Holy God – in this precious hour, we pause and gather to hear your word– to do so, we break from our work responsibilities and from our play fantasies; we move from our fears that overwhelm and from our ambitions that are too strong, Free us in these moments from every distraction, that we may focus to listen, that we may hear, that we may change. Amen
When Paul asked me when I would next like to preach I jumped at the opportunity to preach today ,today is stir up Sunday and for me that symbolises the beginning of the preparation for Christmas , it really is coming and I love Christmas, I am that annoying person who plays Christmas songs in November because it is the most wonderful time of year.
So I was all set … I was going to talk about Christmas pudding … then I read the readings for today and reflected about what they might be saying, what was the message … well it wasn’t a recipe for figgy pudding. I found that there was a much stronger message and combined with some light theology research I learnt that today is a very special day in its own right.
This Sunday, to give it its official name is The Feast of Christ the King and it marks the end of the liturgical year. It is a fairly recent celebration added to the liturgical calendar in 1925 and was originally celebrated at the end of October, the Sunday was revised in 1969 and is now celebrated on the last Sunday before advent.
It is said that the feast day was created by the Pope in a reaction to the rise of secularisation and atheism after the First World War. The day was to remind all Christians of Christ as King, that whatever political influences were around their hearts should stay true to Christ.
The reading from Ezekiel reminds us of our living God, a God who is a shepherd to find us and to guide us when we are lost. God brings us back to where we should be. He is with us in our darkest times and rescues us when we are in danger. God is also a God who judges.
We may judge people on appearance, it is easy to do in a second as we walk down the street we judge all the time, youths in hoodies, someone who bends the social norm that we have come to expect … a homeless person. Two thirds of our brains are used to process visual information, so it is second nature to rely on sight alone to make decisions, after all we believe in what we can see right ???
Smell, scents are very evocative and again something we rely on to make judgment calls from sniffing the milk in the morning before putting it on your corn flakes to ensure it is still fresh, smelling clothes for freshness before wearing, to a room that may smell damp and musty due to not being used or neglect. We may think the same of a child or an adult who smells unclean, that they are neglected, unloved … in trouble.
But as we have seen with our Christmas pudding experiment it is difficult to judge if you are limited to only using one sense or others opinions. The only real way to judge those puddings was to experience them all with all of our senses. The only way to ultimately judge a person is to know them wholly, the way that only God knows us.
Ezekiel refers to a time when Jerusalem was in great upheaval and the reading today is after Jerusalem has fallen due to the invasions of the Babylonian army. Many Jews fled the city and became scattered, the message that God is sending is one of comfort to those in peril but also one of condemnation to those who brought about the destruction and those who had falsely promised to look after the people but only looked after themselves.
The message of judgment is very strong here, that God will not only judge between goats and sheep but also within his own flock will judge between sheep and sheep.
This brings some comfort to know that those who start conflict in the name of religion, the false shepherds of the 21st century who seek not to aid those who need it but only to further their own agenda will be brought to judgment the fat sheep of our time will be judged.
However, this is a challenging statement for all of us ….. it is not enough for us to simply follow God, to read the bible and come to church but we must think of others in and outside of our flock to look after each other, with this and with the gospel reading from Matthew I am reminded of the commandment “love thy neighbour”.
This is reflected in Matthew when we hear a reading about the final judgement. God does not judge us on our appearance or how we smell … he doesn’t need to, we learn from this reading that the judgment will be made on how we lead our lives, the choices that we make and how we treat each other. This message is evident in both readings. In Ezekiel we have the sheep who tread down the pastures after they have eaten and muddy the waters after they have drunk. In Matthew we how those who have not cared for those around them are sent to eternal punishment.
On this day, the day that has been named to remind us of God and his Kingdom we should take the opportunity to look back and reflect on the last 12 months, how have we lived our lives. Have we welcomed the stranger, have we fed the hungry or helped the poor. God calls us all to be his disciples, but also to grow disciples to further his kingdom by what we do.
God may not have power and influence over our nations in the same way as politicians, God exercises his power in other ways, through his Church, through his people and through everyone who has Christ in their hearts.
I would like to finish with a short extract from a book called “The boy who talked to Jesus”
If I walk among men I will not do so with great fanfare or boasting. I will quietly heal the sick, return sight to the blind and open the ears of the deaf. I will feed nations without seeking praise; I will pass through the world unnoticed and pay heed to those who are faithful to me. Pray to me, confide in me and I will find you wherever you are, if you are on a mountain top I will seek you out; if you are under a bridge I will find you; call to me for strength and courage when the dark days come, and I will give you strength. There will be many false miracles, but don’t believe in them, as they will not come from God at the End of Days. Any miracles that come with me will be miracles of the heart.