had died.

Over the years the fund reached out in an increasing circle, responding to provide relief for those suffering from natural disaster and poverty throughout the world. The Primate’s Fund because the Primate’s World Relief Fund. Later still, the Primate’s Fund recognized that simply responding by providing relief did nothing to address the long-term needs of those they helped. The concept of Development was added and the Fund became known as the Primates World Relief and Development Fund (or PWRDF.) It’s still ok to call it the Primate’s Fund for short. The important thing is to know what it is for and what it does.

Today, the PWRDF continues to support development projects around the world, and still responds quickly during the times of natural disaster. One special focus of the PWRDF is to sponsor 50 refugee families through the Private Sponsorship of Refugees Program.

The PWRDF and national Church staff are also helping us to move beyond simply acts of charity to building justice. Giving hand outs as an act of charity will not help address the root causes of poverty in the world and even in our own country. This is also a focus of our own division of Outreach here at St. Luke’s. With the leadership of Parish Council, we are going to be lead through a process that looks at how we  at St. Luke’s can move from simple charity to building a just society: one which will make poverty history.

My hope is that each of us will be able to recognize how Christ comes to us in the guise of the least of our brothers and sisters. And may respond as our baptismal covenant says by seeking and serving Christ in all persons, loving our neighbour as ourself. Amen.

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