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Reign of Christ Sunday

            I, for one, am glad that we are at the end of the Church Year… because it means that we’re near the end of 2020!  I’m glad that we’re finished with these last challenging parables of Matthew’s Gospel, too.  I’m sad that we seem to be back to where we started last March at the beginning of this pandemic.  And I’m sad that Advent, which starts next week, and the Christmas-Epiphany season are going to be very different and very challenging for many.

            Today is meant to be a day of celebration, kind of like New Year’s Eve as we look to the start of a new Church Year next week.  We celebrate the Reign of Christ, we celebrate the Kin-Dom of God, a Reign of love, compassion, healing and wholeness, but most of all, this day is meant to be a celebration of God’s presence.

            But, it’s hard to celebrate today when we’re back to staff being the only people present in worship and all of you back home, and not everyone able to access our worship.  It’s hard knowing there is an increasing number of deaths due to the Coronavirus, including in our own family; and there are increasing hospitalizations, loss of livelihoods, the Opioid Crisis, Civil wars, Climate Disruption, racism, and many challenges facing the world.  It’s hard to celebrate when we face losses in our lives and see loss so real and prevalent.

            The challenge in this time of crisis is to look beyond the dualism of crisis vs stability or the dualism of suffering vs wholeness.  So, even though these last few parables of Matthew’s Gospel seem so full of judgment and seemingly, so much about either/or and dualism, maybe a closer examination leads to a different conclusion.  Maybe in today’s parable of the sheep and the goats, there’s a more nuanced hope.

We need to hear the words, “Every time you did for the least of my kin, you did for me!” and take heart!  This is our invitation to double-down on being other-focused, let go of our anger and frustration at the things we haven’t got and can’t do, remember that life isn’t one thing or another, but a nuanced experience; and we need to ask the question, “How can we be stronger together, better neighbours, better ambassadors of God’s love living with the ambiguity of this world that is full of shades of many colours?”

            For if we truly believe that Christ is with us as we share justice and compassion with others, and if we believe that Christ is in those who are struggling—if we believe in the fact that the divine spark of love is planted deeply in us, then why wouldn’t we think first about others and how our lives can impact the life of the world on behalf of love and compassion?

            Maybe our task in understanding this parable is that we are challenged to look beyond the designation of sheep and goats.  We are challenged to look beyond a dualistic view of the world as one or other.  It has been suggested that Jesus’ parables—and indeed Matthew, Mark, Luke and John’s editing of these parables—may be more like Zen koans that flummox our rational minds.  Maybe the parable known as the Last Judgment isn’t meant to be taken rationally, but an invitation to say, “Yes, but….”

            Yes, but… maybe this parable isn’t about a delineation between one or the other.  Maybe it is both– and, or maybe it’s multi-faceted.  With a theological understanding that God is present in all life—a word I used last week, panentheism—then why would we have to choose between sheep and goats.  Why aren’t there elephants and lions, mice, rats, snakes, wrens, pigeons and eagles, whales, porpoises, sharks, tuna, and salmon?  Maybe this parable is our invitation to delve more deeply into our own spiritual worlds and the life of the universe where things aren’t about dividing between two options—we don’t live in a binary world of zeros and ones.  We live in a complex world.

            Maybe just maybe, Jesus begins the parable with the sheep and the goats, a choice between 2, but as the parable moves forward, we shift to seeing the world as much more subtle if we let the parable sink into our heart.  It then becomes more than just a choice between sheep and goats and in the end, we’re left with really only one answer to the challenges and subtleties of living in the world… LOVE.

            Love exposes the powers and principalities that keep us locked in fear.  Love opens the door to seeing past artificial dualisms, to see the different shades of colour that make for such a vibrant tapestry.  Love moves us beyond fear to take the risk of loving another by protecting them, but also by being willing to live without ready answers.  So much of life is unknown, as we’re finding the time, and again, this year in particular; but love inspires us to live with this uncertainty because we can rely on LOVE.  What happens to us is uncertain, but love is constant.  Love means we can meet the challenges with a sense that we are held in God’s hand, that we are part of a community, and, while not physically present, still present through prayer, hope, compassion, and expressions of blessing.

            One of the co-founders of Yes! Magazine, David Korten, wrote an article about overcoming fear through discovering a common purpose and living with meaning.  He quoted Paul Chappel, a peace activist, who grew up in an abusive home, had anti-social tendencies in school, joined the US military and served a tour of duty, but realized a life of violence wasn’t the answer.  He reflected on his own life and asked the question as he turned to peace activism, “What do people need?”  He concluded they need purpose and meaning.  Korten reflected on that as a way for communities to be strengthened in times of crisis—finding a common purpose and a shared meaning.[1]

            I think that’s what religious communities are about: a common purpose and a shared meaning, and that’s what we can celebrate today in celebrating the Reign of Christ—we hold the shared meaning of being followers of the Way of Jesus and that of embodying the Love of God.  This shared purpose and meaning celebrate God’s love and our love for one another in this world of shades of colour.  And it’s a reminder that living in love isn’t that we have no fear; the Good News is that the deep purpose and meaning of love, planted deep within us, empowers us to live WITH our fears while meeting the challenges we face… knowing that we are loved.

            So, we CAN celebrate God’s Reign of Love in Jesus Christ after all, and we CAN look with hope to the new Church Year and the coming seasons of Advent, Christmas and Epiphany.  Peace and healing to all! 

Amen.

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    [1] See the complete article at Yes! Magazine: From Fear and Anger to Collective Purpose

 

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