Thursday, November 17, 2011

Seeing and Serving Christ

Proper 29A

Almighty and everlasting God, whose will it is to restore all things in your well-beloved Son, the King of kings and Lord of lords: Mercifully grant that the peoples of the earth, divided and enslaved by sin, may be freed and brought together under his most gracious rule; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.
Proper 29 Collect, The Book of Common Prayer, p. 236

This last Sunday of the lectionary year focuses on Christ as King of kings and on God’s restoration of all things through Christ.  The Gospel text, Matthew 25:31-46, first identifies Christ with a king sitting on “the throne of his glory”. As Jesus describes what the king will do, however, we find Christ also identified with the people in greatest need who are most likely to be ignored, the opposite of a king seated in glory: “Just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”

The meaning of this is plain: When we see people in need and do what we can to meet their needs, we see and serve Christ. When we fail to see those in need, or see them and ignore their needs, we fail to see and serve Christ.

We know that in today’s global community, despite our access to information from all over the world, those most affected by pollution and climate change are often ignored and virtually unseen by people in other places.

Because of concern about our own water and land, Nebraskans now know about the Alberta tar sands. What many of us do not know, however, are the effects of the pollution from the mining of the tar sands on people living downstream from it. This magazine recently published a photo essay about the community of Fort Chipewyan and how the health and culture of the people there have been affected by tar sands mining.

UNICEF released a report on Monday called Children and Climate Change: Children’sVulnerabilities to Climate Change and Disaster Impacts in East Asia and the Pacific. The report describes ways in which children, because of their developing bodies and immune systems and their place in society, are particularly vulnerable to the impacts of climate change. It describes the direct impacts from storms and higher temperatures; the increase in diseases such as cholera, diarrheal disease, dengue, and malaria; and psychological, educational, and nutritional impacts of climate change. Here also, the situations described are nearly unknown and/or ignored by people in our part of the world, but the report stresses that they are very real to the children in that part of the world.

These are only two examples of situations in which we fail to see those in need or see them and ignore their needs, thus failing to see and serve Christ. Our Sunday lessons remind us that Christ is King of kings but is also identified with the poorest of the poor. To forget either – that Christ is the ultimate authority or that Christ is found among those people we easily ignore – leads us to all sorts of moral and theological error and weakens the church’s ability to serve God’s children.

This Sunday's passage from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians (Ephesians 1:15-23) says that the church is the body of Christ. If the church serves as the body of Christ, we must be about the work of reconciliation and restoration, which dovetails with the work of seeing and serving those in need.  Working towards the restoration of all things in creation, including eliminating pollution and curbing global warming, would do a lot towards making clean water, ample and healthy food, and healing available to all of God’s children. If we are the authentic church, the body of Christ, we will be about this work, seeing and serving the poorest of the poor in the name of the King of kings.

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