‘Christ the King’ – 22nd November 2020 – Last Sunday before Advent

Image by: John Stephen Dwyer, CC BY-SA 3.0 , via Wikimedia Commons


Ephesians 1.15-end

I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love towards all the saints, and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.


Matthew 25.31-end

Jesus said, ‘When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and 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. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that 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.” Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And 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 the king will answer them, “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.” Then he will say to those at his left hand, “You that are accursed, 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.” Then they also will answer, “Lord, 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 he will answer 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.” And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.’


New Revised Standard Version Bible: Anglicized Edition, copyright © 1989, 1995 National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.

The Sermon
By Canon Dr Alan Billings

We are so familiar with this passage and so familiar with the way it is often, if not always, explained, that we can miss, as a result, many of the things that Jesus is actually saying to us – both then and now.

For instance, starting where the parable starts – with sheep and goats.

it was only when I went to the Holy Land that I realised how difficult it is to separate sheep and goats in that part of the world. Here, we have no trouble. Sheep look very different from goats. But the Palestinian sheep and the Palestinian goat look alike – with their droopy long ears.

So the first thing Jesus is saying is quite hard for us to grasp, let alone put into practice. He is saying something about how difficult it is to recognise in the here and now those who deserve to be on God’s right hand and those who will be on his left – the good and the bad. In the here and now they are often indistinguishable.

We don’t really believe that. So we have to be jolted into thinking about the truth of that. We need to pause before we start condemning others. We may not be as clever at spotting the difference as we think.

And there will be all sorts of reasons for that.

In the first place, we only see what people do, we don’t see, we can’t see, their motivation for doing it. And that may be very important.

Why did she walk out on her children all those years ago? We may be quick to judge. But we don’t know that she knew that, if she had stayed, she might well have done something to them that she would have regretted. She knew the inner compulsions. She knew how close she came on more than one occasion to hitting them with fury. So she walked away, even though it broke her heart to do so.

As God said to Samuel: “...for the Lord sees not as man sees; man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” 1 Samuel 16.7

We do not see as the Lord sees, so we ought to pause before we judge others – in the same way we might hope that others would pause before they judge us – a familiar theme in the gospel.

Jesus is also saying something else in this passage. And this too may be hard to hear.

He is not saying, I’m going to give you a list of things I want you to do in order to win the approval of our heavenly Father. This is not a check list for us to scroll down and tick off:

yes, fed the hungry – gave to a foodbank

yes, gave sustenance to the thirsty – supported the charity Water Aid

yes, took in someone stranded who needed a bed for the night

.. and so on.

The point of the list is not that we go down it and tick things off, it is only to make the point that there will be those who should have done something – not necessarily these things – but they didn’t. They didn’t because they didn’t recognise what they should have done. Their hearts, perhaps, were hearts of stone, or lacked compassion or generosity. The point is that they didn’t understand why their outward behaviour was so lacking because they didn’t acknowledge what their inner self was really like.

In the same way, those who are commended are not commended because they did what was on this list – the list could have been any number of things. They are commended for doing good in ways they didn’t know were good. They did these things because they had generous, loving and compassionate hearts, not because they followed a checklist. They didn’t know they were doing good. They were not self conscious about it at all.

So the parable is saying this. Not do the things on this list and you will be alright in the judgement. It is saying you will not know what the judgement is until you are judged because the important thing will be what you carry in your heart, what motivates you. That is what will put you on God’s right or his left. And that holds the potential to surprise us all – unless we sort our heart out.

For while man looks on the outward appearance, the Lord will look on the heart.

The Prayers
Prepared by Joe.

With thankful hearts we bring our prayers to our heavenly Father

As we celebrate the festival of Christ the King, we pray for the Church of Christ, for Bishop Pete and Bishop Sophie, our Archbishops Justin and Stephen, all here who lead us in worship and prayer, and all those whose time and talents are given to St Mary’s.
Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

We pray for all those in authority, and those who have influence in the world, that their power and influence be used compassionately for the good of all.  Bring clarity of thought and vision to those who make an implement policy. We particularly pray for a smooth and peaceful transition of power in the United States.   We pray that all decisions made are for the benefit of all people, and that they bring your Kingdom closer to all people.
Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

We pray for our community here in Walkley, and for the city of Sheffield, and for our neighbours and friends.  As we start to look towards the end of our current lockdown, remind us to behave with the good of all people in mind. Lord, we pray for those who are worried and troubled especially at this time of continuing uncertainty.  We pray for those whose health and livelihoods have been affected by Covid-19, and those who have ongoing health or emotional problems where treatments are still only partially available.
Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

We pray for the aged and infirm, and those sick in mind, body or spirit, those that need your grace and blessing. We pray that God’s power and spirit will strengthen them and bring them the healing and peace that belong to Christ’s kingdom.
Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

We pray for those close to death at this time, and those accompanying them on this final part of their Earthly journey.  We pray for those who have died, recently and in the past, and those who mourn.  We pray for those who have died without the comfort of their family around them, that they were comforted by your presence, Lord.  We pray that you give strength and love to all those close to death and caring for the dying at this time.
Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

Finally, Lord, we silently bring before you those special to us, and also those issues and concerns that we have in our own lives.
Lord, have mercy.
Christ, have mercy.

Heavenly Father, you have rescued us from the power of darkness. Help us to walk in this world as citizens of your kingdom of light where Christ reigns as King in eternal glory.

Rejoicing in the communion of Mary and of all the Saints, let us commend ourselves, and one another, and all our life, to God. Merciful Father: accept these prayers for the sake of your Son,
our Saviour, Jesus Christ.