Sunday, November 23, 2014

Kindness in the Name of the King

RCL, Year A, Proper 29.1

Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24
Psalm 100
Ephesians 1:15-23
Matthew 25:31-46

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Good Morning. It’s good to see all of you. Today is a very special day. For the past 5½ months we have been in the Season after Pentecost. And each week we would begin our service with, “Welcome to St. John’s on this, the 7th Sunday after Pente-cost.” Or “Welcome on this, the 15th Sunday after Pentecost,” Or last week’s, “Welcome on this the 23rd Sunday after Pentecost.” Well, it has finally arrived, to-day is the Last Sunday after Pentecost, the last Sunday of the Church year. This means that next Sunday is the start of a brand new year, the beginning of Advent, when we prepare ourselves for the coming of Christ, his second coming and his first coming, in that order.

But today is the Last Sunday of the Church Year. And it is on this day that we celebrate the Feast of Christ the King, which is why we are wearing our celebratory white vestments. The official name of this feast day is the Feast of Our Lord Jesus Christ the King. It may surprise you to know that this is a fairly new feast as Church feasts go. It did not originate in the Middle Ages, nor did it originate in the 15th or 16th centuries. Instead, it was instituted in 1925 by Pope Pious XI in an at-tempt to thwart the expansion of secularism, which Pope Pious attributed to the fact that the world was increasingly denying the lordship and authority of Jesus Christ. In his encyclical Quas Primas, Pope Pious writes, the 
manifold evils in the world [are] due to the fact that the majority of men [have] thrust Jesus Christ and his holy law out of their lives; that these [have] no place either in private affairs or in politics: and… as long as individuals and states [refuse] to submit to the rule of our Sav-ior, there [will] be no really hopeful prospect of a lasting peace among nations.
In other words, there can be no genuine peace in a world that continues to live as though its Lord and Savior did not exist or have authority. And so, on this day, we remember, we celebrate, and we proclaim the fact that Jesus Christ is King,… not just our King, but the King,… the Lord of all creation, the Lord of everything that exists. 

And so today, all of our readings point to the fact that God has made Jesus of Nazareth “King of kings and Lord of lords” (REV 19:16), by giving him “all authority in heaven and on earth (MATT 28:19).”  So in Ezekiel, the prophet anticipates the day when God will rescue his people and set over them a shepherd, the Son of David, who will feed them with justice. Then, in Ephesians, Paul writes of the power that God has made available through Christ, who sits at God’s “right hand in the heav-enly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come” (EPH 1:20–21 ).

In all of these passages, I hope you are getting a glimpse of the picture being presented, namely, that Jesus’ authority encompasses all spheres of existence. His authority is not just heavenly, but earthly as well. He is not only Lord over the church, but Lord over society and the state. His authority is not just moral, reli-gious, or spiritual, it is also political, economic, and social. He is Lord in private matters, and king in public matters. Consequently, all human beings owe their alle-giance to Jesus. 


The comprehensive nature of Jesus’ authority is also highlighted in today’s gospel reading. This passage is often called the Parable of the Sheep and Goats, but it’s not actually a parable. Instead, it is an account of the final judgment, the only such account in all of Scripture. It’s a remarkable scene. Jesus returns at the end of the age in all his kingly glory. He sits on his throne, and all the nations of the world are gathered before him. And he begins to separate the people, making distinctions between the sheep and the goats. King Jesus bases his judgments on whether a person served and cared for him when he was in need. But both the sheep and the goats are confused, for neither group ever remembers seeing Jesus hungry or thirsty, lonely, naked, sick, or in prison. But Jesus responds, “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” (25:40).


Now, there’s a question we must ask. Who are “the least of these” of which Jesus speaks, “the least of these” whom Jesus describes as his own brothers and sisters. One interpretation is that “the least of these” refers to the poor, the down-trodden, and the oppressed of humanity in general. If so, then Jesus is showing us that salvation consists in seeing and serving Jesus in everyone we meet, especially the poor, the homeless, the imprisoned. This is a common interpretation, and one that finds support in Matthew’s gospel, but there is another interpretation that also finds support.


Elsewhere in Matthew, when Jesus makes reference to the least or to the little ones, it is always in reference to his disciples. Likewise in Matthew, when Jesus re-fers to “his brothers and sisters,” he is not referring to human beings in general, but to his disciples in particular. And so, when Jesus is separating the sheep and the goats in the final judgment, his judgments are based upon how the nations of the world treated his followers. 

You see, before today’s passage, Jesus had told his disciples that, when he was gone, they would be sent as his emissaries to proclaim the gospel to all the nations (24:14). However, the world they would be witnessing to would be hostile. Jesus said, “they will hand you over to be tortured and will put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of my name” (24:9). In other words, as the disci-ples carried out their vocation as evangelists and missionaries to the nations, they would experience hunger, thirst, loneliness, nakedness, sickness, and imprisonment. Yet, those who welcomed Jesus’ disciples, and extended hospitality to them, they would be numbered among the sheep. They would be acknowledged as belonging to God’s flock. They would receive the same reward that the followers of Jesus had received, eternal life. 

All of this fits with what Jesus told his disciples earlier in the gospel when he sent them on their first missionary tour: 
See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves. Beware of them, for they will hand you over to councils and flog you in their synagogues; and you will be dragged before governors and kings because of me, as a testi-mony to them and the [nations]…. and you will be hated by all be-cause of my name….
[But] Whoever welcomes you welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Whoever welcomes a prophet in the name of a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward; and whoever welcomes a righteous person in the name of a righteous person will receive the reward of the righteous; and whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward (MATT 10:40–42).
And so, at the end of history, when Jesus returns and the peoples of the world are gathered before their king, they will be judged by how they have treated Jesus’ followers. 

