First Reading Ezekiel 34.11-16,20-24
“This is what the Sovereign LORD says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness. I will bring them out from the nations and gather them from the countries, and I will bring them into their own land. I will pasture them on the mountains of Israel, in the ravines and in all the settlements in the land. I will tend them in a good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel will be their grazing land. There they will lie down in good grazing land, and there they will feed in a rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. I myself will tend my sheep and make them lie down, declares the Sovereign LORD. I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice.
“Therefore this is what the Sovereign LORD says to them: See, I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. Because you shove with flank and shoulder, butting all the weak sheep with your horns until you have driven them away, I will save my flock, and they will no longer be plundered. I will judge between one sheep and another. I will place over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he will tend them; he will tend them and be their shepherd. I the LORD will be their God, and my servant David will be prince among them. I the LORD have spoken.”
Gospel Matthew 25.31-46
Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord.
Peace in heaven and glory in the highest heaven.
Hear the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ according to N.
All Glory to you, O Lord.
Jesus said: “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put 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; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
“The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’
“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
“They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
“He will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’
“Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”
This is the Gospel of the Lord.
All Praise to you, O Christ.
Luke Woollard is about to be baptized. The words we use are as up to date as we can make them. But still they have a very ancient flavour. Baptism is a joyful occasion, and there are words of welcome and joy. It’s not a naming ceremony, but still we give thanks for Luke’s safe arrival and make promises to care for him and start him on his journey through life.
As Luke is not of age to answer for himself, his parents and god parents make promises on his behalf. Luke can then choose to confirm those promises if he wishes when he is of an age to do so. Meantime, his friends and family are asked to protect him from evil and live their lives in such a way as to give Luke a good example to follow. The wording is ancient, but the promises timeless.
So, whilst baptism is a time of rejoicing, there is a dark side to life which we must all acknowledge. We see it all around us. And it would be wrong if we did not make mention of the bad things as well as the good when we welcome Luke into membership of the Church, which is the body of Christ.
Today in the church’s calendar is called Christ the King. It’s the last Sunday in the church’s year. Advent starts next week. During Advent, we look forward to the coming of Jesus, born at Christmas.
Just as there is a serious intention in our baptismal service, so on the feast of Christ the King we see a different side to Jesus and the implications of right and wrong, of love and neglect, of selfishness and selflessness. Much of what is in the gospels is about love. Jesus, as God incarnate – God in bodily form – at the end of times will be the judge, and we will all have to account for the way we have lived our lives.
Matthew 24 and 25 concern the end of the age. Christ the King is asked about what signs there will be to herald the end of time. The day and the hour are unknown, he replies. Only God knows. So we must be ready. We must keep watch, for none of us can tell when we will be called to account.
Jesus uses the example of sheep and goats. The good and righteous are separated from the bad. He tells the bad that they have neglected him. They have not fed Jesus when he was hungry. They have not taken care of him when he was destitute. They did not visit him in prison. They did not offer him a glass of water when he was parched.
When was this? They ask indignantly. The answer come back that when they did not take care of the underprivileged and needy here on earth, they were neglecting Christ himself. Because we, as Christians, must see the face of Jesus himself in all humanity, and act accordingly. Giving when there is need. Making personal sacrifices to help others. Feeding the world’s hungry, and selflessly doing good.
It’s such a clear and simple message, yet it comes with a sting in the tail. That’s the message of Christ the King. So it’s appropriate that we adopt this lifestyle and accept this faith for ourselves, so we can impart it to Luke as he grows up. Every week, I see him changing. Getting bigger and stronger. Doing more for himself. It’s a pleasure and a joy for me to watch all the Church Mice as they progress from one step to the next.
Every baptism we attend offers the chance for us all to restate our own baptism vows. Let us affirm the service says together with the one who is being baptized our common faith in Jesus Christ. As we come to that part of today’s service, let’s make it count. Not as witnesses of an event taking place in front of our eyes. But as participants and supporters, who each rededicate ourselves to that way of living which Jesus describes in Matthew 25.
Where else can I finish, but with the words of Christ the King:
‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’ Amen