Mr Patrick Keyser
Christ Church, New Haven, Conn.
Last Sunday after Pentecost: Feast of Christ the King
November 26, 2017
“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.”
In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
It is an incredible gift and privilege to serve as one of your seminarians here at Christ Church this year. One aspect of this position that I am still getting used to is wearing a seminarian’s collar and the fact that wearing one immediately identifies me as a person linked with the Church, with religion, and with God. I’ve already had some interesting encounters, one of which happened a few weeks ago as I was preparing to go on a pastoral visit to the Saint Raphael Campus of Yale New Haven Hospital. The hospital is not too far from here, so I decided to park at Christ Church and walk the short distance to the hospital. It was a lovely fall afternoon, and as I tend to do when I am walking, I allowed my mind to wander as I began to think about tasks I needed to complete that evening and the following day. I was walking along Chapel Street in my own world until I was brought back to reality by a loud voice calling out, ‘Excuse me. Are you a pastor?’
Fear quickly set in. Not even knowing where this voice came from, I immediately thought, ‘I wonder what this person wants from me.’ In my hasty judgement I had quickly erected barriers that limited the possibility for any type of meaningful encounter. I had already pinned this person as someone who ‘needed’ something from me. I turned to find a woman approaching me. I took a deep breath and responded, ‘I’m studying to be one, yes.’ ‘That’s great’ she said. ‘Would you like to support the homeless of New Haven and buy a copy of the Elm City Echo? It has stories written by homeless members of the New Haven community, and the money goes to support the homeless.’
I immediately relaxed. I had passed individuals around New Haven several times who had asked the same question. Perhaps you have encountered them as well. I always intended to actually get a copy, but of course being a millennial who depends on paying for everything with a card, I never had cash. This day, for reasons unknown to me, I actually did have some cash. Remembering from earlier encounters that the suggested donation was $2, I pulled out my wallet and found a $1 bill and a $10 bill. Without even thinking I said, ‘Well I only have one $1 bill.’ Without missing a beat she asked me, ‘Well what about that $10?’ Feeling a bit embarrassed and caught in my own attempt to be deceptive, I decided I was perhaps clinging too closely to my money and handed over both bills. ‘I’ll even give you an extra copy to share with a friend,’ she told me. ‘Have a great day pastor!’ My new friend moved on, and I stood for a few moments on that street corner feeling certain that God was trying to teach me something. After a few moments standing on that street corner, I continued my journey to the hospital, now with two copies of the Elm City Echo in hand that I planned to explore later.
I later sat down and took the time to read through the entirety of the magazine, lingering over each story. I was immediately immersed in a world that I knew was foreign to me. Addiction, violence, sexual abuse, abandonment, and mental illness filled the pages. Each offering was a sacred gift, though. Each offering was the unique story of its author, and too many of these stories had never before been heard. One anonymous author shared some of the immense pain that had marked her life. Growing up in a dangerous neighborhood and having to deal with the separation of her parents at an early age, she writes ‘my life was drugs and violence. My life has been horrific.’ She continued by describing the tragic and senseless murder of her young son, which led her to a relapse into a life of drugs that lasted for two years. She then entered a rehab program and got clean. She wrote, ‘What caused me to leave the drug life was that I was simply sick and tired of being sick and tired. I was tired of being hungry and homeless.’ Another author shared his story in one short paragraph. ‘I would like to tell you a little bit about myself,’ he wrote. ‘I was born in New Haven…and have been through alot in my life- drugs, alcohol, and many other things…I had started using drugs when I was 23 years old. I became homeless and now I’m here trying to get housing again. I have given my life over to God. He has been good to me. Please pray for me.’
Each story was a gift and a chance for someone to be seen and known who rarely had the opportunity to be either of those things. Each story was an invitation for me to see God moving in the world in mysterious ways. As I read, I was reminded how much I had shielded myself from so much of the world from my position of comfort and isolation within a Yale institution perched on Prospect Hill. Yet, even as I read these stories and realized how far removed I felt from this world, I was also overcome by the sense that we were all caught up together in a way I didn’t fully understand and certainly couldn’t deny. I don’t know personally the pain of addiction or violence, but I experience my own sense of isolation and pain. I began to see that I was not as far removed from this world as I first thought.
