Serving Your Divine King

Sermon for Reign of Christ

Eph 1:15-23 – Psalm 95.1-7a – Mat 25.31-46

The Very Rev’d Bertrand Oliver, Dean and Rector of Christ Church Cathedral, Montreal

I experienced a sense of dèjà vu as I was preparing this sermon and mulling over the texts set for today. Thinking of monarchy chimed in my head with the recent launch of the fourth season of the Crown on Netflix – and then I realised that I may well have mentioned previous seasons of this romanticised view of the British Royal family last year or the year before, when preaching on this particular day of the church calendar. As there are a few more series to come, this is a connection that may not leave us for a while, as we celebrate the feast of the Kingship of Christ, also known in other provinces of the Anglican Communion as Christ the King.

Today, in the calendar of the church and on a day which is also our own patronal festival, we are focusing on a very different kind of kingship, with glory – yes, but certainly little glamour. And our readings may help us to reflect and understand how differently this divine kingship is applied in the Kingdom of God.

Paul, in his introduction to the letter to the people of the city of Ephesus, is delighted at the level of commitment they have towards the saints – the other members of the Christian family – and also the devotion that they show towards God. Paul takes time to remind them to model themselves on Christ and to respond to the call that God may make on their life. Because being members of the kingdom of God does not provide personal privileges, but instead it creates duties for those who want to serve their King well.

And so the Ephesians are reminded that it is God who provides us with a spirit of wisdom, that our hearts may be enlightened, and that God’s power, which is immeasurable, is available to all who believe.

This power does indeed do miracles. It moves mountains, it raises the dead – and this power is primarily given to the Christ – the head over all and fullness of all.

This passage from Paul’s letter might lead us to conclude that entering the Kingdom, being a follower of Jesus, opens up a life full of magic and technicolor – a kind of paradise on earth.

And in some sense it does, but not quite in the way that we might expect.

Our Gospel passage provides us with some different keys as to how to unlock the meaning of this kingdom.

Notwithstanding that I feel sorry for the goats who are so maligned in this story, though they provide a vivid visual contrast to the sheep, there is much that we can learn from this account by the gospel writer Matthew.

The introduction sets the scene for the second coming, when the Son of Man will come again in glory, and the image and language is indeed regal. Angels are there, we can imagine trumpets and ceremonial, in the way that so many artists over time have painted this scene of both glory and judgment.

What is striking though is that, contrarily to the demanding master of whom we heard on previous Sundays, demanding accounts from his servants and expecting high financial returns for himself, here the judgment is conducted entirely on a different basis.

The reasons for joining either sheep or goats are entirely turned outwards to the world, instead of based on any kind of personal profit.

Here we have a monarch who is solely concerned with the wellbeing of all members of the kingdom, and not simply with tallying up the returns from those who are already subscribers.

As the metaphorical sheep or goat are sorted, there is no mention of belief, or doctrine, no judgement on how worship was conducted, no mention of church attendance or any other lofty churchy or spiritual yardstick.

What is magnified, what is paramount for the ruler of the Kingdom of God, is service to the poor, the marginalised, the suffering, the lonely, the desperate. This is the measure by which Jesus does judge our lives and their fruitfulness, these are the yardsticks by which we may join the lucky sheep as opposed to the outcast goats.

It is remarkable how simple it seems, how easy it should be. If only all of us looked after others around us in the way that Jesus describes, what a difference there would be in the world.

Differentials in wealth would be reversed, no one would be alone, malnourished, ill treated or scapegoated, but instead all would be cared for, looked after, and loved and full equal members of the household of God.

No financial wealth flowing upwards to a demanding tyrant, but instead, a wealth of love going downwards to be shared by the whole of creation.

Sat as we are, in front of computer screens in lockdown, this may seem even more utopian as we count the risks of meeting family, friends, neighbours, never mind strangers.

Our western culture has long ingrained into us that we need to be self sufficient and not rely on others. We must protect ourselves, we should not talk to strangers.

Likewise, our religion, our faith, can easily be privatised into a realm of personal spiritual experiences which remain inward focused as opposed to open to the world. Our contemplation can remain egocentric, seeking to justify our own longings rather than listen to the call that God makes on us, even if that call would take us out of our comfort zone and into places into which we would rather not go.

As a Christian community, our life has been transformed by the experience of COVID-19. We have managed to maintain our core constituency together through Zoom and other online means, but our ability to meet the stranger, the needy, had been diminished to almost nothing as the doors of our building were closed.

This is why it has been so important to re-open our cathedral for worship, to ensure that open doors on Ste Catherine witness to the invitation of God to all that might care to walk through that threshold – however difficult that may be for them – that we may welcome them in the name of Christ and be blessed by their presence among us, thereby fulfilling some of the tasks that Jesus expects of us.

Because even in these difficult times, we are still called to consider how we might feed the hungry around us, how we might help those in need of clothing, how we might care for the sick and dying, how we might visit those in prison.

It is when we are doing any or all of these things that people around us recognise our faith in action, a faith not based on a peculiar assumption of right thinking or Orthodoxy, but instead a faith incarnated in the world and its needs, and evidenced by the right doing or Orthopraxis.

The future of Christianity in the western world is not particularly promising, and yet, Christian communities thrive when they focus on doing what Jesus asks us to do. Then the world recognises the good news in action, and others may too be drawn into that common task.

Today, on this feast of the Kingship of Christ, the last Sunday in the liturgical calendar before a new cycle starts again, we are reminded of the core of the mission that we have been given at our baptism: mission to care for the world in all its neediness, and primarily in the interaction that we have with all of God’s people.

Let us rejoice in gratefulness for the King after which our Cathedral is named, and which seeks not glory and power, but simply to serve all of us with love, that we too may exercise that loving service for all. Amen.

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