Crows Nest Uniting Church
Reign of Christ • 23 Nov 2014


Ezekiel 34:11-16,20-24
Ephesians 1:15-23
Matthew 25:31-46


Rev. Chris Udy



Fred Kane is an American minister
who contributes to an email discussion group
on the lectionary readings for each week.
He tells the story
of a novelist, Robert Nathan,
approached by a younger author for advice. 
The old writer was tired
and had grown cynical
about whether his life’s work
had made any difference to the world,
so he asked the young woman
why on earth she wanted to write. 
The young author replied,
"I think that I write
in order to talk about
what I love best in the world." 
"What may that be?"  the man asked.
The young woman hesitated and blushed,
and then, in a whisper, she said "It's kindness."
 
The older man said,
"What a strange word
to find on anyone's lips these days. 
It is like a style in clothes no longer worn,
or a musty language no longer spoken. 
What can one do with such a word? 
It’s an instrument that’s lost its purpose. 
At best it’s a feeble virtue;
it has had no part in history
because history is made by force.
And yet it has a way
of returning now and then to the earth,
when one least expects it. 
The military bands stop playing for a moment
to take a breath,
the hunters pause (from slaughter
to rest) and sleep...
and there is kindness again,
nestling stubbornly in people's hearts,
speaking in a small and peaceful voice,
ready for the millennium,
(for the new age to dawn)."

(Adapted from a quote by Fred Kane - PRCL)

 
Kindness.
It seems such a gentle and fragile thing -
and it does seem old-fashioned and dated -
but nothing good can be born or live without kindness,
and when our last days come
we’ll see that what remains -
what stands the test of time -
are the places and the people
where kindness is in control.
 
Today is the last Sunday in the Church’s year -
sometimes called Christ the King,
or the Reign of Christ Sunday -
and on this final Sunday of the year, every year,
we look forward to the last days,
reading stories in the Bible
about the kingdom of God -
God’s power revealed,
God’s purpose fulfilled,
God’s judgement, God’s justice, finally delivered.
Today we heard Matthew’s version
of what that final judgement and justice will look like -
and it’s not what you might expect
if all you listen to
are shock-jock fundamentalist Christian preachers.
 
It starts with a global muster.
Jesus is seated majestically on his throne,
with all the angels of heaven hovering around him.
In front of him all the nations of the earth
are gathered together -
people from every place and every time.
Matthew says “he will separate people,
one from another
as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats,
and he will put the sheep at his right hand
and the goats at the left.”
To those on his right Jesus says
“Come, you who are blessed by my Father,
inherit the kingdom prepared for you
from the foundation of the world;
for 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.”
 
If all you listen to are fundamentalist preachers
this vision of judgement must be a worrying surprise.
It says absolutely nothing
about what prayers you said,
or the kind of music you sang,
or what books you thought were sacred.
It doesn’t mention what Church you belong to
or theology you ascribe to
or even whether you had
a saving faith and a personal relationship with Jesus.
What gets us through judgement day,
according to Matthew’s vision,
is not our religion or creed or moral standing -
it’s kindness.
“When I was hungry you gave me food;
when I was thirsty you gave me a drink,
when I was a stranger you made me feel welcome,
when I was naked you clothed me,
when I was sick you nursed me,
when I was in prison you didn’t ignore me.”
 
Kindness is what we come to
when we recognise that everyone else
is pretty much as we are:
they need what we need;
they’re moved by what moves us,
and something that would hurt us
would also hurt them.
We’re not alien - they are like us -
we are of one kind.
Kindness is what we feel
when we can imagine what it might take
to help the people around us
feel less anxious, less angry,
less isolated and fearful -
because their needs
are pretty much the same as the needs we have.
Kindness is what we do
when we look at what we have -
something to drink,
something to eat,
something to wear and a place to sleep,
people who care about us and respect us -
when we look at what we have
and see that we also have enough to share.
 
Jesus said that everything in the Law and the Prophets,
every essential direction in the Bible,
can be distilled into one idea:
“do to others
what you would have them do to you” -
and that is the practice of kindness.
So if you’re worried about judgement
and you really want to be saved - Matthew says -
then practice kindness.
 
It’s a dreadfully simple thing -
almost too simple.
Matthew’s story even says
that the people who were told
they would be blessed and rewarded by God
could not believe
that all they’d done, and all it took,
was simply to practice kindness.
“Lord,” they said,“when was it
that we saw you hungry and gave you food,
or thirsty and gave you something to drink?
When was it that we saw you a stranger
and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing?
And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison
and visited you?”
And Jesus answered “Truly I tell you,
just as you did it to one of the least
of these who are part of my family,
you did it to me.”
 
The family of Jesus
includes every child of God -
every person born is his sister or brother -
and the ‘least of these’
are those who are most in need
of food and drink,
and dignity and shelter,
and healing and forgiveness and justice.
The ‘least of these’
are the people who get ignored and overlooked
when the vested interests
arrange things for their profit and security.
 
