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Christ the King: Proper 29, Year A

First off, I want to offer a personal note encouraging y'all to read this fine reflection on the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings for this coming Sunday. I commend it to you first on its own merits — its author knows American history far better than I do, and draws on a passage from the autobiography of 19th-century freed slave and abolitionist Frederick Douglas in a way that I think will be very helpful and informative for preachers. The reflection is this week's entry in a regular column commenting on the RCL readings in The Witness magazine, which is my new employer. I'm working part-time (i.e., if you've got a potential additional gig for me, please do give me a shout!) for them as the magazine's editor. I've long admired The Witness and its work as an Anglican voice for justice since 1917, and I'm particularly excited about working with them at this particular moment in history. And one other point about this week's RCL reflection at The Witness: its author is none other than my partner. Bravo, Karen!

Now, to my own reflections:

Ezekiel 34:11-17 - link to NRSV text
1 Corinthians 15:20-28 - link to NRSV text
Matthew 25:31-46 - link to NRSV text

printer-friendly version
podcast (i.e., the MP3 audio version of this entry)

I had an interesting email exchange this week with a regular reader of the lectionary blog about an issue that a lot of us struggle with: the tension between the openness of Jesus' unconditional invitation on one hand and on the other hand, the language of judgment, of insiders and outsiders, in passages like this Sunday's gospel. I've wrestled with it a great deal myself, and while I doubt I'll solve every difficulty we've got with it, I think there's a point that's very important for us to understand as we continue to explore this tension.

Yes, Jesus invites absolutely anyone who will eat with him to come to his table. The invitation to the messianic banquet is open to all -- “the good and the bad,” in the words of Matthew 22:14. In that sense, all are invited to experience “salvation” without precondition.

But what is “salvation”? Both Jesus and Paul saw it not as merely a promise of a blessed afterlife: salvation is something that starts today, and it's about a certain kind of life — specifically, a life in community. And in both Jesus' view and Paul's, that's not just any community: it's a family. Jesus said that anyone who hears God's word and does it is his sister or brother or mother (Mark 3:35). And the metaphor Paul most often uses for what we are as the Church, for who we are in Christ, is that we are sisters and brothers (a point that the NRSV unfortunately obscures frequently by rendering adelphoi, “brothers and sisters,” as “believers” or some other ungendered term). In other words, the invitation Jesus gives us is the invitation to relationship — with one another as much as with him and with the God who created us. Jesus' invitation to us, his ragtag band of disciples from all nations, is to join God's people.

Here's one way I often put it: the invitation to join the community is issued to anyone with any manner of life. But the quality of life in the community — the extent to our life together is an experience of members of one Body of Christ and a foretaste of the kingdom of heaven come to earth now — has a direct relationship to how we choose to live together once we accept Jesus' invitation to join.

Last Sunday, we read a passage of the gospels showing how we treat one another when we're at our worst as the human race. How you'll be treated under this system is a function of two things only: how powerful you are, and how useful you are to those more powerful than you. Are you a wealthy landowner? Then act like it. Call yourself “lord,” demand what you like of those in your power, and feel free to discard people once you've used them up. Behave as though the central question governing our relationships with one another were “what have you done for me lately?”

But the coming of God's kingdom is like this: people will be going about their business in precisely the way described above ... and then the final coming of the Son of Man will reveal to everyone's eyes just how empty that way of life is, just how much pain and how little reward comes of living that way.

And that coming will reveal something else as well: just how rewarding, just how abundant and joyful life is when you live in a different way, the way of those the Son of Man designates as “sheep” in this Sunday's gospel.

I've blogged before about a game I like to play to illustrate the dynamic we see in last Sunday's gospel and this Sunday's. To play it, you set the room up for a party — punchbowls, finger foods on trays for serving, and so on. Every person in the room gets a sign taped to his or her back, reading “monarch,” “courtier,” “servant,” or “beggar.” Once everyone has a sign on his or her back, you start the party. The game is to try to guess what sign is on your back, and try to help others guess what's on theirs by treating them as you think someone whose status was what you think your sign says would treat someone whose status matched what the sign on her/his back says. If your sign says “monarch,” the vast majority of guests are going to flatter you and offer you treats; if the sign on your back says “beggar,” you're going to be treated like trash — especially if you have the nerve to act as if you were equal to others with higher status. To debrief, I invite people to share how it felt to be treated as they were, and how they felt having to treat others according to the sign on their backs. And then I pose the question:

What would it be like to live in a community, in a world, in which everyone, especially those smarting from how they're treated by others, were treated as if the sign on their back said “monarch”? What would it be like to live amongst people who treated everyone as if the sign on their back, the “secret identity” of everyone they met, said “Christ the King,” and every Christian saw their life's calling as treating people in such a way that they could guess this?

