Sunday sermon 22 November 2015 – Christ the King
Ephesians 2: 6-10; Matthew 25:31-46;
I was reading the sermon I preached on this day 4 years ago. Not bad really – even if I say so myself. It was a solid and challenging message.
But did it get across? Did the message make a difference? Or do we have constant miscommunication in this modern age.
Take this cartoon for example. It’s speaks volumes:
So what is the heart of the message? What do you take away each week? What will you take home today?
This is CHRIST THE KING Sunday. Also known as the “Reign of Christ”. Whether you are a royalist or a republican you can’t avoid the titles of Jesus.
The Gospel text (the reading today – not an sms received on your phone in code) starts very directly with these words: Mat 25:31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory.
Sit on his throne. Then in verse 34 we read: “Then the King will say…
The last judgement scene has been portrayed in all kinds of creative ways. It is quite graphic really. Verse 41 speaks volumes really: “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.
We may miss the point however. We obsess about future judgement sometimes. Jesus seemed to say elsewhere that judgement is also now.
Take this for example: John 3:18 Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son. A fascinating verse.
But beyond that – the Christian life is not really about doing good and ethics. They are part of it – but not the essence of it.
People do see it like this however. A conversation with a parishioner from a previous church is a good example. I asked her this question – here was the conversation: are you still at church? Her response: No I don’t go to church anymore. Just try to live a good life quietly on my own.
I wonder if her good life includes the kind of care Jesus talks about in Matthew 25.
Mat 25:35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, Mat 25:36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
Don’t you see? Once you make it about what you do – it gets tricky. And we get picky. That’s why the questions about what we must “do” are a distraction.
Commentator Dirk Lang puts it like this: “Like the person who came to Jesus and asked “Teacher, what good deed must I do to have eternal life?” (Matthew 19:16-24), so we too wonder on what side we will find ourselves — the right or the left? The question, however, is simply an excuse for doing nothing, as Bonhoeffer has pointed out.
The person attempts to engage Jesus in an endless ethical discussion about works or good deeds. In this parable, the question resurfaces but in an importantly different way: “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?” (25:44).
Those at the left hand of the Son of Man seek an excuse and almost put the blame on the Son of Man himself as if to say, ‘You didn’t reveal yourself; how could we see you?’ ” (Workingpreacher.org)
In other words – if I’d known it was you Jesus when that poor person asked for help, then I would have Jesus! You can see how daft that is.
SO: What’s it all about?
Here’s the clue – the people in the sheep and goats account who get the prize – who are rewarded – actually had no idea they were doing it to Jesus (or to someone who represents Jesus).
Their response is this: Mat 25:38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you?Mat 25:39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
The implication is – they were doing what they were doing because that’s who they were. It flowed out of them without the analysis.
And it fits well with Jesus’ teaching elsewhere does it not. And with Matthew as a whole starting with John the Baptiser:
Mat 3:7 But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to where he was baptizing, he said to them: “You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the coming wrath? Mat 3:8 Produce fruit in keeping with repentance. Mat 3:9 And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham. Mat 3:10 The axe is already at the root of the trees, and every tree that does not produce good fruit will be cut down and thrown into the fire.
And Jesus takes this theme further: Mat 7:16 By their fruit you will recognize them. Do people pick grapes from thornbushes, or figs from thistles? Mat 7:17 Likewise every good tree bears good fruit, but a bad tree bears bad fruit. Mat 7:18 A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, and a bad tree cannot bear good fruit. Mat 7:19 Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. Mat 7:20 Thus, by their fruit you will recognize them.
The implication is that this is gardening again – not philosophy or logic or ethics classes. It’s an organic growth in character if we are connected to Jesus the Head, and the rest of the body.
That’s why holiness and unity are really hard to keep together in tension. People will be happy families (united) until you confront behaviour (go for holiness). They get mad at you. Sulk. Boycott church.
Jesus keeps going at this theme in Matthew: Mat 12:31 And so I tell you, every sin and blasphemy will be forgiven men, but the blasphemy against the Spirit will not be forgiven. Mat 12:32 Anyone who speaks a word against the Son of Man will be forgiven, but anyone who speaks against the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven, either in this age or in the age to come. Mat 12:33 “Make a tree good and its fruit will be good, or make a tree bad and its fruit will be bad, for a tree is recognized by its fruit. Mat 12:34 You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. Mat 12:35 The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him. Mat 12:36 But I tell you that men will have to give account on the day of judgment for every careless word they have spoken.
The king in this Kingdom is a King of compassion. The fruit of behaviour in transformed connected people (connected to the vine if you like as in John 15) is people who have compassion like Jesus did.
Compassion on the woman at the well. The prostitute caught in adultery. The tax collector up a tree. The untouchable lepers. Do I need to go on? When they meet Jesus – he changes them through grace.
We try to change the world through condemnation and threats.
So the good-fruit disciples who have no idea helping people is like helping Jesus – feed the poor, visit the prisoners. (Hey – do you want to come with me in the week before Christmas? I’m looking for some singers who can come with me and I will bring my guitar. To the maximum security prison.)
And they help the hungry, thirsty, strangers and naked. They do it and are surprised that it is the same has helping Jesus.
The sheep are good fruit. Fabulous mixed metaphor.
The goats are fruitless. And they are the debaters – they love discussing things. “Really – I would have done something if I’d known it was for you Jesus!”
Modern debaters discuss whether the “least of these” means gentiles or Christians – who do we help. Refugees? Which ones?
The sheep just do it. Nike sheep. Fabulous mixed metaphor.
YOU ARE THIS – SO DO IT
I know there are passages about obedience – and we have to figure out what this means. But the bulk of the evidence (we ponder scripture – we weigh things up) is about doing what we are already.
Indicative: you are the salt of the earth, the light of the world.
Imperative: be yourselves – salt and light.
PAUL TO THE EPHESIANS
So a final comment from Ephesians 2. It is always grace and not works. A gift – not earned by our deeds. Paul says it like this:
Eph 2:8 For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— Eph 2:9 not by works, so that no one can boast. Eph 2:10 For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
Legalists agonise here too – “am I doing the right good works?” “I’m sure my good works don’t including visiting prisons. Helping Muslims. Being generous to people who are DIFFERENT!?”
Maybe this will help to make the point:
Tom Wright picks up on a subtlety in the Greek in verse 10 which you see in other translations: 8 How has this all come about? You have been saved by grace, through faith! This doesn’t happen on your own initiative; it’s God’s gift. 9 It isn’t on the basis of works, so no one is able to boast. 10 This is the explanation: God has made us what we are. God has created us in King Jesus for the good works that he prepared, ahead of time, as the road we must travel.
Other translations pick this up too: (NRSV) For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.
(ESV) For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand, that we should walk in them.
(CEV) God planned for us to do good things and to live as he has always wanted us to live. That’s why he sent Christ to make us what we are.
He prepared good works as the road we must travel. To be our way of life (NRSV). That we should walk in them (ESV) – the word is peripatetic. Περιπατέω – it means to live or walk.
That’s no token – no selective good works. It’s all of life.
It’s the fruit. You can’t have it half the time or selectively. We become fruitful.
We do it because we are this.
Posted on November 21, 2015, in Sunday Morning Sermons and tagged Christ the King Sunday, Compassion, feeding the hungry, helping the poor, Jesus, Jesus on the throne, judgment, sheep and goats, the least of these, visiting prisoners. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.