Dear Working Preachers, Matthew has been a good homiletical companion this past year. Perhaps, the very Gospel we needed to preach for and into a world so deeply bound by hypocrisy; into a world so deeply subjugated by embedded bigotry; a world so deeply dominated by power gone horribly awry.
Yet, Dear Working Preachers, if I am honest, Matthew has been a difficult homiletical companion this year. I have tried to put aside its judgment. I have wrestled with its demand for righteousness. I have resisted its accountability. And so, I have had to ask myself, why? Why do I avoid judgment? Why am I uncertain about righteousness? Why do I find myself uncomfortable with accountability?
I have changed this past year. Perhaps you have seen it. In fact, I know you have. Some of you have changed along with me. Some of you have reluctantly accompanied me into homiletical territories unfamiliar and unknown. Some of you have questioned me, wondering if I have abandoned a sense of homiletical hope or encouragement. And some of you have said I have lost my way, too caught up in politics, too strident in my claims about justice, too insistent that our actions matter for bringing about the Kingdom of Heaven, too heavily bent toward social causes rather than the truth of the Gospel.
You have also told me some hard truths. You have been relentless about a vision of justice that seems, well, utopian, almost as if you believed that the Kingdom of Heaven might really come about. You have nudged and then urged me into a kind of speech that has most surely secured enemies at best and haters at worst. And in the end, maybe together, especially on the Sunday that marks our belief in, our commitment to, and our fight for the reign of Christ, we have realized that preaching means deciding what is at stake for us. Whether we will persist in bringing about the Beatitudes or whether we will stand idly by and explain our complacency and compliance with an insistence on dead theologies decided long ago.
Perhaps you are relieved by the end of Year A. Up until a few weeks ago, I could hardly wait for the Second Gospel’s Advent. But then, things kept happening — like women willing to name the pain of years imprisoned by the shame and blame of sexual harassment. Like mental illness being labeled as the culprit for our decision to choose the right to carry guns over the right to life. Like LGBTQIA students taking the vulnerable step of marking Transgender Day of Remembrance. Yes, I could keep going. But you see my point, I hope. I have come around to Matthew. Big time.
And so, there is no better text to end the Year of Matthew, no better text to read on Reign of Christ Sunday in Year A, than this, “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.’”
Why is this passage apropos for this Sunday? Because Jesus’ says to us, “if you do not see or experience the reign of Christ in your life, before you cast culpability elsewhere, you better first examine yourself.” If you have to ask Jesus, “when was it…?” you are not paying attention. Furthermore, if you have to ask Jesus, “when was it…?” you really do not believe that your actions make a difference for moving Christ’s reign to its fullest expression and presence.
“When was it?” is never a question for those who are certain of God’s sovereignty and God’s activity in this world, even though all evidence points to the contrary.
“When was it?” is never a question for those who are convinced that the commission to be the salt of the earth and the light of the world is no mere euphemistic claim.
“When was it?” is never a question for those committed to, “go therefore and make disciples.”
No, “when was it?” is the question of those who no more believe in the reign of Christ than in Christ’s life, death, and resurrection. “When was it?” is the question of those who preach on this Sunday and search for something to say, anything to say, so as to mask their own disbelief. “When was it?” is the question of those hopeful for a different Jesus to justify their behavior.
Dear Working Preachers, thank you for walking alongside me, preaching alongside me, interpreting texts alongside me, in a year where the very Gospel itself has been at stake. Thank you for listening to me as I try to believe in my own voice, not just for the sake of myself, but for the sake of authentic dialogue with you, when so many are hell-bent on silencing voices that are simply “too much” to hear. Thank you for reading and for listening, for your willingness to struggle with me. We cannot do this alone, which Matthew has indeed taught us — “where two are three are gathered” is God’s promise to us and Immanuel is God’s very being among us. God’s reign is here. Don’t forget.