Sermon preached by Revd. Dr Viv Thomas, Sunday 26 November 2017, United Benefice of Holland Park, Christ the King

Sermon preached by Revd. Dr Viv Thomas, Sunday 26 November 2017, United Benefice of Holland Park, Christ the King

Matthew 25:31-46
This text teaches us that at the end Jesus, the Son of Man has come in his glory with his angels and is seated on a throne. All the nations are gathered before Him for a time of judgement and separation. From His throne Jesus is separating people, some to his right and some to his left. Sheep on the right and goats on the left. To those on the right he says, ‘come you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you …’ (25:34). The people on the right are being blessed and this blessing is related to their inner transformation demonstrated in acts of compassion. The people on the right don’t understand what is going on and ask when did we do these acts of compassion? The King replies, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did it to me’ (25:40). The King then turns to the people on the left and says depart. It seems that they did not have any inner transformation displaying itself as compassion on people in need or if they did failed to act on it. They too are mystified by what the King says and reply when ‘did we not help you’. He replies, ‘whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do it for me’
Jesus is giving us a picture of the future. He has just told several stories about the future and how we are to respond to what is ahead. This text is different to the ones before it. It is not a parable like the others even though Jesus uses the metaphor of sheep and goats. These words were spoken a few days before Jesus entered his suffering. Despite that the picture of the future he presents is huge, vivid and decisive. I want to focus on four words that explain much of it glory, authority, relationship and surprise.

Glory, splendour and magnificence are always contested. From the football song ‘Glory Glory Man United’, through to the titles of despots and mad men there is a hunger for glory. Vladimir Putin is on a project to restore the glory of Russia. Adolf Hitler was on a journey to rule the world for a thousand years. The British have lost the glory of Empire that spanned a third of the world. Some may remember the maps that were covered in pink demonstrating the places where Britain ruled and on which the sun never set.
On a personal level we do the same thing. We build an idol to ourselves when we think our life is primarily about us and about our glory. It comes as a shock or will come as a shock when we discover that was not and is not the case. This picture we have of the future is one of the glory question being settled. The future won’t be Donald Trump’s, Theresa May’s, Jeremy Corbin’s or ours. It will be Christ’s. The text says, ‘when the son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory’ (25:31). Jesus is the Song of God, second person of the Trinity, the bright and morning star, heaven’s champion and the compass of the future. The future is about Him.
Sitting alongside the ‘who gets the glory’ question is the authority question. Who has authority? Who can be judge? Judgment is one of the themes of these chapters. This is a theme ignored by many churches. It makes us uncomfortable. We are much more comfortable with ‘live and let live’ and ‘as long as you are harming no one else you can do what you like.’ But Jesus gives us a picture of authority and judgment. ‘All nations will be gathered before him and he will separate the people one from another’ (Matt 25:32). This authority is not just limited to the separation mentioned here. Jesus gives authority to the church. In Matt 28:18 it says, ‘Then Jesus came to them and said, ‘all authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore, go and make disciples of all nations, baptising them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit’. The glory is Christ’s as is the authority.

The decisive issue regarding whether we are on the right or the left is how we treat people. How do we respond to the people who are hungry, thirsty, strangers, have little clothing, sick and imprisoned?  The evidence of a transformed compassionate life is revealed in how we treat people. Jesus says, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine you did for me’ (25:40). This is full of wonder and potential devastation. Jesus is making a direct link between how we treat people in need and how we treat Him. He is explaining that we live in one integrated world. There is no holy place where I can be anything other than what I am. If I am cruel and bitter at work or at home I am cruel and bitter to God. How we treat each other is how we treat God. This is my real prayer life.
There is another layer here. It seems that the test is not only how we respond to people in need but how we respond to followers of Jesus. Who does Jesus love? Clearly the hungry, thirsty, the stranger, those with no clothing, the sick, the imprisoned and the church. When Mary and the brothers of Jesus came to speak with Him Jesus said, ‘pointing to his disciples. Here are my mother and brothers. For whoever does the will of my Father in heaven is my brother and sister and mother’ (Matt 12:46-50). If you are not interested in them or their message you are not interested in me. Do you love God? Then how do you love Jesus followers? If you are journeying with God where is your developing compassion breaking out towards people in need and those who are Jesus followers?
Glory, Authority, Relationship and finally …

When did God last surprise you? When did God last reveal something to you about you that came as a surprise? In any living relationship, there is always an element of surprise. I once gave my wife a Christmas present and said she would never guess what it was in 150 guesses. To my disappointment and irritation, she got it on the first guess. There are two sets of surprised people in this text but they are surprised for different reasons. Both the people on the right and the people on the left were clearly blind to part of themselves. Both sets were saying, ‘Lord when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger etc. One is a delightful blindness with a group unaware of the good they have done. The other is painful with a group stumbling through their lives unaware of what they have done and the damage inflicted on themselves. This text is warning us to be ready for the surprises ahead. It indicates that in the future we will be saying to God, ‘I did not know you would do that!’ or ‘I did not know you could do that!’.

We give glory to Him, we submit ourselves to his authority and seek to live faithfully to his call. We understand that our faith has to be worked out in relationships and we remain awake so we are ready for the surprise. Amen.
Holland Park Benefice