The Judgement of the Nations
Christ the King Sunday next before Advent
Matthew 25 31-end
‘When the Son of Man comes in his 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 another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” Then he will say to those at his left hand, “You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.” Then they also will answer, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?” Then he will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.’
Today we celebrate Christ the King until 1925 just known as Sunday next before Advent. Pope Pius X1 saw the threat to the life of the church as it was the time of the rise of communism. They had taken over Russia and the Czar had been killed along with all the priest and monks and churches were closed. He instituted the feast of Christ the King that has continued to this day.
It is also known as ‘Stir up Sunday’ and takes its name from the collect -
Stir up we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bring forth the fruit of good works, may be plenteously rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
This collect reminds us that our will and God’s will are not always in line with each other and asks for a stirring up to make it so.
The second reason it is called Stir up Sunday is the fact that this Sunday was generally when the traditional Christmas pudding or fruitcake was started. This activity of stirring-up the ingredients symbolises our hearts that must be stirred in preparation for Christ’s birth. Historically the pudding was made with thirteen ingredients, to represent Christ and his disciples, and the stirring was supposed to be done from East to West, in memory of the journey of the Magi. Every member of the family would take a turn at stirring the pudding, before it was sealed up ready for cooking, and while they stirred they made a wish, which had to be kept secret if it was to come true. Into the pudding would be stirred a few more wish-making features. A coin, ring or thimble, which would be hunted for in each portion on Christmas day.
We may feel we have had enough stirring with the current Pandemic and it resulting trauma, but once again we have one of the hard stories from Jesus, hard to explain, hard to take on board; it is uncomfortable to hear about judgement or the end times but Jesus continues to make us listen.
In the Middle East sheep and goats are almost identical to look at unless you are the shepherd. They are large brown woolly animals and the only way of telling the difference is by looking at their tails. Sheep are ‘downies’ and goats are ‘uppies’.
So it is with us –it is not clear from our looks what is happening on the inside. I am sure we have all heard it said that you don’t have to go to church to be a Christian. We all know people that live exemplary lives and do many good deeds but would never darken the door of a church. But God looks into the heart, only he knows our intention, and more to the point he knows what we have done with Jesus. Is he king in our lives or have we rejected him?
The idea of eternal punishment is no longer tenable in the 21st century, and so many of our generation have lost the sense of sin; right and wrong have blurred edges now, and very few people see the need to make recompense; We have a ‘live and let live’ culture. If we are not careful we will end up with the image of a God who is regarded as an easy-going Father who will let us get away with anything as long as we say we are sorry once a week. It is very clear from our reading this morning that we are individually accountable for our actions and our inactions. We will be judged whether we believe it or not.
Jesus is telling his disciples at the end of the age he will come back. Jesus Christ will be in his rightful place as King and there will be the final division of the sheep from the goats. With a little imagination we might be able to fill in the gaps in the parable. It might go something like this. The king looking at the goats on his left and said, “What did you do for the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the starving, the imprisoned, the elderly, the disabled, or the sick? And the goats, reply “Judge, we are good people. If you got to know us we are not bad at all. We love our wives, our children, our families; we come from a good solid family background. We have good beliefs and values; we go to church; we give money each week; Judge, we have good feelings about the poor, the starving, and the naked. We have positive feelings towards the poor and every time we see pictures of the starving, our hearts are sad.” The judge asked the question: “Yes I hear you but what did you do? And the goats reply; “Well, uhhhh, you know:” they expected the judge to be lenient, to be understanding. Then came the verdict clearly and distinctly: “Move to the left and depart from me into eternal damnation.”
Then he turned to the sheep on the right, the judge said: “What did you do?” The sheep said, “We didn’t do anything.” The king said, “Yes, you did. I was watching you. You fed the hungry, you clothed the naked, you visited the sick and imprisoned and now you shall inherit eternal life.
Do we take these parables about the final judgment seriously? Do we really expect to hear that question, “What have you done?” Most of us are too busy with life to be preoccupied meeting our maker and it is not one of the dominant themes in most of our pulpits unless you go to a service in the Church of Scotland, the ‘wee free’s’ know all about judgement!
But there will be a day of reckoning.
Jesus talked about it time and time again, just look through the gospels. We cannot have pick and mix salvation. Judgment is found through all the Old Testament prophets and through to the book of Revelation. There will be that question to face, “What did you do? And we will be either in the sheep or the goat camp; I don’t think Jesus will be interested in our religious faithfulness but he will be interested in knowing what we have done for each other.
And so we pray: Stir us up Lord, to see what you see, to respond as you would have us respond and to know you as King of our lives today and always. Amen