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Sermon for the Last Sunday after Pentecost - November 26 2017

Sermon for the Last Sunday after Pentecost, Year A
Christ the King Sunday
November 26, 2017
The Rev. Evelyn Wheeler, Rector

Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24; Psalm 100; Ephesians 1:15-23; Matthew 25:31-46

We’ve been hearing a lot from Jesus about how to wait for the Son of Man to come in his glory with the angels with him, as we’ve read through Matthew’s version of his life and labors, death and resurrection.  In this week’s lesson, we come to a description of what it will be like at the end of time: Sheep and goats will be separated; some will sit near the throne, while others will be rejected.

Matthew’s Jesus issues a solemn message: grace is not unlimited; and forgiveness will not extend to those who have failed to forgive, or failed to treat others with the same love they have for themselves.

These are hard words to hear – and they raise the question, why should we desire the Son of Man to come at all?  Because we all know that it is sometimes very difficult to love others, and particularly those who, we think, have not met the standards Jesus set forth.  In fact, we all know we will need God’s mercy on that day, for we know that none of us truly can do what Jesus asked.

And today, Jesus talks about feeding the hungry, watering the thirsty, clothing the naked, welcoming the stranger, helping the sick, and visiting those in prison.  He implies that there are those who do that, and in so doing, are declared righteous by the Father; and there are those who don’t, who are declared unrighteous, and even accursed.

I don’t know about you, but I haven’t done these things all that consistently.  In fact, there are a couple things on this list I don’t remember ever doing…  For me, it’s right up there with not heeding the instruction to “Go, sell all you have and give to the poor….”  I haven’t done that, either.

Worse yet, this text practically begs to be used against those of whom we disapprove.  Because if we can make someone out to be worse at failing than we are, it makes us feel a little better – “At least I’m not as bad as that guy….”

So while we’ve been told that the Second Coming is something to look forward to, and while we’ve been told that in heaven we will be reunited with those we love who have preceded us in death, and while we’ve been told that the rejoicing will be beyond anything we can imagine … these words from Our Lord’s lips are like a dash of cold water across the face, like the back of the hand of an otherwise loving parent, like being fired when the boss’s nephew gets the job we were hoping to earn, like every betrayal we’ve ever experienced and then some, and being forced to admit it’s our own fault that it happened.

Why look forward to That Day?

I will tell you why.

Because God knows us better than we know ourselves.  Because God meets us where we are – lost and in despair – and refuses to leave us there.  Because God has always, always, offered us the path to return.  Because God loves us more than life itself, and has gone to the cross to prove it.  And most of all, because the cross is never the last word.

The open tomb is the last word. 

Where mortal life ends, there eternal life begins.

I’m not saying “Go and sin some more!”  No, no!  But I am saying, “Go and TRY some more!” 

We’re still in the in-between times, and it’s not too late for us to seek God’s forgiveness, and God’s guidance, and God’s strength, and God’s mercy.

If we have trouble finding the face of God in the face of our neighbor, we can still ask God to help us to see, and God will show us how.  And not just show us how to see, but show us how to love what we see.

I admit, there are neighbors in whom I do not want to find the face to God, because they have caused me harm, or caused harm to others, or they have been and still are selfish, arrogant, mean, greedy, unkind, uncaring, or whatever.  I need a lot of help to see the image of God there … until I look deeper and see the pain and the fear that fill them, and I find compassion for them, just as we hope that God finds for us.

There’s something interesting to consider from the prophet’s text this morning:  God will judge between sheep and sheep, says Ezekiel, and they will have one shepherd, and he shall feed them.  Ezekiel’s God does not say only some sheep will be fed, or only some sheep will have a shepherd.  Ezekiel’s God will feed the just and the unjust sheep – with justice.  That may not feel so great for the unjust sheep, but it will solace those whom their injustice has harmed.  But this is how salvation comes to the sheep – it comes to all. 

And for some it brings rejoicing, and for others, bitter gall. 

If you’ve ever sulked in your life, you know how it burns your heart – you want to be sought out, you want to be held, you want to be loved, but you also want to hurt those who would help you, so you pout and moan and complain and turn away, until – with luck – they give in and apologize to you and ask you what you want to do or have.  But when they don’t – when they say, fine, stay there and sulk, we’re all going to the beach and you can stay here … it feels twice as bad because you know you could change the whole situation with a word, and you just can’t bring yourself to say that word.

I don’t know what makes us so contrarian at times.  Do you?

Do you remember the childhood song: “Nobody likes me, everybody hates me, sitting in the garden eating worms.”  It’s kind of like that…

There are times even as a grownup  that I can get that way.  For me, it seems to be about fatigue of both body and spirit, when I feel lonely and low and disenfranchised about anything in my life.  And knowing I have it better than a host of other people doesn’t help – thank goodness, I should say, to that!  I count my losses and my pain, and the fact that the world doesn’t seem to notice or care … and down I go into the sullen soup.

I don’t want to cheer up.  I don’t want to go out and do the things that will make me feel better.  Something in me says “NO” to the very idea of wholeness and health and joy. 

Fortunately, this actually gets quite boring after a while. And, fortunately, God seems disinclined to let it go on for too long.  Because if I start complaining in prayer, the scale of my woes is nothing against the affirming love of God, who may say something like this:  “I hear you.  Now go and do what you need to do.  Oh, and don’t forget:  I’ll be there, too.”

We are called to account and accountability, with support and guidance as needed.  That’s why we look forward.   It’s not all on our shoulders after all.

We have a companion on the way.  We are loved by God, the creator of all things, the lover of all nations, our own dear Lord and redeemer, and our friend.  And we never have to walk alone – in fact we never can.  And the only thing we have to say is “Yes.”