Last Pentecost Year A: Ez 34:11-16, 20-24; Ps 95:1-7a; Eph 1:15-23; Mt 25:31-46
St. John’s Episcopal Church, Montgomery, AL
Sunday, November 26, 2017
The Rev. Candice B. Frazer
Holy Eucharist is a symbol of the kingdom of God. It is the bread broken and distributed to all who come to the rail as the body of Christ. No longer are we distinguished from one another—we are simply hands reaching out to receive, palms crossed, fingers stretched, waiting in expectation to be made whole—to be nourished and strengthened, encouraged as we recognize we are part of something bigger than ourselves. As we receive, so we are given—the bread that was once whole has been broken that we might all share in it; our lives once broken are now made whole through this simple act of participating in the breaking of bread.
Though each of us comes as individuals to the table, it is only because we gather together that we can be the body. The body is called in the Eucharist to be nourished by God that we might be strengthened in order to strengthen others. As we strengthen others, we strengthen our community. Therefore, our community is only as strong as our weakest members. This is what our Gospel reading is about—not whether we are sheep or goats, but how we are community. Our collect this morning prayed that we would no longer be divided and enslaved to sin, but that we would be freed from sin and brought together under God’s rule. If we are to read Matthew’s Gospel in the light of that prayer, then we can no longer be concerned about whether you are a sheep and I am a goat, but about how we live together as kingdom dwellers. If we get bogged down in who gets saved and who gets punished then we miss out on how to live a righteous and eternal life. Getting caught up in concerns of the afterlife and attempting to divvy the world into sheep and goats misses the point and focus of Jesus’s concern—the here and now, the reality of our present situation.
Jesus cares about community. He cares about what it takes for us to be in relationship with one another. He is much less concerned with law and what you have to do or not do to get into the kingdom. Jesus is the kingdom. Think about that—if Jesus is the kingdom and he has already been here in human form, then the incarnation is more than Christ made man, it is the physical presence of the kingdom through God incarnate. We are living in kingdom times—right here, right now. We can do nothing to get ourselves into the kingdom because we are already there—but if we wish to have the gates of the kingdom opened in us, then we will have to form our lives in such a way that we can recognize the kingdom as it exists all around us. This is the message of Jesus that we read in Matthew’s Gospel today—it has less to do with telling us how to get into the kingdom and more to do with inviting us to see what we must do to live within the kingdom.
The amazing thing about living in the kingdom is that any kindergartner can do it. If you’ve ever watched little children interacting together, you’ve seen kingdom living. When one child drops her snack on the ground, another child will offer to share his with her. When a child is cold and their teeth are chattering, another child will sit close to them and share their coat. When a new kid is encountered on the playground, the other kids will gather around him trying to get to know him and invite him to come and play. When a child gets a boo-boo, everyone is concerned and the teacher is called in to administer help. They stick with the hurt child and are concerned as to whether or not they are feeling better. When a child gets put into time out, they worry, and when that child is released, they rejoice. Kingdom living is really one big kindergarten—yet, I think we’ve forgotten how to live like kindergarteners. So Jesus reminds us.
He reminds us to share our snack and feed the hungry. To welcome the stranger, gather around them to get to know them and invite them in. To clothe the naked and visit the sick and imprisoned. He reminds us not as a threat to our eternal salvation, but to help us see the kingdom that exists around us because in our brokenness our vision has dimmed, the truth becomes blurred, and our reality is limited to ourselves. We make our Christian lives complicated because we are more worried about dividing people into sheep and goats than loving people regardless of whether they are sheep and goats. As Richard Rohr says, “Christianity is not about avoiding punishment or gaining reward. It is about loving God and loving what God loves. And what God loves is the whole of creation.” God loves you and me, flowers and trees, dogs and bees, the earth and the seas. To love what God loves is to care for creation, to tend to our relationships with one another, to grow into the Christ-centered people God desires us to be, to see Christ in all those we serve.
Today is Christ the King Sunday and for all the power and dominion that name implies, we might do better to consider Jesus our kindergarten teacher and we, his children. We come as individuals and gather as a community to be strengthened by our presence with one another and God’s presence amongst us. We share in the breaking of bread before the bell rings and we are released onto the playground of the world—the great recess in which we, in the spirit of our five-year-old selves, share what we have with those who have not. It is this strengthening of social relations which keeps communities together and reflects concern for the weak and the poor and those in any need or trouble. That is what kingdom living looks like—lifting up those who have fallen down. Whenever we participate in the lifting up of another we enter a little more fully into our inheritance—the kingdom that has been prepared for us since the foundation of the world; the kingdom made incarnate with Jesus’s first coming; the kingdom we make known through our actions and relationships. This morning’s Gospel is not about our eternal punishment or reward, it is about how we make our life in the kingdom. Its not that kingdom living is simple, it is elemental—basic to who we are as Christians.