As of the end of October I became newly retired and it’s a very interesting place to be; sort of like adolescence but with less energy and no pimples: but still with all these new beginnings, open spaces and times, possibilities for action and reflection, discipline and dedication, ending and beginning!
It feels a lot like coming to an intersection on a long road and realising there are options ahead, maybe a roundabout with numerous exits beckoning or you can even circle back and end up where you started so many years ago.
So I have been reviewing previous roundabouts, crossroads that came before: coming to the diocese five years ago, moving to Australia eight years before that, even the time when I started studying theology in Berkeley in the early 1980s: times when everything was suddenly new, amazing, questionable and wonderful all at the same time.
And so I am wondering what to do, where to go from here; which is a deeply theological/spiritual question. So this summer I am starting to write down a short overview of what I believe.
I’ve done that before. In the early 80s my spiritual director told me to write a one page single-spaced summary review of my faith once a month. This can be a great thing to do when you are living, studying and working in a seminary, but it’s a salutary exercise for anyone anytime, even at the onset of retirement, even on the Feast of Christ the King with the start of the new church year coming, because it can tell you what deserves to be in the centre, where you need to go, what turns to avoid, as well as when to head for home.
So maybe it’s a good thing today for all of us to consider; “What do I believe about God, and good and evil, life and death, love and forgiveness, justice and joy? What do they matter to me here and now?” If you take some time to think about this between now and Christmas Eve I guarantee that it will change your life.
And that’s our task today, looking through the lens of Scripture, through three thousand years of Judeo-Christian tradition and reflection, with recourse to reason, and breathing as deep as we can in the wisdom of the spirit. What does it mean to say that Jesus is Lord, Ruler, God's Word about life, that Christ is our true King?
Well, if this Jesus is King, then we can rejoice, because what the prophet Ezekiel was looking for, writing about twenty-five hundred years ago has come to be known: that the creator of heaven and earth, that the one who made it all, has, in Christ, come into the middle of the world as presence and witness and healing gift. And that is exactly what Ezekiel was looking forward to when he spoke God’s word to a people without hope, a band of forced refugees sent to exile far from home, when all their history and heart had been ripped away, and they were trying to sing the Lord’s song in a very foreign land. He wrote of this great hope in God:
As shepherds seek out their flocks when they are among their scattered sheep… I will seek out my sheep… from all the places to which they have been scattered… and I will… says the Lord God… seek the lost… bring back the strayed… bind up the injured… strengthen the weak…[and] I will feed them with justice.
Now we have some things in common with Ezekiel’s people today. The institution of the church is in a kind of exile from where we once were, and many who recall glory days in the last century — with full buildings, consistent growth, large choirs, youth groups, and a sense that we would always endure, survive and thrive, — can look around at the remnant here now and wonder what went wrong, and it can be easy to lose hope and not hear what Ezekiel is saying to all those who are in exile. We are called to be patient, to not lose heart, to feel encouraged because our hope, if Christ is King, is that the shepherd who comes from the deep heart of the whole creation continues to meet the world in the very middle of the journey, rounding any roundabout, crossing any crossroad, meeting and mending, healing and bringing back all sheep lost and found far from home in their wanderings through the various valleys of the shadow of death, by paths of righteousness, goodness and mercy all the way back to where they should be. For our hope, if Christ is King, can be that large.
Then the question comes of how we get there from here, how we hold on to that belief, which takes us to good St Paul, who in this reading from Colossians, calls us all to a graceful transformation of the heart, in faith that the spirit of Jesus, God’s Messiah, comes to dwell with anyone who can prayerfully allow that Jesus is Lord, and Paul’s prayer of faith is that:
…God… may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him… [that] with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you… the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints,…the immeasurable greatness of his power for us… in Christ…[and] the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.
So, by grace and with faith, you end up breathing something, someone in the middle, who incorporates and embodies the central point of it all which, if this is true, is compassion, love, empathy, a will to connect and a hope to heal, a heart which witnesses wholeness and happiness in the very centre of everything and anyone.
And Matthew's Gospel today speaks to that central point; that if Christ is king, then his love, his life lives in everyone, and that love longs to be found especially in the lives of those in need; so the deepest economy of the kingdom of heaven is that our response to our neighbour in need is the same as our response to the God of Glory. For Jesus says:
“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.’…‘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.’ [and, going on, if] you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ “
Just as the Beatles said so may years ago; “And in the end the love you take is equal to the love you make.” if Christ is King, is this is true, then we have a ruler who is a shepherd, a sovereign willing to serve, with every effort and each breath, willing to share the kingdom with each and everyone of us, if we too will join to share what we are and what we have as well. Then it turns out that the face of the shepherd, the love of God and the deep breath shared with the friends and followers of Christ are all woven out of the dearest threads of love. And the only question is: do we believe this, are we willing, in any real way, to take this in, carry it along, breathe this out in the various rhythms of each and all of our days?