Ezek 34.11-24, 1Cor 15.20-28 and Mtt 25.31-46
Rev'd Daniel Irvine
Today is a special day for a number of reasons. Firstly it is a celebration of simply being able to gather, amidst the turmoil and tribulation of the world caught in the grips of this pandemic, to support one another and to draw strength from our relationship to God.
Secondly, it is the end of the liturgical year; a time of transition as next week we mark the first Sunday of Advent, the start of the year of Mark’s Gospel, and the fact that there is only four more Sundays until Christmas!
Thirdly, it is a special day for our parish; it is the celebration of Christ the King and Mt Barker’s patronal festival. Unfortunately the recent COVID cluster has scuttled any attempts to host a collective meal without undue hardship but we still hope to gather online afterwards via Zoom to share further fellowship.
And finally, across Australia, we have just marked White Ribbon Day against domestic violence and next week we see the start of the United Nations “16-Days of Activism Against Gender Based Violence” from the 25th November to the 10th December”.
Now it might seem like the third and fourth points are completely unconnected but in a recent letter I sent to Mothers’ Union branch presidents I explored the links between our thinking about the theology around Christ the King and the desire for power that twists and disfigures an individual into a person who would abuse others, either physically, mentally or emotionally and spiritually, to secure a feeling of power for themselves.
The celebration of Christ the King is not a time, as is often depicted in art, for us to dress Christ up like we would an earthly monarch or dictator, with trappings of power and prestige, so that he can lord it over creation and those he rules.
But rather should remind us of the heavenly injunction that power is given to serve, not to be served and that those who wish to have power must be willing to be servant and slave of all (c.f. Matthew 20:26-28).
Today’s readings speak to us powerfully about the need for those who follow Jesus to exercise power with compassion and they demonstrate the model of leadership and care that the Lord expects from us.
In the reading from the prophet Ezekiel it speaks of God’s rule as that of the true shepherd, having already condemned those fake and unworthy rulers who exploited the people for their own gain earlier in the chapter.
It goes on to describe how, as a true shepherd, a true ruler, God will seek the lost, bring back the strayed, binding up the injured and strengthen the weak.
While at the same time he says he will destroy the fat and the strong, a sentiment that echoes throughout the prophets, finding its most well known voice in the much said, but often glossed over Magnificat where it says God will:
...scatter the proud in their conceit, cast down the mighty from their thrones, lift up the humble, fill the hungry with good things, and send the rich away empty.
The true shepherd will feed the people with justice, not shackle them with power, or cower them in fear.
The Gospel reading goes further still and places the image of Christ in judgement upon the earth seeking to find in those who claim to be his disciples the same care and compassion for those who are suffering and in need that God exhibits as the true shepherd.
It says: “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.” “Just as you did it for the one of the least of these who are the members of my family you did it to me.”
Here is the compassionate call to mission that Jesus expects of the Church that continues to act as his body in this broken world.
Here is the true measure of our success or failure as disciples of Jesus, and it resonates so strongly with the message that the White Ribbon Foundation and other groups are trying to raise awareness about surrounding the plight of domestic and gender based violence.
We are challenged today to ask ourselves the question: “If we saw someone suffering violence at the hands of another, what would we do?”
What would the logical extension of what Jesus is saying in this gospel text be?
“For I was a victim of domestic violence and you spoke for me, ...you protected me, ...you helped me escape..., you restored me to fullness of life.”
The rest of the gospel passage is clear about what happens if we choose to ignore those in need, whatever circumstances they find themselves in.
In recent years revealing and uncovering of the plight of domestic violence and abuse means that just as William Wilberforce once said, “We may choose to look the other way but we can never again say we did not know.”
So as we go from this place of nourishment and refreshment back into the world of our everyday lives, we must think and consider what is it that we are taking from here with us?
If every decision we make, every word we speak, every action we undertake, is not done to try and help realise the values of the kingdom of God right here on earth then what is the point of gathering in the first place?
What is the point of the Church if it is not continuing the mission of Jesus in showing the world God’s love for them, and the in-breaking of the kingdom into their lives through acts of love and kindness?
A little quote that I picked up along the way that I believe captures the essence of kingdom values and reveals so much of the mission of God was made by the late Jimi Hendrix, who said “When the power of love overcomes the love of power, the world will know peace.”
The celebration of Christ the King after all carries with it the theme of power in love instead of love of power, of which violence and abuse, that so many are subjected to, is a twisted form.
Let us pray that when the time comes we may all be found to have done our best to help love win out. In Jesus’ name we pray. Amen