As we can not gather together for the feast this year, Rev. Mike has put togther a online service, with guest preacher Rev. Nick McKee, Diocesan Director of Vocations.
'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.”’ Matthew 25:34-36
Brothers and sisters, I had hoped to be with you in person this morning, but of course that’s not possible because of the current coronavirus restrictions. You may have heard in stark contrast to the current sense of national gloom that the government announced recently there would be a four-day-weekend to the celebrate the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee in 2022. By that time she will have reigned as Queen of this countryfor seventy years. That will make her the longest ever reigning monarch, and it is right and proper that we stop and we celebrate a remarkable life of public service. Many years ago I heard a story about Her Majesty when she was a very young queen and she was asked apparently what she would do if Jesus returned, to which she said almost instantly, “I would lay my crown at His feet”. I have no idea how true that is, but this Sunday is the last Sunday of the Church’s year and it’s the feast of Christ The King. It’s the culmination of all that has preceded it throughout the rest of the Church’s year. It’s also, of course, the last Sunday before Advent, as the new Church year begins. Historically Advent was much, much more like Lent, a time to fast, not to feast, a time to strip away the complexities of life and focus afresh on Jesus, to prepare to celebrate His birth, yes, but more so to prepare for His return. His second coming, the Scriptures tell us will be glorious and unmistakable, for the King of heaven and earth will come clothes in majesty, ready to judge the living and the dead.
On this feast of Christ The King in today’s gospel we have a very famous story, that begins with the tale of goats and sheep being sorted. They’re being sorted as a sign of being judged, the sheep are precious and kept whilst the goats are sinful and sent away. But of course the sheep and the goats are only part of a wider story that Jesus tells in this gospel passage, it’s a story that illustrates the judgement that will come when He returns in glory as the King of Kings and judge of all. It’s easy to allow ourselves to get distracted, but Jesus’ words are stark, if we feed the hungry, we feed Jesus. If we quench the thirsty we quench the thirst of Jesus. When we welcome the stranger, we welcome Jesus. When we clothe the naked, we clothes Christ himself. When we care for the sick, or visit the prisoner, we care for Christ and visit Jesus. But conversely, of course, when we don’t do these things, we leave Jesus hungry, thirsty, lonely, naked, sick, imprisoned. In these words from today’s gospel we are faced with a stark choice, to provide for those in need or to reject Jesus Himself. Those who refuse to help those in need, they will be condemned by Jesus when He returns as the King of Kings. I began by thinking about Queen Elizabeth II, I wonder if we found her in need if her car broke down at the end of our street, or if on a royal visit it began to rain and she was missing an umbrella, would we seek to meet those needs? I think most of us would be honoured to help her at a time of need, and we would know that it would be very likely that she would reward those who would help her. So it is with Jesus, those who help His people who find themselves in need today help Him, He will acknowledge them and welcome them when He returns as the King of Kings and Lord of Lords, but those who refuse to help His people in need today reject Him, He will not know them or welcome them when He returns in glory. These are stark words indeed, the American author Mark Twain once said, “It aint those parts of the bible that I can’t understand that bother me, it is the parts that I do understand”, and I can’t help wondering whether today’s passage is likely to be one of those parts that he could understand that bothered him so greatly. What are we to do with this passage of Scripture in the midst of a coronavirus pandemic, a renewed lockdown with long nights and short days? You may well say that life is bleak enough without reading passages like this, can’t we just have a nice reading about Jesus blessing children, or some-such? Well I think this passage offers us three things which I’d really like you to take away from today.
The first is that we are to live by faith and not to live in fear. Those of us who are Christians seek to follow Jesus Christ and to trust in Him, and whatever the darkness of the moment, whatever trials and tribulations you face, put your faith in Jesus, put your trust in Him. He has been to the darkest place, hell itself, and triumphed over it all as King of Kings. You can trust Him even in the all the stresses and strains of a global pandemic that is disrupting so much of our life, and robbing us of loved ones. The second thing is to put our faith in to action, that is loud and clear in this passage from the gospel today. It’s a common myth that Christian faith is to be a private thing, expressed in private by private prayers by private people. When frankly that is utter tosh! Today’s gospel makes clear that we are to live out our faith in the wider world, especially by meeting the needs of the most vulnerable people wherever they may be found. And the third thing that I would ask you to take away from this passage is to seize the opportunity to grow in faith this Advent, because this Advent we won’t have the normal parties, we won’t have many of the usual distractions that detract from preparing for Christ’s return this December. Rather than weeping over all that will not be, I encourage you to seize the opportunity for what is, to reclaim this Advent as a time to prepare yourself for the glorious return of Christ the King, to set aside some time, some extra time perhaps to pray each day, to try fasting as part of your prayer life this Advent, whether that be from certain foods for all of Advent, or from all food on certain days or times of days. You will be amazed at the difference a little extra prayer time each day, a little time spent with God, exploring His word and seeking His wisdom and His comfort and His comfort, how that extra prayer time will make such a difference to how you experience not just this pandemic, but actually how you live all of life. My friends, have faith in Jesus, for He is completely trustworthy, put that faith in to action by helping the most vulnerable wherever they may be found, and seize the opportunity to grow in faith this Advent by reclaiming it as a season to draw close to Jesus in prayer. Amen (from Rev. Nick McKee, Diocesan Director of Vocations).