King of What?!

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November 17, 2023
Apocalypse When?!
November 29, 2023

I want to open my remarks this week, with a quote from Rowan Williams, the previous Archbishop of Canterbury which speaks magnificently about the uniqueness and value of each person in the world.  He wrote:

This means that whenever I face another human being, I face a mystery. There is a level of their life, their existence, where I cannot go and which I cannot control, because it exists in relation to God alone – a secret word [God] speaks to each one, whether they hear or refuse to hear, in the phrase from the prophecy of Ezekiel. The reverence I owe to every human person is connected with the reverence I owe to God’s creative Word, which brings them into being and keeps them in being.

I stand before holy ground when I encounter another person – not because they are born with a set of legal rights which they can demand and enforce, but because there is a dimension of their life I shall never fully see; the dimension where they come forth from the purpose of God into the world, with a unique set of capacities and possibilities. It means that there are no superfluous people, no ‘spare’ people in the human world. All are needed for the good of all. Human failure is tragic and terrible because it means that some unique and unrepeatable aspect of God’s purpose has been allowed to vanish… but the Christian gospel declares that there is nothing more Godlike and precious than a single human person.

This is a critical notion for how we think about what Jesus is telling us in the story on God’s judgement of all nations, and God’s abundant love for all humanity, particularly including those who are dispossessed in the world.  It’s a story told only in Matthew’s Gospel (25:31-46) and it invites us to reflect on how we live as Christians and where our love of Jesus takes us in our lives.

I hope you noticed in the text (Matt. 22:31-46, both those who were commended for the way they lived and those who were not, had not realised their reactions to those who were hungry, thirsty, welcoming all, providing clothing and shelter, visiting in prison and those who were sick were in fact, being done to God.  They had not been acting with a desire of acknowledgement or to acquire merit in God’s eyes.  Those being commended had simply put the commandments of Christ into practice in real life with real people without looking for compliments or recognition.  They truly understood that loving God also meant loving neighbour and their neighbour was the one who was missing out (Matt. 22:37-40).

As God loves the whole world, all nations are brought to the immediate realisation, that how we live matters, whether or not we’ve heard about God, whether or not we’ve declared ourselves a Christian and so believe we are saved and perhaps let off the hook because we imagine we have the right beliefs.

Here is a parable about Jesus, the Son of God, judging the gathered nations, along with the angels, assessing humanity along particular principles and actions.    We can’t deny we’ve heard Jesus’ message, and we’ve read it, over and over again, each Sunday, in our conversations, in our reflections and prayers.  This is not something we can claim not to know anything about.  The question has been asked and I wonder what will be our answer. 

Do we imagine it will only be the righteous who will be rewarded for keeping the law, behaving well in public and in our church community, saying the right words and keeping a good reputation, thereby apparently attaining inward and outward purity according to the world; or, will it be those people and communities who see God everywhere, in each person, and live into the kingdom now by taking action.

None of our merit-driven, earned and worthy values will be sufficient on Judgement Day according to this parable.  Instead, we will be seen and heard by God for how we have lived the kingdom values, which include speaking truth to power, raising up those who are excluded through our excessive and exclusive privileges by the rules of this world, by giving away our own privileges in order to share God’s abundance with others.  We will be asked about who we visited in prison, the help we offered to the homeless, how we shared our goods, our abundance from God with the poor and dispossessed.  How much have we loved, how much do we work for justice and peace, how much do we care about Christ in the world, or do we only care about ourselves, our families and friends, the right neighbours instead?

For Jesus is telling us in this story, everyone is included in Judgement Day:  all persons regardless of their religious or social status, are God’s children and siblings of God’s Son.  This is what Rowan Williams pointed to in my opening comments.  It asks us to question who we judge and exclude in order to protect ourselves.  In our world today, this includes the LGBTQI community, First Nations Peoples, immigrants from particular communities and countries, women, the homeless, those with the wrong skin colour or religion.  In times gone past, it included slaves. I expect the list will be different in 20 years’ time as it is adjusted to include different groups of dispossessed as our social, cultural and economic pressures affect our own status. I expect it will by then include climate refugees and war refugees.

This passage in Matthew’s Gospel provides relief from the pressure for us to have all of the answers before being able to act.  People hesitate at the sight of doctrine and all its expectations of needing to have right belief in place as confirmed by theologians, but people find they are able and willing to jump into action when they see someone in need, as their suffering calls to a shared humanity in God. 

All such deeds are done in faith, as blessed as the person who believes the ‘right’ things.  Just as belief can grow faithful action, so too, Jesus shows us, right action can nurture belief.  The two are not opposed and do work together in God’s kingdom.  We know what the two great commandments are and they are like each other.   Action and belief become so entwined, the faithful move through life not afraid of a vengeful king doling out eternal punishment for misdemeanours, nor driven by guilt or worry about what they can and can’t say, but simply and wonderfully they are the quiet saints among us, changed by the transformative Spirit and Word into the ones who feed, share drink, welcome in and clothe.  It is they who are truly inheriting the Kingdom.

So let me end with grateful thanks to all of you who help out in our ministries, who support people both inside and outside our church community. You put yourselves at risk, you give away possessions with generosity and kindness, you stand with those whom society despises.  I am truly grateful        The Lord be with you. 

Reference:    Jarvis, C. A., Johnson, E.E. [Eds]. 2013.  Feasting on the Gospels Matthew, Vol.2 Chapters 14-28.  Westminster John Knox Press, Louisville, Kentucky.

Lucy Morris
Lucy Morris
Anglican Priest, International Speaker, Published Author, Social Justice Advocate and Activist.

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