Sunday before Advent Nov 22nd

Reading, homily and prayers for ‘Christ the King’ - the Sunday next before Advent

 

(In a moment of silence, we ask for God’s grace and blessing)

In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen

 

Collect

Eternal Father, whose Son Jesus Christ ascended to the throne of heaven that he might rule over all things as Lord and King: Keep the Church in the unity of the Spirit and in the bond of peace, and bring the whole created order to worship at his feet; who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.

 

Reading – Matthew Ch 25 v 31 – 46

Jesus said to his disciples: ‘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.  All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then 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; 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.”  Then the righteous will answer, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry, and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” And 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.” Then 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; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I 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.” Then 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?”  Then 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.”  And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.’

 

Reflection

I want you to imagine, if you will, a large church in a middle-class area in the suburbs of a city. It had a pretty decent congregation of about 150 people and had a Sunday school who used to come in half way through the service from the church room.

One Sunday, as the people arrived at the church, they saw on the steps what looked like a tramp, who was in rather filthy clothes, with a hat pulled down over his eyes and with a bottle in his hands from which he was drinking. Not having come across this ever before most of the congregation walked past him into the church trying not to stare at him although there were some mutterings of disapproval. Some-one did ask if he would mind moving to another doorway before the children arrived from the Sunday School so as not to upset them, and one man said in no uncertain terms that he thought that the Samaritans would be a far better place for him to camp out. One woman did however come back and gave him a coffee in a cardboard cup. But it has to be said that no one actually asked him into the church let alone to join their worship.

So, imagine their complete surprise when the man got up, went into the church, marched up into the pulpit, took off his hat and revealed himself to be the vicar! He did say that he did not want to embarrass them – although I suspect he did! - but rather was reminding them that this person they thought he was, would be a person that Jesus loved and He has called them to love him too.

This was a challenge, an unfair one you may think, but so too is our gospel for today a challenge. It is about sheep and goats. Well I have thought about this and have asked myself the question. Which am I?  Am I a sheep or a goat? It is a very tough question but never fear because Matthew has Jesus giving us the criteria. The sheep are the ones who feed the hungry, give a drink to the thirsty, give clothes to the naked, welcome the stranger, help the sick and visit the prisoner. The goats are those who don’t do these things. I have asked myself the question and so can I ask you? Which do you think you are? A sheep or a goat?

There is nothing straightforward about this question because when I think about it, I am immediately in a muddle. Yes, I can think of times when I have been welcoming, caring and giving but then that awful doubt creeps in, because there really have been times when I haven’t done that. I was too busy, I didn’t have the energy, I pretended not to see, it was too difficult at that moment. The gospel says that if you feed just one person who is hungry then you will inherit the Kingdom of God. But then if there is just one hungry person you did not feed – just ONE – then you will face eternal punishment!

So, I don’t know which person I am and the people listening didn’t know either. Did you notice that they were all surprised? One group asked – ‘when did we feed you when you were hungry’ and conversely the other group asked ‘when did we NOT feed you when you were hungry’. If we had known it was you then of course we would have fed you.’

But having said that, surely we can’t possibly care for all those around us in need never mind the world. Do you like me get a pang of conscience every time those piles of charity leaflets come through the door with people in the most terrible plight – those who are starving, those who are homeless, those in war zones, those who are refugees nobody wants.  We can’t care for everybody. So perhaps Jesus is preaching a paradox here – he did it a lot! It is an impossible task to care for them all and cannot be met by anyone. So perhaps the answer is we are neither sheep nor goats. We are in fact both.

This gospel is not really about eternal fires and the devil and his angels, or whether we go to heaven or hell. Matthew was writing his gospel to the Jews and, as Angela explained last week, he believed the second coming was imminent. He is using apocalyptic language (that the other gospel writers don’t use) to ‘frighten’ his fellow Jews (and us) out of their apathy. But no one is good enough to earn God’s love, or indeed bad enough to lose it, and so surely this is a gospel about which side Jesus is on. He isn’t on the side of the sheep or the goats, but rather on the side of those who are hungry or thirsty, or a stranger, or naked, or sick, or in prison. Because Christ the King does not come as the King we expect, but rather appears when we or others are in need. That congregation did not recognise their vicar on the steps of their church, and so we can presume if he had been a tramp, they would not have recognised Christ either. We have to ask ourselves, “what would we have done in the same circumstances?” Do we recognise Christ the King in that homeless tramp, in that drug user, that criminal, or even in that person made lonely, angry or frightened, especially in this time of the pandemic? Because Christ the King is there if we care to look for Him and He is asking for our help.

Amen

 

Prayer

Dear Lord, at this time of fear and anxiety over the pandemic, we pray that we may not forget that you are calling us to think of others before ourselves.  Look in your mercy upon the suffering of your world, and help those in trouble or distress. And may our prayer not be made empty by our neglect, but carry with it our readiness to act as your servants; that the hungry, the thirsty, those who are desperate with worry, the sick, the damaged, the homeless, the lonely, the frightened,  and the sorrowing my find us eager to help for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen

 

Helen Burrell - Reader/Lay Minister


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