22 November 2020
Sermon preached by The Rev. Tammy Hobbs Miracky
Below is a DRAFT text of the homily. It may vary considerably from the recorded version. Please excuse typos and grammatical errors, and do not cite without permission.
“Already…and not yet”
Year A, Reign of Christ Sunday: Matthew 25:31-46
All Saints Parish, Brookline, MA (via livestream)
November 22, 2020
“My humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together.”
Bishop Desmond Tutu
61. 61 is a big number when it comes to pies. Today, though, a group of All Saints families will bring 61 pies to be delivered to the Brookline Food Pantry for Thanksgiving. That’s 61 families who will feel that little bit more cared for. That little bit more loved, acknowledged, recognized. 61 families who will read a card, many in the handwriting of a child, wishing them a Happy Thanksgiving. And that’s 16 families here at All Saints who will experience the warmth of connection, of offering themselves in love.
61 pies also offer a fitting illustration of today’s gospel.
This gospel passage is the very last of a series of readings we’ve been working through for several weeks now. The Gospel of Matthew is structured around a set of five discourses, or sermons, from Jesus. We are now in the fifth and final discourse. In recent weeks we’ve heard other teachings from this final discourse. “Get ready” seems to be the lesson of the foolish bridesmaids who failed to prepare for the bridegroom’s arrival. Through the parable of the talents we reflected on the importance of stretching ourselves beyond our comfort zone, of taking risks, of being “all in,” as Richard shared last week. Don’t bury your resources in the earth. Use them, use everything you’ve got for all it’s worth. Our world needs it.
And today we have the last teaching in Jesus’ last discourse, according to Matthew. In Matthew’s gospel, this is his final instruction before entering Jerusalem, sharing the Passover meal with his apostles, and being betrayed into the hands of the Romans.
In this final teaching Jesus describes a scene of judgment, of separating the sheep from the goats. The sheep on the right side, deemed righteous, blessed by the father and worthy to inherit the kingdom. The goats on the left side, cursed, doomed to eternal fire.
And how will the sheep be distinguished from the goats? How do we identify those who are blessed from those who fall short? As one theologian writes: “There is nothing in [this passage] about ecclesiastical connections or religious practices. There is not a word in this passage about theology, creeds, orthodoxies. There is only one criterion here, and that is whether or not you saw Jesus Christ in the face of the needy and whether or not you gave yourself away in love in his name.” The sheep are identified not by where they go to church, or even whether they go to church. They’re identified not by what they believe, but by material acts of love: offering food, giving drink, welcoming the stranger, caring for the sick, visiting the prisoner. Sounds a lot like 61 pies to me.
The things you learn when you dig into scripture. It turns out that ancient herding practices often had goats and sheep graze together. Who knew? As I came to learn, the sheep were more prized because of the value of their wool. The goats had thinner coats, they had to be brought in to protect them from the cold night temperatures. The goats were less resilient. They had less of what they needed to thrive in a range of circumstances.
So, thinking about sheep…and goats…and material care for “the least of these” as Matthew’s gospel describes it, if I were to draw a lesson from this last teaching of Jesus, it might go something like this: when we lose sight of Christ in others, the more like goats we become, the less we’re able to notice God calling us back into relationship; whereas the more we are connected to that presence of Christ in others, the deeper we are drawn into relationship with God, the deeper we are drawn into Love.
Hmm. We seem to have circled back to those words of Bishop Tutu with which we started today: “My humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together.”
This moment of connection between people — God lives in that moment. So when we reach out to another, we are reaching toward God.
/// As I spent the week thinking about sheep and goats, I kept being drawn back to the fact that today is Christ the King Sunday, or Reign of Christ Sunday, and I keep rolling this question around in my thoughts: what is it about this instruction from Jesus that holds a particular message for us on this day? What can we learn from this very clear direction to reach out to others in a practical, material way on this day?
I like to think about the liturgical calendar, the way we pass through the year together as the body of Christ – there is such wisdom built into it. We move through the year reminding ourselves of the story of how God, out of love, entered into human history. We begin the church year with Advent, invited into the experience of waiting for God to enter into human history to redeem all of creation, and we progress through the year to today, the end of the church year, Reign of Christ Sunday. Today we proclaim our trust in the ultimate fulfillment of God’s dream, in the reconciliation of our world to God. Today we proclaim our confidence in God’s desire to redeem this world from corruption and injustice into love. Today we celebrate the culmination of God’s work in the world. Next week, we begin anew, waiting.
But for today, we sit in the midst of these two moments, at a point that some theologians call a “hinge,” an opening between what is and what will be. A doorway of transition. Today we proclaim our trust that Christ will bring the reign of God; and next week we sit in waiting. “Already, and not yet.” God is already breaking through in history, and God’s reign has not yet been fulfilled. We live between corruption and injustice…and hope; negligence and sometimes flat out meanness…and acts of kindness; a vaccine on the horizon…and a dark winter ahead of us. While we wait, we notice that God has already broken into our world. That’s where we are – we’re at this hinge moment. And this year it feels like our liturgical calendar is vivid reflection of our world – trusting that God’s vision will come to pass and struggling as we wait.
Right now, for many of us it may feel hard to participate in God’s in-breaking, as Jesus’ last teaching so clearly demands of us. Most of us are huddled in our homes. Out of love for our neighbors and protecting ourselves, we stay apart. And yet, there are things you continue to do. Just in this month at All Saints, MANNA meals are being made, groceries are being provided to B-READY families, warm clothing is being collected and offered to unhoused people in downtown Boston, and gift cards are being provided for Crossroads families. Human connection is being made.
So, even in these really challenging times – in this already, but not yet – I believe we are called to see the ways God is breaking through. I believe we are called to seek them out. And today’s scripture reminds us that the way we participate in that happening is to reach out in material, concrete ways to form connection with other humans. You may send a note, or place a phone call, or make a conscious choice to stay at home to keep someone you love safe. Or you might bake a pie…or 2 or 10.
We see our own humanity and dignity when we connect with the humanity and dignity of each other. In that connection we find God.
“My humanity is bound up in yours, for we can only be human together.”