That's the invitation issued to us this Sunday. That's the vision we're called to claim as ours until it is realized for the world. Could we really allow the Christ child, the boy born as king and the one appointed by God to judge the nations, to die of malaria in infancy in Africa, knowing who this child is and just how little it would take to see him grow up and realize all he was created to be? Could we let a young girl toil away her days fetching water rather than going to school, and her family suffer when that water carries disease, if we loved Jesus as much as we say we do, if we knew what we did and didn't do for this family was what we did and didn't do for the Christ? Or do we want to experience fellowship with Christ by serving and empowering the poor, outcast, and prisoners of our world?

This invitation is not for after we die — the chance to act is gone then. It's an invitation for this moment, this day, this generation. And it's not just about avoiding punishment. What we do, the extent to which we respond to Jesus' invitation not just to come into the House of God's chosen people, but to live as one of the family, in relationship with and caring for the rest of the family as for our own flesh and as for the Body of our Lord, is the extent to which we experience eternal life, God's just and peaceful kingdom, right here and now. In Paul's words, Christ's risen life is the “first fruits,” and we are called to enjoy the full harvest of that abundant life. In Ezekiel's words, the destiny of God's people since the founding of the world is to be fed with God's justice. Do you want a taste of that? It's there for you now, as abundant as are the opportunities to exercise compassion toward the least of Jesus' sisters and brothers.

Thanks be to God!

November 16, 2005 in 1 Corinthians, Christ the King, Eschatology, Ezekiel, Inclusion, Jesus' Hard Sayings, Justice, Matthew, ONE campaign/Millennium Development Goals, Ordinary Time, Parables, Personal Notes, Prophets, Year A | Permalink

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Comments

I appreciate your emphasis on the "nowness" of the invitation. It is a truth of the most profound type the kingdom of God and the Kingship of Christ is something that is already here.

It is equally as true that we have the most magnificant opportunity righ tnow to claim our inheritance in the kingdom and the most incredible opportunity to reach out right now to others who share that inheritance.

Also, I think this is about what our inheritance and the grace of God INSPIRES in us rather than what those things REQUIRE. In other words, realizing our existance in the kingdom now, and being transformed by the grace of God, well, how can we do anything other than be the ones who meet Christ in the street, in the shelter, in the hospital, where ever he may be. And all out of thanks born from the transforming touch of Christ.

Posted by: Mark Peake | Nov 17, 2005 1:36:47 PM

Sarah, I enjoyed your podcast. I hope you will consider developing a subscription version we can get from iTunes. As much as I enjoy reading your sermons and blog entries, I enjoy hearing them even more!

I've found your commentary over the last couple weeks very illuminating. I've always found the contrast between this sequence of parables troubling. You've helped me realize that they aren't meant to stand alone, but work together, the parable of the talents being the setup, and this Sunday's parable as the punchline. (Is that right?). This is the problem with the lectionary, I think. These sacred sound bites can be misunderstood taken out of their larger context. Keep up the good work. God Bless you! Oh, and thanks for all the wonderful links on your site.

Posted by: Philip Davich | Nov 17, 2005 3:56:29 PM

I am interested in your duties at "The Witness." I have enjoyed this magazine but only infrequently. Will you be writing a regular article for the magazine? Will Karen be a regular contributor? Her piece on Frederick Douglass was very informative and thought provoking.

As always, I enjoyed your reflection on the lectionary. And again I do like your speaking voice.

Posted by: joel | Nov 17, 2005 8:12:30 PM

Dylan, Thank you so much for your insight and wisdom. Your blog is a great resource for me in preparing my sermons for Sunday. I am a military chaplain serving overseas and time is a limited commodity. I find reading your reflections really helps me get to the heart of what's going on in the lectionary, and help me to focus on the message I need to bring to my congregation. Thank you again for your wisdom and hard work.

Posted by: Meredith Myers | Nov 18, 2005 4:08:27 AM

I also enjoy your page and use it as a resource when preparing sermons. But I really love the podcast! Its a great feature. Thank you for experimenting with it!

