Monday, November 21, 2005

Christ the King

This past a week a fellow came to visit me needing some help getting to Regina. He needed his tank filled and a couple dollars for food along the way.

When he walked into my office I knew exactly what he was going to ask for. And I was right.

I know its part of my job and part of our church’s mandate to help those in need. Today’s gospel makes that abundantly clear. Jesus promises that whatever we do for the least of these we do for him. That sounds great…in theory.

I say “in theory” because the “least of these” often show up at the door with their odour preceding them. They often don’t look you in the eye when they tell you their story and you wonder if they’re telling the truth. They often slur their words in a booze induced haze.

“Why can’t they just get it together?” we might ask. “Helping them will only hurt them.”

At least that’s what I often think.

It’s easy for me, from my privileged perch, to pass judgment on folks who come knocking on our door looking for help. My attitude might be different if the tables were turned and I came knocking on someone’s door, hat in hand, asking for a couple to dollars.

But, as I read today’s gospel, I can’t but think that Jesus couldn’t care less how I felt about these folks knocking on the door. He’d say “just help ‘em out and send ‘em on their way.”

Jesus also couldn’t care less if whether or not they were deserving of our help. Jesus seems to be placing no conditions on us lending a hand to folks who need help. Jesus would say, “Of course its folks who smell, who drink to much, who probably do drugs and gamble away their rent, who come knocking on your door. And I expect YOU to receive THEM as you would receive ME. I expect YOU to treat THEM like ROYALTY – like Christ the king – the guy you sing about.”

I don’t know about you but I find that hard to swallow. But let’s say for a moment, that it’s true, that Jesus wants us to receive hungry people like we’d receive him. It’s like Jesus is setting us up to fail. How do we get up in the morning knowing that each pair of pleading eyes, eyes asking us for food, for something to drink, for clothes on their backs, all Christ himself? And how we respond to those pleading eyes knowing our limited resources, our limited energy, our limited abilities, and recognize that our response will have direct implications for our eternal destiny?

That’s the question, isn’t it? At least that’s MY question. Unfortunately the bible isn’t the sort of book with all the answers in the back. Maybe Jesus meant to be completely unsettling. Maybe he wanted us to be so completely uncomfortable with this passage that we stop and think about how our lives impact the lives of others.

But one thing we CAN be sure of is that Jesus is not giving us a recipe for salvation, a scavenger hunt whose prize is the doorway to heaven. “Visited a prisoner? Check. Delivered food to the food bank? Check. Gave some clothes to the Salvation Army? Check.”

No. What is Jesus is offering us is a way of knowing who he is and how we can connect with him in the world. It’s as if Jesus is telling that super-spiritual experiences are a sham if we don’t see Jesus present in peoples’ suffering.

But I think you already know that. I think you already know that when you look into the eyes of someone who is hurting and vulnerable, you often see your own inabilities and helplessness. If we feed someone today, they’re still going to be hungry tomorrow.

But still, you keeping plugging away.

When I arrived here, I stopped telling stories in my sermons about the superheroes of the faith. You won’t get any stories from me about Martin Luther King Jr, St. Francis of Assisi, or Mother Teresa. People seemingly so holy as to be made out of marble.

No, I’d rather tell stories of no-name Christians. People with dirt under their finger nails, mud on their shoes, and wine on their breath. People just like you.

People who don’t know they’re doing God’s work until someone tells them. Even then they’re not sure. “When did we see you, Jesus?” they ask.

“Certainly there must be more to this God thing then delivering a casserole dish to the old guy next door whose wife died six years ago and he still can’t figure out the microwave,” they might say.

“Certainly, Jesus wants more from us than sitting in the corner with a new kid in Sunday school because she doesn’t know anyone in her class and is too shy to participate,” another might protest.

“Certainly, there’s more to this church thing than chopping vegetables at the soup kitchen on the last Thursday of the month, month after month, year after year, for the SAME people,” says yet other, shaking his head.

What about Paul and Silas turning the world upside down? What about the early Christians who were martyred for the faith? What about the saints of old whose lives breathed the message of Jesus?

God says, “Surprise!” Virtuoso Christians aren’t the point. In fact, super-duper faithful Christians often end up drawing attention to themselves rather than to the one they proclaim.

God wants US - frail, limited, petty, small, human beings - to do God’s work. God doesn’t want heroics. God wants simple faithfulness and gentle love for neighbour.

Anonymous Christians (to misuse theologian Karl Rahner’s excellent phrase) do God’s work without worrying how it will look. Their toil is its own reward. Their love – God’s love shining through them – is their message.

They’re often hard to spot because, on the surface, it doesn’t look like they’re doing anything special.

But if you look underneath you’ll see that it’s just your normal, everyday, healing the sick and raising the dead sort of stuff that happens all the time in the church.

For them, salvation is almost an after thought because they’re too busy doin’ stuff. But it’s on that last day and they close they’re eyes, they open them again in the full presence of Jesus, with his arms wide open, and he says, “Welcome, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”

May this be so among us. Amen.


Blogger Tom in Ontario said...

Good job. Some parts sound a lot like my sermon from yesterday. I guess we were both reading Barbara Brown Taylor (I even quoted her). I'll post mine on my blog.

11:05 AM  

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