The Rev. Rhoda Montgomery, D.Min.
Last Sunday after Pentecost: Christ the King
November 20, 2011
I went to the eye doctor about two weeks ago for a check-up. As I rummaged through a bunch of purses and drawers frantically looking for one last contact lens it dawned on me that at least three years had passed since I had had a routine eye exam. Once in 2009 when we were living in Houston I injured my eye, so I went to a doctor there a couple of times but only as an emergency. I had to wear a big black eye patch for a while…which meant one Sunday when I on staff at the Cathedral, I was the celebrant at the high altar for the main 11am fanciest worship service.
Standing at that impressive altar surrounded by enormous wood carvings and hundred year old stained glass, while wearing my big black eye patch it was all I could do not to lapse into my best pirate voice, and say, “Arrrrgg…The Laard be with ye mateys”…but I resisted. After the service the head of the altar guild remarked, with surprise and affection that in her decades at the Cathedral she had never seen anyone with an eye patch celebrate at the altar. I believe I’m still the only person who has ever done that!
This recent visit to a local eye doctor was far less eventful and resulted only in an updated contact lens prescription and some new cute glasses. The new prescription is a great improvement. I know that a number of you struggle mightily with your vision, and I cannot imagine how frustrating that is. Given my family history of deteriorating eyesight I suspect I’ll have more frequent eye doctor visits in my future.
My new local doctor took a lot of time with me, and showed me some amazing 3D images of my eyes and explained some of the inner workings. Our eyes are remarkably complex organs. They are fragile and tough all at the same time. We should never take our eyesight for granted, but I’m afraid I’m guilty of doing just that. And even though at the moment I can drive at night and have almost 20/20 vision with my new prescription, I still suffer from a kind of blindness. The kind of blindness King Jesus warns us about on this last Sunday of Pentecost.
Remember way back on June 12th? The day of Pentecost and we wore red… my knees still hurt a little bit from my red three inch heels, and we began this long long journey with Jesus---well here we are. This is it!
The celebration of Christ the King. This marks the end of the season after Pentecost, the end of lectionary year A, in which most of our Gospel readings have come from Matthew. And we’ve had some doozies the last few weeks as we prepare to put away this liturgical year…lots of stories about weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth and servants being cast into outer darkness…good times. Don’t those stories just make you want to run right out and read the Bible?
So on this last Sunday of the church year you’d think we’d have a party or balloons or something. Or at least one of those passages where Jesus heals someone or says something nice about children. Just one chapter earlier Jesus said he wanted to gather up everyone under His wing like a big ol’ mother hen gathering her baby chicks. I love that. Let’s read that passage. But no, on this Christ the King Sunday we still get Jesus using farm animals for an analogy, but gone is the image of the loving mama hen.
Today we get this wild scene from Matthew Chapter 25, and in case you were wondering just what kind of King Christ will be, this passage sums it up, and frankly, I’m not sure that I want to live under this particular monarch.Because this particular king, demands a kind of vision from us that’s to attain even with the best contact lens prescription in the world.
Get away from me you goats, Jesus shouts! You who did not care for the outcast...the poor…the sick….prisoners. Get away….because you could not see…you could not see what was right in front of you.
And I don’t know about you, but this passage makes my eyes get really big like when the doctor dilates them and it hurts to look at the light. Surely I am a sheep? I mean I give a lot of stuff to Goodwill; I bring food for the church pantry, all the time. For the past 5 years I have been writing regularly to a young man in prison. I am totally a sheep, right?
But this long graphic passage from Matthew isn’t about building my holy resume. This isn’t about being able to upload new accomplishments to some religious online profile: Rev. Rhoda is now visiting people in prison and you can go onto a holy scorekeeping website and click “way to go” and send me a gold star.
This long tough passage on this the Last Sunday after Pentecost is about way more than checking off some good deeds on a to do list…this passage is a sort of eye exam. The kind of exam I need to take a lot more often than the one that updates my contact lens prescription. The king who separates the sheep and goats demands from all of us that we live with the kind of vision that sees every person as a child of God….and every encounter as an opportunity to enter into the presence of the only King that matters.
Because the king we celebrate today…the king who separates sheep from goats, is the same king who actually does gather us like a mother hen….the same king who was born into a no-name family, and it’s the same king who died on a cross to give us new life…the One whose kingdom has not come yet but whose throne is as near to us as our heartbeats. The king we celebrate this day rebukes those goats because maybe the goats were off looking for some other kind of king…the more traditional kind with power and money and the full weight of empire and so they didn’t have time to see the crying needs of those around them. Maybe the goats were so anxious to get noticed by the king, hoping for a reward in some future perishable kind of kingdom that they failed to realize the true eternal Kingdom was right in front of their eyes in the faces of all whom they had ignored…because their eyes were clouded not from disease or injury but clouded by the glaucoma of apathy or distraction or selfishness or cynicism or pride or any number of the spiritual eye diseases I’m prone to suffer from too.
I’ve logged plenty of days as a goat myself. Ignoring completely the needs of those around me. And sometimes I’m a pretty good sheep, doing a number of things that are on this list. But it’s about so much more than walking around with this list of good deeds in your pocket in the hopes that one day there will be a prize. It’s about a complete surrendering to the life Jesus has called every one of us to right now. The sheep in this story didn’t even know they were doing anything that would be rewarded. The sheep in this story are so completely immersed in their identity as citizens of the Kingdom that they don’t even realize they are pleasing the king. They simply live…feeding and clothing and caring for those whom they encounter not once worrying about some big prize at the end of the day.
It’s a remarkable thing. This passage is the only passage in all of the New Testament that gives any glimpse of what a final judgment might look like….and for all of our paintings and movies and wild internet rumors…the Kingdom of God, the big bombastic blaze of glory…in the end what separates the sheep from the goats…isn’t doctrine or buildings or any of the things we fight about...the Kingdom…simply looks like love. Loving each other and loving the stranger. Living each and every day in a way that ushers in the Kingdom of God in every meal, in every visit, in every glass of water. Putting one foot in front of the other trusting that even if it doesn’t look like we thought it would…the Kingdom of God is here…right now waiting for us to see it in the eyes of everyone we meet, today, and every day.