Posted by: Susie | Nov 18, 2005 5:16:49 PM

I love your commentary and have often used your comments in my sermons (with full credit, of course!) I have made a donation and will do so again,

Celia

Posted by: Celia | Nov 19, 2005 3:52:45 PM

Good thoughts, but I was REALLY hoping you would go where I am feeling led (trembling, I might add.) With Budget Proposal 215-217 having passed the House, we are facing a devastating blow in federal resources available to the poor amongst us. Hard not to point out the reality of our goatness at this moment.

Posted by: Phyllis | Nov 19, 2005 8:02:43 PM

Correction - obviously it passed 217-215 and that should be in () after the having passed part. Too deep in sermon mode to be commenting I guess.

Posted by: Phyllis | Nov 19, 2005 8:14:33 PM

"Here below, here below," says Christ, "You find me in the poor. i am too high for you in heaven. You are trying to climb there for nothing.Thus it would be a very good idea if this high command of love were written in gold letters upon the foreheads of the poor so we could see and grasp how near Christ is to us on this planet." Martin Luther

Posted by: Jim Philipson | Nov 20, 2005 1:41:09 AM

Hi -- I've been struggling with this all week, but have yet to find an answer that satisfies. Maybe I won't ever. I get how Jesus' invitation is for right now, and not later. But what about the judgement for later? How can God forgive, and then take that away at the end of days?

Posted by: Leanne | Nov 21, 2005 10:14:52 PM

Hi,

Thank you for your weekly comments on Scripture. They are thoughtful and stimulating!

I've accompanied my study of these parables for the end of year A of the lectionary cycle with the writings of Robert Farrar Capon on Jesus' parables. His writing on Mt. 25:31-46 demonstrate his approach which features a great inclusion of the goats with the sheep in Jesus' parousia. Even in their "separation" they are found within the love of God.

Posted by: Ron Bolinger | Nov 18, 2008 3:45:41 PM

As someone mentioned 3 years ago, one of the most important ideas you addressed in this post was the idea that salvation has less to do with afterlife than it has to do with present life. The emphasis on salvation as "fire insurance" has long been a problem for the church, and I think it's even worse now; so much of what Jesus teaches in the Gospels has more to do with how human beings treat each other than what happens after death that it seems very clear what His priorities are. What if God intends to redeem all of creation (an idea that has considerable scriptural support)? If that's the case, then salvation would be about what goes on here between one human being and another. I don't know that God intends to drag anybody kicking and screaming into heaven who doesn't want to go, but I do think that God will offer every opportunity for people to see and receive grace; the only authentic response to that grace is to reflect it into the lives of others, sheep and goats alike.

Posted by: Dennis | Nov 23, 2008 4:35:25 PM

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Dylan's lectionary blog: Christ the King: Proper 29, Year A

« Proper 28, Year A | Main | First Sunday of Advent, Year B »

Christ the King: Proper 29, Year A

First off, I want to offer a personal note encouraging y'all to read this fine reflection on the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) readings for this coming Sunday. I commend it to you first on its own merits — its author knows American history far better than I do, and draws on a passage from the autobiography of 19th-century freed slave and abolitionist Frederick Douglas in a way that I think will be very helpful and informative for preachers. The reflection is this week's entry in a regular column commenting on the RCL readings in The Witness magazine, which is my new employer. I'm working part-time (i.e., if you've got a potential additional gig for me, please do give me a shout!) for them as the magazine's editor. I've long admired The Witness and its work as an Anglican voice for justice since 1917, and I'm particularly excited about working with them at this particular moment in history. And one other point about this week's RCL reflection at The Witness: its author is none other than my partner. Bravo, Karen!

Now, to my own reflections:

Ezekiel 34:11-17 - link to NRSV text
1 Corinthians 15:20-28 - link to NRSV text
Matthew 25:31-46 - link to NRSV text

printer-friendly version
podcast (i.e., the MP3 audio version of this entry)

I had an interesting email exchange this week with a regular reader of the lectionary blog about an issue that a lot of us struggle with: the tension between the openness of Jesus' unconditional invitation on one hand and on the other hand, the language of judgment, of insiders and outsiders, in passages like this Sunday's gospel. I've wrestled with it a great deal myself, and while I doubt I'll solve every difficulty we've got with it, I think there's a point that's very important for us to understand as we continue to explore this tension.

Yes, Jesus invites absolutely anyone who will eat with him to come to his table. The invitation to the messianic banquet is open to all -- “the good and the bad,” in the words of Matthew 22:14. In that sense, all are invited to experience “salvation” without precondition.

