How can it already be a year since I was stood in St Michael’s and St Margaret’s with the youngsters (and Mick) mixing up Christmas puddings as a demonstration for my sermon. Where has the year gone? If you were there you may remember the mayhem of flour and fruit and especially at St Margaret’s the vision and aroma that heralded the culinary brandy spilling and spreading over the floor!
This was due to it being as it is today the
celebration of Christ the King, that
special Sunday that ends the Church year, leads us into Advent and which is also known as ‘Stir
up Sunday’ due to the Post Communion prayer from the Book of Common Prayer
‘Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may of thee be plenteously rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord.’
Once upon a time, congregations’ awareness would have been heightened by this prayer. This was the Sunday on which the members of a household took turns to stir up the Christmas pudding, making a wish while doing so. The pudding would then be stored carefully waiting for Christmas Day to dawn.
Over the past few weeks, we have also been led towards Advent by Matthew’s gospel illustrating to us the importance of preparation and waiting. We learned from the 10 Bridesmaids how we need to be prepared and ready because we do not know when Jesus will return. Then we heard last week that we need to be active in our waiting, using our gifts and talents effectively. Today Matthew explains that when Jesus returns, he will be judging how ready and active we have been in our waiting and preparations. Will he catch us out?
Historically and even now in some countries sheep and goats would graze together but their needs regarding shelter and food would be different and the shepherd would have to divide them up at the end of the day. This example in our reading today shows that Jesus on his return, will be separating out the obedient followers.
Remembering to act in an intentionally Christlike way in our encounters with others is no easy task. Jesus’ words to us seem quite clear, feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe those in need and take care of the sick. This is what Jesus would do, simple isn’t it?
We have our instructions; we have an excellent role model - but we also have a choice.
Verse 32: All the nations will be assembled in front of him and he will separate them from one another.
There will be those who have given and others who have been welcomed and blessed in a Christlike way. But Matthew states all the nations. There are many good people in this world who say they do not have a faith but perhaps God is busy in their hearts without them realising it. Who was it on hearing the words, ‘I don’t believe in God’ responded ‘But He believes in you.’?
Verse 34: “Come here, you people who my father has blessed.
Verse 45: “I’m telling you the truth: when you didn’t do it for one of the least significant of my brothers and sisters here, you didn’t do it to me.”
Jesus is identifying who has been an obedient follower and who has not, but he is also identifying who has treated his followers well and who has not.
On the final day, only Jesus will know what lies in the hearts of those in front of him. Christ-like action often goes un-noticed but the Kingdom of God isn’t the big gestures announcing our status, what we’ve achieved or what we have, but the Kingdom of God is in the small anonymous actions of those who put God’s values first.
Remember Teresa of Avila:
“Christ has no body now but yours.
No hands, no feet on earth but yours.
Yours are the eyes through which he looks compassion on this world.
Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good.
Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world.
Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body.
Christ has no body now on earth but yours.”
We may be the only gospel message some people encounter in their lifetime. The Kingdom of God is in the softly spoken words of encouragement, the gentle listening ear for the chatterbox, the silent prayers for the difficult colleague on the other end of the phone and the confidence to speak kind words of wisdom in a church meeting. If there is any doubt in our minds how we should act or speak in each situation, perhaps we should simply take a breath and ask ourselves
What Would Jesus Do?
If Christ is King, then our values are God’s values. We then cannot help but be ‘stirred’ into living Christlike lives, bringing the Kingdom of God ever closer. If we want to serve Jesus, we do so in loving service to those in need, not out of duty but out of love.
Loving as God loves, giving as God gives and forgiving as God forgives.