Why is this? Because when Jesus left, he put his followers in charge of the king-dom. In his first coming, Jesus established the kingdom of God through his life, death, resurrection, and ascension. But then Jesus went away, and he entrusted the kingdom and its expansion to his followers. That’s what he had been training them for.


This is all reminiscent of last week’s Parable of the Talents. Do you remember the story? A man goes on a journey, but before he leaves, he calls his slaves together and entrusts his property to them. He does not give them all the same responsibil-ity. To one he entrusts five talents, to another two talents, and to another just one talent. In short, each slave is given a level of responsibility that matches their gifts and abilities. Then, when the master returns, he settles accounts with his slaves, he finds out what they have done with what they were given. 

This parable is about Jesus leaving his followers in charge of the kingdom. Jesus has gone away, and he has entrusted the gospel to us. We have been recruited, and we have been commissioned. We have been called and equipped to take the gospel into all the world. And the world is wherever we are. The world might be on some distant, foreign shore. Yet, more often than not, the world is to be found in our normal, everyday lives. The world is in our own neighborhoods, in our own fami-lies, at our places of work. Those are the places we have been called to proclaim the gospel by word and by deed, with our words and our actions. 

And how we go about doing this matters, because according to today’s gospel reading, the peoples of the world will be judged on the basis of how they respond to the followers of Jesus,… to us. Honestly, I am not sure how much I like that idea. That seems like too much responsibility. I would prefer to believe that there is no final judgment. I would prefer to believe that in the end everybody gets saved and that it has nothing to do with me. I just want to live a normal life, free of such concerns… to bury my talent in the ground and hand it back to Jesus when he re-turns. 
But alas, Jesus doesn’t allow us that luxury. It’s not an option. Why? Because he loves the world too much. People are broken, and they need to know how much God loves them. People are enslaved to forces beyond their control, and they need to be set free. People are in need of a loving Lord and Savior, and so they need someone to show them Jesus. Not simply so that they will go to heaven someday, but so that they can experience the eternal kind of life in the here and now.


We are called to know Christ and make Christ known. But where do we begin? In my studies at Kansas School for Ministry, we read a book called, The Conspiracy of Kindness. In this book, the author, Steve Sjogren, describes what he calls kindness evangelism, which he defines as “demonstrating God’s love… by offering to do some humble act of service… in Christ’s name… with no strings attached.”

Let me give you some examples of these humble acts of service in Christ’s name:
  • Buying newspapers and giving them away on a busy street corner.
  • Handing out free water at a 5K run.
  • Wrapping Christmas presents for free at a store
  • Going door to door and offering to do yard work for free
  • Conducting Free car wash where no donations are accepted 
  • Going to stores in a mall and offering to clean their toilets for free
And when people ask (and they will ask), who are you and why are you doing this, the typical response goes something like this, “We are just trying to show God’s love in a practical way.” This is important. This is what distinguishes kindness evangelism from random acts of kindness. Our humble acts of service are in the name of Jesus, and it is important that this is made known. For if we don't follow our actions with words, the people we are seeking to serve “will only know that we are nice people, not that God loves them.” 

On the video I have include some stories of the powerful effects
these humble acts of service in Jesus’ name have had.

Perhaps this is the place to begin. And perhaps there is no better way to honor Jesus as Lord of lords and King of kings, than to engage in such humble acts of kindness which are so reflective of the life that he himself led.

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

Delivered on Sunday, November 23rd, a.d. 2014
at St. John's Episcopal Church (Wichita, Kansas)

Sunday, November 09, 2014

Choose This Day... and Every Day

Sunday, November 9, A.D. 2014
RCL, Year A, Proper 27, Track 1
Download as a PDF
Watch on YouTube

To Stay or to Go?

Today, I would like to do something a little bit different. Instead of a sermon per se, I would like to offer a witness, a personal testimony.
     I grew up on a small family farm outside Woodward, Oklahoma, the last of six kids. My family was a church-going family. Each and every Sunday, the eight of us piled into the station wagon, and we went to the early service at St. John’s Episcopal Church. But we didn’t stop there. We went out for breakfast, and then headed over to the First United Methodist Church, where we attended Sunday School and our second worship service of the morning.
     I am not exactly sure how long we followed this routine. But at some point, my Dad, rather wisely in my opinion, decided that it would be better for us kids, if we only attended one service on Sunday… not one church, mind you, but one service. So we started worshipping at the Episcopal church and Sunday schooling at the Methodist church. Or we might reverse the order, if we attended the second service at St. John’s. So, I guess you could call me a cradle Episcopalian with a twist. Years later, I used to joke that this was exactly how John Wesley would have wanted it—Anglican worship and Methodist formation. After all, Wesley—who was the founder of the Methodist movement—was an Anglican priest until the day he died.

Tuesday, November 04, 2014

How to End a Sermon: A Small Suggestion

A few days ago, Esther (our five-year-old) very proudly came up to me and said that she had a suggestion about how I could end a sermon.
Jesus heals us and brings us back to this world.
It's a good ending. Now I just need a sermon to prefix to it.

Sunday, November 02, 2014

Political Theology

I just came across this site last week: It has a lot of things going on with it, but it looks like each week they asks somebody to post political/theological reflections on the upcoming lectionary readings. I don't think they do each reading, each week. I think they ask somebody to submit something, and that person picks one of the readings to comment upon.
     So last week, the post was "The Politics of Exalting the Humble—Matthew 23:1-12" and the previous week was "The Politics of Being Replaced—Deuteronomy 34:1-12" (which has some tie ins with election season) If you just want to see these posts, choose The Politics of Scripture under the Departments pulldown.