Sunday, November 22, 2020

Christ the King Sunday
St. Paul’s, Katy
The Rt. Rev. Kathryn M Ryan
November 22, 2020

Bishop Ryan has asked me to convey her greetings to you, the people of St. Paul’s, Katy. She looks forward to the time when she can be with us in person. Until then, she will be praying for us in prayers of gratitude and intercession. She offers this sermon for us this morning.

In the Name of the Living God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.

Back in the beginning of the pandemic, I saw a picture that has stayed in my mind. It was a picture of row upon row of cars lined up to receive food boxes from the San Antonio Food Bank. I believe some tens of thousands of people have received food in that way.

It revealed to me just how vast the problems were, the need was, as a result of the pandemic and the shut down. When we see things like that, we want to do something to help. I have heard again and again over the past eight months how vestries and churches are frustrated because they want to return to their outreach ministries – to their food pantries and Laundry Love efforts, to their compassionate work on behalf of all those who are hurting.

We are led to value this – particularly in the Episcopal Church – where we repeat it again and again in our baptismal covenant. The Bishop or priest asks us, “Will you seek and serve Christ in all people, loving your neighbor as yourself?” We come to understand that as part of our deep identity as Christians. That when we serve those in need, we meet and serve our Lord Jesus Christ.

Our baptismal covenant takes that image -seeking and serving Christ in all people – from this passage in Matthew 25. Where the king separates the nations, some to his right and some to his left. And acknowledges how they either fed him and clothed him or did not do those things. Both groups ask the king, “When did we see you?” And he says “Whenever you fed, clothed, or cared for one of the least of these, it was as if you did it to me. Whenever you did not feed, care for, or visit one of the least of these, it was as if you did not do it to me.” We come to understand that as Christ’s followers we are called to serve those in need in order to serve Christ himself.

Today on Christ the King Sunday, this passage reminds us of that call to serve…. And may make us feel a little frustrated and sad that because of the pandemic and the shut down, because of the restrictions intended to protect us from spreading COVID, we have been unable to serve in the ways that we are used to serving.

It’s important to remember that the baptismal covenant and these passages aren’t there to set high expectations and tell us that God demands great things of us all the time. They’re also to help us understand the nature of the God we follow. These passages we read on Christ the King this year – the Ezekiel passage about the shepherd and the parable about the king tell us about the God who loves us and has compassion for God’s people and stands in solidarity with those who are hurting. And who judges and purifies those who fail to care for the least and the lost.

God, the Shepherd and King. Christ, Savior and Lord.

In the Ezekiel passage, God shows up as the Shepherd because the appointed shepherds have neglected their work. God looks out and sees his sheep scattered across the fields and in the dark places. The Shepherd looks out and sees that the sheep are threatened by predators and are wounded and hungry. They are lean and they are lost. God gathers them in driven by compassion and solidarity. The Shepherd also sees that there are differences between sheep and sheep. Some sheep – the strong and the well-fed – use their power to crowd out those who have needs. And the Shepherd, who is God, will not stand for that, because the Shepherd cares for the sheep, and wants to gather and protect the whole flock.

In Matthew’s parable, the king sees what the people fail to see. The king sees how the people respond when they meet someone who is hungry or thirsty or lost. And when the king sees that, the king identifies so completely with those in need, that any action to help, or any inaction, is perceived as if it is done to the king, himself.

What do we gather about God from these two passages?

First, that God stands in solidarity with the hungry and the hurting. God stands with the least.

Also, God cares about justice. God is Justice. When the world tears people apart and down, God elevates those who have been mistreated. God acts to restore justice.

Finally, God creates people in God’s image – an image most truly revealed when the people act with the same character God displays.

Now, in this time of pandemic and our frustration with our inability to act in response to needs, we may feel bad about ourselves, discouraged and frustrated. But if we do so, we miss a key element of this whole story. God has compassion on us when the lean times hold us down, when we are hungry and hurting and lost. God acts for our salvation.
The Gospels and the scriptures are not a set of standards to make sure we measure up to God’s expectations. They are a language of love and compassion telling of God’s solidarity with God’s human creatures.

Jesus, in the Gospel of Luke sees a crowd stretch before him. Luke writes that Jesus had compassion for the crowd, for they were like sheep without a shepherd.
In this year of 2020, with all of the isolation and confusion and hurt that many around the globe have been experiencing, I am convicted that God looks out and sees a flock in need of a shepherd. God sees people’s suffering. God is responding in compassion and love. God is the God who saves.

Because God is a God who saves, God is also the God who strengthens us. So that as God’s image in us is renewed, we may be empowered to see those in need, and serve them just as we would serve Christ himself.

That scene at the San Antonio foodbank has not persisted. But if anything, the need of families and individuals for food has increased. What has happened? Feeding ministries across the country, many in the Episcopal Church, would not be deterred. Christ’s followers – and other people of good will – have learned to pivot, to carry out their ministries in ways that are COVID – safe.

Just this weekend, in Austin at El Buen Samaritano, our Episcopal Mission, 800 families will receive the makings of a thanksgiving meal. I was there Saturday morning. Volunteers spread out all over the campus as families drove through, receiving greetings and encouragement, and a turkey, a bag of produce, and a bag of canned goods, and a fresh pumpkin pie.

When the king looks down from heaven and see such a scene, what do you suppose he sees?

When you saw me hungry, you fed me; when you saw me thirsty, you gave me something to drink. When I was downtrodden, you raised me up.

Come. Come, beloved of my father. Come. Receive the kingdom prepared for you. For you did these good things for me when you did them to the least of these, my brothers and sisters.

As we wait for the coming of Christ and the culmination of God’s kingdom, let these images be in our mind and in our heart. Christ is our Shepherd, who loves us always, especially in the lean times, and has compassion and binds us up. And when we do those acts of love, Christ is the king who sees and celebrates. And in this way, we move forward, saved so that we might serve.

In the Name of God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.