The readings on which the sermon below is based can be found at:
s067g08 Sunday 34 Christ the King 23/11/08
'you did it to me' Matthew 25.40
It is important to see that the point of this, the third in the final trilogy of parables about the kingdom is not about personal ethics that we individuals should be charitable it is about religion that God accepts as many people as possible into the kingdom. There are three parables of the kingdom, because only having one would exclude some people. As I pointed out a fortnight ago, at the conclusion of these words, it is recorded that the plot to have Jesus killed was hatched. Jesus would not have been killed had this parable just meant that he was exhorting people to be charitable to the poor. Being charitable was a foundational tenant of Judaism and the faith of those who had him killed. Indeed, of course, there is no faith or religion worth it's name that doesn't exhort people to be charitable.
These words were the 'straw that broke the camel's back' and precipitated the plot to have him killed. They reinforce that how Jesus lived associating with others especially with the poor and sinners, was the reason for his death and make the point that it was this association that was the way of eternal life and not the religious elitism and segregation that the hierarchy practiced. Segregation and elitism are the hallmarks of eternal death.
This final parable makes it quite clear that there are two groups of people those 'in the know' religiously they 'knew' what the King looked like and therefore they 'knew' that they had never encountered the King in their day to day dealings. Had they encountered the King in need, they would have been the first in line to help! But no they had only found the poor and needy and they were to be avoided, not embraced. The second group were not 'in the know' religiously. They had no idea what the King looked like, but having (now) met the King, they realise only too well that they too hadn't encountered the King in their lives. They know that they hadn't helped the real King, only a few poor and needy.
The scandal of the Cross is that these second lot are commended and welcomed. The elitist and segregationist are condemned and excluded just as they condemned and excluded others throughout their lives. **This** is why Jesus was killed, because Jesus condemned the religious for their elitism and commended the irreligious for their plain and simple charity.
To recap on the messages over the past two weeks. Each is about us being part of the world. The five wise bridesmaids associated with the ordinary traders and had plenty of oil whereas the foolish had separated themselves from the world and hence were short of oil. Last week those commended were those who participated fully in life as it really is. Those who were condemned were those who separated themselves off from others.
Today's reading is about doing this, but not just hobnobbing with the rich and famous, but with the 'down and outs' as well.
So the real question that faces us is not whether we as individuals live up to the exhortation to charity (even though this is, of course, to be commended). The real question is about our faith and the practice of our religion is this inclusive of others or not?
There are, of course, many ways to avoid being inclusive of all, for our 'evangelism' can really be a sham, really only wanting others to become like us, either liturgically or morally. The indicators that this is a sham is when people are expected to do things even impossible to us, like change their gender to have an acceptable ministry, to cease to love one and transfer their affections to another of a different gender, to change the colour of their skin, to deny their own culture and adopt a foreign one, to learn a different religious idiom. Each and every one of these is really about admiring us our gender, our morality, the superiority (?) of our race, culture and spirituality. They are not about being inclusive of anyone else or accepting that they might have a contribution to make to our existence.
I am reminded of some words of Gordon Dicker in the book: 'Freedom, Freedom Liberation Theology' (ABC Religious Department 1976 p17) where he said: 'Freedom cannot be given; it has to be taken.' So the militancy of feminism, events like the Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, the hostility of indigenous people, the celebration of the different cultures in our community, and the disintegration of the supposed superiority of white Anglo-Saxon 'christianity' are things to be welcomed, not things to cause us to lament. Humanist secularism may not have all the answers, but if we don't hear this being commended in today's gospel we are not taking the words at their face value.
And it seems to me that God seeks to raise not just individuals to their feet when they encounter the Almighty, restoring to them the primal dignity to stand on their own two feet and to think and to reason for themselves this is something that God is doing to all of humanity. God is blessing us as humanity. Humanity is not meant to cower before the Almighty, simply doing as we are told. We are meant to be all that we are capable of, all of us are meant to be all that we are capable of, and this means being thoroughly incarnate in the world, both God and those of us who seek to be disciples.
So when there is any compulsion, whenever we seem to have to do something without question, this is not of God.
We are given an image of the kingdom that is all-inclusive, and it is a vision of hope and peace. Each and every form of segregation and elitism is inimicable to this vision. It is up to us to contribute to it by being inclusive and recognising our common humanity with each and every other person.
So to return to our parable for today, the efforts of some in this world to lift others out of their places of need are actually lifting the King out of a place of need! So to accept the validity of the militancy of feminism, events like the Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras, the hostility of indigenous people, the celebration of the different cultures in our community, and the disintegration of the supposed superiority of white Anglo-Saxon 'christianity', is to lift the King out of places of marginalisation and alienation. It is clearly what God would have us do! God is the marginalised woman, the alienated gay or lesbian person, the downtrodden indigenous person, the member of the ethnic minority, the religious 'other'. How many times do we hear Jesus words: 'No one comes to the Father but by me' being used as an excuse for segregation and elitism in the very name of the one who calls us out of these things?
And if it is not Christians who are recognising and celebrating these things, it is only humanist secularists who are!
We have a wonderful God who seeks all people to escape from marginalisation, alienation, segregation, isolation in ghettos, denominationalism sometimes despite the best efforts of 'christians'.
So if you hear a sermon this morning about us as individuals being charitable to others, I wonder if this is really the church avoiding (again!) seeing what God is doing all around us? I wonder if members of the congregations are being loaded up with a hard burden, to contribute to a resurgent superior white Anglo-Saxon church by their own personal acts of charity as if they weren't already charitable and as if it all depended on them?
If we are scandalized by this interpretation of Jesus words, we share the scandal with those who had Jesus killed they certainly realised what Jesus was really saying!
I believe that we do have a wonderful God who seeks all people to escape from marginalisation, alienation, segregation, isolation in ghettos, and denominationalism and I can only say: Deo gratias!
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