Sunday, 20 November 2011

Seeing God

Sunday 20th November

Reading: Matthew 25 v 31-46

In the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit.

"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.
All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats,
and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left.
Then the king will say to those at his right hand, 'Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world;
for 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.'
Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink?
 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing?
And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?'
And the king will answer them, '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 read these words from Matthew’s gospel a few weeks ago at the BB Dedication
By them, I was hoping to encourage the boys – and all of us, that whatever we do for
others, no matter how insignificant we might think our deeds are, in serving others, we serve God and bring the Kingdom of Heaven that wee bit closer.
I’m sure those of you who managed that day appreciated hearing about the boys’
Romanian trip and the work they did there – as well as the opportunity to meet some
of the folk with whom they worked.
But what struck me even more was the effect that their summer trip has had on the
boys themselves.
They did a ton of good work.
They made a difference.
But they received much as well.
Lots of parents have mentioned to me since, how much their son got out of the trip.
How what they saw and were part of has changed them in small but significant ways.
Isn’t that so often the way of things?
That when we serve others, we ourselves are blessed.
Often, when we reflect on our good fortune – when we count our blessings- we
consider ourselves in a position to give.
It’s always good to recognise our capacity to serve others.
But we overlook our capacity to be served – to know the blessings that others, whom we may consider need our help, can bring to us.
We, who consider ourselves ministers are those who are ministered to.

In the church’s calendar, this is the end of the year – next week is Advent Sunday – the start of a brand new year in the church.
The gospel we have focussed on this year has been Matthew – next week, we begin a
year journeying with Mark’s gospel to accompany us.
Matthew’s gospel is very concerned with how we practise faith – the practicalities of
living out our faith.
Early on in the gospel, in the beatitudes, Jesus teaches of how those who are blessed
are the poor, the bereaved, the hungry, the thirsty – in other words, those
marginalised and expelled to the fringes of society.
Here, towards the end of the gospel, Matthew points us to the notion that, not only
are those on the fringes blessed – Christ lives in them!
The way Matthew’s gospel is arranged, this passage about the sheep and the goats
comes just before we get into the passion narratives and start to read about Jesus’
suffering and death.
So, almost immediately before we read of Jesus in the upper room, stooping to wash the disciples feet, we find this major focus on Christ as king –
"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.
And so, before we enter into the season of Advent, we pause to celebrate this as Christ the King Sunday.
But what kind of king?
A king who hangs out with the outcasts, a king who serves others, a king who gets down and dirty with the people.
A king whom we can glimpse as we look at each other.

I feel as though I’ve preached this passage lots of times now – it seems to pop up a lot.
But every time, something new jumps out.
This week, I was struck by the fact that it wasn’t just the goats who couldn’t see Jesus in those who needed help – in the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the prisoner.
But the sheep, those whom Jesus calls blessed – they failed to recognize Jesus too.
It seems a shame that if we are going to show compassion, if we are going to reach out to others, that, even though we’re doing the right thing, even though we’re serving God in others, it seems a shame that we don’t recognize Jesus.
It’s possible to go through the motions and not feel the blessing.
It’s possible to serve others but not be aware of Christ present in their lives and in ours.

As we embark on the season of Advent, perhaps that could be one of our spiritual disciplines – to increase our awareness of Christ around us – to look harder to see Christ in our everyday, especially in the folk we encounter.We who profess to know Christ have no excuse for not serving Christ in our everyday.
And looking others in the eye, we should be able to see Christ’s face.
There is no avoiding the fact that this gospel passage contains words of judgement –
the sheep are separated from the goats and the goats are cast out.
Of course we’d like to count ourselves among the sheep – the blessed.
We might even have an idea of who would come into the goat category.
If we’re honest we might even be prepared to admit that sometimes we act like the
sheep who are blessed and, at other times we act like the goats who are cursed.
But judgement is not ours to make.
What we are called to is service.
Serving Christ by serving each other.
Looking for – and finding – Christ in the least of these.

As we come to the end of the church’s year and prepare to embark on another Advent, prepare to welcome again the Christ child, may our eyes be open to Christ fully grown in those around us and may we reach out to the least of these with the compassion of Christ the servant king.

God as we hail you today,
Christ the King,
we ponder the kingly image
that you portray:
a hungry king,
a thirsty king,
a king bedraggled,
sitting on our kerbsides,
ignored by your subjects.
Quietly you wait for us to notice
and take action:
to lift you out of the gutter,
to clothe you
and feed you
and care for you. 
You do not cry out,
you simply wait and hope.
Christ the King,
as your hopes are dashed time and again,
awaken us and shake us
out of our complacency
by your quiet, persistent loving.
May we reach out to you
by reaching out to each other
and to those who live in the gutters
in our neighbourhoods.
Help us to do this
without seeking recognition
but simply because we can do no other.

Saturday, 12 November 2011

Children of light

1 Thessalonians 5 v 1-11
Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers and sisters, you do not need to have anything written to you. For you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night.
When they say, "There is peace and security," then sudden destruction will come upon them, as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and there will be no escape!
But you, beloved, are not in darkness, for that day to surprise you like a thief; for you are all children of light and children of the day; we are not of the night or of darkness.
So then let us not fall asleep as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober; for those who sleep sleep at night, and those who are drunk get drunk at night.
But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, and put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation.
For God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep we may live with him.
Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing.

We've spent the day photographing local war memorials to use in worship tomorrow. Many different shapes and sizes, colours and hues, depicting lives lost in so many different parts of the world. Each name carved in stone carries a story - of bravery, of fear, of heroism, of sacrifice, of loved ones left behind whose lives were changed forever by loss. Hopefully, our Remembrance services tomorrow will allow us to remember those loved ones alongside the military personnel, to remember those whose names are not recorded but who also paid the price of war - civilians keeping homes running and factories working and munition stocks up.
As "Children of the Light", as described in our reading, we live in hope - the hope that we will no longer need to build memorials to those killed in war because we have discovered the pathway to peace.

Saturday, 5 November 2011

Remember, remember...

Remember, remember the fifth of November
gunpowder, treason and plot
I see no reason why gunpowder treason
should ever be forgot

The night sky has been a riot of colour as we celebrate Guy Fawkes. Remembering in the season of Remembrance.
Joshua, that great leader who led the Israelites into the promised land, succeeding Moses, gathers the people together to remember. He reminds them of the people with whom they journeyed and the trials they endured and, through it all,  the faithfulness of God. And then Joshua challenges them: Remembering this history - whom will you serve? Joshua strikes, for the people, a new covenant with God.
Then Joshua said to the people, “You are witnesses against yourselves that you have chosen the Lord, to serve him.” And they said, “We are witnesses.” 23He said, “Then put away the foreign gods that are among you, and incline your hearts to the Lord, the God of Israel.” 24The people said to Joshua, “The Lord our God we will serve, and him we will obey.”25So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, and made statutes and ordinances for them at Shechem.
It would seem that we are good at the rituals of remembrance. Those we can do. Our rituals become ever more elaborate and inventive. It's letting our remembrance make a difference that we're not so good at. 
We remember some awful things yet fail to learn from them, fail to live differently in order to avoid history being repeated.
A new covenant, choosing to serve God, might help us honour the saints we remember, the living and the dead by committing ourselves to seek peace and practice justice. Until then, our remembering means nothing.