There's a story about a young girl who asks her mother how life came to be on the earth her mother smiled and told her the story of the Garden of Eden and how Adam and Eve’s children filled the earth. She was a smart girl she decided to ask her father the same question. Her father’s answer was a bit different, he said, “Well honey millions and millions of years ago single cell aquatic organisms crawled from a pool of slime and evolved into the people we are today.” The girl went to her mother and said, “Mom I'm confused. You tell me that God created us in the garden of Eden and dad tells me I came from a pool of slime, which one is true? Her mother said, “Oh honey that’s simple; I'm talking about my side of the family dad is talking about his.
It’s interesting how powerful the perspective and the imagery are and how far apart the two explanations seem to be. Will talk about that sort of distinction a little further into the homily. Without taking anything away from dad, you have to ask yourself, “which explanation brings us closer to an understanding of our relationship to God”? For the homily today, we’re going to stick with mom's version.
Today, in the first reading, the Prophet Ezekiel is speaking of God’s intimate actions to save and restore. “I myself” or “I will” is mentioned 10 times in the 5 verses of the first reading. The restoration of God’s people is a deeply personal and willful action on God’s part. “I myself will pasture my sheep; I myself will give them rest, I will seek out, I will bring back, I will heal…”
The 23rd Psalm serves to amplify the words of Ezekiel:
Beside restful waters he leads me; he refreshes my soul.
God guides me in right paths God spreads the table before me
God anoints my head with oil…
And from this series of deeply personal statements in the first reading and the Psalms comes a very powerful message - the source of ultimate goodness is outside-in not inside-out!
And the first two readings each bring us powerful images that tend to challenge the current world view – a world view which values independence and self-reliance (sort of inside-out) over any sort of collective identity based on recognition of a need for savior any sort of interpersonal covenant with the Divine.
One of the fundamental aspects of our covenant relationship with God is that we are gathered by God to build a kingdom. As outmoded as a ‘kingdom’ might seem for a form of civil government, it is the best descriptor in human experience for God’s government. St. Paul reminds us that, “at the end Christ hands over the kingdom to God his Father, when he has destroyed every sovereignty and every authority and power For he must reign until he has put all his enemies under his feet. Today’s celebration of Christ, King of the Universe reminds us that not only as individuals, but also as a People, we are subject to his laws. God’s laws are the binding force of all that is good. All forms of government by man are temporary, imperfect, and subject to change.
A few hundred years ago, with the backing of the British Crown, colonists settled what would become the first successful and permanent British colony at Jamestown. Yes, their motives were a mix of political, economic, and religious goals. But before they arrived there, they stopped at what is now Cape Henry and fasted and praying for several days before going ashore. When they did go ashore, the Rev. Robert Hunt stood as a representative of the King, the Church, and the people of England, and in a sacred moment, planted a cross and dedicated the new continent to the purpose of God. And with all the covenants of the Hebrew Scriptures and the New Testament as his backdrop, The Rev. Hunt said “We do hereby dedicate this Land, and ourselves, to reach the People within these shores with the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and to raise up Godly generations after us, and with these generations take the Kingdom of God to all the earth.” This is covenant language.
A few hundred years later, to form a new government the writers of the declaration of independence penned the words that would mark the point at which people of the colonies would seek to “…assume among the powers of the Earth, the separate and equal station which the laws of nature and Natures God entitle them” because of the self-evident truth “…that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights” and so this would endure, they did so “...with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine providence.” They pledged their fortunes and lives to “uphold this sacred honor.” This is covenant language.
Our founders very clearly wanted, and we (should) still want, a society that acknowledges its dependence on God and operates with an understanding of God’s fundamental truth and ultimate accountability to him. Our place in this nation seems to have has sprung from an imperfect monarchy with mixed motives of riches and righteousness but it is clearly headed (in human fits and starts) towards a perfect one. We are a kingdom moving towards completion - towards perfection - towards God. God’s kingdom is in our world now and it is the basis for a richly spiritual life on this earth and the righteousness that we have is nothing we earned – it is nothing less than a gift from Jesus to prepare us for that call toward an eternal kingdom.
In the second reading, Saint Paul skips to the ‘end of the book’ and reminds us how this eternal kingdom fully comes to pass: “when everything is subjected to him, then the Son himself will also be subjected to the one who subjected everything to him, so that God may be all in all.”
But there is a challenging message in our Gospel reading. Yes, things are progressing toward an eternity of perfect love where God is all in all. But what we do in this imperfect world - in this growing kingdom of God - makes a difference in the outcome for us. "When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit upon his glorious throne, and all the nations will be assembled before him. And he will separate them one from another, as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
Then the king will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” Just as in the first reading from Ezekiel, “As for you, my sheep, says the Lord GOD, I will judge between one sheep and another, between rams and goats.
Now listen careful to Jesus’ words in Matthew:
There are two powerful statements in the Gospel about this separation:
'Amen, I say to you, whatever you did
for one of the least brothers of mine, you did for me.’
'Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.’
By our choices we become part of a kingdom that is, as Paul Says in Romans, neither meat nor drink but righteousness and peace and joy in the Holy Spirit - a kingdom of light when humans and faulty human endeavors nevertheless dedicated to God are redeemed by God, sanctified, become part of the kingdom.
Or, we become members of another kingdom, one that glorifies meat and drink, calls human endeavor equal to God, and then says that the ensuing darkness is really light. We’ve heard in our first reading today this from the lips of Jesus that last two Gospels… There is a distinction.
So, defending the weakest of the weak – is apparently not optional but is required by the teaching of this Gospel passage. When we protect the unborn, we defend Jesus in the womb. When we feed the hungry, we feed Jesus. It is our business to pray, to fast, to speak, to act – to be what Jesus intended us to be – to be as Jesus to others in the places he is still needed most. But the challenge runs even deeper than that:
You have heard that it was said, ‘Love your neighbor’ and ‘Hate your enemy.’ But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be sons of your Father in heaven. Yes, there are people who are willing to condemn you because your politics or your religion. Condemn you, not just take issue with your beliefs. But what did Jesus say to us in Matthew 5. "It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners. Paul further says in Romans 12:20 On the contrary: "If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink. In doing this, you will heap burning coals on his head.”
May the Eucharist prepare us for the walk in the valley of the shadow and help us to bring many with us into the Kingdom of Light.