The Rev. Jay Lawlor
“The Least of These” – Christ the King, November 26, 2017
St. John’s Episcopal Church – Speedway, IN
How most of consume our news has changed dramatically over the years. But my parents still have the Boston Globe newspaper delivered to their house every day. In fact, they are one of the only houses in their neighborhood still receiving daily delivery of the Globe. While it is a leading newspaper with a long history, my dad will tell you that the primary reason my parents still receive the Globe in printed form is for the comics.
My dad loves the funny pages. He always has. One of my enduring memories of growing up was my dad sitting at the kitchen table, eating breakfast, and reading the comics page in the newspaper before leaving for work. In fact, no matter where you were in the house, you knew when my dad was reading the comics – his laughter would filter throughout the house.
But beyond the comics was the news of the day. And that news often reported what’s wrong with the world. Reporting which often reflects the worst aspects of human nature. You don’t need to look very far to find stories of injustice.
Today we have numerous ways to have our news delivered to us. Print media from newspapers and news magazines, the digital, online versions of those news organizations, network television, cable news channels, and even social media. We live in a world with a 24/7 news cycle. Sometimes it can feel overwhelming.
The news is important. A free press is crucial to an informed citizenry and democracy. We need to be informed of what is going on in our world. We need to know of injustice to inform our responses as people of faith called to proclaim and work for God’s justice in the world. One such area of injustice is persistent inequality both here and around the world.
The exact type of injustice Jesus calls us to transform with God’s justice. This is important because it matters what people of faith say. It matters even more what people of faith DO…to be reconciled to God and each other. And reconciliation requires a change of attitude in relationship with God and others. The concept of reconciliation is primarily relational and its being relational is rooted in conversion, forgiveness and making whole that which is broken.
Reconciliation calls us to bear one another’s burdens across the divides of culture, religion, gender, sexual orientation or identity, socio-economic status, geography, and every other barrier that humanity constructs in keeping us from being in right relationship with God, each other, and God’s creation.
Engaging reconciliation is engagement with none other than God’s Mission in the world. The mission of restoring everyone to right relationship with God, each other and all of creation. And at the heart of reconciliation – as proclaimed by all the world’s religions – is justice for the world’s poor…caring for the sick, the hungry, the homeless, and all those left vulnerable by the pride and greed of our world.
What does God say to us? How are we to respond? There are over 2,000 references to poverty in the Bible – God, obviously, has a lot to say on the matter.
The Gospel According to Matthew gives a clear message as Jesus calls his followers to feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, take care of the sick, and visit those in prison. Jesus tells his disciples that in caring for those in need we are caring for Christ himself. These passages from Matthew are also the only place where Jesus is explicitly judgmental with respect to how we respond — or don’t respond — to the needs of the poor.
Jesus is following in the great Jewish tradition of the prophets and the Jewish scriptures where the central message of the Hebrew texts is on distributive justice. This is justice rooted in communal obligation and generosity toward those in need.
Each of us are called by God to be strengthened and renewed to be sent into the world to carry out God’s Mission of reconciliation…It is mine, it is yours, it is ours together. It matters what people of faith say because we are God’s ambassadors; God’s voice on behalf of the poor and oppressed. It matters what we do because we are God’s workers. And we are called to the work of reconciliation in the world to bring an end the scourges of poverty.
The late William Temple, former Archbishop of Canterbury and on of the greatest Anglican theologians, once remarked:
It is Christ who pines when the poor are hungry; it is Christ who is repulsed when strangers are not welcome; it is Christ who suffers when rags fail to keep out the cold; it is Christ who is in the anguish in the long-drawn illness; it is Christ who waits behind the prison doors. You come upon one of those who have been broken by the tempests of life, and if you look with the eyes of Christian faith and love, he will lift a brow ‘luminous and imperial from the rags’ and you will know that you are standing before the king of kings, the Lord of lords (William Temple, Fellowship with God).
It is reaching out to those most in need that we can most clearly see the face of Christ. But we must allow ourselves to be guided by God and not the status-quo of this world.
In a Christmas sermon once preached at Washington National Cathedral, Archbishop Desmond Tutu remarked:
In [God’s] coming, in his turning an epoch to make it belong to the Lord, AD [Ano Domini] – The Year of the Lord, he proclaimed that all were God’s children, all were members of one family – this new society ruled by kingdom values: love, compassion, gentleness, caring and sharing and ruled by the ethic of family. That was truly revolutionary, truly radical. Wouldn’t it still be in our world today, if we recognized that we were sisters and brothers, members of one family?
Wouldn’t it still be in our world today if we recognized that we were sisters and brothers, members of one family? Christ our King calls to live reconciled lives in caring for the poor and oppressed. How we treat them is how we treat Christ. As Jesus has told us:
‘[F]or 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. […] ‘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.’ (Matthew 25:35-36, 40b NRSV)