Glory to Christ: Love, Serve, and Witness

Reign of Christ Sunday  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  19:06
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Christ's reign has begun. Outside of time, beyond past, present, and future, Christ sits on the throne and all things are being restored in Christ. Our role is to bear witness to it, to see Christ in the people we meet, and to serve with love as people who know the shepherd's voice.

The New Revised Standard Version The Judgment of the Nations

The Judgment of the Nations

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33 and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 34 Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35 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, 36 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.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 40 And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ 41 Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; 42 for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Christ is seated on the throne. Glory be to God! Hallelujah, Christ, come again soon!
This is the prayer of the church, now and always. As we celebrate Reign of Christ Sunday, all things point back to this affirmation: Christ is on the throne!
As a church, we affirm that there are things yet to come, hope for the world yet to be revealed. We anticipate this, because we also affirm that things are not alright. We acknowledge how our world is longing for restoration. And today, we recognize and proclaim that Christ is sovereign over all creation and has set about that work of restoration.
I love a good story that jumps through a timeline. I mean, sometimes, we’re in a present moment. Other times, we’re flashing back to the past. Other moments, we catch a glimpse of an event in the future. Time is relative, actually, it is fluid and as I read a book like this, I know that as the reader, I can engage with the present moment, past or future, as if it is teaching me something NOW about the characters. This can be a little mind-bending, but when you learn to live in that flow, the story wakes up.
Today, Reign of Christ Sunday, is such a moment for the church. We stand in a present moment, recognizing all that is going on in our world, all the hardships, all the pain of loss, all the uncertainty. With that, we also hold the joys of new life in babies born, the hope of restored relationships that have been rekindled as we’ve spent more time on the phone with loved ones during this season of pandemic. Past, present, and future meet in a day like today.
This is why it is important for us to read both of our texts today, first from the Prophet Ezekiel and then from the end of the Gospel of Matthew, as pictures of the already, not yet, coming and yet not arrived Reign of Christ.
Honestly, the Matthew text can be uncomfortable for us. We struggle with the stark contrast of the sheep and goats. We sure hope we are counted as sheep, the ones who love, serve, and witness to Christ’s presence in the lives of the strangers we meet and serve. And we struggle to know what to do with the goats — are we the goats at times too? What about our friends and loved ones who may not recognize Christ? What does this harsh consequence look like for them.
Rather than avoiding this stark contrasting reality — I want to encourage us to hear the text in the light of Ezekiel’s words, as well. Ezekiel is prophesying to a people who have lost their way, a people who have forgotten what it means to worship God in honesty and authenticity. But there is a clear comfort in this text: the sheep who know the shepherd will be brought in and cared for.
The people of Israel can hear the prophet Ezekiel and know that while they have struggled, the shepherd calls them home. They do not have to seek out the shepherd, the shepherd finds them, cares for them.
Hear Matthew’s word of judgement in that context. The sheep and the goats are separated by the way they heard the shepherds voice and acknowledge the shepherd’s presence in the strangers they met and served. Matthew’s words are a wake up call to the goats. And while they speak in the future tense of what “will be” they are heard in the present tense as a warning and an opportunity.
Again, think about a good story that is told outside of straight linear time. You hear in the present about something that occurs in the future. Does the hearing now, by the goats, perhaps offer an opportunity for the goats to evaluate their situation? I think so.
We’re on the cusp of the Christmas season and so I have to give a nod here to the classic Christmas Carol story by Charles Dickens. It is in that night of Scrooge’s interaction with ghosts of past, present, and future that he has a revelation. Hear these texts through what you know of this story of Scrooge’s redemption: His revelation comes through seeing past, present, and future and in realizing that he’s been living in hell by how he has treated others. Put that in the context of Matthew’s gospel: Scrooge has been cursed, swimming in the fires of despair and narcissistic greed. Scrooge’s life is a goat-life, up to this point.
And this is the beauty of our texts today and the beauty of God’s glorious Reign!
This moment, this moment that stands in past, present, and future, is heard by us in the now and affords all of us the opportunity to consider our lives. We are not lost. As goat-like as our existence may have been, we are far from lost.
What would happen if the Son of Man came in glory, as this text shows us, right now? What if we were shown our lives and had to ask the question of how we had born witness to Christ’s presence in the stranger? Perhaps you have lived an incredibly righteous life, but I know if I were shown my days, I would know both honor and shame in how I have treated the Christ in the others I have met. In me, I know I have both sheep and goat. And this isn’t some self-pity, it’s just honesty! I know that I have lived a life divided and at times have not paid attention to the shepherd’s voice.
But again, we hear this text as past, present, and future. Today, this Reign of Christ Sunday, is a day out of time where we can stand back and evaluate ourselves.
We evaluate our own lives and we evaluate the life of our community. If we are honest, we are sheep and we are goats.
The question then becomes, when we are given this glimpse of the story outside of time, what will we do with it?
The opportunity here is rather simple: We get about the work of caring for the stranger, seeing Christ in all people.
Sure, we will falter at times.
Sure, we will get self-focused again and again.
Sure, we will get tired.
But the incredibly Good News of this text is that our ability to be good servants, good sheep, to shun the way of the goat, is not what this is about! It is about Christ showing us that Christ sits on the throne through it all and Christ is making it all new!
Do you hear what I’m saying? Our actions matter, our love and service and witness to Christ in all people as an opportunity to care and comfort and bring the balm of grace — this matters! But it is Christ who does the shepherding. Christ is the one who calls us home. Not our deeds. Not our sheeply actions. We are not in charge of the restoration of all things and we darn well not try to be. Christ is doing this work.
What is our role then, what are we to do? As we celebrate that Christ is on the throne today (now and always), our role is to receive that grace and take a look at where we stand. Are we actively receiving that grace, living in the hope that our lives can be used to comfort the stranger, serve the poor, care for the sick? Or are we still out there missing the point, thinking that we can be stubborn goats who get this all done ourselves?
Friends, Christ is seated on the throne in glory! Meaning: all things are under the loving, sovereign control of our savior and friend, Jesus.
And so: we step out in confidence, knowing that as we follow the shepherd’s voice, we will be invited to witness, love, and serve Christ as Christ is revealed all around us. In our family, in our friends, in the poor, in the stranger, in the queer youth, in the latinx migrant worker, in the unarmed black man, in the CEO, in the barista, in our Make America Great Again uncle, in our liberal activist niece, in our neighbor, and in us. Christ is working in all these places, revealing the opportunity to love, serve, and somehow bear witness that despite all that is not right, all that is broken, all that is lacking, Christ is calling us more deeply into loving relationship as a picture, a glimpse, of the future when all things will be made right.
Sit, for a moment, and pause. Take a moment outside of time. All things that have been, all things that will be, all things that are: All things are under the loving reign of Christ.
Church, St. James family: All that we are, all that we long for, all that we have lost and all that we will become — all of this is under the loving reign of the shepherd, Christ. We cannot restore all things. But…we can bear witness to how God is doing this restoration work in Christ. We can participate with our hands and feet, showing up for each other, for the stranger, for our neighbors. And when we show up, we can catch a glimpse of how Christ is breaking in and making all things new.
Christ is on the throne, reigning in Glory. This is our assurance, our hope, our foundation. Hallelujah. Amen.
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