But what is “salvation”? Both Jesus and Paul saw it not as merely a promise of a blessed afterlife: salvation is something that starts today, and it's about a certain kind of life — specifically, a life in community. And in both Jesus' view and Paul's, that's not just any community: it's a family. Jesus said that anyone who hears God's word and does it is his sister or brother or mother (Mark 3:35). And the metaphor Paul most often uses for what we are as the Church, for who we are in Christ, is that we are sisters and brothers (a point that the NRSV unfortunately obscures frequently by rendering adelphoi, “brothers and sisters,” as “believers” or some other ungendered term). In other words, the invitation Jesus gives us is the invitation to relationship — with one another as much as with him and with the God who created us. Jesus' invitation to us, his ragtag band of disciples from all nations, is to join God's people.

Here's one way I often put it: the invitation to join the community is issued to anyone with any manner of life. But the quality of life in the community — the extent to our life together is an experience of members of one Body of Christ and a foretaste of the kingdom of heaven come to earth now — has a direct relationship to how we choose to live together once we accept Jesus' invitation to join.

Last Sunday, we read a passage of the gospels showing how we treat one another when we're at our worst as the human race. How you'll be treated under this system is a function of two things only: how powerful you are, and how useful you are to those more powerful than you. Are you a wealthy landowner? Then act like it. Call yourself “lord,” demand what you like of those in your power, and feel free to discard people once you've used them up. Behave as though the central question governing our relationships with one another were “what have you done for me lately?”

But the coming of God's kingdom is like this: people will be going about their business in precisely the way described above ... and then the final coming of the Son of Man will reveal to everyone's eyes just how empty that way of life is, just how much pain and how little reward comes of living that way.

And that coming will reveal something else as well: just how rewarding, just how abundant and joyful life is when you live in a different way, the way of those the Son of Man designates as “sheep” in this Sunday's gospel.

I've blogged before about a game I like to play to illustrate the dynamic we see in last Sunday's gospel and this Sunday's. To play it, you set the room up for a party — punchbowls, finger foods on trays for serving, and so on. Every person in the room gets a sign taped to his or her back, reading “monarch,” “courtier,” “servant,” or “beggar.” Once everyone has a sign on his or her back, you start the party. The game is to try to guess what sign is on your back, and try to help others guess what's on theirs by treating them as you think someone whose status was what you think your sign says would treat someone whose status matched what the sign on her/his back says. If your sign says “monarch,” the vast majority of guests are going to flatter you and offer you treats; if the sign on your back says “beggar,” you're going to be treated like trash — especially if you have the nerve to act as if you were equal to others with higher status. To debrief, I invite people to share how it felt to be treated as they were, and how they felt having to treat others according to the sign on their backs. And then I pose the question:

What would it be like to live in a community, in a world, in which everyone, especially those smarting from how they're treated by others, were treated as if the sign on their back said “monarch”? What would it be like to live amongst people who treated everyone as if the sign on their back, the “secret identity” of everyone they met, said “Christ the King,” and every Christian saw their life's calling as treating people in such a way that they could guess this?

That's the invitation issued to us this Sunday. That's the vision we're called to claim as ours until it is realized for the world. Could we really allow the Christ child, the boy born as king and the one appointed by God to judge the nations, to die of malaria in infancy in Africa, knowing who this child is and just how little it would take to see him grow up and realize all he was created to be? Could we let a young girl toil away her days fetching water rather than going to school, and her family suffer when that water carries disease, if we loved Jesus as much as we say we do, if we knew what we did and didn't do for this family was what we did and didn't do for the Christ? Or do we want to experience fellowship with Christ by serving and empowering the poor, outcast, and prisoners of our world?

This invitation is not for after we die — the chance to act is gone then. It's an invitation for this moment, this day, this generation. And it's not just about avoiding punishment. What we do, the extent to which we respond to Jesus' invitation not just to come into the House of God's chosen people, but to live as one of the family, in relationship with and caring for the rest of the family as for our own flesh and as for the Body of our Lord, is the extent to which we experience eternal life, God's just and peaceful kingdom, right here and now. In Paul's words, Christ's risen life is the “first fruits,” and we are called to enjoy the full harvest of that abundant life. In Ezekiel's words, the destiny of God's people since the founding of the world is to be fed with God's justice. Do you want a taste of that? It's there for you now, as abundant as are the opportunities to exercise compassion toward the least of Jesus' sisters and brothers.

Thanks be to God!

November 16, 2005 in 1 Corinthians, Christ the King, Eschatology, Ezekiel, Inclusion, Jesus' Hard Sayings, Justice, Matthew, ONE campaign/Millennium Development Goals, Ordinary Time, Parables, Personal Notes, Prophets, Year A | Permalink

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