Sunday Homily - November 23, 2020 - The Feast of Christ the King
The Feast of Christ the King
Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24
It is the little things
Which might seem like a weird way to talk about Christ the King Sunday!
that make the biggest difference.
And this isn't just a pithy saying:
it actually is a very important spiritual stance in the Christian tradition,
and one way of expressing what is referred to as
"the little way" of St. Therese of Lisieux.
"The little way"
was discerned by St. Therese
during a particular time in Christian history
where St. Therese could sense almost palpably
the general fear that Christians had of the judgment of God.
In her own words,
St. Therese thought that Christians
lived in far too much fear of God and in the final judgment of their souls,
and that fear paralyzed them,
even in such a way that their everyday life was diminished.
Instead, St. Therese in her deep love and devotion to Jesus Christ
lived every day simply doing the little things.
The ordinary things.
But doing them with great love.
In other words,
the "little way" was a deeply ordinary way of living.
And, for St. Therese,
as a vowed monastic,
that meant doing the next thing with deep attention:
serving as a sacristan, taking care of the setting of the altar at the convent;
doing the laundry for the sisters,
serving food and doing the dishes,
and to love and serve all of the nuns in the community,
even those nuns who were most difficult to love.
But, as perhaps should be obvious,
the ordinary things that St. Therese did with such devotion
were not what we would normally call "grand" things.
In fact, we might be tempted
to not even call them particularly "holy" things that she did.
I mean, come on, what is "holy" about doing the laundry?
Or doing the dishes?
Or cleaning up the kitchen after dinner?
Yet, it is in the "little way"
that St. Therese was able to teach something about the love of God
that was so vital
that even those who were around her recognized that holiness of her life,
and it was an example of how to live "in the mean time,"
so to speak.
And a huge part of St. Therese's "little way"
is to not go looking for the grand, but to live deeply in the ordinary.
In other words, don't be constantly looking for the next big thing.
Be rooted, deeply, in where you are right now.
Because the "little way" of St. Therese didn't come from nowhere.
In fact, this particular approach to life
comes from way back in Christian history
even to the very beginning of Christian monasticism.
Rowan Williams, the former Archbishop of Canterbury,
in a lecture about the desert monastics,
noted how a big theme in the teachings of the holy women and holy men of the desert
deals with the problem of rootlessness:
a constant seeking of a better, more glorious,
more holy life,
in any place but the one in which you find yourself.
Doing the mundane things around the monastery in the Egyptian desert of the 300s A.D.
doesn't feel particularly holy.
All this ordinary stuff doesn't feel very grand.
And yet, it is exactly this feeling
that the desert monastics warn against in one's path toward holiness in Christ.
St. Syncletica, one of the great women desert monastics of the 300s,
"If you find yourself in a monastery,
do not go to another place,
for that will harm you a great deal.
Just as the bird who abandons the eggs she was sitting on
prevents them from hatching,
so the monk or the nun grows cold and their faith dies
when they go from one place to another."
[Rowan Williams. Life, Death, and Neighbors. "Staying":
Both the "little way" of St. Therese
and the problem of looking for the next big thing by going place to place,
has a common root:
we are always tempted to the fantasy of doing grand things,
doing big, important things
rather than paying attention to the small things
in the place where you are.
Which might seem like a weird way to talk about Christ the King Sunday!
After all, our celebration today is a very grand and solemn celebration,
of Jesus Christ's ultimate reign and sovereignty over all the world.
But what is sometimes missed in the midst of the truth of Christ's ultimate reign
and likewise over Christ's ultimate judgment of the world, separating the good from the evil,
is what measure that he uses
in meting out that justice.
It is none other
than the measure of the "little things."
Jesus Christ, in describing the judgment of the world,
and the separating of the sheep from the goats,
does not use a grand measure of incredible accomplishment
that would separate the good from the evil,
those who are deserving and those undeserving.
Christ doesn't measure what your net worth over the course of your lifetime was,
even if it might be billions of dollars.
He doesn't compute your grand total of righteous things weighed against your evil things,
or the major sins against your major acts of goodness,
as if it is some divine spreadsheet of judgment,
weighing your assets against your liabilities.
in this Gospel passage of the final judgment,
Jesus Christ is interested in the seemingly small and insignificant things,
the ordinary kindnesses and compassion
that end up, in reality, being eternally consequential.
When you see the hungry man sitting at the park bench,
did you feed him?
When you saw the tired teenager walking home from school in Arkansas summer heat,
did you offer her a water or a Gatorade?
When someone who doesn't speak your language moved in to the house next to you,
did you go and welcome them anyway?
When you saw the war veteran walking down the street with a tattered jacket not fit for the winter,
did you go and help him get a warmer jacket?
When you knew of someone sick,
did you give them a call or perhaps give them a visit,
or maybe make a run to Walmart for their groceries?
When you heard of someone who was arrested,
did you go to the prison to visit them?
Because what you do, or what you don't do,
for even the least of these,
you have done, or neglected to do,
to your King and Lord Himself.
The "little things" that are so ordinary,
end up being the things that, when Jesus confronts us at the end of the age,
will turn out to be the eternally consequential things by which we are judged.
And these "little things" don't exist in some exotic country,
in which you have to get up and move,
only to discover that the people of that exotic country
have many of the same spiritual, emotional, and physical needs
of the people in the community which you just left.
as Jesus Christ Our Lord shows us this morning,
and as Christ revealed in the holy wisdom given to St. Therese and St. Syncletica,
doing the ordinary actions with great attention to where you are
is in fact what will gradually grow you in the eternally important things:
the love of God in all things,
and the love of your neighbor as yourself.
Because, ultimately, as Christ Jesus teaches us,
our eternal life or eternal judgment
lies with our neighbor.
Have we been serving the least of these in Searcy
in the intense ordinariness of life?
Have we paid adequate attention
and have chosen to grow adequate roots
in the places we find ourselves in now,
rather than pining for that imaginary "other place"
where service to God is just so much easier to discern?
Have we done the dishes,
washed the laundry,
cooked the food,
with great love and attentiveness
to God's presence and power within those "little things?"
Because, as it turns out,
those "little things"
are in fact the things that will determine our eternal destiny.
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit.