Sermon: The Reign of Christ

The “Royal Family”: a sermon preached by the Reverend Trevor Jamison for Saint Columba’s United Reformed Church, North Shields, on November 22nd 2020 (The Reign of Christ the King)

(Matthew 25:31-46; Ephesians 1:15-23)

From the BBC on November 12th 2020 …

‘A “once-in-a-generation show” over a four-day bank holiday weekend will mark the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee in [June] 2022. The Queen, 94, hopes as many people as possible across the UK will have the opportunity to join the celebrations [of seventy years of her reign], Buckingham Palace said.’ https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-54911550

I don’t suppose I will be the only one who heard that announcement and wondered if  Her Majesty would be able to attend in person when we reach this celebration of her reign in 2022.

An additional Bank Holiday, announced by the government more than eighteen months in advance, tells me us the Queen is an important figure, even in this United Kingdom where for many years now it is parliament, not the monarchy, that calls the political shots. Human monarchs matter, but what can be said of them can be said of King Jesus, and in immeasurably greater terms.

In the Letter to the Ephesians, Jesus is the one God has ‘seated at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named,’ (1:21); therefore above all human monarchs and governments. Then in Jesus’s vision of the judgement of the nations, as portrayed in Matthew’s Gospel, the Son of Man is seated on a throne (25:31), acting both as king (25:34, 40) and judge (25:41, 46).

And in this Gospel vision, or parable, about sorting out sheep from the goats – sheep and goats in the Middle East look more like each other than their West European counterparts – the basis of the Son of Man’s judgement upon people is on how you treat the royal family.

We’re all acquainted with our own British royal family. Our media insists on letting us know all about them, or at least give us the impression that we know all about them, because we see the pictures and hear or read the stories they tell and write about them. If my life was put under such scrutiny, was the subject of so many tales told for public consumption, I think I might just leave the country and live somewhere else entirely.

But the House of Windsor and the royal family of Jesus are two very different entities. The nations are gathered before the Son of Man for judgement. Like a shepherd, he separates the sheep from the goats, with good news for the sheep: ‘you are blessed by my Father, [and] inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.’ (25:34) So what did they do to justify inheriting a kingdom?

When they ask, it turns out that they have inherited because they fed the hungry, give a drink to the thirsty, welcomed strangers, clothed the naked, cared for the sick, and visited prisoners. Not only that, but as far as Jesus, the Son of Man is concerned, when they did that, it was as though they were doing these very things for him. Why should the Son of Man say that? Because, ‘truly I tell you,  just as you did it for one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it for me.’ (25:40)

‘These who are members of my family’: that’s what the king says to ‘those at his right hand.’ (25:34); the king … my family. Now the family of a monarch is the royal family. And the royal family of King Jesus consists of the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the poor, the sick, and the prisoner. As I said previously, that’s different from our own British royal family. It contrasts with any other earthly royal family, or any other privileged group that our society “treats like royalty”.

And how you treat King Jesus’s royal family is the basis for judgement in this Gospel vision-parable. In Jesus’s time monarchs were also judges. Before ancient Israel had a monarchy, it had judges, like Deborah and Gideon. Once they got a monarchy, kings functioned as the highest judge – hence the story about “the judgment of Solomon”. And one function of King Jesus, who is ‘far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named’, according to the Letter to the Ephesians, is to judge all the nations of the world, ourselves included.

That’s why this sermon for the Reign of Christ carries with it a word of warning, a message of hope, and an expression of good wishes. So, first, be warned, King Jesus judges your life on the basis of how you treat his family – the hungry and the thirsty, the strangers and the poor, the sick and the prisoners. Secondly, though, take hope, because it’s King Jesus doing the judging, and he’s famously forgiving of those who fail to perform as they should all the time, including you and me.

Then finally, finally, a postscript, to express good wishes … to Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth, for her continued good health, that she might take full a part in the celebrations due in June 2022; and also, the wish that the members of Jesus’s royal family who live in our time, might have cause for celebration for themselves as well.

And really, finally, finally … a prayer.

Traditionally, as well as being known as “The Feast of Christ the King” or “The Reign of Christ”, the last Sunday before the start of Advent is also known as “Stir-up Sunday”. It’s a day for giving your Christmas cake ingredients their final stir, but the name actually derives from a prayer for this day that comes from the Church of England’s Book of Common Prayer. The prayer asks that God “stir up” God’s people to produce the fruit of good works (looking after Christ’s family), and this should lead to their judgment and reward.

So, let us pray:

Stir up, O Lord,
The wills of your faithful people;
That they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works,
May plenteously be rewarded;
Through Jesus Christ our Lord,
Amen.

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