- November 26, 2017
- 08:00 AM
Sermon for November 26, 2017 (Christ the King, Year A)
Offered by Nathan Ferrell at The Episcopal Church of Saint Mary
Texts: Romans 16:1-7, 16-20, 27; Psalm 100; Matthew 25:31-46
Title: Be Wise in What is Good
“I want you to be wise in what is good and guileless in what is evil. The God of peace will shortly crush Satan under your feet.”
Dear friends, this is the final Sunday of the Church Year. It is known as Christ the King Sunday, because here at the end of the year we remember our claim of faith that all of history, and all of our lives, all of the universe are guided by the will of God. And this will is most clearly seen in the Messiah, the Anointed One, our Lord Jesus Christ.
And we also come to the very end of Saint Paul’s Letter to the Church in Rome. And here at the end we find a number of personal greetings from Paul, along with a few final points of instruction.
This was common practice for letter writing in Paul’s day. And these personal greetings may appear to be odd and perhaps not terribly interesting, but actually they tell us quite a bit about the social conditions in the early church.
Among this list of people are found both Jews and Gentiles, both servants and wealthy, both women and men.
The name of Phoebe is of particular interest. Paul calls her a deacon of the church.
Of course, deacons then were not exactly what we think of as deacons today, but the title did signify a position of leadership within the church. Truth be told, the word could also be translated simply as “servant”, but that doesn’t make sense in context.
Phoebe was also a benefactor to Paul and his mission. And it is likely that Phoebe is the one who hand delivered this letter to the Romans. So she was a woman of means who could travel and could financially support Paul’s work.
Phoebe was a recognized leader in the church, along with Prisca and Aquila and Andronicus and Junia, and so many others who clearly sacrificed for the good of the church.
What we have here at the very end of Paul’s Letter is a joyful celebration of this new community that Christ the King has brought into being.
And what kind of community is this? Who are these people, and what do they do? THAT, my friends, is what the parable of the sheep and the goats is all about.
Yesterday, I spoke with my mother-in-law who shared a good story. I think she saw the King in one of the least of these and I think she responded rightly. It happened last week in line at McDonald’s. Cheri is my mother-in-law’s name and as she waited for her food there at McDonald’s, she overheard something.
After the next man in line had ordered, the counter-staff said, “I hope you have a good Thanksgiving!” To which this man replied, “Well, I’m not so sure this year.”
So, as he stood next to her while also waiting for his food, Cheri decided to ask him about his Thanksgiving plans. She is a naturally warm and friendly person, after all.
Before she knew it, he was telling her the whole story, about how difficult this Thanksgiving was going to be for him. You see, he had been married to his wife for 56 years. She developed severe Alzheimer’s a few years back and he had made the decision to move her into an assisted living facility. But about a week ago, in mid-November, an aide was assisting his wife to move from the bed into a chair when she fell – right down on her face, on the hard floor! There were a number of broken bones in her face, teeth knocked out, severe bruising. And worst of all, she didn’t really know what was going on!
This man’s name was Ron, and he was really upset about all this, and it was hard for him to think about Thanksgiving this year. His adult son lives at home with him. They share expenses in order to pay for his wife’s care. And they didn’t have any plans for Thanksgiving at all.
Now, I like to think that the Holy Spirit spoke to Cheri at this moment, or spoke THROUGH her. She decided to invite Ron and his son to an open community Thanksgiving dinner at her church, St. Matthew’s there in Louisville, Kentucky.
Cheri explained that she was herself intending to go there this year and that she would be glad to meet Ron and his son there and show them around, if they were interested. She took out a card and wrote down the information and gave it to him.
Well, what do you know! On Thanksgiving day, just a little while after Cheri made it to the Parish Hall for the church dinner, Ron and his son showed up!
Strangers came together around folding tables in the Parish Hall and they gave thanks to God together and they shared a feast! As they ate, Ron explained that he hadn’t been to church in many years, but it felt good to be there with churchfolk, and, well, he’s going to think about coming back again. *****
If our Lord was speaking in our own day and time, and he was presenting this parable of the sheep and the goats, I think he might add something like this: “For I was lonely and you invited me to join your table.”
How many people do you know who are lonely today? Loneliness is such a major problem society, and a growing one, even in spite of our advanced communication technologies!
So if we are to be wise in what is good, as Paul admonished, if we are to care for the least of these, as the King expects, then you and I must be attentive to those around us who are lonely and we must invite them in.
This is what it means to be church.
It is NOT about being perfect. We will always be a community of broken, flawed people. And let’s face it: we all fall short when it comes to caring for the needs of those who are hungry, naked, sick or in prison, and the lonely.
I’ll be the first to raise my hand and admit that there is so much more that I could do.
Week after week, in our prayer of confession, we confess that we have sinned against God by what we have done, AND by what we have left undone (The Book of Common Prayer, 1979, p.360).
My friends, it is what we FAIL to do that perhaps is the most damning of all.
This parable explains that the dividing line between the faithful and the faithless, the truly good ones and those who miss the cut, is found in what we do for the poor, the sick, the hungry, those in prison, by what we do for the lonely.
And there is so much more that we could do. And that we need to do.
But by the grace of God, we ARE learning. Isn’t that right? Are we not learning, slowly but surely, to see others in the same way that Christ sees them? Yes, we are!
And we are learning to greet one another with a holy kiss – metaphorically, at least! By learning how to be a diverse community of those who do not serve our own appetites, not our own wants and desires, but serving the needs of others – even the least of these who are members of Christ’s family.
After all, how much effort does it take to look, to listen, to pay attention, to ask a question, to invite?
And is that effort not worth it, if only we can hear those words of praise and approbation at the end of the day?
“Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” (Matthew 25:34).
Yes, it is! And may you and I never walk in any other way except in the way of the God of peace, the true Ruler of all, who gives us new life in this community called the church. Amen.