Nov. 26 2017 sermon
Reign of Justice, Reign of Service
When I was graduating from the theological school, I noticed that graduation ceremony is called “commencement”. I thought it was weird because ‘commence’ means ‘to begin’. It intrigued me that graduation ceremony is called ‘commencement’. One would think that graduation is the end of something (end of school education); but then I thought, “Yes, the end of one thing means the beginning of something else.” I think it’s a shift of perspectives, seeing graduation as a beginning rather than an ending.
I mentioned graduation because today is the last Sunday of the Church year. As the last day of the secular year, we get to look back at our last year and plan our new year’s resolution. As Christians, we get to ask ourselves, “Where am I going? Am I going on toward God?” and check on our direction of faith. Today is called Reign of Christ Sunday. We start the beginning of the Church year-Advent-with anticipation and hope; we end the Church year proclaiming the certainty and conviction that Jesus Christ is the fulfillment of the biblical revelation of God. On Reign of Christ Sunday, Christians proclaim that Jesus Christ is Lord of all and of our personal lives. We put our radical trust in Christ. The Reign of Christ reminds us to return to God’s way and to live out the Good News; the gospel of Jesus. And just like students who review for their exams, we review this Good News that Jesus proclaimed and taught in his earthly lifetime. What is the Good News about? Today’s gospel parable illustrates what the gospel is about; what God’s reign (or kingdom) is about.
Today’s parable illustrates the day of the judgment. What is intriguing about this judgment scene in Matthew’s gospel is the standard by which Christians are judged. It’s not about whether they have accepted Jesus as their personal saviour or not. It’s not about whether they attended church every Sunday or not, or how much money they offered. According to this parable, Christians will be judged by whether they lived out the Christian value of unconditional love and compassion or not. “Did you feed the hungry, gave drinks to the thirsty, clothed the naked, welcomed strangers, took care of the sick, and visited the prisoners?” The King and Judge explains in the end that the reason why they are being judged by these things is because what they did to one of the least of these is what they did to Him. God cares about what how we treat the powerless members of our world.
I like this one line in the Forrest Gump movie; whenever Forrest was asked, “Are you stupid of something” he answered, “Stupid is as stupid does.” Likewise, what we are learning from today’s gospel parable is that Christian is as Christian does, not as Christian speaks. This is the conclusion of Matthew’s gospel that is full of teachings and actions of Jesus concerning the powerless and marginalized members of his society. The Good News of Jesus is good news only because it is good news for all people, not only for those who enjoy their privileges. Then Good News is not good news at all unless the values by which we live as followers of Jesus are equality and justice.
Let us NOT focus on the fact that we will be judged, but rather on the fact that Jesus taught us to live a life of service to others and to work to bring God’s reign of love and justice in our world. The essence of the gospel teaching is that God wants us to love and serve one another and work for equality and justice. Good News is not good news if not all of us can have basic human rights for survival, safety, and well-being.
The principle of God’s reign, the Good News that Jesus proclaimed, which is love and justice, is also attested in the Ezekiel text we read today. The analogy of sheep and shepherd is very common in the Bible; that’s because sheep was a common animal for the biblical heroes and writers. We would probably have used deer or elk in our analogy. This text shows God’s ardent wish and intention to save the suffering people (sheep) and liberate them from suffering. Those who cause the suffering of others will be judged. This message of God’s will for liberating the suffering is directly connected to the teaching of today’s gospel parable; God wants us to alleviate the suffering of others and not be the ones causing that suffering.
Today is the last Sunday of one Church year. We are about to get a second chance at being faithful disciples. We are about to start our faith journey once again by starting with the beginning of the Good News. During the Seasons of Advent and Christmas, we will hear stories of how the Good News started. We are about to embark on our journey of faith anew. Consider today’s worship service as the commencement ceremony ending a Church year so that we can start a new one next Sunday. As we “graduate” this Church year and get ready to start another, let us look back at our lives, both individual lives and our communal life as a church, with the barometer of the kingdom values of love and justice. Have we done something well? Then let us give thanks and ask God to nurture those areas. Have we done something not so well? Then let us ask God for forgiveness and for guidance. Second chances are great because we are not perfect. Second chances are the essence of God’s grace. And we get more than one second chances to get better each time. Let us end this Church year with new enthusiasm to bring God’s love out into our world. God’s reign is a reign of love, compassion, and justice. We feed the hungry and care for the sick because we care. We fight for justice in solidarity with our suffering neighbours because we care. We reconcile with each other and forgive each other because we care. Let us start a new Church year by being God’s people who care enough to serve those in need and to work for the liberation and healing of the marginalized. Peace be our new year, another year in God’s kingdom.
Rev. Sunny Kim