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A Funny Sort of King

Sermon Preached at St Nicholas, Shepperton, 23/11/2008
Revd Sue Groom, Director of Deanery Licensed Ministers

Christ the King
Reading: Matthew 25:31-46

Today, on the last Sunday of the Christian year, we celebrate the Feast of Christ the King. Today, as on every Sunday, we proclaim our faith in the words of the Nicene Creed. We recite these words, ‘He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.’

Well, Christ is a funny sort of king, isn’t he? – No purple robes. No crown of gold. No legions of soldiers. No servants. No great processions and parades. No palace. No place to live.

Rather Christ claims to be poor, and hungry, and thirsty, and a stranger, and sick, and in prison. He claims to have nowhere to lay his head. He says to his disciples, ‘See all these members of my family who are homeless like me? They are me. I am them. To serve me you must serve them. When I come in glory, I will see what you are doing and whom you are serving.’ Then, at the end of Matthew’s Gospel, he says, ‘Remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.’

We tend to presume that Christ is not here with us. And that he cannot see what we are doing. But he says he is with us always, to the end of the age. He sees us. He knows what we are doing and whom we are serving. We cannot expect to wait until the last minute before his coming and then scramble to do the work we know he has sent us out to do. We cannot deceive Christ into thinking we have been doing it all along, because he never left us.

‘I am these people. The poor you will always have with you. I am with you always to the end of the age. I am the poor. They are always with you. I am always with you. I am them and they are me. Serve me through them.’ We can scramble and rearrange the words any way we like, but it always comes out the same. It is a description of what life is like in his kingdom. And we are the people of his kingdom. When we learn to serve Christ in the people around us then we are living in his kingdom and recognizing Christ as our king.

How well do you know the people around you? The people who live in, work in, or pass through this parish? How well do you know the people who live in, work in, or pass through this Deanery of Spelthorne? One of the things I look for in potential candidates for Deanery Licensed Ministry is a broad knowledge and keen awareness of their home area. Who are the hidden people, the poor, the lonely, the sick, the marginalised, the imprisoned, the needy people in Shepperton? In Ashford, Staines, Sunbury, in this Deanery? Where is Christ among you? Can you see him?

Another one of the things I look for in potential candidates for Deanery Licensed Ministry is a desire to serve God in their area. Do you have a God-given desire, a deep urge to serve Christ here? Do you care about the hidden people, the poor, the homeless, the outcast in your midst? Can you see whom you need to be serving? Can you identify gaps in the ministry of the churches in this Deanery of Spelthorne? Can you envisage reaching out in new ways to serve Christ? Do you have a passion for reaching out in traditional styles of ministry?

God calls all of his disciples to serve Christ in one another. Furthermore he equips us to do the work he calls us to do. God gives us gifts – abilities, skills, talents. Not all of us have the same gifts, but all of us have gifts which are important to God and to be used to his glory.

In potential candidates for Deanery Licensed Ministry I look for the same gifts that I look for in a potential deacon: someone who can serve in their home community; someone who can work with the fellow members of their church in searching out the poor and the weak, the sick and the lonely, the oppressed and the powerless, reaching out into the forgotten corners of the deanery, so that the love of God may be made visible.

In potential candidates for Deanery Licensed Ministry I look for the same gifts that I look for in a potential priest: someone who can be a servant and shepherd to their people, a person who can proclaim the word of God and see where God is working.

Deanery Licensed Ministry is ordained ministry. Some of us have gifts which flourish best in ordained ministry – gifts of practical service, caring, preaching, teaching, pastoring, interceding, presiding, leading worship, administering the sacraments, nurturing, encouraging, challenging, blessing… In order to help these gifts flourish, we undergo training – studying theology to help us understand the Christian faith and to equip us for proclaiming the word of God, engaging in practical placements to develop our ministry skills, and reflecting on our faith journey to learn how to sustain ourselves in ministry.

Life in the kingdom is about discerning and using our gifts to carry on the work of Christ in the world. Jesus expects to see us carrying on his work. In the words of John the Baptist, ‘Bearing fruit worthy of repentance.’ Yet, often it all seems to be just too much. There are too many hungry and poor and lonely people for us to make any difference. We certainly haven’t got those gifts and we couldn’t possible do the things I’ve mentioned.

I recently came across this interesting story about the scientist and writer, Loren Eisely:

Eisely was in the south of France, attending a scientific symposium. He woke early one morning and went for a walk along the beach. As he moved through the misty dawn he spotted a faint, far away figure. It was a youth, bending and reaching and flinging his arms, seemingly dancing on the beach. Eisely thought, ‘He’s dancing in celebration of the new day.’

As he came nearer, he realized the youth was not dancing at all, rather he was bending to sift through the debris left by the night tide, stopping now and then to pick up a starfish and then, standing up, heaving it back into the sea. He asked the youth why he was doing it. ‘The tide has washed the starfish onto the beach, and they cannot return to the sea by themselves,’ the youth replied. ‘When the sun rises, they will die. People come from the town to sell them in the market place. I throw them back into the sea so that they might live another day.’

As the youth explained, Eisely surveyed the vast expanse of beach, stretching out in both directions. Starfish littered the shore in numbers beyond calculation. The youth’s plan seemed hopeless. ‘But there are more starfish on this beach than you can ever save before the sun is up. Surely you cannot expect to make a difference?’

The youth paused to consider his words, then bent to pick up a starfish, whirled around and threw it as far as possible. Turning to the scientist he said simply, ‘I made a difference to that one,’ and he kept dancing down the
beach.

Eisely went back to his room, and the conference. All his life he had understood the coming and going of life to be part of the way of the universe. Natural selection. Until seeing the young man on the beach it had never occurred to him how important it is for one creature to help another, and how the seemingly natural order of things might be dramatically altered by the simple actions of one person.

The next morning, Eisely awoke, and again went down to the beach before dawn. There he joined the youth in the dance of life, one starfish at a time! Never before had he felt so alive and connected to our Creator God.

Whatever gifts and talents we have each been given, they are sufficient for us to do our part. Each simple action can make a difference. Christ is our king and when we learn to serve him in the people around us then we are living in his kingdom.


Acknowledgements and Bibliography
As with any sermon, various ideas come together over a period of time and it isn't always possible to retrace my steps to every source of inspiration. I am particularly indebted here, however, to the Revd Kirk Kubicek's sermon The Star Thrower, from which portions of this sermon have been adapted. I will gladly acknowledge any other sources if brought to my attention. Thank you.



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