The Pinnacle of Jesus’ Teaching: An Enlightened Heart – The Rev. Michelle Meech
November 22, 2020
A sermon preached to the online community of St. John’s Episcopal Church in Kingston, NY at the celebration of the Reign of Christ on November 22, 2020. Click here to read today’s scripture. Listen along by clicking the play button above.
I pray that the God of glory may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know God, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you…What are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints? What is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe?
This is a prayer offered, a blessing given, by Paul to the people of Ephesus: May you receive the gift of wisdom and revelation so the eyes of your heart be will be enlightened and you will know the hope that is Christ. And that Christ holds more power than any rule or authority or power or dominion, above every name that is named, now and for ever.
Today is Christ the King Sunday, or the Reign of Christ. It’s the end of our liturgical year, when we hear the pinnacle of Jesus’ teachings and we reflect on how we have come to be the church, a community gathered in the name of Jesus the Christ, Jesus the Annointed One.
Our liturgical year begins in Advent, 4 weeks before Christmas. A time to prepare for the birth of God’s power in the world, which we have come to know as Love. Love being born among us at Christmas. A love that changes the world, that shifts the world toward the Light.
In the season of Epiphany, we celebrate this Love that we receive in the form of light, and we come to know it as Light for the whole world, one that warms the world, feeds the world, nourishes the world.
Our liturgical year continues on Ash Wednesday we are reminded of our own humanity with the words ashes to ashes, dust to dust… and the season of Lent provokes us to come to terms with how far we can stray from this light and this love because we become fearful that it’s not real or that others will try to take it from us.
We learn through the story of Jesus’ torture and crucifixion that this violence is not something that just happened to Jesus back in the first century, but that humanity does this all the time through greed and oppression, through a thirst for power and through judgment and disdain for those who we believe to be lesser than we are.
And, through our penitence, we learn to see Jesus’ sacrifice as one that gives us new life because we come to recognize the violence we enact and we see that, once again, God is trying to bring us back to walk in Love. We are resurrected in Christ’s resurrection.
Then, at Pentecost, we commit to enacting this Love. We commit to being the church together to be a force for love and forgiveness in the world. And, through the long season after Pentecost, we grow in our faith as we grow in our love for one another and for the world we serve.
As this season comes to an end, as it does every November, we celebrate the gift of all the saints who have carried this truth of God’s Love through the centuries. And that the work of Love in the world will not be completed in our own lifetime, but has been given to us so that we can hand it to those who come after us.
Because, in the end, the world’s power will always come to an end, but the Love that is Christ, the love that is God incarnate, will never ever end as long as humanity continues returning to God, to the Source of Light, the creator of all, the ground of our being, as long as humanity continues serving the force of Love in this universe.
This Sunday, on which we celebrate the Reign of Christ, or Christ the King, this Sunday is a day in which we celebrate a mature faith in Christ. A faith that recognizes this power, this king-ship, is not the same as the world’s. It’s a faith that comes to us as wisdom and revelation – with the eyes of the heart enlightened – so we know what that hope is that we are called to.
This is also the time of year when we complete our reading of one Gospel – this year it’s Matthew – and we continue with another Gospel – next year it’s Mark. The following year, Luke. Then we cycle back to Matthew as the cycle begins again.
So, this is the point in Matthew’s Gospel that we come to the pinnacle of Jesus’ teachings before Matthew finishes his Gospel with the story of Jesus’ crucifixion. And Jesus’ teaching is not some hard-to-understand parable. Jesus offers a very direct, very plain statement.
This is what Paul is referring to when he talks about enlightened hearts and the hope that God is calling us to. This is what Paul is reminding us of so that we can know the riches of Christ’s glorious inheritance among the saints. So that wen may step into the greatness of Christ’s power.
In its simplest form, Jesus’ teaching comes down to this:
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.
There’s no qualifiers to this. It’s not, I was hungry and I proved that I was worthy so you gave me something to eat. It’s not, I was sick and I had the right insurance plan so you took care of me. It’s not I was a stranger but I looked like you and I acted like you so you welcomed me.
I was hungry and you gave me food. Period.
I was sick and you took care of me. Period.
I was a stranger and you welcomed me. Period.
And the people respond to Jesus saying, but wait… that wasn’t you! And Jesus says, it was me because it was the least among you. It was me because it wasn’t the powerful, the people who could do something for you in return. It was me because we are all interconnected.
There is nothing more direct, more simple than this picture that Matthew gives us today. The point of all of what we do as Christians, the absolute pinnacle of Jesus’ teachings is this: I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink.
It’s a simple thing. But it’s not easy. I’m forever trying to realize my own blind spots. To see beyond my own judgments of people. When I stop to look at that judgment, I start to realize that I judge people because I judge myself.
For example, when I think someone isn’t working hard enough, I realize it’s because I expect too much of myself and I overwork to prove my worthiness to other people. When I think someone isn’t deserving of my assistance because they don’t think like me, it’s because I go out of my way to agree with people so they will like me.
My judgment of other people is directly tied to my judgment of myself. It’s odd, in those moments, to realize that self-compassion will help me the goodness in others. Our blind spots are found in the mirror. In loving ourselves, we are better able to love our neighbor. And sometimes, in loving our neighbor, we realize that we are able to love ourselves too.
Because as I learn to stretch my heart to love and care for others, is that I have more room to truly love myself. To be truly grateful for who I am and what I have. And to let go of those things which no longer serve me, those ways in which I have been trying to gain approval, trying to gain worth, trying to be seen and be loved. When I can let go of those old needs, I find the room to welcome the stranger.
Jesus didn’t just make this up. He was schooled in the Hebrew Scriptures. He knew this passage from Ezekiel where God seeks the lost and brings back the strayed and binds up the injured and strengthens the weak. He knew this Psalm that reminds us we belong to God – a merciful God made us and we are God’s beloved sheep. He knew the words of all the prophets and understood the purpose of the law. And he taught us all that, if it’s not about love, it’s not about God.
When we stop doing violence to others, we stop doing violence to ourselves. When we begin to truly love others, we begin to truly love ourselves. This is what it means to have the eyes of an enlightened heart. We really do learn to love our neighbor as ourselves and, in so doing, love God.
The Reign of Christ, then, is something that happens in the here-and-now, in our own hearts when our perceptions shift and we lay down our burdens of power at the foot of the manger. And in the world, as we work to advocate for others and overturn systems of injustice.
You see, it’s not a king with crowns that we worship but a person who embodied God’s love so completely, so powerfully, that he was able to change the world because he showed us the truth of ourselves through his death and the power of love through his resurrection. It is God’s love incarnate that we worship and God’s love incarnate to which we offer ourselves in service.
It is to Love that we offer fealty. It is before Love that we bend our knee.
And along with all the Jewish people and the Muslim people and the Buddhist people and the Hindu people, along with all of the people of all the faiths and along with all the people who have no faith at all… it is along with all of the people of the world who also recognize the supreme power of Love, that we serve Love together.
May God give us the spirit of wisdom and revelation so that, with the eyes of our heart enlightened, we may know the hope that God has called us to in simple acts of Love.