Sunday, November 22, 2020

Christ the King, 20-A: Connection and relationship

 Lectionary: Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24; Psalm 95:1-7a; Ephesians 1:15-23; Matthew 25:31-46

In our Collect today we acknowledged that the people of the earth are divided and restricted by sin. We know that sin binds, isolates, and inhibits us. 

Sin disrupts the shalom of God. We have created a world where many of us wonder if we’ll ever feel safe or secure again as we cope with some pretty big issues: a resurging pandemic, rampant racism, melting ice caps, ever increasing food and job insecurity, and an uncertain economic future for our churches, our businesses, our nation, and the world.

When faced with problems as big as these it helps to remember that God is big enough, loving enough, and involved enough to help us. That’s why in our Collect we ask God for restoration and release from the sin that binds and restricts our freedom to love.

Contemplating our current situation in the world, it’s tempting to use today’s gospel as justification for praying to God to heal some and curse others, but that would be wrong. While it is right and good to tell God what we need, the true benefit of prayer is that it brings us into the presence of God where we are given a spirit of wisdom and the eyes of our hearts are enlightened. It is in prayer, both private and corporate, that our minds and hearts are realigned to God’s own, which is what righteousness is.

Then, no matter how desperately we enter into prayer, we remember that God, who created the whole universe and all that is in it, is the strength that covers our weakness and we comprehend that if our behavior is right and good it’s because we are living into the truth of who we are: Christ’s body, “the fulness of him who fills all in all.” Right behavior is not the way to faithfulness; it’s the fruit of it - which is the point of Jesus’s apocalyptic story in today’s gospel.

When the eyes of our hearts are enlightened and we know ourselves to be the actual bearers of the love of God into the world today, then we will notice the suffering of our sisters and brothers and act to tend to their needs because we are connected to God. Our seeing is motivated by the eyes of the divine who dwells in us, so we notice the one who is hungry, or naked, or lonely in our midst.

Here’s a true story that exemplifies that: once upon a time, there was a high school teacher named Keanon Lowe, who came upon a student at school armed with an automatic rifle. "I felt compassion for him,” Keanon said. "In a fraction of a second, I analyzed everything really fast. I saw the look in his face, [the] look in his eyes… [I] looked at the gun, realized it was a real gun and then my instincts just took over."

And his instinct was to hug the boy, (pause) During the embrace, the student cried out that he felt alone, that no one cared about him. “I care about you,” was Keanon’s immediate reply. Every story could be this way.

Every story. Wherever sin separates us Jesus, who is in us, is ready to act through us to reconcile and make us one, to hold us in the embrace of his love. This is the practice and protocol of the reign of Christ.

One last thing about Keanon Lowe: he believed he was placed there in that moment to save that young boy. I believe that too because I believe that about all of us. 

We are the means by which the redeeming love of God happens in the world. By our very presence and preparedness, we prepare the way for the Lord. We remind that world, by our words and actions, that we are all one, held together in an embrace of divine love.

It is because of our connection, our relationship to God that we can notice suffering and tend to it. God will act through us as instinctively as God acted through Keanon Lowe, who by the way, bore the kingdom of God into that school and into that boy that day.

In our gospel story, Matthew talks about eternal life and eternal punishment. Eternity, by its very definition has no beginning and no end, therefore it can’t be something that happens after we die. It’s now. It’s always.

Also, since God is eternal, our connection to God is connection to eternity. Disconnection from God feels like eternal punishment because it is disconnection from the only truth there is, the only life there is, and we don’t have to die to experience it. 

I’ve experienced hell more than once in my life. What made those experiences hell for me was that I’d lost my grip on my relationship with God. I felt disconnected, existentially alone, and eternally lost.

I wasn’t, of course, because Christ marked me as his own forever at my Baptism. So, while I may have felt disconnected from God, God was not disconnected from me. God was waiting like a shepherd to guide me back to the rich pasture Ezekiel describes, the richness of relationship with God.

While I was in hell, my entire focus was on myself. I was drowning in my own suffering. I felt alone and lost, scared, and angry about it. I was dying. There truly was no life within me. I had no idea how to go. I was stuck. I couldn’t have noticed anyone else’s suffering because my focus had turned inward. I could only think about me. I was in hell and each moment was an eternity. 

We are all God's sheep, imperfect vessels made perfect by God alone. We are imperfect church communities enlightened by the Christ who dwells in us.

When we believe that God dwells in us, we can step into any darkness, any suffering, and allow Jesus to do through us what he always does, what the prophets of old said he would do: set us free from all that separates us and guide our feet into the way of peace.

As a church we are called to be connected to God, to one another, and to our local community so that the least of those among us know they are not alone, they are not lost. As one of my favorite indy artists, Dar Williams, said in a song: “If you're lucky you'll find something that reflects you, helps you feel your life, protects you, cradles you, and connects you to everything.” (Dar Williams, “Hudson” Album: My Better Self)

That’s what church is. That’s what church does.

Today is our Stewardship in-gathering. We are collecting the pledges of financial support for our work as church in the coming year. It is my prayer, as we prepare for our new year together, that we break ourselves open and allow the grace and mercy of God to show us how to be the kind of church through which God can rescue the scattered sheep among and around us and restore them to us, where they can be healed by the presence of Jesus in us… so that God might continue to build us up with new family who are looking for a place where they can be loved, protected, cradled, and connected… so that we might have that many more hands, that many more hearts, that many more gifts to use to answer Christ’s call to serve the least, inside and outside our gates, who are members of our family - the family of God.

Then when we come to the end of our lives we can run joyfully into the arms of Christ our King who will say to us with a broad smile and open arms: “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” Amen.

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