Thursday, November 17, 2011

Matthew 25:31-46 - Sermon - When Did I See You?


Do you see the eyes of Christ the King?
Photo from www.edgarjd.com  

Matthew 25:31-46
When Did I See You?
11-20-11

As I explained to the kids today, this is Christ the King Sunday or as it is could be referred to, Reign of Christ Sunday.  This is the final Sunday of the Christian year and it is this Sunday, the Sunday before Thanksgiving, that we acknowledge, show gratitude and praise God for being the ruler of the entire universe.  We recognize God as the supreme leader, the head of state, the emperor, the king, whatever word you need to use to place God as the highest authority and place of power over your life and the world.  It is this day we think of God as royalty and exalt his glory and greatness.

In this 25th chapter of Matthew that may not be the first idea that comes to mind though.  So far in this chapter we have had the parable of the ten bridesmaids and told to be prepared.  Then we received the message last week that we need to use our talents to better the kingdom.  Today we talk about final judgment, the separation of sheep and goats, eternal punishment and eternal life.  This whole chapter has an eschatological notion to it.  Eschatological refers to the end times and the final judgment.  There are many preachers who lap this stuff up and preach it with great passion and vigor.  Yet, to have an honest moment, I am always a little timid preaching about the final judgment, but we will get to that in a little bit.

On this high Sunday, this Christ the King Sunday, we acknowledge who Christ is.  We receive a peek at Jesus’ glory at the beginning of the scripture.  When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory.   All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.   He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.”   It is here that we receive the picture of Jesus as the King judging the world while sitting on his throne.  Today we need to recognize and embrace the authority that Jesus has over us.  He will come to judge us.

I have seen those TV preachers who have the huge map of the End of the World predictions behind them.  I have seen the movie “Left Behind” and studied that Darbian view of End Times but now where do we usually see this section of Matthew’s gospel.  We hear a lot about Revelation and Daniel, but not much from a King who will separate the sheep from the goats.  This is because this section of scripture doesn’t feel the same as what you will find in Left Behind, but this is the scripture that scares me the most when I think of the end times and is more than I really wanted to know.[1]

When Jesus tells the crowd of 1st century Jews about separating sheep and goats they would understand.  In a sermon Ken Carter said, The parable of the great judgment separates the sheep and the goats. This was in the common experience of those who listened to Jesus: Sheep preferred fresh air at night; goats preferred warmth. At the judgment, Jesus says, the people will be separated as sheep are separated from goats. The division will be according to our actions. Have we been doers of the word? And the actions are based on a conviction that as we have done them to the people in our lives and in our world, we have done them to Jesus: "As you have done it to the least of these," Jesus says, "you have done it to me!"”  See that is a little scary.

I have told this story before in a sermon but I think it bears repeating.  “A holy man was having a conversation with the Lord one day and said, "Lord, I would like to know what Heaven and Hell are like."  The Lord led the holy man to two doors. He opened one of the doors and the
holy man looked in.  In the middle of the room was a large round table. In the middle of the
table was a large pot of stew which smelled delicious and made the holy
man's mouth water.  The people sitting around the table were thin and sickly. They appeared to
be famished. They were holding spoons with very long handles and each found it possible to reach into the pot of stew and take a spoonful, but because the handle was longer than their arms, they could not get the spoons back into their mouths.  The holy man shuddered at the sight of their misery and suffering. The Lord said, "You have seen Hell."  They went to the next room and opened the door. It was exactly the same as the first one.  There was the large round table with the large pot of stew which made the holy man's mouth water.  The people were equipped with the same long-handled spoons, but here the people were well nourished and plump, laughing and talking. The holy man said, "I don't understand."  It is simple" said the Lord, "it requires but one skill. You see, they have learned to feed each other.
[2]

The scary part of the final judgment for me is that according to this 25th chapter of Matthew we will be judged on how we cared for others.  Now as mainline Protestants we have to be careful that we do not wander into the idea of works righteousness.  This is the idea that we can earn our way to heaven.  If we work hard enough on the soup kitchen line then heaven’s doors will be opened up for us.  We still believe that faith is at the center of salvation but we do not believe in a stagnate faith either.  We have a faith of action.  The belief in what Jesus Christ has done for our lives means that we reach out to the people on the screen today.  Those who are hungry, thirsty, the stranger, imprisoned, cold, naked, and the least of these in this world.

