Writing a sermon for today was difficult even though the readings are some of the best for a deacon preach. By now many of you know that I will be leaving Christ Church Cathedral on January 7th. I am moving to Arlington to be near my family.
As I said in my letter to you, deacons are meant to be a part of a congregation for three years, and no longer than six. During that time, we work to bring the needs of the world to the church and the church to those outside.
I believe we have begun some very important work together both in worship as we engage with God and in outreach to the broader life of Springfield.
The Drop-In Center is thriving and busier each week. The Thursday before Thanksgiving we had more than 75 guests with the washers and dryers going until after 2 P.M.
The prophet Ezekiel was upset at the way leaders were taking advantage of the poor. Ezekiel is looking forward to the time God will take care of the people, the sheep of Israel. Ezekiel tells us that God promised to:
“rescue them from all places, gather them, and I feed them on rich pasture. I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, says the Lord God. I will seek the lost…and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with justice. I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: and be their shepherd.”
Matthew’s gospel was written some six centuries later. King David is long deceased; Jesus has come as the new shepherd. Remember who Jesus chose as his disciples? They were common, ordinary, flawed people. Jesus didn’t choose the wealthy or educated.
Over the past few weeks, we’ve heard several parables Jesus used to teach flawed people how to live into God’s Kingdom. Jesus is nearing the end of his earthly ministry and today, the end of our church year, we hear a summary of Jesus teaching in the 25th chapter of Mathew. This is the final story in Matthew before the Last Supper, crucifixion, and resurrection.
I hear one of my favorite passages from Michah in Hebrew Scripture where people are expected to “do justice, love mercy and walk humbly with God”. Today’s gospel couldn’t be clearer in direction on how to live our lives If we call ourselves followers of Jesus. We hear an urgency in today’s gospel and it’s the only Gospel version of the final judgment we hear from Jesus.
Nowhere else in the Bible is something said 4 times in 10 versus. How we live our lives is important, as we will be judged on how we responded to God’s call. Will we hear ‘Come, inherit the kingdom’ or will we hear ‘Depart from me’?
We all do some good and we all fail at times. There is no middle of the road with Jesus. There are sheep and there are goats, just as there wise and foolish bridesmaids, trustworthy and untrustworthy people. We are accountable for ourselves.
As I often do, I take you back to the questions we respond to each time we renew our Baptismal Covenant. Do we follow the apostles’ teachings and fellowship? Do we resist evil and sincerely repent when we need to? Do we proclaim by word and example the Good News? Do we take the best care of the earth as we possibly can? Do we seek and serve Christ in all people? And do we strive for justice and peace among all people and respect the dignity of every human being? These pesky questions are ones we need to hear and respond to.
Those are the demands I heard in today’s Gospel. Matthew goes back to the basics: Give food to the hungry, give water to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, care for the sick, and visit those in prison.
In God’s dream of this world people are kind, compassionate and care for each other. There is no war. We love our neighbors; nobody is left out. We know our world has an abundance, enough for everyone, yet we have people dying of thirst, starvation and because people can’t get the medicine needed or a roof over their heads. People are dying because they live in places of war, famine and poverty. What God calls us to should be easy and yet, we know it isn’t.
We accept our comfortable lifestyle built on consumerism. We accept that there are winners and losers. We don’t correct misinformation and we vote for leaders who care only for themselves and their power.
We allow laws that are more of a burden on the poor than on the rich. We tolerate isolationism. We allow people to go hungry and discrimination without calling it out. How often do we simply cross the street?
Today we celebrate Scottish Heritage Sunday and without Samuel Seabury and the Scottish bishops we would not be the Episcopal Church but would still owe allegiance to the King of England. We owe a great debt to Samuel Seabury. At the same time, we must recognize that Samuel Seabury was a slave owner which then was the structural system and an accepted business practice.
Today we know better. We can no longer be complicit with those structural systems that allow people to be in situations where they are impoverished with no way out. We say we are a ‘Christian nation’; we ask what would Jesus do? And yet, if we don’t care for the needy, we are not doing what Jesus would do. The mission of the church is the same now as it was in the days of Jesus. Our focus must be outward with compassion for those in need. In everything we do: sing, pray, the budget, programing, how are we following our Baptismal Covenant? How are we caring for the least of these?
In Paul’s letter to the Ephesians, we hear a profound call to live our lives in Christ. Listen to Paul’s words:
“I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you.”
|Henry Nouwen says: “This prayer makes clear that the spiritual life is a life guided by the same Spirit who guided Jesus Christ. The Spirit is the breath of Christ in us, the divine power of Christ active in us, the mysterious source of new vitality by which we are made aware that it is not we who live, but Christ who lives in us. It is not enough to try to imitate Christ, it is not enough to remind others of Jesus; it is not even enough to be inspired by the words and actions of Jesus Christ. No, the spiritual life presents us with a far more radical demand: to be living Christ here and now, in time and history.
Saint Teresa of Avila, the 16th-century Spanish nun, said “Christ has no body now on earth but yours, no hands but yours, no feet but yours. Yours are the eyes through which Christ’s compassion is to look out to the world. Yours are the feet with which Christ is to go about doing good. Yours are the hands with which Christ is to bless all people now.”
At the end we will be asked how we responded to those around us. What were the tangible ways we can say we: gave food to the hungry, water to the thirsty, welcomed the stranger, clothed the naked, cared for the sick, and visited those in prison? Amen