Over the past few months you’ve been experiencing the exodus here. Moses led his people from slavery in Egypt through the wilderness to the promised land.
Today we are observing Christ the King Sunday, the last Sunday in our Christian Year. So today, on the last day of the Christian year, we hear about the promised land, the kingdom of God, as shown to us by Jesus. Today’s reading is considered the fourth and final judgment parable in the gospel of Matthew. He lays out for the people what the kingdom of God looks like. Jesus said: When I was hungry, you gave me food… when I was thirsty, you gave me something to drink… when I was a stranger, you welcomed me… when I was naked, you gave me clothing… when I was sick, you took care of me… when I was in prison, you visited me.
Throughout the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus’ teaching has announced and illustrated the kingdom of God. God’s kingdom does not function like a typical kingdom. This divine reign has invaded the world and is good news — especially to those on the fringes of society. This rule welcomes those who have no status and seeks to serve others rather than exploit them. It turns their society on its head.
In the beatitudes, Jesus blesses those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake and who are reviled for their faith. Jesus’ teaching on the blessing of the sheep comes after he has warned his disciples that they will be hated by the world and tortured for his sake. In Christ’s kingdom, the blessed ones are those who do not retaliate with violence, but bear witness to a new empire by serving others.
He has led them and taught them a different way of being – not by the expected way showing them that to be part of the righteous group, they would have to follow a strict set of rules and a code. Instead, Jesus taught them that in order to really follow in God’s way, they had to extend their care and love to those who were well outside that acceptable code and set of rules. They were to practice radical hospitality, welcome the outcast and the sinner, feed the hungry, care for the sick and those in prison.
In Matthew’s gospel according to this story, the blessed ones have demonstrated their faithfulness by performing acts of loving-kindness. The charge to care for the poor and the disadvantaged can be found throughout scripture, but it is especially shown in the ministry of Jesus. In this Gospel story, Jesus has announced the arrival of God’s kingdom while he cures the sick, welcomes the despised, and provides food for the hungry. He orders his disciples to carry on his ministry by doing likewise. The service of the “least” concerns all people everywhere.
The primary purpose of a prison at the time was not to incarcerate individuals for an indefinite period of punishment, but to have a place for them to await trial. It was often the responsibility of loved ones to provide some basic necessities while the person was in jail. Not only are believers to provide this service for one another, but they are to demonstrate Christ’s love by ministering to others who may have no one to care for them.
The righteous ones performed these deeds with no idea that they were ministering to Christ. They just did what they thought was right. But then Jesus says to them that whenever they gave food to the hungry, welcomed a stranger, clothed the naked, or visited the sick or imprisoned, they acted in kindness toward Jesus himself.
On the other hand, those who have failed to see the needs of the disadvantaged have acted as though they have never seen Jesus. They have not followed in Christ’s footsteps. They have not continued to do the work that they have been called to do.
Those who have experienced God’s kingdom cannot go back to life as it once was. The theologian Stanley Hauerwas writes, “The difference between followers of Jesus and those who do not know Jesus is that those who have seen Jesus no longer have any excuse to avoid ‘the least of these.'”1
The righteous ones in this story are those who have seen a King who is not like the kings of this world. They are blessed because they know a King who brings real peace, who sees the needy, and who hears the cries of the oppressed. In God’s kingdom, no one is hungry, naked, sick, or alone. To bear witness to Christ as King is to be a messenger of this kingdom–to serve others and thereby bring about the promised land.
Today we call Christ our King. The word King is one which evokes all kinds of images in our minds. Power, authority, glory, majesty. Many words and concepts and expectations that do not match with what we see in this person of Jesus.
Rather than rich royalty, we see a poor peasant.
Rather than unlimited power, we see a condemned criminal dying on a cross.
Rather than one who commands an army, we see a man of peace.
Rather than one who taxes people and says “Do unto me as I command” we see a Christ who says, “As you have done to the least of these, so have you done unto me.”
Jesus shows his people through his lived example, the way to the promised land, but it is a broader understanding of the promised land, made manifest in a new way. It is a way of living that creates the promised land right where they are.
What does this mean for us today as individuals and as a church? How do we practice this in our context? Are we living as fully as we can into Jesus example of how to live? What are some ways that we as individuals and as church can do better? How can we transform our ways of living to bring the promised land, the kingdom of God where we are here and now?
For three days this week I had the good fortune of attending a series of workshops by Susan Beaumont sponsored by the BC Conference initiative Leadershift. One thing that kept coming up for me over the three days was the importance of being clear about who we are, what our context is and what our purpose is. She talked about developing goals out of our sense of mission that reflect our core values.
As a congregation this means to always gauge our programming, our worship, our formation and our use of resources alongside our mission, and make sure that they are aligned. Susan Beaumont also talked about the importance of review to determine the impact and outcome.
Over the last few years at South Burnaby United Church where I was a member, we had an interim minister to help us to work through some conflict and help us to move toward amalgamation with West Burnaby. I was the chair of the committee that worked with the interim minister on the goals of ministry during that time. We did a lot of work on our core values and our identity as a congregation. The question we were trying to answer as the congregation of South Burnaby and then as an amalgamated congregation of Jubilee United Church was how do we interpret who Jesus would want us to be as a church in our particular context. We developed a mission statement, and we measured our ministry priorities against that statement and against our core values.
When I was first connected with Mount Seymour United last month, before I had even met anyone here, I went to your website to check you out. The first thing I noticed was your three phrases: Nurturing spirit, being community, living generously. Because of my work with my previous church on determining who we are and how we put words to that identity, and what that means and how that is embodied (or not), I was curious about those words and the impact they had on your life and work here. When I drove up to the church for the first time, I saw the words on the building, and I thought ok, it looks like that expression of who you are has some traction here, it looks like those words mean something to you. It was also one of the questions that I asked about Mt Seymour when I first met with some of you… what does it mean for the people of Mt Seymour United church to be nurturing spirit, being community and living generously? And the conversation that followed told me that you really do measure your work through this identity.
In my first few weeks here, I have truly experienced and witnessed all of these things. The nurturing spirit I have experienced in worship, at Soulful supper and even at the council meeting! I’ve experienced your understanding of community in the way I have been welcomed here, the way I see you interact with each other, care for one another and participate in the life of the congregation. I have witnessed your generous living in the many ways that you give of your time and resources, volunteering your time to the church and in the thrift shop, and the response to the bucket campaign. Your interpretation of Jesus’ message of radical hospitality is being lived out here in many ways.
As we live and play and work and worship together here at Mount Seymour, we will continue to nurture spirit, be community and live generously, finding new ways and new places to do this together, with the greater goal of creating the promised land that Jesus calls us to create by following the example of welcome that he has set out for us.