In nomine Jesu!
Today, we gather as a great and diverse community of people to celebrate the final Sunday of the church year, the day we celebrate the feast of Christ our King.
We gather because God has drawn us together and we celebrate because it's Sunday, the day we celebrate the empty tomb, the risen Christ, and the new life given to us freely through the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. We are gathered together to celebrate that the only death we need to fear is behind us.
This entire church year, we have been reading from the gospel of Matthew. The gospel that begins with the good news that a baby is born for us and is named "Emmanuel" which means "God is with us." The gospel that ends with Jesus' promise that he will be with us "always, even to the end of the age." The gospel of Matthew is bookended with God's promise to usâ€”a message of tremendous hope and comfortâ€”that God lives among us and will live among us with us always, even until the end of the age.
But today's storyâ€”the last of Matthew's gospel
we will hear until 2017â€”is a tough one to end on, especially on a day when we celebrate Christ our triumphant king. What's tough is that we hear about a judgmental king who comes to pass judgment on all of creation. We hear about sheep and goats being called out and separated: either welcomed into eternal life or condemned to eternal punishment.
I don't' know about you, but hearing about a judgmental God, a king sitting on a judgment seat and either giving the thumbs up or the thumbs down does not inspire much comfort or confidence in me but rather fear and doubt. And this fear and doubt can be problematic because when fear and doubt take over, our default is to turn to ourselves, to our efforts, and we rely on ourselves to get right with God. "If we only get it right and follow God's commandments then God will love us and welcome us home in the end," we say.
Just last week I had a long conversation with a 90-year-old man who is very sick, too frail to undergo treatment, so he is simply waiting to die. I've had several conversations with him in the past few weeks, but this one was different. "Chaplain," he said, "I'm praying that God will
take me soon. I'm in so much pain and I'm not getting any better. I've had a good life, but I want this pain to end."
As I sat there with him in silence, his puffy, bloodshot eyes began to fill with tears. "I just want confirmation," he told me, as his voice cracked. "I just want confirmation that when I die I'm going to be okay."
Even though this 90-year-old man was a faithful Catholic his entire life, served his country as a soldier in World War II, spent his post-war career as a social worker in this great city serving those in need, raised children and grandchildren, and was a good and faithful husband, he was still overcome with fear and doubt as he waited for death and desperately wanted confirmation that God would welcome him home into eternal life in the end.
And when he shared his fears and uncertainties with me, I couldn't help but notice that I had felt those feelings of doubt and fear too: Have I fed the hungry and welcomed the stranger? Have I done enough? Am I a sheep or a goat? Will God welcome me home in the end?
And so I took this man's hand in mine and looked into his eyes and said "My friend, I want to confirm for you right now that whenever and however you leave this earth, God will be the first to welcome you home with outstretched arms."
I could say this with confidence of course, not because of anything this man had done, and not because of any authority I have, but because of what God in Christ Jesus has done for all of us. Because Jesus Christ came to this earth to live among us, because Jesus Christ stretched out his arms on the cross to gather the world to himself, because Jesus Christ was risen from the dead destroying death forever, we therefore are free. Free from fear and doubt about our salvation. Free from fear and uncertainty about a judgmental king. Free to live as God calls us to live. Free because of Christ to live for Christ.
This freedom given to us in Christ Jesus, allows us to hear the good news in today's gospel that God wants life for us and for the whole world, that God lives among us as a faithful and loving shepherd serving his flock of both sheep and goats.
We hear good news today that God establishes
God's kingdom on earth as it is in heaven, right here and right now, for you and for me.
And God doesn't just establish God's kingdom on earth as it is in heaven right here and right now for you and for me, but through you and through me.
It is through you and through me that God feeds the hungry, and gives drink to the thirsty, and welcomes the stranger, and clothes the naked, and comforts the sick, and visits the imprisoned. And God's work has width and depth and breadth that includes the entire world, including the least among us â€”- especially the least among us.
As we end our church year today, we look back and see that we have much to celebrate because death is behind us and God has promised to be with us always even to the end of the age. And as we begin a new church year, we look forward together with hope and pray, "O Come, O come Emmanuel. God is with us."
Today and to the end of the age.
Candidatum Reverendi Ministerii
Saint Peter's Church
In the City of New York
CHRIST THE KING
FINAL SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST
Sunday, November 23, 2014 - Jazz Vespers
Psalm 95 | Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24 | Saint Matthew 25:31-46