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Sermon for Christ the King Year A

October 26, 2014

sheep and goats‘I was in prison and you visited me.’ Words from today’s gospel.

In the name…….

Do you remember the film The Life of Brian? It captures brilliantly the way people lived in first century Palestine. While Brian is being crucified, his followers hold an emergency meeting. There’s a lot of fuss about who will take the minutes. They jostle for position, anxious to show that they take a different line from the Judaean People’s Popular Liberation Front and they pass a motion condemning the crucifixion. And nothing gets done. It’s all talk.

So much religion is all talk. Our gospel reading condemns people who never do anything. While the General Synod passes motions about asylum seekers, third world debt and so on; all good stuff springing directly out of this parable about the imprisoned, the stranger, the hungry, there are some people who actually roll their sleeves up and do something more than just talking. Often they don’t go to church, rarely say their prayers but visit housebound people, sponsor children in third world countries so that they can get an education, work for Amnesty International, writing letters to and campaigning for political prisoners.

They are the ones who are welcomed in the parable. They don’t see themselves as Christians. They ask, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, naked and clothe you?’ And Jesus says that when you did it to the least of these my brothers, you did it to me. As St. Augustine put it: “Many whom God has, the Church does not have; and many whom the church has, God does not have.”

Christians are called to do good, practice what we preach. In today’s welfare state, a lot of it gets done for us. Our tax money goes towards a National Health Service. Hospitals started off as church institutions, which is why charge nurses used to be called Sister – like a nun – and their uniforms resembled nun’s habits.

Our taxes pay for prisons but they also fund probation officers, something else the church started. They used to be called ‘The Police Court Mission.’ Taxes fund social workers, teachers and so on.

Christians should be at the forefront of the debate about whether we should pay less tax or more, whether the welfare state should be dismantled or strengthened. And Christians should be involved in politics so that they can influence these debates. Turning out to vote, writing to MPs, joining a political party and turning up to meetings, though I have to say that my experience of being a Labour party member was disappointing: more ‘minutes of the last meeting’ stuff than actually doing something!

And we should also be keen supporters of some of the many charities which help the poor and needy, like Christian Aid, Amnesty International, the Children’s Society.

And we should ponder what we are doing every time we walk past someone who asks us if we’ve any spare change. We can console ourselves with the idea that they’ll probably spend it on drugs or booze anyway and that will mean they won’t be allowed into a night shelter, so they’ll sleep on the streets and risk being knifed while they sleep – so we’re doing them a favour by not giving to them. But we should still feel uncomfortable and perhaps give in an organised way to a charity for the homeless, like the Cyrenians, named after Simon of Cyrene who helped Jesus to carry his cross.

But there’s more to our parable than do-gooding. Centuries ago St. Gregory of Nyssa said that this parable has an outward meaning and an inward meaning. The Kingdom Within – J. Sanford (New York HarperCollins 1987) p. 145

How do we take this parable inwardly? My dad died when I was only 8 years old. I’m sure relatives were only trying to help when they told me that ‘big boys don’t cry’ and I was now ‘the man of the house.’ When others were out playing, I was filling out my mother’s income tax claims forms and so on. I became a very serious little boy. So it is that I tend to look down on people who are intent on having fun. I get a gut feeling of annoyance when I see students laughing and talking loudly in the wine bars that make up the so-called Whiteladies Strip (or what’s left of it now that Henry J. Beans has closed. When I was a student I wrote essays in the evenings. Why do I get annoyed? I think it is the little boy of eight who got locked up inside me when my dad died. The little boy is imprisoned inside me is hungry for play, thirsty for attention.

We human beings have incredible potential. But we can’t do everything. As we grow up, we develop certain parts of our potential. But that takes time. Time diverted away from the other parts of our potential which then wither away, remain undeveloped.

Christians are called to care for other people but they are also called to care for the many potential people in here.

In the parable, Jesus came, hidden, in the needy. As we move into Advent we prepare for Christ the King’s coming to us in a needy baby in a stable, let us hasten to greet his coming into our neediness.

Which part of you is hungry, thirsty? Will you feed that part of your personality which is usually dormant?

Which part of you is naked?

Which part of you is a stranger to the you you have made of yourself today?

Will you take time out to be still and to listen to those voices inside which you usually blot out by listening to the radio in the background or by keeping endlessly on the go with various tasks?

Which parts of your potential lie locked up in prison? Take time to visit them.

For in so doing you will meet the Christ in you.

Amen

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