Last Sunday after Pentecost: Christ the King
Nov. 21-22, 2020
Matthew 25: 31-46
The Rev. Kimball C. Arnold, Deacon
In the Gospel according to Matthew, this passage at the end of the 25th chapter comes after two parables about preparing oneself for the coming of the kingdom of heaven, which were proclaimed on the previous two Sundays. Jesus instructs his disciples that when the Son of Man comes in glory “all nations” both Jews and Gentiles will come before him. Then the Son of Man will separate the sheep (the righteous) from the goats (the accursed) as the Lord God in today’s reading from Ezekiel says he will judge between rams and goats.. The parable shows the king carrying out his Father’s will and thereby makes the connection to how Jesus does the will of the Father in his life, death and resurrection. The rest of the gospel reading describes the basis on which the king (the Son of Man) will make his judgment. Last weekend, Fr. Pierre-Henry mentioned in his sermon we would be hearing about the Last Judgment this weekend, the last Sunday after Pentecost, know as Christ the King Sunday.
When Jesus first called his disciples, he said, “Come, follow.” Here, at the end he said to all his disciples, “Come, take.” What can we learn about our spiritual pilgrimage during the time in between? Jesus is forever calling us closer to himself. We are never too close, never close enough. Jesus invites us closer all the time. Spiritual life is movement. We’re always approaching (or conversely, retreating from) God, never standing still. All the physical movements in your life (changing jobs, changing homes, traveling to serve others) are pictures of your spiritual journey: moving closer to God, finding how faith works, and reaching heavenly goals. All the emotional movement in your life (loves found and lost, love ones dying and new ones born) reflects the need we all have to find a stable place to build our lives. That stable place is a person, the Lord Jesus. You are God’s plan. Since the very moment of creation, the wonderful kingdom of God – you included – has been the goal that now comes to its fullness and finality. You have been part of the world’s most important movement – and now you are part of the world’s biggest celebration. Are you lucky? No, you are God’s plan, now fulfilled.
“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, 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” This list describes acts of mercy people can do everyday. These acts do not depend on wealth, ability or intelligence: they are simple acts freely given and freely received. No special “talent” is needed. Jesus demands our personal involvement in caring for others. That this list is repeated four times in this parable indicates its importance as a guide for practical discipleship. The list is not exhaustive; instead, it represents all types of good deeds. This parable is not about teaching salvation by good deeds, but evidence of salvation through good deeds.
C.S. Lewis wrote: The rule for all of us is fairly simple: do not waste time bothering whether you “love” your neighbor, as if you did.
Once there was a little boy who wanted to meet God. He knew it would be a long trip to where God lived, so he packed a suitcase full of Twinkies and cans of root beer (his two favorite foods) and set off on his journey. He had only gone a few blocks when he passed an older woman, sitting on a park bench and just staring at some pigeons. She looked sad and lonely, so the boy went over and sat down next to her. He opened his suitcase, took out a package of the Twinkies and offered it to her. She gratefully took it and smiled at him. Her smile was so warm and wonderful that the boy wanted to see it again, so he offered her a can of his root beer. Once again, she took it and smiled at him. The boy was delighted. They sat there all afternoon, eating the Twinkies, drinking the root beers and watching the pigeons, without saying a word to each other. As it grew dark, the boy realized that he had better get started home and got up to leave. But before he had just a few steps, he turned around, ran back to the older woman and gave her a big hug. She gave him the biggest smile of all. When the boy got home, his mother noticed how happy he seemed. So she asked him what he had done all day. He told her: “I had lunch with God. And you know what? She has the most beautiful smile that I’ve ever seen.” Meanwhile, the older woman had returned to her home. Her son also noticed how happy and contented she seemed so he asked her what she had done that had made her so happy. She said to him: “I sat in the park and ate Twinkies with God. You know, he’s much younger than I expected.” – What does God look like? Who does God resemble? And can you really see the face of God?
It appears that God wants to be overly generous even on Judgment Day. You’ll be rewarded for good deeds done even if you did not know you were doing them, even if you did not do them during a church-sponsored mission trip, or even if you were not that aware that Jesus was watching. What attitudes should that inspire?
Develop a loving lifestyle, so that good deeds flow naturally from your normal conduct of life. Take a look at all the Outreach this parish is involved in and look for ways you can be involved. God is generous; you be generous. God is patient; you be patient. Learn to live that way. Don’t be so sure about God’s will. The deeds you might dismiss as casual and simple God will regard as valuable moments of showing his love and grace to people. The deeds you may regard as highly spiritual God may dismiss as calculating and misconceived.
Be energetic about the little moments in your ordinary day. Offering a drink to someone is a simple gesture of care and concern. A lot of similar “little gestures” build into a much bigger story: God has changed our life, turning natural selfishness into generosity and compassion. Our God is great! Believe in him. That’s your message in each of the little gestures that show God’s love.
From this judgment, God provides no appeal. There’s no higher court set up to adjudicate your case. The judgment is final. Given the love of God toward you, the offer of eternal life extended to you, and the finality of the Last Judgment against you… don’t you think it is time to say, “Yes, Lord, I believe. Yes, I will follow. Here I am Lord.” It is time, right now. If you’ve never told God these things or are unsure if you ever really meant them, tell him now. Then start living in light of God’s invitation to enter his eternal kingdom, prepared for you since the very beginning.
“In the Episcopal Church, we never tell you have to believe in God the way we do to be a good person, but we can tell you how our belief in God makes the goodness in us.”