Preached by Rev. Jim McKay on November 26, 2017.
Ezekiel 34: 11-16, 20-24
Ephesians 1: 15-23
Matthew 25: 31-46
Let we assume that we can coast into Christmas, now that Santa has arrived in town and the whirlwind sales frenzy of “Black Friday” has bedazzled our pocketbooks, the last Sunday of the Church year presents us with a celebration of Christ the King and an apocalyptic vision of the Great Judgment.
This vision of Judgment portrays the King like a shepherd separating the sheep from the goats – sheep to the right – goats to the left – before both groups encounter the great divide: sheep to eternal life in the Kingdom of God – goats to eternal punishment.
It’s a daunting task for any preacher but especially so when one is facing the nave of a sanctuary worth a wide centre aisle and the faithful gathered to the right and to the left before the pulpit. One wonders how many of us, myself included, might be evaluating their present seating arrangements or considering a dash to the other side if the lights go out, or if a long prayer provides cover. The sheep on the steep upper pasture in the balcony seem somewhat sheltered but there may be some restlessness even there!
As you very well know, sexual misconduct revelations have continued to dominate the Breaking News networks these past many weeks. Executives in the film industry, highly placed politicians, TV personalities, and celebrities of screen and stage have been marched across the media, fired for cause and dropped from their shows as allegations mount. A female journalist from one of the New York newspapers, asked to comment on these dismissals, remarked recently, “up to now we’ve been living in a no-consequence universe!”
This week in town the NATIONAL Inquiry on Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Girls has convened to hear the personal and collective pain and anguish of families seeking justice, compassion, and support for the deaths and disappearance of their dear ones. Our Ukrainian community has been observing a week of remembering the Holodomor – the Ukrainian Famine – a genocide that took the lives of between 4-10 million souls under the repressive Soviet regime of Joseph Stalin in 1932 – 3.
This current issue of Maclean’s magazine presents an extensive report on the situation in North Battleford and environs which is experiencing a near war-zone crisis of crime and violence.
So much of the world right now seems so out of joint.
Are we indeed living in a no-consequence universe?
The scriptures today, have a particular relevance for these times, I believe. The prophet Ezekiel- forth telling about 580 – 560’s BC declares in the name of God, that the leadership in Israel has completely betrayed the people of God. Leaders have been corrupt, unfaithful, and fully responsible for putting the people, “the sheep of God’s pasture” in jeopardy. That is to say, in exile, where they languish under the thumb of the Babylonian empire. Ezekiel declares that God will not leave his people in jeopardy but will himself intervene and “be the shepherd” they do not have. Godself will see that they are sought out, gathered, and restored to their homeland. In addition, Ezekiel prophesies the coming of a messianic king, from the house of David, who will restore and rule God’s people.
The Gospel of Matthew complements this theme of transforming a no-consequence universe into a life changing, life fulfilling, just, and secure universe. Here and now, living by Jesus’ ethical teaching, in our everyday relationships with our neighbour, we shall at the last, stand before our king and judge, redeemed in righteousness. WHEN the son of Man comes in his glory, assuming the throne of blessing and judgment and with all the nations gathered before HIM, the world can expect to be truly surprised and astonished!
The “when” does not so much refer to the ‘time’ or ‘calendar’, as it does to the experience of face to face encounter. The blessing of eternal peace, happiness and security will be for those who live the Christ-like life of responding to human need wherever and whenever they found it. Their response to human need was seamless with their humanity. They didn’t particularly see the face of Christ in the anguish and suffering of anyone in need, they saw the anguish and suffering of a fellow human being in need…and in some specific and caring way addressed that need.
“You did it to Me,” the Lord says
And those who did so address those needs asked “When? When did we ever see you sick, homeless, indigenous, shunned by society, ignored, an immigrant, someone of another faith, someone of a different sexual orientation, someone of different ethnic background?
“Well, I’ll tell you when”, replies Jesus. This time and that time…and… “ REALLY”, the responsive souls exclaimed. “This must be heaven!”
Our good friend Vern Ratzlaff was telling us last week on an incident that took place on the family farm here in Saskatchewan on Christmas Eve when he was a teenager. Horses from a nearby farm got loose and overran the Ratzlaff property late in the day. Vern had to saddle up and do his best to round up the strays. It took him several hours and after midnight had all of them in the family corral. When the Doukhobor men came to ask if the Ratzlaffs had seen anything of their horses, Vern’s dad said, “Oh yes. They’re here in the corral.” Astonished, the men asked, “well we’re very grateful, what do we owe you for your trouble?” Vern’s dad replied, “You’re our neighbors. You don’t owe us anything!” From that day on, Vern says, the Doukhobor family and the Razlaffs grew very close neighbors.
On the other hand however…those who did not address those needs, even though they may have been very busy, looking religious in attention-getting ways, but who regularly bypassed scenes of human anguish said to the Lord. “WHEN did we ever see YOU in those conditions?” “Well”, says the Lord, “that’s the point.” “Service to another is service to ME! What could be more religious than attending to those who need care?”
Door #2, on your left.
As the Church moves toward a Christmas we pass through the four Sundays in Advent, a season of penitence, a time to repent of our failures to respond to the anguished, victimized and vulnerable…there to look more closely, deeply, and lovingly into the hearts and souls of those who are so often passed by.
I’m delighted to see St. Andrew’s is once again offering its people the opportunity of making a gift to any of the inner-city agencies wo support and minister to people in need. This is truly and Advent appeal, so well supported by the congregation. Pick up and ornament and see if you can respond.
A friend of ours, Angie Farmer, belongs to the YWCA, and on Friday night hosted a dinner party for invited friends as part of her YW “Social Good” project. The price of admission was a parcel of toiletries/personal care items for women and girls housed at the YW’s shelter during the winter. The container was so full that they had to go and get another.
Sherwood and Sherry Sharfe, as you may have read, as those who have known anti-Semitism, have made an investment in an organization, Concentus Citizennship Education Foundation, seeking to help school aged children learn about respecting each others rights, and being good citizens.
It’s not that we fear the consequences of Jesus Messiah’s scrutiny. It’s rather that we embrace the Lord…. wait a minute. It’s not that. It’s that the Lord embraces us and always will. So, keep your seats. No need to shuffle across the aisle.
Look at the stained-glass window here in the chancel. Grist the Good Shepherd cradling the sheep. We’re in Good Shepherd hands. We live daily in his company.
Then on your way out today, look up above the upper hillside balcony and see in the east window the “King of Glory”, with the world in his hand, filled with God’s own power and unprecedented love, who has been the Hell and back and knows all about everything; death, life, and the “new life” of the resurrection. A table to which we are all invited.
Come, you who are blessed, inherit the Kingdom!