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The End is the Beginning

christthekingMatthew 25: 31-46
Introduction to the reading
The reading for today is the last parable Jesus tells before the end of his earthly life and the events of the crucifixion begin to unfold. We have arrived at the last Sunday of the church calendar year, known as Christ the King Sunday. Pastor and writer Tom Long commented upon this passage:

It could be said that the whole Gospel of Matthew has been moving toward and preparing for this dramatic parable. In Matthew, Jesus is the great teacher and this parable is his last formal act of teaching, the final point, the parting lesson, the cumulative moment in his teaching ministry. Moreover, this parable not only concludes [this ministry], it also sums up the major theological themes of Matthew’s Gospel by presenting a majestic picture of the triumphant Jesus reigning in glory as king and judge at the end of time. (Long 283)

Jesus lived his life constantly in opposition to those who were in power and held civil and religious authority. He stood against the belief that those in authority, especially the religious leaders, were there because they had earned it or because they had been uniquely blessed by God and therefore stood above others. Listen now to the reading that tells us what it really means to be a king.

Sermon
When you take a look at the back pages of today’s worship bulletin, starting with the calendar, you will notice that it is full of opportunities for mission, that is, for service to those in need.

  • On the calendar –
    Monday, SHIP delivery: every month we prepare frozen casseroles to be cooked in SHIP’s mobile soup kitchen and served to the hungry of the Somerville area.
    Tuesdays and Fridays: we open our building twice a week to provide a safe and compassionate environment for those in recovery from addictions and to the families who love them.
  • In the announcements –
    Feeding 5000: an annual project to help restock the shelves of the Somerset County Food Bank.
    Emergency relief efforts through special envelopes in the pew racks: a collection for hurricane victims in Florida, Puerto Rico and elsewhere.
    God’s Co-op Pantry in Bernardsville: serving the Hispanic community and senior citizens from Ridge Oak in Basking Ridge, we offer hands-on involvement as well as financial support.
    Annual Women’s Christmas Service: besides the worship time and fellowship at the tea, we take up a collection for a mission focused on women in need.
    Toys for SHIP and adopting a family: opportunities for designated giving to bring underprivileged out from cold into the warm circle of God’s inclusive love.
    Indeed, mission is a primary focus of our work here at Peapack Reformed and not just at Christmas time. And why is that? Simply put, it is because Jesus directs us to do so, to attend to the needs of the “least of these”, the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick and those who are in prisons. In short, any and all who are weak and vulnerable.
    But that is not all. For we know that others, who do not lay claim to Jesus as the Son of God, also do such good works. So, for us as Christians, this passage goes much deeper as to the why question. Jesus, as the king in the parable, says, “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me. … Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” We look into the face of the least and see the face of Jesus.

Besides giving us the mandate to care for these least among us - and thereby to love one another as Jesus has loved us and to love our neighbors as ourselves - besides that, this passage has something to say about power, presence and personal calling.

  • Power.
    Jesus turns upside down the conventional understanding of what it means to have power and authority. He argues that if any person is hungry or lost or broken or sick or in trouble, it is that person who most deserves attention and help. Real power – and dominion and glory and honor – comes not from sitting on high and lording it over others. On the contrary it is meeting the needs of the “least of these”, the most insignificant, most hurting person.
    This has been God’s message from the beginning: in the commandments found in Exodus, Numbers and Deuteronomy and through the prophets. Isaiah talks about the suffering servant who will be God’s messenger. Jeremiah reminds us that for God’s people, the shepherd is the image of the ideal king and he forsees a new shepherd who will rule in love. Today we heard the words of God from Ezekiel: I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down … I will seek the lost and I will bring back the strayed and I will bind up the injured and I will strengthen the weak, but the fat and strong I will destroy. I will feed them with justice.
  • Presence, the presence of God.
    God is not a remote supreme being. Yes, there is truth to the image of God as mystery, universal, above and beyond full human understanding. But through Jesus, we know God also in the messiness, need and ambiguity of human lives. Jesus is Immanuel, God with us.
  • Personal calling.
    What does it mean for us personally to say that Christ is King? Simply this: to rededicate our living to reflect that Jesus – the Way of Jesus – governs what we do and how we relate to others. Ask yourself who has the power to shape your moods and your mind, to influence your decisions, help you discern what is and is not important? To whom do you listen and why? Whom do you serve or try to please? If you let Jesus rule your approach to living, what you think and say and do will reflect God’s compassion, justice, peace and love.

A fitting conclusion for today, this Christ the King Sunday in the year of our Lord 2017, is found in Paul’s letter to the Philippians:
Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in human likeness.
And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient to the point of death – even death on a cross.
Therefore God also highly exalted him and gave him the name that is above every name, so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bend, in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Amen.

Long, Thomas. Matthew. Louisville: Westminster John Knox, 1997.

Rev. Kathryn Henry
Peapack Reformed Church
Gladstone, NJ
November 26, 2017

khenryRev. Kathryn Henry
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