A Spiritual Check-up
A Sermon on Matthew 25: 31-46
"When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory."
Today is referred to as Christ the King Sunday, which is the last Sunday in our church year since next Sunday marks the beginning of Advent. Today we are given the opportunity to reflect on this past year and ask ourselves: How has Christ Reigned as King in our lives?
Many of us each year go to the doctor for an annual check-up or a complete physical. Often we may dread the doctor, fearing the worst yet hoping for the best. But by having these annual check-ups we are able to take inventory of our physical health. The doctor will run some tests and then let us know if our blood pressure is too high, or our cholesterol is on the rise, or if there are any abnormalities. In the end, the doctor makes recommendations about living a healthy lifestyle and we are left with the choice to make the necessary changes or not. Well, today is the day for our annual spiritual check up, time for us to take inventory of our spiritual health to see if we need to make any necessary changes in our lives.
So again, I ask, in reflection upon the past year: How has Christ been King of our lives and the All Saints' community?
Thinking back to this time last year, we had our Youth Service up in the Great Hall. The Youth led us in the celebration of Christ the King Sunday, and our very own Ben Griffin helped us prepare for Advent through his sermon.
That very day, Christ indeed did Reign as King, as we held up and encouraged the gifts of our youth, the gifts and ministries of God's children.
Last Advent, Christmas and Epiphany, while anticipating the first coming of Christ, the birth of baby Jesus, and God incarnate on earth, we gathered together in celebration with our annual Children's Christmas Pageant. In the forum we explored and shared our personal God stories with one another. And in mid-January you all came together in overwhelming and loving support of my Ordination to the Priesthood.
During Lent, we struggled together as a community wrestling with how we could be better disciples amidst facing hard economic challenges. And yet with the grace of God we continued to embrace outreach opportunities and raised over $2,000 for the Department of Aging "Respite for Caregivers" program through our Rice Bowl Project.
Then with open arms we embraced Easter, remembering God's undying love and dedication for us and his whole Creation. For through Jesus Christ passion, crucifixion, resurrection, and ascension we find salvation. In Pentecost, we were given a fresh touch of the Holy Spirit to help us navigate the difficult waters of discipleship amongst times of transition.
Which brings us to today, the last day of our church year, the close of our liturgical story, where we are faced with a gospel of judgment that leaves us wondering whether we are the sheep or the goats? Have we clothed, fed, cared for, and visited the least of these? Or have we been blinded from our own neglect of our neighbors?
There is an inclination to hear this passage from Matthew and want to run out to the nearest homeless shelter to volunteer, or to give someone on the street corner clothes and a hot meal, or to join a prison bible study ministry. All of these acts would be good in and of themselves, except done completely in vain if our motives are wrong. We must remember that it is not faith by works that we are saved, rather only by God's grace can we see salvation.
We are not to act out of fear of being the goat or desire to be the sheep, but rather simply out of the abundant love we experience from God. Each day we have the choice to live and act out of fear, or to live with Christ central to our lives and decisions. Through our relationship with Christ we can experience God's outpouring of love. As we walk in the footsteps of Jesus, seeking to grow as a disciple of Christ, we experience God's abundant grace. We are filled with gratitude; through which we are charged to extend God's love to others. Because doing "good works" comes naturally when living a life of faith filled with grace.
See, what is often overlooked in today's Gospel is the element of surprise. The sheep were surprised and did not know that they had cared for the least of these, as well as the goats were shocked to hear that they had not cared for those in need. Our good works, our act of loving our neighbors and strangers, is a natural response to God's abundant love, not a reaction done out of fear of condemnation.
Think back to our annual spiritual inventory . . .
Did we empower and help form our children and youth out of fear of eternal punishment? No. We raise up and reach out to children and youth because we want to share our life saving faith, because we want to share God's blessings, love, mercy and grace with rising generations.
Did we raise awareness, support, and funds for the Department of Aging out of fear that no one would take care of us when we are facing death? No. We recognized the amazing gifts God has given many caregivers and we stood up as one voice to say that caregivers need to be given proper care and support as well.
And during the Easter and Pentecost seasons, did we engage in our traditions and celebrations simply because we had to? No! We came together as a faith community to recognize all that God has done, and continues to do in our lives.
On this day, let us not be frozen with fear or worry about whether we are the sheep or goats, but rather reflect on our lives with Christ and be strengthened and empowered to continue our journey with Jesus.
Lastly, I will leave you with a quote to ponder on, "Do not be daunted by the enormity of the world's grief . . . You are not obligated to complete the work, but neither are you free to abandon it." For we are to, "Do justly, now. Love mercy, now. [and] Walk humbly, now."
—The Rev. Jessica T. Knowles