November 26, 2017

2017 Nov26

 

 

 

 

 

 

Christ the king - Year A

A Sermon Preached by The Rev Ian M Delinger

 

Oh Lord, You are good;
Your mercy is everlasting;
and Your faithfulness endures
from age to age.
Amen.

 

The other day, someone asked me, “How’s your flock doing?” Then, flustered, she said, “Is that the right term? I don’t know anything about religion.” It was not the context to have a full conversation, so I replied, “’Flock’ is used colloquially, but we usually use ‘congregation’. ‘Flock’ is in response to Jesus Christ the Good Shepherd.”

 

It would have been great to have the young woman come into St Stephen’s and to show her the Good Shepherd Window behind me. But had she come today, she would have been shocked by our Old Testament reading which is a rebuke of the Shepherds of Israel. The part of Ezekiel 34 that was left out was the beginning:

 

The Lord said to Ezekiel: Prophesy against the shepherds of Israel: Thus says the Lord God: Ah, you shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fatlings; but you do not feed the sheep. You have not strengthened the weak, you have not healed the sick, you have not bound up the injured, you have not brought back the strayed, you have not sought the lost, but with force and harshness you have ruled them. So they were scattered…

 

When we get to where we start, verse 11, God – through Ezekiel – is telling the Shepherds that it is God who will be the True Shepherd, and all their neglect will be reversed. When we apply that role to Jesus Christ, He becomes the Good Shepherd, and that trickles down to you-all being referred to as my flock.


Of course, God’s primary concern was not the Shepherds of Israel. They were simply a metaphor for what the Israelites were doing to one another. They were in Exile in Babylon, yet the rich were treating the poor, the sick and the lame with contempt – they were neglecting the weakest of God’s Children. The Prophets make it clear that this sort of neglect of the poor and needy by the wealthy was what led the Israelites to be conquered by the Babylonians and put into exile in the first place. And now they are continuing this neglect while in Exile. There is no hope. God must, yet again, intervene.

 

Today is the Feast of Christ the King, the end of the church’s year. Matthew sets Jesus as the Son of Man who is the King of All the Nations. The Ezekiel reading is related because the image of a God, king or other ruler as a shepherd was traditional throughout the Ancient Near East. Christ the Good Shepherd would therefore be the equivalent of Christ the King for those in that time and place. And of course, this is underscored in Ephesians with:

 

God seated Jesus Christ at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

 

Celebrating Christ as King – the ruler over all rulers – should be a great and glorious occasion. Why isn’t it one of our major festivals? It’s relatively new, and could have come with fantastic liturgical pomp & circumstance. It was only adopted in the early 1980s by the Mainline Protestant Churches, having only been instituted in the Roman Catholic Church in 1925. Pope Pius XI wanted there to be great impact on the Christian people:

 

“If to Christ our Lord is given all power in heaven and on earth; if all men, purchased by his precious blood, are by a new right subjected to his dominion; if this power embraces all men, it must be clear that not one of our faculties is exempt from his empire. He must reign in our minds, which should assent with perfect submission and firm belief to revealed truths and to the doctrines of Christ. He must reign in our wills, which should obey the laws and precepts of God. He must reign in our hearts, which should spurn natural desires and love God above all things, and cleave to him alone. He must reign in our bodies and in our members, which should serve as instruments for the interior sanctification of our souls, or to use the words of the Apostle Paul, as instruments of justice unto God.”

 

This is reminiscent of the Proposed Resolution at Diocesan Convention about which I spoke a month ago.

 

Entitled “The Supremacy of Christ”: This Convention resolves that the Diocese of El Camino Real states unequivocally that we believe that Christ is the only way by which we find salvation.

 

That Proposed Resolution was revised, along with 3 others, to form one single Resolution that encouraged us to engage in Living Room Conversations on the subjects of the Supremacy of Christ, the 39 Articles of Religion, the implementing of Bible study in homes and churches, and the support of persecuted Christians. The final Resolution failed, not because we don’t believe those things are valid and important, but because the means by which we were to have those conversations was overly-restrictive.

 

The Supremacy of Christ, when you put it into the context of today’s readings, takes on a much deeper meaning than either Pius XI wanted for the Roman Catholics or the proposers of the Resolution want for the Diocese of El Camino Real. We discover that Christ the King / Christ the Good Shepherd wants from us, not our subjugation, but our compassion for the vulnerable and the marginalized. His Kingship is like no earthly monarchy, littered with ritual and riches. It is quite the opposite. We are to care for one another and for our neighbors. Christ the King is demanding social justice.

 

What I find interesting is that, as we come together to proclaim Christ as King, such that “He must reign in our wills, which should obey the laws and precepts of God”, we discover in our readings that glorification is not what Jesus wants from us. We glorify God through Jesus Christ when we serve the least of these. Such serving is so close at hand. What Jesus has done, and God through Ezekiel, has shown us that the Kingdom is at our hands and feet – and what Ephesians tells us is similar: that we are the Body of Christ. This magnificent Creation that God has made us a part of, this glorious Humanity that we are a part of, Jesus is showing us that the kingdom we are to inherit (that was prepared for us from the foundation of the world) is among the very people we encounter each day. That should be worthy of the liturgical pomp & circumstance that we would expect when celebrating a King.

 

I couldn’t have answered the young woman who asked about my flock and to clarify who or what my flock is with “Well, even YOU are part of my flock, for as a Child of God, I and all Christians are to care for your needs as a sheep of the pasture of Christ the Good Shepherd.” That would have totally freaked her out! But let us always remember that when we do it to the least of them, we do it to Jesus – for they, like we, are part of the Body of Christ.

 

Anthony the Great was an Egyptian Christian Monk from the 3&4C. This quote of his sums up the concerns of how God’s people are to be cared for in both our Ezekiel reading and our rebuke by Jesus:

 

‘virtue is not far from us, nor is it
without ourselves, but it is within us,
and is easy if only we are
willing’

 

As we celebrate Christ as King, let us know deep within our faith in Him that to be Christians in this world is not to glorify ourselves and think more highly of ourselves. It is to be humble, to see Jesus in all persons, and to greet them (and treat them) as we would Christ.

© 2018 St. Stephen's Episcopal Church
Connected Sound - Websites for the Barbershop Community