11/26/2017 Christ the King Sunday The text is Matthew 25:31-46.
Grace and peace to you from God, our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Today is Christ the King Sunday, the day that ends the church year and a day that looks ahead to what is to come. For three of our children, today is the day in which they will participate in the Lord’s Supper and receive the bread and wine, signs of forgiveness and salvation through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. But these children also come to the table on a day in which the gospel seems to have little to do with God’s grace through Christ. Instead, the good news for the day looks ahead – to a time of judgment, a time when our king will reign supreme and our good shepherd will separate sheep from goats.
Now, Jesus rarely spoke about the final judgment, but on one occasion he did paint a picture for us in one of his stories. The parable for today gives a strong jolt to those who are heavy on doctrine but short on ethics. For, it focuses on faith in action. It makes it clear that what we believe means nothing if our words and actions are out of sync.
So as a shepherd divides the sheep from the goats, on the final judgment day, our shepherd, our king, will divide us according to our actions. Those on the right hand will be allowed entrance into the kingdom, while those on the left will be denied it. And the great surprise in the parable is that those who thought they were religious turn out to be not as good as they thought, and those who thought they failed were told they did a better job than they thought they did.
So what does this say about us and our salvation? Whether we like it or not, judgment is a fact of life. That is true whether we are talking about the histories of nations or the events of our own personal life. If we break the law, then society will judge us. If we live immorally — drink too much, engage in sexual promiscuity, live a lifestyle of constant stress — then our bodies will judge us. If we treat people poorly, then our family and friends will judge us. We simply cannot escape judgment in life.
What we do, matters! There is no getting around that. Have you taken names from the Giving Tree in order to provide a little joy to the lives of those less fortunate then you? Have you brought in food to be distributed by the local food pantry or have you simply forgotten the needs of the hungry while feasting on your Thanksgiving turkey? Have you made that phone call or sent that card to someone you know to be ill and in need of some remembrance? How about keeping them in your prayers – or have you forgotten to pray? Do you treat others with mercy and love in the way Christ has treated you?
My friends, there is no such thing as a Sunday morning Christian. God is gracious and merciful; his love compels us to treat others with mercy and kindness. When we do something for one of Christ’s little ones, we do it for Christ himself. So, we can’t be followers of Jesus for an hour on a Sunday morning and ignore the needs of others. Jesus didn’t do that. Jesus doesn’t do that to us. Jesus reaches out to those in need in tangible ways through those who follow in his footsteps. So, what we do matters!
Of course, being compassionate and caring people doesn’t mean that we open our wallets to everyone begging on the street corners. But it also means that we DON’T follow the example of the restaurant owner in the story told by Wiley Stephens (Heaven’s Audit of One’s Soul) about a hungry man who was walking down the street in a village of medieval Turkey. The man had only a piece of bread in his hand when he came to a restaurant where some meatballs were being grilled. The cooking meat was so near and the smell so delicious the man held his piece of bread over the meat to capture some of the smell. As he started to eat the bread, the angry restaurant owner seized him and took him away to see a judge.
The owner protested, “This man was stealing the smell of my meat without asking permission. I want you to make him pay me for it.” The judge thought for a moment, then held up his purse in front of the owner and shook it. “What are you doing that for?” asked the restaurant owner. The judge replied, “I am paying you. The sound of money is fair payment for the smell of food.”
The challenge when we are dealing with the least and the last is to make sure that what we are sharing with them is something that is real. Our care is to be expressed in tangible ways so that lives can begin to change. So, when someone showed up at the doors of the church looking for a tool belt so that he could begin a carpentry job, I took him to Home Depot. When a woman came asking for the clothes she needed to begin her work as a CNA, I took her to Walmart. When a man stopped in, looking for food to feed his children over a long holiday weekend, I took him to Price Chopper. These are tangible ways in which you have clothed the naked and fed the hungry through donations to Project Help. And, you have provided heat to those who were cold, and medicine to the ill, and help to those devastated by disasters by your pennies from heaven or your contributions to other projects around here. But when considering the needs of those we encounter every day, we do so little.
God is gracious and merciful and God places so many gifts in our hands. His love compels us to treat others with mercy and kindness – but not as a means to earn our way to heaven. For, my friends, we can never be good enough, faithful enough, caring enough, giving enough, to make it to the first rung of the heavenly ladder on our own.
So, yes, there will be a time of judgment based on what we have and have not done. But if we’re going to be judged, isn’t it great to know that the One who makes the final decision is the One who loved us enough to die for us? Thanks be to God that through the cross of Jesus, the gap between heaven and earth has been bridged. So instead of living by cheap grace we can become mirrors of the love and compassion we have received from God.
If we recognized Christ himself as the one who needed our help, I am sure that we would do whatever we could to provide for him. The leap of faith is to see Christ in the face of everyone we meet and to treat our neighbor as if we were providing for Jesus. We pray that the Lord help us make this leap as we live out our faith in love of neighbor – for, a compassionate heart is a reflection of the heart of God.
May we live as what we do matters and may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.