23 November 2008

the feast of christ the king, year a

Matthew 25:31-46

Last week, the youth group played kickball with some folks from St. Bart’s. We were the hosts, so as the Chief Supporter of the youth around here, I took it as my job to split up the teams. Tasks like, oh, dividing up people for competitive sports give me flash backs to middle school gym and almost immediately make me feel nauseated. The number one thing I wanted to avoid was that awful Someone Picked Last thing, so I stressed till my stomach hurt, surveyed the group, and just went for it, spliting everyone down the middle, counting them off by two’s, and just prayed it would end up fair.

Okay, so seven minutes into the game it was obvious that it did not end up fair. Team Two was up, like, fifteen runs by the bottom of the second inning. But here’s the thing—It. Didn’t. Matter. Laura, to her credit, faithfully kept score, but within the blink of an eye, it was clear that everyone was playing for just the sake of playing. Then this Kingdom of God thing happened where players were cheering for their opponents, encouraging them to the bases, waving each other along, high-fiving, clapping. It was awesome.

This wild thing starts to happen when we make that internal shift into actually being in community. When we stop just going through the motions and with the help of a little dollup of synergy and a heaping tablespoon of the Holy Spirit, we slip seamlessly into living and being the Body of Christ. Can you feel it? We transcend all the cultural and temporal stuff and experience the tingly buzz of Christian Community… I can never pin-point the moment when it happens, all I know is that it does, and next thing I know kickball on the playground has turned into the Kingdom of God.

What happens when we find ourselves face to face with people who are differently able-d than us? Maybe they can’t kick a ball as well, or run as fast. Maybe simply putting one foot in front of the other is a challenge. Or maybe they live in a different part of town. Or maybe they speak differently or vote differently or have a different set of values. Or maybe their skin’s a different color or maybe they don’t have as much money as we do, or the choices we have. Or maybe they don’t have a roof over their head. Or maybe they can’t afford to eat. Whatever it is, it’s different, it’s Other than you. But something Gospel between you and them happens…There’s a shift and suddenly your “I” and “me” turns into an “us” and a “we” and you find that you are cheering each other on—encouraging, waving, high-fiving, clapping.

The only thing I can tell you about how this beautiful Kingdom thing happens is that we have to be open to it. We have to keep putting ourselves out there, ready to merge with those who are different. And next thing we’ll know it’s there…happening,

+ + + + + + + +

Oh, so….Happy New Year! Almost. New Years Eve, kinda. Today is the last Sunday After Pentecost. Next Sunday we’ll be in a whole new church year. It’ll be Advent, marking a Brand New Day.

In the church, we try to capture God’s time, the fullness of time, by beginning our church year before the birth of Jesus, before the beginning of our salvation. With Advent we practice the value of patience, the beauty of night, the Gospel of Wonder, Mystery, Almost. Christ the King is coming, and we must wait wait wait wait for it, stay awake, be ready. And when it comes, when our Christmas happens, there are no fireworks, there is no parade, there’s just a baby born into poverty somewhere outside of Nazareth in a little town called Bethlehem. That baby is our king—dirty diapers and all.

He’ll grow to be like his adoptive daddy—a carpenter, with callused hands and dirt behind his ears. He’s our king, but there’s nothing royal about him. He never dons a ring or a purple robe. He hangs out with the lost, the last, the least, and the lonely-- not the found, the first, the best, or the popular. And we know that Jesus may not have been lost or lonely, but he was certainly last and least.

And they called him king as they were putting him to death. It was a joke. They were mocking him.

What we hear in today’s Gospel comes before they put him to death—Jesus is preparing his disciples, giving them instructions about what it means to Live The Gospel Life. It's all about The Essentials. The “foundation of the world”—that’s where the Kingdom is found. Not in ability, skill, awards won, degrees earned, class, salary, status, or station in life. The Kingdom is rooted in nothing fancy—just food, water, warmth, and company.

For people like us who don’t want for the basics, the Kingdom Comes when we see that our salvation is tied inextricably to Those Who Have Not. And it’s not about how much we do or what we do or how often we find ourselves doing… Rather this Gospel Work is less doing and more disposition.

We’re really good at doing things here at Saint Anne’s. Good, Gospel Things. From Kids4Peace to our beautiful prayer shawl ministry, from sweating in the kitchen to sweating in Africa, we have no problem around here expressing outwardly the grace and blessedness that we feel on the inside from having a life in Christ.

AND. Though doing all of this goodness can’t hurt, though it’s certainly a part of Living the Christian Life, it’s not the only thing that makes us Kingdom People. Transformation into The Kingdom happens far more subtly, between moments, between kicks. Transformation into The Kingdom happens when we, like the righteous, don’t even know that we’re serving Christ. When we dwell in the disposition that put us in mutual, real relationship with every single person we encounter, no matter who they are. The Kingdom happens when we see The Face of God in One Another. It might just happen swiftly, with ease and without effort. Once you see it here where community is a given, you’ll see it everywhere—even where it’s hiding. You’ll see The Kingdom in the eyes of the least of these and in the eyes of the most of these and everywhere in between. Your eyes will focus in on the basics, the things we have in common, the things that make us One. And before you know it, The Kingdom Comes.