Edward Hammett wrote an excellent book that I am reading called “Reaching People Under 40 while Keeping People over 60.”  In this book he talks about the way different generations have viewed Church.  He tells this story about his grandfather, “My granddaddy believed deeply that the Bible taught that the church existed for him.  I can’t find that anywhere in Scripture.  It took me a long time to understand that because I just assumed my granddaddy knew what he was talking about.  I finally asked him, ‘Where did you come up with that?’ ‘Oh, that’s what my daddy told me,’ he said…..My granddaddy was in this camp of equating practice and tradition with the Word of God struggle.  My granddaddy was a deacon of his little mill village church, and he would talk at our Sunday afternoon dinner table where we would eat together sometimes.  He would snap his suspenders after eating, that big old potbelly of his bumped up against the table, and he would say, ‘Well, I wonder what I’m going to get to vote no on tonight at the deacon’s meeting.’  That was how he saw his role as a deacon because he didn’t want anything to change….My granddaddy left a legacy for me that he was more interested in a church that served him than a church that reached those outside the church.  As a grandson, I have to live with that….I went to his church a year or so ago.  Granddaddy has been dead for several years, but the church invited me back to do the last service at the church.  It went out of business.  I said to that group that day, “I’m sorry my granddaddy helped kill this church.’  I really believe he did his part to set that church on a course that led to its demise because he popped his suspenders and voted no on everything….He wanted it for him, not them, and the church went out of business.”[3]

We find Jesus in two places in this parable.  We find him as the King, sitting on the throne.  He is in the place of judgment.  If we are honest we are comfortable with Jesus there.  That feels good.  Yet then he congratulates the sheep for feeding him, giving him something to drink, some clothes, and welcoming him in.  They ask, “when did we see you?” and Jesus replies, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”  Then he looks at the goats and chastises them for not feeding him, giving him something to drink, some clothes, and welcoming him in.  They ask “when did we see you?” and Jesus replies, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.” 

The scary part of the final judgment is that we are asked how we lived out our faith.  God we be pleased that we believed in him and what his Son did for us, yet we will be judged harshly if we simply came and sat in the pews.  In James’s epistle he says, “Faith without works is dead.”  Many think James is contradicting Paul’s and our belief that “a person is justified by faith apart from works prescribed by the law.” (Romans 3:28)  But the truth is James is talking about a different type of work.  When Paul states in Romans 3:28 that we are justified by faith apart from works he is talking about following the law which by his time hindered a relationship with God more than grew one.  What James is talking about when he says “Faith without works is dead,” is the same thing that Jesus uses to separate the sheep and goats.

The works James is talking about and what Jesus is looking for is acts of love.  Jesus is looking for how we live out the two greatest commandments of loving God and loving our neighbor.  The pictures of the thirsty, hungry, strangers, homeless, prisoners and others that have been up on our screen are our neighbors.  Some may live in our city, some of them our nation, but all live in our world.  This world has one King, one Ruler, and one Chief of State and that is Jesus Christ.  We are called to meet this King in the places where the least of these are.  We are called to go forth into the world and be the hands and hearts of the God we serve.

The last couple months of this Christian year have been focused on this subject.  As we move to the beginning of Advent we will also be focused on other places where United Methodist churches have reached out to the least of these in their community.  There is a story of an annual nativity play done by the mentally disabled, a family who was moved by tragedy to bring warm clothes to children half way around the world, a woman who got to know her neighbors and their needs, and how a community participated in a neighbor’s tradition for the first time.  Each week we will get a glimpse of how faith in Christ is being lived out because he is the gift that cannot be contained.

Yet that is next week.  This week we celebrate that Christ is King and reigns over our world.  He is the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords.  He is highest in his glory and yet humble in his love.  He is sitting on his throne but also on the street with the homeless.  We will meet Jesus sitting on his throne someday and he remind us that we have met him before. “When did I see you? we will ask.”   But then we will remember we met him in the eyes and souls of the least of these in our community and world.

And all God’s people said…Amen.


[3] Hammett, Edward H., Reaching People Under 40 while Keeping People over 60. Chalice Press, St Louis Missouri, 2007, p. 51-52.

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