Sunday, November 23, 2014

Feast of Christ the King, 2014: Remaining loyal to Jesus

Lectionary: Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24; Psalm 100; Ephesians 1:15-23; Matthew 25:31-46
Preacher: The Rev Dr Valori Mulvey Sherer, Rector

En el nombre del Dios: Padre, Hijo, y Espiritu Santo. Amen.

In our first reading, the prophet Ezekiel is warning the rich in the community that disregarding the poor among them will destroy them. These people have been given authority and resources to care for God’s people but they have made themselves, their desires and their will, the priority.

The needy have been dismissed, dispersed, cast out from their sight and their experience. One doesn’t have to help those one doesn’t even notice.

Ezekiel warns them that God will reclaim the scattered and disregarded of the flock. Notice, Ezekiel doesn’t tell them they have to do it. He says God will do it. This is that moment when the parent takes over the job you were supposed to do, but didn’t. “I’ll do it myself…” and you know that won’t turn out well for you.

Ezekiel also offers to the needy the comforting reminder of God’s abiding presence and involvement in their lives. Ezekiel assures them that God will send a shepherd who will care for them properly since those with the authority and resources given to them by God failed to do so.

Ezekiel’s prophecy is fulfilled in Jesus who is David’s descendent. And Jesus tells the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats which harkens back to Ezekiel’s prophesy. As commentator Chris Haslam says, the godly, who are the sheep, have fulfilled God’s expectation to reach out to the disadvantaged. The goats, on the other hand, have ignored the needy.

Jesus clarifies that all people are God’s people and that he, himself, is our promised shepherd. This, Jesus says, will be evident when “the Son of Man comes in his glory.”

Taking Ezekiel’s prophesy to its fulfillment, Jesus says that whatever is done to anyone in the flock is done to the shepherd himself. That is the twist, the shocker in this parable. The poor, the needy, the weak, the very old or very young, women, foreigners – these were counted as unimportant, unworthy of attention, resources, or concern. Jesus turns this cultural habit of dismissing the least among the flock upside-down using the reconciliation he has provided us, the oneness we have with God in him saying, what you’ve done to the least of these, you’ve done to me; and what you failed to do to care for the lease of these, you’ve failed to do for me.

Using apocalyptic language familiar to his listeners, Jesus illustrates the consequences of our choices. The sheep who have fulfilled God’s expectation to care for the least are called blessed and invited to come into the kingdom: life in the fullness of the presence of God where God’s will is being done on earth as it is being done in heaven. This is an eternal reality “prepared from the foundation of the world” as Jesus said.

The goats, on the other hand, have chosen to focus on themselves, thereby separating themselves from their reconciliation to God. And whenever we are separated from God, living outside our reconciliation, we are unhappy, frightened, adrift in darkness, hungering for relationship and thirsty for comfort – and every moment of that feels like an eternity.

Redeemer has been faithful to God’s call to the church. We feed and clothe the needy through our Shepherd’s Table ministries. We visit the sick and infirm through our pastoral care ministries. We welcome the stranger being the only church for miles that welcomes the LGBTQ community and their God-given gifts just as God made them. We are a loving magnet for people with autism and Asperger’s. We are, as one new member described it, like the island of misfit toys – all are truly welcome to come here, deepen their relationship with God, discover and nurture their gifts, then serve the world with us in Christ’s name.

Our ministries at Redeemer have not been without cost, however. Angry, homophobic protesters have disturbed our peace and cost us at least one family we hold dear.

But we don’t do our ministries for any reward or to build a reputation among those who hold local authority and have access to resources. We do them because the light of Christ’s love lives in us and if we reach our hands out, that light extends from us into the very bodies and souls of those we serve. We do them because we are moved by the need of those God has drawn near to us, knowing that God is in them as much as God is in us.

In his book “The Cost of Discipleship,” Dietrich Bonhoeffer says, “The messengers of Jesus will be hated to the end of time. They will be blamed for all the division which rend cities and homes. Jesus and his disciples will be condemned on all sides for undermining the family and leading the nation astray; they will be called crazy fanatics and disturbers of the peace. The disciples will be sorely tempted to desert their Lord. But the end is also near, and they must hold on and persevere until it comes. Only [they] will be blessed who remain… loyal to Jesus and his word until the end.”

On this our patronal feast day, we can look at the life God is living in us through our ministries and be glad. As we struggle to meet our own costs, we continue to reach out and feed the hungry all around us. We suffer the condemnation of friends in our local community whose fear and judgment of some of God’s people have also divided them from us. In fact, the same can be said of members of our own family of faith.

It is at times, sorely tempting to restore peace at the cost of justice. But as our former Presiding Bishop, Edmond Browning once said: “there will be no outcasts in this church!” There may be some who choose to separate from us. That is their choice. And the consequences of staying the course Jesus set before us may be steep and frightening at times, but stay it we will, until the end.

When we started the Shepherd’s Table ministries four years ago, food would come to us from out of nowhere. God provided abundantly to us so that we could provide as abundantly to those in need. Witnessing this provision of God launched many of our members into spiritual renewal. The grace of God overflowed in us and we experienced great joy, unity, and even the reconciliation of some who had been estranged.

Shepherd’s Table guests began coming to our church to worship with us in response to the welcome they received at the meal. This still happens, but less so now.

Recently, we have begun to shift our concern to ourselves again. Our pledge drive has some of our members worried – and rightly so, we don’t have enough pledged yet to run this church in 2015.

But where is our faith in God? Where is our trust that God’s will is being done right here in us as it is being don in heaven? Where is our loyalty to Jesus and his expectation of us?

Yesterday I got a text from a member who had been in the narthex getting something ready for today, when a man knocked on the door. The member was frightened at first, kicking herself for forgetting to lock the door while she was in there alone. But as it turns out, this man had come bringing 500 pounds of food for our food pantry. This food was meant to go somewhere else, but they were closed, so he wondered if we could help him unload it for us!

God always provides – not by magic, but by us opening our hearts and our minds to the new thing God is asking from us. So taking Bonhoeffer’s advice, we must hold on and persevere, remaining loyal to Jesus and his word until the end. And Jesus’ word is this: “just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”


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