Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
November 26th, 2017
Matthew 25: 31-46
“Hear now the words of Jesus, as contained in the gospel of Matthew, chapter 25, verses 31 thru 46.”
31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33 and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 34Then 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 hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me,
36 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.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 40 And the king will answer them, ‘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.’ 41 Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; 42 for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
“Let us now open our hearts and our minds as we consider what Jesus was trying to pass on to us modern Christians, from this powerfully written parable.”
“Offer Merciful Hospitality!”
This Sunday places us into that in-between-times. We have passed through the week of thankfulness for the abundance of our harvest, and we now stand on the doorstep, which shall take us into our season of Advent. The invitation to move forward is in front of us. It shall lead us to the dawn of yet another Christmas season, where we shall be reminded of the birth of the Christ Child! Let us pray, that we have gleaned a proper understanding of the teachings of the man Jesus, as he dedicated his life to bringing us closer to the true will of God. Let us also pray that the season of Thanksgiving will permeate in our hearts as together, we willingly begin to decorate our sanctuary for our annual celebration of the birth of the boy child, Jesus, the Son of God and the Son of Humankind! With these thoughts in our minds, let us take a closer look at this last parable of Jesus, as found in the gospel according to Matthew.
This scripture, attributed to the teachings of Jesus, is the last in our series of lessons surrounding what heaven is like and whom shall enter in. Today’s lesson, consequently, is meant to expand our understanding of what those whom are invited to enter shall be like. Most scholars consider this writing a parable, yet it is more than that. This writing is also “an explanation of the former parables,” /Matthew Henry’s Commentary/ of which we have been viewing these last few Sundays. Many would consider this a preview or a warning of what the last judgement shall be like. Perhaps, yet, it seems more ‘Christ Like’ to begin by relying on our sense of faith and our understanding of grace, based on whom Christ Jesus represents in our journeys of faith. With this thought in mind, it seems more plausible that Jesus, is clearly striving to make it clear what he expects his disciples, his followers, to be like. Simply stated, those whom follow the teachings of Jesus, are meant to take time to get to know those around themselves. That’s right, let’s get to know our neighbors… all of them! Also, it is expected that we shall share with others the abundance of that which we have. This whole concept is really quite easy to understand. Jesus, simply expects us to follow his lead! The parable itself, of course, casts us as sheep and goats, as we stand before God on the last day of judgement. It is our Heavenly God whom shall separate us, one from another. Very, harsh and disconcerting to be sure, if we were to take the parable literally! Therefore, we need to take some time to ascertain what the depth of this parable is meant to convey to us, regarding the realm of heaven itself!
It has been said: “In church on Sunday, or at the cricket, we will be a motley bunch; ‘an assorted gathering’. There’ll be folk like my grandma who always worried, a little bit, that grandpa might not make it into heaven. And some of us will worry that perhaps we will not be among the sheep.” /Andrew Prior/ The author of this reference to those whom skip church, to go play “cricket”, surely is of a different ‘taste’ than those of us who might skip a Sunday School class, or two, to get out to the beach, or play a simple round of golf or tennis. Yet, the implications are the same. If we have a loved one, or a friend or neighbor even, whom goes to the beach on Sunday mornings, more often than they go to church, we may be concerned about their relationship with God. And conversely, we may be concerned about ourselves. Have you and I, have we truly been reaching out to those around us when we can? Or, are we too preoccupied with our own little world of priorities and activities to notice or check on those whom are within our circle of the community, in which we do live? Perhaps the widow down the street may need a bit of a helping hand? Have you stopped by to see how she is doing? Or the single mom you keep running into walking her dog… as she pushes her baby carriage; maybe she could use a friendly node and an offer to lend a hand now and then. Surely, that would be more ‘Christian’ than gossiping behind her back, about how unruly her other two children have become. Ask yourself, now and then, what would Jesus do?
As one scholar suggests regarding our scripture reading this morning; “It should be noted: A real, personal service of Christ is implied, one involving some sacrifice of ease, time and property.” /B.W. Johnson/ It certainly does make one pause for a moment and consider how Jesus might respond to the needs of others, if he were me or you. Would it not? One point or perspective of our reading leaves us with a deeper awareness of the importance of our choices and decisions, which, ultimately, we make each day as we live in the present time. Karoline Lewis says it this way:
“At the end of the day, …. how we decide to live matters.” Another author writes this: “Specifically, those of us who call ourselves Christians should feel some inner nudging to use our holiday gratitude and thankfulness as motivation to seek out and serve the disinherited, dispossessed, and disenfranchised in our society.” /Billy Honor/ We have just passed though our annual Thanksgiving observance as Americans. If we are truly grateful, as Christians, will we keep the needs of others on our Christmas shopping list? Those of us who where out shopping on this past Friday, did we buy any gifts for folks whom will not be able to buy any for their family and friends?
Fr. Rick Morley puts it like this: “Jesus is talking about a manner of living here, … a life that’s driven by an authentic love.” What does this mean and what does this look like? This is the question which our parable drives us to consider! We are called to offer merciful hospitality to our family and our friends, as-well-as our neighbors and the strangers we meet, at every turn of life… as we live out our day. We are also expected to offer hospitality to the men, women and children, sitting next to us during our times of worship. Our parable today is pointing us to ‘illuminate’ that which Jesus is so clearly pushing us to understand! Do we truly appreciate what it means to be a Christian? Do we grasp and are we able to fully absorb and thereby come to value, that which Jesus believes Christian people are to act like!
This is not a thesis about Christian doctrine which clarifies what it takes to be saved? We already know we are saved by God’s grace through faith. Grace and faith come before our good works! We are not saved because of our good works! However, within each of these parables, wherein Jesus has discussed this whole ‘concept’ of what ‘type’ of folks will end up in heaven, has been primarily a discussion about how ‘saved’ folks ought to live their lives! These lessons have meant to be tools of instruction by the Master himself! The Great Teacher is driving home this lesson through today’s parable. It clearly matters how we live our lives as people of God. If we are truly people of faith, believing that we have been welcomed into the family of God, then we ought to be willing, or become willing, to do some of the work which Christ has clearly laid out for us! At the very least, we must take on the attitude of willingness, and become willing to give it our best! Thereby, doing all that we are capable of doing!
As we close out these series of reflections, it is important to always remember: our God loves us! The entire story of Jesus, where he came from, what he taught, as-well-as his sacrifice on our behalf, illuminates our understanding of God’s love for each one of us. With this in mind, we need to be reassured that God’s grace has been bestowed upon you and me, and our faith is key to this relationship with the Devine. If we continue to trust in God’s Love, perhaps we will have the willingness to continue our trust in each other. Trust, is the basic ingredient which holds churches like ours together. Today, we are called upon to put our faith in one another as we commit ourselves to continue supporting this our church. I trust that we shall all do what we are capable of doing. We must trust that the Living Spirit of God through Christ, will be with us every step of the way. Let us allow our faith to grow and grow. Amen.