Posted by on Nov 27, 2023 in Sermon archives

“The Fulness of Christ”

Psalm 100/ Ephesians 1:11-23

Matthew 25:31-46

Christ the King” or “Reign of Christ” Sunday. It is one of the most recent additions to the church calendar, it marks the end of the Christian year, with next Sunday, being the first Sunday of Advent which begins yet another liturgical year. Now, for most of us, the exact end date of the Christian year is about as important as the Chinese New Year, but I have learned to roll with it and have found a certain comfort in the continuity of it all. I believe that we all find comfort in the fact that the events and celebrations that guide our services of worship year in and year out are constant, predictable, and have meaning beyond the fact that some Pope a long time ago decided that we needed to throw a party.

Today’s celebration of Christ the King is a good example so let me share a little back story. And  in light of the fighting in the Middle East today, it seems more than appropriate.

According to Wikipedia, ‘Pope Benedict XV, who began his papacy a month into World War I, was horrified at his inability to broker a peace treaty, and at the millions of bodies piling up all across Europe. In his first letter to all the bishops of Rome, Benedict declared, “There is no limit to the measure of ruin and of slaughter; day by day the earth is drenched with newly shed blood and is covered with the bodies of the wounded and of the slain.”

“When Benedict died in 1922, he was replaced by Pope Pius XI, who declared the aim of his papacy to be “The re-establishment of the Kingdom of Christ by peace in Christ.”

It was in the service of this mission that he introduced Christ the King Sunday as a challenge to the church to refocus its energies on their true ruler and away from unquestioning fidelity to earthly powers.’

“Unquestioning fidelity to earthly powers.” But you know, our fascination and our fixation on kings goes back thousands of years. We can’t help ourselves but to take one of our own and place them in a supreme position of power and authority. I guess the real caveat might be that if this king doesn’t measure up he makes an easy target to shoot full of holes way up there on that pedestal. But it’s true: we love our kings And I swear our attachment to them is 99.9% emotional and therefore, not always so terribly realistic. We expect miracles from our kings. We expect them to do the things that we can’t and to be the things we wish to  be. We hold our  kings to incredibly high standards, not to make  their lives miserable but in the hopes that this   might trickle down to his loyal subjects. But as the saying goes, it’s all fun and games until someone gets hurt.

That is why the words of Pious XI resonated with me when he stated that his main goal was “The re-establishment of the Kingdom of Christ by peace in Christ.” He didn’t say ‘to reestablish the Kingdom of Christ by power in Christ or by authority in Christ or even by glory in Christ,’  but by peace in Christ. At first glance this may sound like nothing more than high minded preacher talk, but think about it.

Peace is not necessarily the absence of conflict,

it’s not the moment when we all stop killing each other. It’s not the hour when folks finally give it up or run out of ammunition. No, the peace of Christ is being at peace in your heart; at peace in your soul. I realize that’s probably another sermon entirely but for today it’s a point we should take to heart. The bottom line is  that when Christ the King is running the show, things get better because we all want to do better. Full stop.

Today’s gospel message is yet another example of Jesus painting a picture of what the kingdom  of heaven is like. It starts out somewhat  apocalyptic, telling us how when Jesus returns he will separate us like the sheep from the goats.  but like John fairless says, “Kings and sheep and goats  don’t resonate with our culture (at least in the USA)   like the original story did with Jesus’ followers. And besides, I think maybe we make a bit too much of a fuss over deciding who are sheep and who are goats — and the whole departing into eternal torment — than (perhaps) Jesus intended. After all, what exactly is the point of this passage?”

He goes on to say, “ Maybe the point is a bit more on   feeding and clothing and visiting long enough to sit down for a conversation with those who are “the least of these” in our world? I don’t know, but it seems to me that THAT could be the thing that pleases Jesus the King more than anything else. Kind of beats scaring the wool off the sheep (or is it hair off the goats?) to me!”

I love this passage, I really do, And it is no surprise that verse 39, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers,[  you did it to me.’ Has been the theme for many Christian events and annual conferences over the years.

Like I said, I love this passage. It seems like every time I dive into the middle of it, I come up with something new.  So let’s look again and a few key conversations in this text. First, the king thanks the sheep, the righteous, for feeding him when he was hungry, giving him water when he was thirsty, clothing him when he was naked, and visiting him in prison. He thanks them and rewards them but their reaction is, “huh? When did we do that? We don’t know what you’re talking about.”

Likewise, when he chastised the goats, in this case, the condemned, they had the same reaction. “Hey now, when did we not feed you or give you water or clothes to wear? And when did we not come to visit you in prison? Why, we would have been all over that.”

Once again, from John fairless:  “I have long been fascinated by the fact that neither the sheep nor the goats  recognized the LORD in the face of the poor.  Often-times, we think the meaning of this story is that we ought to be good to the poor because in so doing we are serving Christ himself, and accumulating credit to cash in on the day of judgment.  But a very important part of this story is that those who care for the poor do so because they care about the poor – not because they think of the poor as Christ in disguise or because they think God will reward them for their good deeds.  “Lord, when did we feed, clothe, visit, welcome you?” Forgetting about how good we look to others when we are good to the poor, forgetting about how good we look to God when we are kind and charitable, even forgetting about how good we look to ourselves when we act in a non-selfish way – it is in those moments and in that forgetfulness and in that genuinely caring attitude that God in Christ is most active in us.”

Paul’s letter today to the church at Ephesus is one of the most positive and affirming letters he has written. With phrases   as, “I pray that the eyes of your heart will have enough light to see what is the hope of God’s call, what is the richness of God’s glorious inheritance among believers,” it seems obvious that Paul has a definite love for these people individually as well as the church as a whole. But it was in his description of the church that I found myself drawn again to the words. “as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers,[  you did it to me.” Again, verse 22 which reads, “God put everything under Christ’s feet and made him head of everything in the church, 23 which is his body. His body, the church, is the fullness of Christ, who fills everything in every way. “ And it dawned on me that the church is not necessarily where we go to find the fullness of Christ. No, the church is the fullness of Christ. It is where the poorest of the poor can always find a meal at the altar. Its doors are always open to satisfy the wants and the needs of those who cross its threshold. The fullness of Christ- it is here all around us and for that we are grateful. Praise be to  God.

Like I said, next  Sunday marks the beginning of the Advent season. I have found that most worship services during Advent tend to dwell on the themes of waiting and anticipation, and this is fine. Anticipation leads to expectation, after all. But this year, I would like to take a different track. Rather than focusing on the waiting part of the blessed event of Christ’s birth, I would like to spend our time simply marveling at the fact that it happened in the first place. That our God came to us in the flesh Is, after all, the greatest thing of all time. If you have any thoughts or input, I would be honored to hear them. So until then. Let’s keep in mind that we are the fullness of Christ. As we approach this, the season of our Lord’s birth, what a great place to be.   Amen and Shalom

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