Karen Hollis | Nov 19, 2023
Reign of Christ Sunday
Ode of Solomon 41:4-12, 15b-16
Indeed a momentous day has dawned for us,
And the one who gave to us from his glory is astonishing.
Therefore let us agree together, on account of the name of the Lord,
And let us honour him and his goodness.
And let our faces shine with his light,
And let our hearts meditate in his love day and night
Let us rejoice in the Lord’s exultation.
All who see me will be amazed
Because I am of a different sort.
For the Father of Truth remembered me,
The one who possessed me from the beginning.
Indeed his riches bore me,
Along with the contemplation of his heart.
And his word is in each path of ours,
The redeemer who sustains life, and does not reject ourselves,
The person who was humiliated
And was raised by his own righteousness.
So that he might give life to people forever in the Truth of his name.
A new hymn to the Lord from those who love him. Halleluiah.
Matthew 25:31-46 ‘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 him, “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.’
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be reflections of your word to us today, in Christ’s name we pray. Amen
Have you been to Coombs recently and seen the goats on the roof? I love it. I love goats . . . I love that they will eat anything, and they will go to great lengths, even walking along a sheer cliff face, to find a meal. I don’t dislike sheep – they have important qualities, which I’ll get into in a minute – I just get a kick out of goats. According to Rural Living Today, “It has been said that shepherds protect sheep from getting injured by their environment, while goathearders protect the environment from their goats.”1 That feels true . . . and hilarious . . .
Goats may be beloved children of God, however we’re not going to learn from their qualities this morning.
Let’s turn to sheep. Sheep have a reputation for being not too bright, defenseless and harmless creatures that mope about on hillsides basically growing wool for us knitters to make warm garments.2 There’s actually a lot more to them. “Sheep act as a social group, and their reactions are very dependent on others in their flock.”3 “When something comes to threaten life, sheep turn toward each other. They know they stand the best chance against predators when they’re moving collectively.
Their survival tactics are not aggressive in nature, but are gentle and social. Sheep survive by living in awareness that they don’t stand a chance alone.”4 So, sheep don’t behave as individuals, rather they are highly attuned to the group. Particularly when threatened, they turn toward one another. At our best, humans turn toward one another too. While during covid, not everyone in the world turned toward their fellow humans, I think most communities did, including ours . . . even if we couldn’t come physically near one another, we did attune ourselves to our collective wellbeing.
For the past few years, I’ve been reading the Bible differently than I did before. I’ve been reading these stories as best I can by placing them in their original context. I am regularly astounded how a seemingly small detail can turn my perspective on a passage upside down. Before I read through that lens, I knew Jesus was political, but I didn’t realize just how political and how laser focused he was on social justice. This morning’s passage isn’t subtle about that. In the words of the text, there is no greater commissioning for us than caring for the least of these . . . and by learning about the difference between sheep and goats, these everyday characters in the lives of these first century people, brings the issue into focus. Sheep save the group by turning toward one another.
In the first century Jewish mind, salvation was a collective experience. There was no concept of individual salvation for Jesus or anyone else. Like sheep, they knew salvation comes for all of us, or not at all. I think I’ve talked about this before, but every time I say these words, it stirs something in me, I think it’s because the church has taught for such a long time a different path to salvation . . . that each of us needs to believe in a certain way, worship and pray in a certain way to receive individual salvation. The church has taught for a long time that we need to spend our lives believing in the saving acts of Jesus so that God will accept us into a forever home with God in the next life. In the United Church, believe our God is focused on loving us rather than imposing a bunch of rules. And when we look at Jesus in his context, we hear something more. In this vision of Christ coming in fullness, they communicate that salvation comes for all when we turn toward each other, when we look around for the vulnerable and discern what needs to change about the way we do things so that all of us thrive? In what ways are resources and opportunities unequal and what do we need to rethink? What do we need to do so that humanity and all of creation can move forward together? We can’t do it, for example, if some are starving and some are living in luxury. It doesn’t work.
There are 2 pieces about turning toward one another that are important for us to consider. One is the practical stuff around caring for people on the margins. I think we’re totally on board with that. Yes, care for one another, yes, care for the common good. It’s important work; we’re doing that and want to do more.
The second is more challenging. The second names a collective growing edge that is important for us to look at. As I asked before: in what ways are resources and opportunities unequal and what as a society do we need to rethink? This is a challenging question for any community like ours that is mostly white, educated, retired professional, liberal, etc. Another important and challenging question is: how do I benefit from systems that keep others in need. This takes some courage to ask and more courage to look at. If we’re going to take this passage seriously, we need to be asking these questions.
Did I find the edge of your discomfort? Or did I proceed right past the edge into the soup of it? Is this the place where our anxiety or defensiveness begin to rise? When we notice these responses, I invite us to get curious about them. What’s going on there? Why are these thoughts and feelings rising up in us?
For many of us these kinds of feelings arise when we talk about Truth and Reconciliation. Sometimes we don’t know what to do with the legacy of wrongs that have been passed down to us. We listen with grief and compassion to residential school survivors tell their stories and we open ourselves to their experience. Hearing the truth is one of many important pieces to reconciliation work. I’ve also heard survivors who after telling their story, they remind us in the audience, “it costs me something to stand up and share with you.” When we invite people to come and share, we’re asking a lot of them. We need to remember that there are several pieces to the work of reconciliation. Some pieces are for all of us to do collectively, some pieces are for Indigenous people to do one their own, and we have our work. Part of our work is to name that there are systems in place that benefit us – these systems are as old as colonization. There are systems in place that benefit us and they oppress others. While these systems are in place, while access to water isn’t universal, while we remain blind to systemic racism, we won’t move forward together. Salvation comes for all of us, or it doesn’t come.
It’s a challenging text, here at the end of the church year. Christ lifts up for us a vision and a commissioning as we move into the coming year, as we clarify our priorities through strategic planning.
Christ doesn’t come with judgement – this is important for us to hear. Christ doesn’t come with judgement and neither do I. We’re all in this together. I bump into my own stuff in this area all the time, so I say, “WE have work to do.” Christ comes to us not with judgement . . . Christ comes as a teacher, a leader, a visionary; Christ calls us to proceed with courage in the direction of our collective salvation. The next time this body gathers, it will be Advent . . . the start of the church year, which begins with hope. So let us proceed with both courage and hope in the way Christ leads.
1 enfleshed November 22, 2020
3 Rural Living Today in enfleshed.