Reign of Christ(A): How Are You Doing?
By: The Rev. Sean Ekberg
“How are you?” It’s a commonly-used filler for passers-by on the street, in supermarkets, or generally any public place. We also say it in different demographical iterations: “How y’all doin?” “How’s it goin?” (Silent nod), etc. The interesting part is that we rarely expect an answer, or really even want one. With this pandemic, these statements are even less inviting. When I’m walking down the aisle in all my masked glory, I don’t really want to stop and talk to anyone these days, so I’ve all but ceased the empty greetings extended to my fellow human. Venturing out into the world takes courage—at least for me—and the last thing I want to do, once I’ve mustered the strength to leave my house, is stop and talk to a stranger.
That isn’t me. It isn’t the way I typically interact with the world. My spouse laughingly points out that when we’re in public, I ‘run for Mayor’—I’m in the middle of as many conversations as possible, and I try and meet everyone in the room. Extroverts, you feel me… Introverts, you usually run from me, and I don’t blame you. But nowadays, I’ve become a specter of that person; I don’t want to invite conversation, I don’t want to engage. I am scared of my neighbor. I love them, but I selfishly choose to avoid them if I can.
And, to use one of the wisdom sayings of my geographic context, “That ain’t right, y’all.”
In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus isn’t necessarily giving us a checklist…a ‘If you do this, then you get that’, kind of thing. It’s more of a, “Have you checked on your fellow humans, lately?” question. What if we were to change the words of his lesson, to fit our current context? Let’s try it:
“34 Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35 for I was shut out from the world and you gave me a phone call; I was walking through the store and you greeted me—not knowing that I was on the verge of a breakdown because I was so alone; I was a stranger and you didn’t avoid me; 36 I posted a political preference and you didn’t attack me; I was afraid of getting sick and you were, too, so we shared that burden by talking; I felt like I was in prison and you sent me a note to let me know that I was still loved.’”
People are scared, right now. All people. We’re scared of COVID, we’re scared of the election season coming up, we’re scared about the economic crisis which already exists for many and looms for some, and we’re scared to be alone. It might be opportune for preachers to stand up and be a bit vulnerable in this time, with this Gospel; our people may need to hear that they’re not the only ones struggling. What if we held a conversation with our folks, allowing them to be vulnerable once we had, instead of preaching a ‘sheep and goats’ sermon? It might just be time for a wellness check.
It might be time to ask each other, “How are you doing?”…
…and actually listen to the response.
Then the ending line of that which we substituted words for, earlier, remains the same: ‘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’.
The Rev. Sean Ekberg is the Rector of Episcopal Church of the Resurrection in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. He earned a Master of Divinity from Seminary of the Southwest in 2015. His favorite pastimes are talkin’ bout Jesus, enhancing his terrible golf game, and taking vacation time with his favorite person in the world—his wife, Nicole. They have a thirteen year old pit bull named Ty. He likes Jesus, too.