Each one of us is a sacred mystery. We all carry a story, many stories in fact. Look around you. I mean it. Really take a moment and look at those sitting around you. Each one of us carries joys, sorrows, pain, loss, grief. We live in an atomized world. Though we have access to technology that can connect us in ways never before possible, many of us feel more isolated than ever. We can easily connect and communicate with friends who live on the other side of the world, yet at the same time many of us don’t know the people who live and work alongside us each and every day. We have somehow lost sight of the fact that we are all interconnected and bound together in a mysterious but real way.
Today’s gospel passage has both a message of good news and a warning for us in this regard. ‘Good news in this passage?’ you might ask at first. The reality of judgement makes many of us uncomfortable, and today’s gospel speaks directly to this reality. We proclaim it every week when we join in the Nicene Creed and say, ‘He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead, and his kingdom will have no end.’ Yet, the topic of judgement brings to mind negative feelings, often guilt and shame, for many of us. Today I would like to offer a different view and suggest that this gospel message is actually an invitation into joy.
Today’s passage from Matthew’s gospel describes this moment of judgement. Jesus, the Son of Man, will come in his glory with all the angels and will take his place on his throne of glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the peoples as a shepherd separates sheep and goats. The criterion for this judgement is very simple. Those who feed the hungry, gave a drink to the thirsty, welcomed the stranger, clothed the naked, cared for the sick, and visited prisoners will inherit the kingdom, and those who failed to do these things will be led to the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. It is both simple and frightening. There is no other factor upon which the judgment is based besides the completion of these acts of mercy. I could stand before you today and simply exhort you to do these very things: feed the hungry, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger. These are indeed good and right things to do, and we as
Christians must be serious about doing acts of mercy and justice in this world. But it would be far too easy for me to leave it at that, because this passage invites us to much more.
While this story may at first seem to be quite simple, there is another layer that rests just beneath the surface. Though it’s easy to miss at first, this story is in many ways a profoundly sad one. When the king tells the sheep at his right to come and inherit the kingdom, they ask only one question: “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food?” They had missed the point entirely. They had been serving the king all along, but they did not even know it. Likewise those to the king’s left ask only one question when he bids them to depart into the eternal fire: “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty and did not care for you?” The question hangs in the air: When, Lord?
Jesus continues and in one of the most remarkable claims of the entire story he proclaims, ‘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.’ In a mystical and mysterious way, Jesus tells us that acts of mercy and justice done to those who in need are actually works of mercy and justice done to Jesus himself. Both the sheep and the goats had missed the opportunity to serve Jesus, and in the process they missed the opportunity to experience the great joy that comes from serving God. How often do we find ourselves asking the same question: ‘When, Lord?’
Today I believe we are called to pay attention to this missed opportunity. The Christian life is fundamentally one marked by an abiding sense of joy. We are called into relationship with a God who loves us and wants us to know that love, and that is something to celebrate. That is indeed good news. Today’s gospel tells us that we can see Jesus all around us, if we only open our eyes to that possibility. We are promised that the world is dripping with opportunity to encounter the divine. This invitation calls us out of our atomized worlds in which we live as if we didn’t need others. It invites us to attend to the sacredness of each person we meet and each story we are given the gift of receiving, for each offers us the opportunity to meet our Lord.
Today we celebrate the coming of Christ’s reign as king. This king and this kingdom do not look like any we know in our world. The kingdoms of this world seek power and control, often through tyranny and repression. Our king is one who was mocked and spit upon and who died a humiliating death on a cross. This king is the one who overcame death and the grave, destroying death and opening for us the way to everlasting life. This king will come again in his glory to judge the nations. He comes to us in ways that are both familiar and comfortable and foreign and afflicting. This king comes to meet us in bread and wine day after day, and he also reveals himself through those who look and seem so different from us: the stranger, the convict, and the homeless drug addict. We meet this king in the holy sacrament of the altar and on the street corner. As we met Christ this day in the sacrament of his body and blood, I pray that we might be empowered to go forth from this holy place prepared to find him in the most unexpected places and in the most unexpected people. As we do that, I pray that we might experience the true joy that comes from serving God, and at the last that we might hear the voice of our God calling out, ‘‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.’
In the name of God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.
 “The Hood,” Elm City Echo, Issue 13
 “My Name is Maychris,” Elm City Echo, Issue 13