31When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 32All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33and 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; 35for 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, 36I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.' 37Then 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? 38And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?' 40And 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.' 41Then 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; 42for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43I 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.' 44Then 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?' 45Then 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.' 46And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life."
Christ Our King
Last week we heard the parable of the talents. This parable seems to be about how we use our resources. How do we use what God has given us? As Pastor Casey pointed out at the end of his sermon, this parable can be interpreted in a different way than we often encounter.
The words of the harsh master - “Those who have will get more; those who have not will get less” - still ring in my ears. That just doesn't sound like God. It sounds like the mantra of the world. The rich get richer and the poor get poorer. Perhaps the third servant knew all to well this way of life that the master participated in and wanted nothing to do with it. Perhaps Jesus is saying “This is not how God’s kingdom works." Which brings us to today.
Today we heard what is often called the final judgement. But I am not so sure this is accurate. More like the great surprise. Everyone in the story, besides the king, is surprised. “When did we see you and act….When did we see you and not act…” Both the righteous ones and the unrighteous ones are surprised. All of this surprise gets me to thinking that there is something else going on in this parable.
There is a word missing in our translated story. It’s a small word, but has a big impact. The word in Greek is de, a word that we translate as but. It just gets left out of the story. And when we put it back in, our story sounds like this…
“But when the son of humanity comes in his glory…” That’s how our story continues. And it points out the difference between the harsh master and Jesus who is the son of humanity. When we put these stories together, as they were meant to be experienced, we get the contrast Matthew wants us to understand.
The master is harsh - reaping where he does not sow, and taking resources that are not his - that’s how our world works. But when Jesus comes there will be enough for all. The hungry will be fed, the thirsty given something to drink, the stranger welcomed, the naked clothed, the sick and imprisoned visited. All with have enough through the love of God. There will be peace and plenty.
This is the story of how God has been encountering the world. Always reaching out to those in need. It’s written into the story of the Old Testament. Our faith ancestors passed down the story of our God who walked into the darkness of slavery in Egypt and delivered a people through the waters of the Reed Sea. God is a liberator of the oppressed and a champion for justice.
This is the story of how God has been encountering the world. Always reaching out to those in need.
This morning we hear Matthew telling the same story that he has been telling all along. The presence of Christ is found in the least of these - the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the stranger, the lonely, the imprisoned. Jesus does his work in the lives of those who are in need. Jesus’ ministry takes place in the midst of the least. Jesus’ life is given in the brokenness of the world. This is what happens when the son of humanity arrives.
Jesus’ ministry takes place in the midst of the least. Jesus’ life is given in the brokenness of the world.
Matthew describes the unexpected revelation that we encounter Jesus most clearly when he takes on the brokenness of the world on it the cross. God so loves the world, loves us so fully and completely, that God chooses to identify fully and completely with us in our sin and brokenness. God meets us in our death and gives us new life. God does this though Jesus Christ in the most unexpected of places - the cross. The words of the centurion confess - “Truly this man was God’s Son.” God meets us when we are most vulnerable. And it is in the most vulnerable that we continue to meet God.
God meets us when we are most vulnerable. And it is in the most vulnerable that we continue to meet God.
The answer is all of us. God cares about all of us - the whole world - all peoples. The cross teaches us this and reminds us of who far God will go for us. But one of the lessons of this parable of surprises is that God cares about the least. The overlooked. The ones who do not have a place at the table. And it’s in their midst that we are to invest our time and resources.
Last week Pastor Casey reminded us of how we are already doing this, how we are already investing time a resources. You can listen to his words, we have recordings of our sermons online, so I will not do too much repeating here. I was struck by other thoughts as I wrestled with this story.
I do a great deal of reading about what it means to be a community of faith in our own time and place. We are in a time of great shifting in the religious landscape of our community and society. Some say the church is dying. I think we in a moment of great imagination. There is a great opportunity in our midst.
In my reading I continue to come across two reflections that invite us into a new way of thinking. The first is that we live in a hyper-individualized society. We live in a culture where it’s all about me, and “getting mine,” and “making my own way.” And we take this individual thinking to our encounter with God. So much in fact that there has developed the rather popular notion that Jesus is “my personal Lord and savior.” This is not a biblical concept. God saves all people through Jesus. It is a community that Jesus develops. It is a community that Paul works with in his ministry. When he writes his letters, it is not the “you” of our translations that pens, it is the “y’all” of a faith community. As if Paul got some of his training in Texas - “y’all, the people of Corinth,” “y’all, the body of Christ.” Its is a community of faith that we are invited into. It is a community that stands before the king in our story.
The question for us then is not about what “I will do” for the sake of the kingdom, but, “what will we do.” How will we be a communal witness to the grace of God. How will we, as Bethany Lutheran Church, in Fredericksburg, Texas, be a witness of God’s love? A great question to draw us into the future.
The other reflection I come across is that churches often define themselves by who or what they do not stand for - “we are not for this/ we are against that…” This is a very negative way to frame who we are. Our way into the future ought to be framed by who we are and marked by what we stand for as God’s people. So, for us here at BLC in FBG - what do we stand for as a people of God, as a community of faith? Let this be our guide into the future.
What do we stand for as a people of God, as a community of faith? Let this be our guide into the future.
Happy New Year.