There’s a measure called the Gini coefficient -
a name that naturally captures my attention.
The Gini coefficient compares the relative wealth
of the richest and the poorest people in a nation
and it’s very strongly associated
with a nation’s health and happiness.
Australia’s Gini co-efficient (.334 OECD average .313)
has been growing steadily since the 1990s –
that means inequality in Australia is getting worse.
It’s also getting worse more quickly
in some parts of Australia,
and in some identifiable communities
than in others.
 
Last week SBS screened
three very moving episodes of ‘First Contact’,
where six people who hadn’t had much to do
with Aboriginal people or communities
had the chance to engage with them
and see something beyond sensational media reports
and political spin.
Five of the six who signed up
found the experience illuminating and transforming;
one found it too confronting, and ran away.
But those who stayed
discovered that Aboriginal people
are pretty much like them:
loving and worried parents;
people who want to find dignity and respect
through work and community life;
people who receive pretty much
the same benefits as other Australians,
but who also carry the wounds that come
from generations of theft, neglect and abuse.
There were some excellent, positive stories
told in the program,
and some deeply inspiring people
are working very hard to make a difference –
but there was also a clear understanding
of the challenges still ahead.
Last week we learned
that while life expectancy
and child mortality rates are slowly improving,
the number of Indigenous people being jailed
and hospitalised for self-harm
have increased by 48% over the last 10 years,

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-11-19/productivity-comm-report-finds-indigenous-disadvantage-remains/5901680

and the rate at which Indigenous children
are being removed from their families
has almost doubled over the last 10 years.

http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-11-21/productivity-commission-report-shows-widening-gap-in-nsw-child-/5910000

Last week we also learned
that more than 220 aboriginal communities
in Western and South Australia –
including almost half the Aboriginal communities in WA
face closure –
that means their water and power will be turned off
and those who live there will be forced to leave –
as a result of changes
in Federal and State government funding.
Yesterday Pat Dodson observed
that those who live in those communities
will then become, effectively,
refugees in their own country,
cut off from land and culture,
and probably disbursed into
whatever other places they can find shelter.
All this in a state where Australia’s richest person
is doing all she can to keep her billions of dollars
out of the reach of even her own children.
 
Research on the Gini coefficient indicates
that when those who have much
stop seeing and responding
to the needs of those who have little,
society fragments, and disquiet escalates,
and everyone, both the poor and the rich
are losers.
 
So, to keep going with Matthew’s story:
Jesus then turned
to the second group of people gathered before him
and he said
'You, who are cursed, depart from me
into the eternal fire
prepared for the devil and his angels;
for I was hungry and you gave me no food,
I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink,
I was a stranger and you did not welcome me,
naked and you did not give me clothing,
sick and in prison and you did not visit me.'
 
Again, it’s a surprise, and a bit of a shock,
to discover why this group of people are condemned.
It isn’t because they weren’t religious -
in fact they call Jesus ‘Lord’,
so they seem to know who he is
and how to talk to him.
And just like the first group,
these people are amazed
that they weren’t in the favoured group -
after all, they’d probably been privileged
and treated carefully
all their lives -
they were probably very used
to exclusive invitations -
but now their fortune had run out.
‘Lord,’ they said,
‘when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty
or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison,
and did not take care of you?’
Then, in Matthew’s story,
Jesus answers them,
‘Truly I tell you,
just as you did not do it
to one of the least of these,
you did not do it to me.’
 
It’s kindness;
it’s treating people like family;
it’s seeing that every child of God
is our sister or our brother;
it’s not drawing a line
that says “These people here, near me,
are important enough, valuable enough,
for me to care about -
but those people there,
they’re not on my radar.”
It’s the way we treat the least,
and the lowest,
the most easily overlooked
and the most vulnerable;
it’s whether we have the courage and compassion
to see that every girl and boy,
and man and woman,
is precious to and valued by God,
even though that awareness is overwhelming -
it’s whether we see people as God does,
that makes the world of difference
between judgement and salvation.
 
Today we celebrate the vision of a world
that believes that kindness is the secret to salvation.
It’s a vision that’s built on the absolute conviction
that kindness is stubborn and resilient;
it keeps coming back to life, and to give life,
even when we thought
that it was old and tired and dead.
It’s a vision that says every child is a child of God -
a much-loved, precious, valued child of God -
and it says that every child of God
needs to be given the care, and respect, and love
we would hope for any child we love.
It also says that all of us,
every child of God,
is called to live with kindness -
not only for those we love,
and not only for each other,
but for all the other daughters and sons of God,
because it’s kindness - God’s kindness -
God’s affirmation of us as his family -
that will welcome us home
on our last day,
and where, as Matthew has it,
we will also hear Jesus say
“Come, you who are blessed by my Father,
inherit the kingdom prepared for you
from the foundation of the world,
for truly I tell you,
just as you cared
for the lowest and the least,
you also did it to me.”