Reign of Christ Sunday/Year A November 26, 2017
Luther Memorial Church Seattle, WA
The Rev. Julie Hutson
Ezekiel 34: 11-16, 20-14 + Psalm 95: 1-7a + Ephesians 1: 15-23
Matthew 25: 31-46
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, our Rock and our Redeemer. Amen.
Earlier this month there was a front page article in the Seattle Times whose headline read “Since When Do Churches Care More About Parking Than People?” It was an article about a church in the U District that is preparing to tear down several small homes on their property, in which they currently house people who would otherwise be without homes at all. Those people are supported with services and case management from a local agency, who is working furiously to find them alternative housing. The church’s plan is to build more parking, not because they currently need it, but because they HOPE they will need it someday.
Several of you reached out to me about the article, most of you were angry, as was I, about the story. A few of you reached out to the reporter who wrote the story, and he reached out to me. He heard that we would actually be giving up some parking in order to provide housing for those at risk of or coming out of homelessness. The reporter and I emailed back and forth; he wasn’t from Seattle and he’d grown up in the church, so he absolutely understood why we’d undertake this project. “It’s what Jesus said to do.” Exactly.
But his editor needed something edgier…something sexier to justify running an alternative story. Building housing because Jesus tells you to care for others just doesn’t have the journalistic hook that will sell papers, apparently.
This project has taken a long time. In many respects that’s exactly what should happen. But your congregational council folks, past and present, will tell you that this project wasn’t our idea at all. It was the Holy Spirit, who simply would not leave us alone. Who keeps bringing God’s children to our literal doorstep day after day until we cannot look away any longer.
When we first started planning for worship today, I thought we would do what we often do on this last Sunday of the Church year: we would sing our way through the church year and hear the stories of each part of the church year in Scripture. No sermon. And we’d leave the assigned Scripture readings behind. And then I read them. The prophet Ezekiel “I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured and I will strengthen the weak, but the fat and the strong I will destroy, I will feed them with justice.”
And Jesus is even more direct: Truly I tell you , just as you did it or did not do it to one of the least of these, you did or did not do it to me.”
Beloved community, it is helpful for us to remember why we are doing what we are doing. Especially as we anticipate groundbreaking and construction and demolition in the days and weeks ahead.
Last week I attended a meeting of the Broadview Bitter Lake Community Council. The program was focused on the services needed and the services provided to serve those who struggle in our neighborhood. The North Helpline Food Bank reported that they have opened a location right here in our area, just over on Linden Avenue. They imagined when they opened that they would be supplementary to their main location in Northeast Seattle. But the Bitter Lake location has grown rapidly and is now open every Saturday. The hungry among us are many.
Mary’s Place followed North Helpline. They reminded us of this updated staggering statistic: Currently 1200 children in King County are sleeping outside. 1200 children. Mary’s Place reports that most of them are children of single mothers. They sleep under over passes, in tents, and in our neighborhood, friends, they sleep in out of the way green spaces…bushes and shrubs….where they can be hidden from the elements and those who might harm them.
And then it was Compass Housing Alliance’s turn to update the community on the housing that will soon be right beside us. The housing that we are making possible. And, as one member of the community noted, with so many hungry and so many homeless, how could anyone object to affordable housing within our midst?
Jesus said 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. 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?”
And then Jesus gets to the heart of the matter. “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.”
Dear Ones, this is messy business. I wish that I could tell you that every single person who comes to our doors searching for help is easy to deal with. That they are where they are because of bad luck. Many are. The statistic for homeless families is that most will only be homeless once in their lifetime. Most families only need that one shot at finding a new place. But they are not the only ones the Holy Spirit is bringing to our doors. We meet the addicted, those struggling with significant mental illness, the abused, and those who’ve spent time in prison. We meet those who are where they are as a direct result of decisions and choices they’ve made. And doing the right thing by them is complicated. It is.
But Ezekiel reminds us that we don’t have the luxury or the burden of judging them. God said “I will save my flock, and they shall no longer be ravaged: and I will judge between sheep and sheep.” Ezekiel uses the image of shepherds as a metaphor for kings and rulers. Those in power. And his whole point to the people of Israel and to us today is that power in the hands of the unjust ruler is a terrible thing. God expects, no God demands that those in power care for all the sheep….the scattered, lost, poor, hungry sheep. God says “Because you pushed with flank and shoulder, and butted at all the weak animals with your horns until you scattered them far and wide….I will save my flock.”
The Church, wherever it is found, is supposedly made of Jesus followers. But you’d hardly know it when we read about some of what is being said and done in Jesus name. Those who call themselves Christians are butting at the weak animals…pushing for their place at the front of the line…scattering all the rest, uncaring. Their voices are so loud in the world today. And they make the headlines. Those stories of hypocrisy are shared freely and then we wonder why congregations struggle to find ways to keep their doors open.
Our second reading for this Reign of Christ Sunday is from Paul’s letter to the Church at Ephasus. He writes: “I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers.”
With Thanksgiving Day behind us and Advent just around the bend, we are looking squarely in the eyes of what promises to be a time we have long awaited. When a parking lot will become a community of safe homes for those who are sleeping in those bushes and who the Holy Spirit will simply not let us forget. This season will, for us, begin with sounds of construction mingling with our caroling. With port a potties instead of manger scenes. But they all point to the coming of the Kingdom of Jesus Christ. This Jesus who will not let us forget that our task is to provide food and drink, shelter, and hospitality, clothing and affordable healthcare (that’s what sick and took care of me means, folks) and a way out of whatever prison people find themselves in.
So, on this day, let me borrow Paul’s words and may you hear them anew, with fresh ears….may they settle deeply in your hearts….may they sustain all of us in the days ahead when we are tempted to be grumpy about the inconvenience we are experiencing…
People of Luther Memorial….
I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus…
And your love toward all the saints…
And for this reason…..I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers.
Thanks be to God. And let the Church say…Amen.