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Sermon delivered at St Paul's Cathedral on November 20, 2005

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A Sermon for Christ the King Sunday

Sermon preached by

The Right Rev. J. C. Fricker

November 20, 2005


When Queen Victoria celebrated her diamond jubilee in 1897, the London Times printed Rudyard Kipling's poem Recessional. Apparently printing that poem scandalized the people of England, because instead of celebrating the British Empire, it called the empire to repentance. Each verse of the poem ends with the refrain "Lest, we forget. Lest we forget". Kipling wanted England to be reminded that it, like any other human community, stood under God's judgement. And so he wrote :

 

"The tumult and the shouting dies

The captains and the kings depart

Still stands this ancient sacrifice

An humble and a contrite heart.

Lord God of hosts be with us yet

Lest we forget, lest we forget."

It's the end of the Church Year today. It's what we call "Christ the King" Sunday. And it's the last time until the beginning of Advent 2008 that the Gospel readings are from Matthew. Matthew, among other things, has spoken to us quite relevantly throughout most of this year. Especially this year for us, of our search for a new Dean, of what it means to be the church in a divisive, secular, and often uncaring society. Today he gives us the crowning lesson. He presents us with the image of the reigning Christ who sits on his glorious throne as our judge. It's the so called parable of the sheep and the goats, but it's not really a parable. It's more of a judgement scene. The judgement is actual, its real, its decisive, its threatening, hanging over humanity like a lowering thunder cloud. Hear it again, it reads like a Cecil B. deMille movie script.

 

"When the Son of Man comes in his great 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

And he will separate people, one from the other

The sheep on his right hand, and the goats on his left."

What a solemn note to be sounded when this cathedral parish is vibrant with anticipation of a wonderful future beginning in January. But Matthew warns us in our vibrancy, "Lest we forget ". We are always in times of high hope under God's judgement, lest we forget what we are about as the church. We may have the highest ideals as a Christian community, but we are judged not by the ideals we cherish in our collective thoughts, and express piously in our common prayer. But we are judged on our actual deeds. In the context of today's Gospel, we are judged always by the deeds done to Jesus, who is the divine judge - for feeding him when he appeared before us as someone hungry, when giving water to him when he appeared before us as a stranger, as a newcomer, for comforting him when he appeared before us as someone sick. The judgement is clear, if we as a church, as Christians, do not see Jesus in the marginalized, the outcast, the weak, the needy, the stranger, we do not see him at all.

What a judgement ! Lest we forget. Matthew's parting shot is that right belief is just not enough. We need to be reminded that Christ is all around us.; in the single welfare Mom, in the gay person who suffers discrimination and rejection, in the risoners in our jails, in the homeless on our streets. Of course Jesus is most certainly with us in this holy place. But he is here also in ways we do not easily grasp. I understand the surprise of those sheep and goats. I understand, but I find it quite sad. Sad, not because doing good to the least among us has no effect, for those who receive our acts of kindness and mercy, as well as an effect on us who do these acts of kindness and mercy. That's not why I'm sad. I am sad for those who do not saee Jesus around us. Because seeing Jesus in those around us is so personally enriching, so helpful, as we walk the walk that Jesus bids us walk. I am sad for those who do not see the sacred in everything, because seeing the sacred in everything is so transforming for us and for our world.

Lest we forget.

 

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2005 St. Paul's Cathedral, Buffalo New York