November 26: The Last Sunday after Pentecost

The Rev. Joseph Peters-Mathews is the vicar of St. Hilda St. Patrick. The sermon for November 26, 2023 was preached in response to Matthew 25:31-46 based on the manuscript below.

Over the last six to nine months
I’ve come across some criticisms,
some desire to throw out
the Creeds.
To be fair,
this has been long-simmering!
It’s part of the reformation:
there are confessional churches
whose repository of beliefs
is in various statements –
confessions –
their early adherents adopted.
There are traditions,
both conservative and liberal by today’s standards,
whose forebears saw the Creeds
as additions to the gospel
or the product of a broken church
whose traditions had to be rejected.
The recent critiques,
I think really miss a mark.
They don’t look at big pictures like that.
Instead they say things like
“Notice how in 400 years the church went from
how to behave
to what to believe.”
Beloved, that is simply
and today’s gospel text tells us why.
The feast we celebrate today
tells us why, too.

While the Book of Common Prayer, 1979
does not call this Christ the King Sunday,
almost every other liturgical Christian church does.
The readings are the same.
It’s a relatively new feast,
given the life of the Church,
and its continues the Advent themes
that actually start right after All Saints’ Sunday.

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory,
and all the angels with him,
then he will sit on the throne of his glory.
All the nations will be gathered before him…”
It’s about the end of the world.
It’s about a governance that transcends
our two party system
or representative democracy
or the divine rights of kings
or anarcho-syndicalism.
Our gospel text is about the end of the world,
and the justice of God
and the love of God
bearing all things.
The Creeds, about what we believe together
as a Church that looks to the wisdom
of the whole whole
not merely our hearts
not merely our congregations,
don’t contain a list of actions per se.
Yet, the Nicene Creed
makes a profoundly political statement.
In adopting the Creeds,
the church didn’t replace the Scriptures
that had formed those who articulated
what the Church had come to believe
over 400 years.
Jesus’ words are right there for us to read.

Today on what is sometimes called
Christ the King Sunday
just as on every Sunday
we make the bold claim:
“We believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ.”

This statement of belief
is not simply an intellectual assent.
This belief that Jesus is Lord
is a profession of faith
that Jesus holds all authority
and all things exist and have their being
through him.
The belief proclaimed in the creeds
is to some extent intellectual assent
but it’s intellectual assent
that is demonstrated in a changed life,
a life worthy of the calling
as Paul tells the Ephesians.
Because we believe that Jesus is Lord
we read this passage from Matthew 25
and see one standard,
not the only standard,
by which the whole of the world will be judged
when Jesus comes in final glory.
“Truly I tell you,
just as you did it to one of the least of these
who are members of my family,
you did it to me…
Truly I tell you,
just as you did not do it to one of the least of these,
you did not do it to me.”

When we say that we believe in one Lord, Jesus Christ
we are rejecting the power of the empire.
We’re rejecting the authority of Caesar
we’re rejecting the fear of state retribution,
we’re boldly saying
that while we try to be good neighbors
our neighbors on the margins
will continue to be our priority.
I think that this is where some of our hangups
as a congregation are happening, too,
as we keep moving toward action
on anti-racist work.

We do amazing work
caring for those on the margins
as Jesus admonishes.
We feed the hungry and give drink to the thirsty
with our Little Free Pantry
and our generous giving
so that families can have festive meals
for Thanksgiving and Christmas.
We welcome strangers in to our worship,
in to our space for twelve-step meetings,
and into our parking lot
when they need somewhere safe to sleep.
We clothe the naked with our Little Sock Box.
We visit the sick
and have the beginnings of some prisoner outreach
starting to happen in conversations.

Some of our next steps
as a congregation,
and Episcopal Church
are to work to dismantle the systems
or at least blunt the harshness of them
that push people to the margins to begin with.
I wonder if our hangups are
thinking that we need to find the solutions
or bear the weight of the changes
on our individual or congregational shoulders.
When we make the creedal, political statement
“We believe in one Lord Jesus Christ”
we ought to short circuit our own self-centeredness.
I say that knowing full well
that a major lens I use as I go through the world is
“Let me help you do that the right way.”

Jesus coming in final glory
gives us directions for how to behave
as we seek to love God and love our neighbor.
This week I came across the words
of Brittany Packnett Cunningham
that draw me to rely more fully on Jesus
while taking next steps
for changing systems.
Packnett Cunningham said,
“Train yourself toward solidarity
and not charity.
You are no one’s savior.
You are a mutual partner
in the pursuit of freedom.”
One of the reasons that Christ the King
was instituted as a feast
was in direct opposition
to rising European fascism.
Loudly and boldly proclaiming
that we believe in one Lord Jesus Christ
serves as an antidote to the rising false Christianities
that elevate nationalism,
and not Jesus
or those on the margins.
As we look to Jesus, our one Lord and only savior
we can more easily
Train ourselves toward solidarity
and not charity.
We are no one’s savior.
We are a mutual partner
in the pursuit of freedom.
This is a freedom that as Christians we know through Jesus,
in whose reign there are no hungry nor thirsty,
no tears nor death. Amen.

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