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Sermon for 26 November 2017


Ephesians 1:15-end, Matthew 25: 31-end

The story starts next Sunday.

The story of the life and death and life of Jesus Christ. 

And it will start - Advent will start - with voices from the past looking ahead to his birth. Voices like Isaiah, Micah and John the Baptist - those who could see beyond their own time and were given an insight into God’s time. 

But today, before the story starts, we get the end of the story. Today is, for the church, the last Sunday of the year. Since December 12 months ago, we have been following Mary’s pregnancy, the birth of her baby in Bethlehem, the story of Jesus’ arrival as a preacher of the Good News, his healing and teaching. We’ve come to see his power and beauty. We’ve grappled with the challenges that he lays before us. We’ve seen how people turned against him, walked with him to his trial, through brutal punishment by Roman soldiers, to his death, bloodied and defeated on a cross. We’ve stood and watched as He carried our shame and guilt, and died, apparently lost to the power of evil and darkness.

But 3 days later we celebrated with Mary, and then with the disciples, as they discovered that death was not the end - not for Jesus, not for them, not for us - and we watched them dance as they received the Holy Spirit, and the life of the church began. Sunday by Sunday we re-live and rehearse the story of Jesus amongst us. And today we get to the conclusion. 

Jesus, born in dubious circumstances in Bethlehem is now King of the Universe. He is, says Paul, writing to the Ephesians ‘seated at God’s right hand in the heavenly 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’. Jesus Christ is King.

And that means two key things.

First, it means that he is ruling the Universe. Kings and Queens today don’t get to be in charge of very much - and we are suspicious of them when they get too involved [think Prince Charles]. But Jesus is a King from the old school - the kind who really were in charge. The kind who ruled over their kingdoms, and who made things happen, and who fought battles against those who threatened their interests. To say that Christ is King means that he is seated on the throne, and is ruling. Back to Paul’s letter again - Jesus has all things ‘under his feet’ and he is ‘the head over all things’

And that means that whatever is going on in our lives, there is One that we can rely on. It means that there is meaning and purpose in life; there is one we can turn to for guidance; there really is someone looking over us. It means that life isn’t meaningless, random or chaotic. There is a King guarding and guiding the Universe, guarding and guiding you and me. There is someone in charge and he is good.

So when we come here, Sunday by Sunday, that must always be the first thing that we acknowledge - that we are in the presence of the Great King of all things. We come here not just to see our friends, not just to pray for stuff, but to worship. To fall on our knees before the King of the Universe and to acknowledge that he is God and we are not. 

And sometimes that will lead us simply to be thankful - that we have been guarded and guided by Jesus the King. And sometimes it will lead us to cry out in anger - who’s in charge round here? - because life is awful. And sometimes it will lead us to tears of pain and lament as we see the brokenness of our own lives and of the world around. But as we kneel before the King, whatever we want to say to him, whether we need to praise, or to rant, or to lament, we can know the the Universe is not blind and empty - that there is someone in charge. That Jesus Christ is King. 

That’s the first thing. Christ the King is in charge.

Secondly, to say Christ is King means that he is judge. One of the tasks of a monarch is to hear the claims of their people and to judge on them - to decide on the tricky issues and to allocate responsibility. And the bible tells us that we will all come before him one day; we will all enter the great heavenly throne room and see him face to face, and we will be held to account for our lives. What we do here today has eternal consequences.

And the gospel today - in the most challenging way - makes that clear. And it makes clear also what the criteria for judgement will be - it will be how we treat those who have nothing. 

And it’s not just this passage that tells us that the heart of the gospel is a call to serve those with less than us. One writer has calculated that every 10th line of the gospel is a direct challenge to the Christian to reach out to the poor. And in Luke’s gospel it’s every 6th line and the epistle of James it’s every 5th line. Another author puts it very neatly - ‘nobody will enter heaven without a reference from the poor’

And that is a real challenge for us, who live with such staggering comfort, while half the world lives with nothing.

Maybe we could make it easier for ourselves by saying that Jesus was talking about the spiritually hungry and thirsty - that this story is a metaphor for faith. But that isn’t what it says, and, much as we might like to, we can’t make scripture mean what we want it to mean. 

But maybe there’s another way for us to be let of the hook.

Look carefully at the gospel and it turns out that Jesus isn’t saying that we need to go out and serve the poor.  This judgement is what will happen when ‘all the nations’ are gathered before him to be judged. ‘The nations’ in the bible always means those who are not God’s people - in the Old Testament, the Gentiles, in the New Testament those who follow Jesus. And the criteria for judgement is whether they did these things for ‘one of the least of these who are members of my family’. Jesus is actually saying that it’s how the world treats his followers that counts on judgement day. This is fundamentally a challenge to those who are not disciples of Jesus - not to us who are part of his family. Bad news for ISIS and all who persecute Christians around the world.

So maybe we’re off the hook after all. We’re ok, because he’s not talking to us.

I’m afraid not. Jesus’ assumption, it seems, is that those who follow him - those who are his family, his body on earth, will be hungry, thirsty, naked, homeless, sick and in prison. Jesus’ assumption is that his church will be full of the kind of people who are going to need the help and support of the world around because they’ve given it all up. The challenge of this gospel is even greater than we might have thought - not just why aren’t we helping the poor but, why aren’t we part of the poor?

Now that’s a real challenge. And it’s hard to know how we are to put that into practice - we who have responsibilities and incomes and mortgages. But there it is in black and white. To follow Jesus means being ready to put it all on the line.

So 3 questions for you to ponder on as we get ready for Advent to start this week. 3 questions maybe for you to take into Advent.

- What would that look like for you? What would your life - or some part of your life - look like if you so identified with Jesus, that you needed the support of the world? 

- How would your life have to change if, come judgement day, someone standing before Christ the King is judged on how they treated you when you were hungry, thirsty, a stranger, naked, sick or prison for Jesus’ sake. 

- What do you need to do as Advent starts, to let Christ the King rule in your heart more fully so that when the call comes, you are ready to give it all up for Him?

Here we are, at the turning of the year, at the end of the story and the beginning of the story.

We start where we are and we turn again to Jesus, and we give thanks that he is King of everything, including our lives. And we offer him again all that we are, acknowledging that we are far, far from being the people he would have us be, and that his world is far, far from the world he wants it to be. And we open our hearts and we offer him our lives and we say, perhaps hesitantly and in an unsure voice,  ‘At the turning of the year Lord, challenge me and shape me, make me more like you and, if you need it, make me ready to step out in faith and trust, and to be amongst those who are hungry, thirsty, naked, homeless, sick and in prison.’ 

We praise you Christ, King of the Universe.

Lord have mercy on us


Going Deeper

  1. What images does the title 'Christ the King' bring to mind?
  2. Where do you see signs of Christ ruling over the Universe?
  3. Are there people who have inspired you in the way they have lived with people on the edge of society?
  4. How do you feel about standing before Jesus on the day of judgement? Does what you share make you want to change anything in your life?
  5. Consider the three questions in the sermon. How do you answer them for yourself?
Posted: 26/11/2017 at 13:57
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