9.9.18: Sideways Religion
Sunday, November 26th, 2017
Year A, Proper 29 (Christ the King)
“Becoming a Graceful Sheep”
- Calendar Cycle
- Happy New Year’s Eve!
- This Sunday is the end of our liturgical year. We end our year with Christ the King Sunday, a holiday added to our church calendar in 1925 in an attempt to draw focus back to Christ in the midst of the ruckus of the Roaring Twenties.
- In all the ruckus of our present time, it’s a holiday that is still very relevant.
- Finally moved to the end of our church calendar, this has become a day in which we celebrate the fulfilment of all of God’s promises. Christ’s redemptive work is finished, we face the judgement, and Christ reigns as king.
- Tension in the Text
- More judgement? Didn’t we get enough of that last week?
- This is a topic that we in the Episcopal church often shy away from. Fire and Brimstone? Leave that to the other denominations downtown. Trust me, they’ve perfected the art of a good fire and brimstone sermon. We don’t always like to wrestle with such tension in our text.
- Any mention of eternal punishment, of the fire prepared for the devil and his angels, leads to a great deal of tension in my own reading of the text, and in our journey through the scriptures together. It’s not fun to talk about judgement. It often leads to painful memories and the question of how God who is more than loving, who is love itself, is able to reconcile judgement and flame with grace and love. The tension between judgement and grace remains present in this week’s reading as well.
- However, in acknowledging the legitimacy of these scriptures, we can begin to examine the struggles inside the scripture, and thus initiate a process of grappling with the text for a deeper understanding. In this process, it is essential that the difficult scripture be viewed in light of the entire narrative of scripture as a whole, the narrative of God’s redemptive grace. We know that grace does win the day.
- This provides room for a struggle, and this is not accidental. As we struggle with the ideas of judgement with “eternal fire” and “eternal punishment”, we grapple with our own faith, doubt, judgemental nature, and fear.
- We are forced to encounter difficulties in reading scripture, that mirror our own present ethical dilemmas.
- We negotiate this difficulty in our own interpretations about why God speaks in such a way, but we cannot ignore the fact that God has indeed spoken.
- Judgement Necessary for Grace
- So let’s look at this passage again, keeping in mind the results of God’s judgement.
- ‘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. 32All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 34Then 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; 35for 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, 36I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” 37Then 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? 38And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” 40And 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.” 41Then 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; 42for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43I 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.” 44Then 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?” 45Then 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.” 46And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.’
- Grace, along with judgement, meets us at the end of this passage. Without judgement, there can be no grace.
- Two other things stand out to me in today’s reading.
- 1) the surprise of both the sheep and the goats. Neither seemed to know when they had seen Christ in others, not even if they had served correctly.
- 2) The question isn’t “who”, but rather, “when”. “When was it that we saw You?” We are all of us both sheep and, all too often, goats. Regardless of our labels, we both miss out on the main point. We miss out on seeing Christ in others.
- Both the sheep and the goats had the same opportunities and both missed out on what it was they were actually doing. Perhaps they knew they were doing alright when they went to wherever it is that sheep and goats go to church. However, it was more difficult in daily interaction. Neither saw Christ in “the least of these” when they interacted with others outside their sheep churches.
- What Does It Mean to Be the Church?
- Working our way slowly through the liturgical calendar, we work our way step by step toward God’s vision of a redeemed creation.
- We start with awaiting Christ’s birth, celebrate in his coming, experience the depths of his passion and our need of his grace, and reflect on Christ’s mission of grace and love toward others in the world outside of the synagogue’s walls.
- As we experience this final Sunday in our liturgical year we have time to pause and reflect.
- Judgement along with grace meet us at the end of our liturgical year today. Hopefully by the end of our liturgical cycle we have a slightly better idea of what it means to be a graceful sheep, and if not, we start all over again next week.
- As we the church face the ever-present question of how to live out God’s grace we must simply be willing to look for Christ and accept him when he is revealed to us in the most unexpected ways through the most unexpected scriptures and the most unexpected people who are still made in the image of God.