Monday, November 24, 2014

Sermon for November 16, 2014 Christ the King Sunday: Jesus Isn't Nice!

This sermon was preached at Christ the King Lutheran Church in Holliston, MA on November 23, 2014. 

Gospel: Matthew 25:31–46

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."
Greetings to you in the name of Jesus Christ,
Today, is Christ the King Sunday. It is the last Sunday in our Church year, and next Sunday we will start a new year with the First Sunday in Advent. So, in a sense, today is sort of like December 31st.

Now, I’d like you to do a bit of imagining. Imagine that the scene from today’s Gospel lesson from Matthew, the one with the sheep and goats being separated, has been merged into our gathering this morning. But, take a little bit of an edge off. Instead of thinking about things in terms of an “eternity” or the “devil and all his angels”, maybe Jesus could be more like a nice doctor, giving us a year end check-up.

So, there’s Jesus, with his clipboard saying:
“Pr. Mark, tell me, did you feed any hungry people this year?”
   Well, I brought some food in for our monthly ingathering, and we bought yogurt in a tube for Family Promise.

“Ok, Pr. Mark, what about getting the thirsty something to drink?”
 When I say goodnight to Charlie, I always honor his request for a drink of water.

“Alright, alright Pr. Mark, I can see where this is going, so I’ll cut to the chase. Did you visit any prisoners in the last 12 months? 24? How bout ever?” mmmm…no.

And now, I nervously wait, as Jesus finishes his evaluation, and says, “Ok, apart from the prisoner thing, you didn’t completely fail this check-up. But you know, when you show basic decency to your fellow human being, remember, you are doing it to me…. And, you say that you love me, so, I think we’re both on the same page in deciding that you could do a little better at showing me this love.” 

Phew! Since nice, Dr. Jesus is involved in this scenario, I feel like I’m off the hook, and so I say with a sincere smile, “Sure thing Doc, I’ll do better next year. Good luck with everything, and hey, watch out for Judas.”

If only. If only that is what the Bible said, if only Jesus was just a nice, miracle performing doctor, this whole faith thing would be so much easier. If only Jesus didn’t talk in a way that made it seem as if indeed, he really does have an issue with sin, suffering, and the people who cause it, the people who allow it to happen, and just sort of the sins of all people, we could have the makings of a pretty good sitcom.

But the reality is, is that on this Christ the King Sunday, on the Dec. 31st of the church year, we aren’t coming in for a check-up. We come before Jesus, our King, and he tells us the truth of the matter, and the truth is, I am a goat, and I will go on being a goat.

I am a goat because I haven’t done a very good job of feeding, clothing, welcoming, visiting, or even loving Jesus. And I know I will continue to be a goat, because when I hear Jesus say that he still loves me and calls me again and again to love him and follow him, I usually have a whole host of reasons already in place, as to why I can’t:
- My calendar is already filled up,
     -I’m going to need time to get caught up on Netflix,
  -and really, doing all of those things sounds really hard, and I don’t really want to do them. Truthfully, much of the time, I just don’t want to prioritize loving Christ.

Thankfully, Jesus loves this goat too much to give up on me. And so, instead of being nice and letting me remain wrapped up in my own comfort, self-pity, and good intentions; instead of letting this world wallow in our own sin,  Jesus continues to give me his unchanging truth, and in doing so, brings about his Heavenly Kingdom.
“Just as you have done it, or not done it, to the least of these, you have done it to me.”

Thankfully, as I despair about how big this call to love Jesus is; and how small I am, how little I can change anything, and how little I want to change anything,  Jesus hasn’t just told me the truth, but shows me. Jesus shows me the power where real transformation comes from. Jesus shows me the power of those we would call “the least of these”, the ones who have very little power in the kingdoms and empires of this world, but who hold so much in his Kingdom of Heaven, the Kingdom that is in our midst, right here and now.

Jesus has shown me the power of the so-called, “least of these” in the family I stayed with on a trip to Mexico City in 2007. This particular family welcomed my friend and I into their home, and though I spoke very little Spanish, they spoke clearly and powerfully to me. They shared with me that the Kingdom of Heaven is alive and well in this world. This family shared with me the love, abundance, joy, and hope of this Kingdom. This family shared with me their kitchen table and food, they shared with me pictures of their loved ones, they shared with me laughter, and they shared with me a room and a bed of my own. And this was a lot, considering that in their house, made of cement blocks, there was only one other bedroom, and one other bed, for the 5 of them. In the “little” they had, this family had the power to give so much.

This morning, on Christ the King Sunday, I give thanks, for the outpouring of love that those who Christ has made powerful in his Kingdom, have given to me, truly, one of the least of these. For the way they have shown me Christ’s Kingdom. I give thanks that though I am a goat, Christ the King, …Christ our King, has not punished me, but has gracefully loved and died for me, for all of us, and for all people. I’m grateful that Christ turns goats like me into sheep, so that we may share in his Kingdom, where there is not “least” and “greatest” but only sisters and brothers. May Christ continue to make us his sheep, through his powerful, unchanging word, lovingly spoken to us, by those who we’d label, “least.”

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,

Monday, November 10, 2014

Sermon for November 9, 2014: "Failing to prepare!"

This sermon was preached at Christ the King Lutheran Church in Holliston, MA on November 9, 2014. 
Gospel: Matthew 25:1–13

Then the kingdom of heaven will be like this. Ten bridesmaids took their lamps and went to meet the bridegroom.  2Five of them were foolish, and five were wise.  3When the foolish took their lamps, they took no oil with them;  4but the wise took flasks of oil with their lamps.  5As the bridegroom was delayed, all of them became drowsy and slept.  6But at midnight there was a shout, 'Look! Here is the bridegroom! Come out to meet him.'  7Then all those bridesmaids got up and trimmed their lamps.  8The foolish said to the wise, 'Give us some of your oil, for our lamps are going out.'  9But the wise replied, 'No! there will not be enough for you and for us; you had better go to the dealers and buy some for yourselves.'  10And while they went to buy it, the bridegroom came, and those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut.  11Later the other bridesmaids came also, saying, 'Lord, lord, open to us.'  12But he replied, 'Truly I tell you, I do not know you.'  13Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.

Greetings to you in the name of Jesus Christ,

Over the last 4 weeks, we’ve been wrestling with the question, “what is a steward?” Well, the short summation of those last 4 weeks is that we are stewards. We are stewards of God’s creation, and are given this duty out of love, and though we aren’t perfect at it, God continues to call us to take care of what God has made, including ourselves and each other.

Indeed, we’ve all been made Stewards, and we’ve been wrestling with this question as we prepare for our Consecration Sunday next week, a time when we will make financial commitments, or pledges to be used by God, through our lives together at Christ the King.

As we lead up to the 16th, we’ve been making various other preparations, apart from simply asking the question, “What is a Steward?” The Stewardship Board has hosted an adult forum, which has raised some very good discussion about our call to Stewardship. In addition, pledge packets have been put together and mailed out, and I am sure that having read your November Newsletter, you’ve seen the pieces in it regarding Stewardship.

It is a good thing to undergo preparations such as this. And it’s not just the Boy Scouts that tell say so. As we read in our Gospel lesson for today, about the 10 Bridesmaids, 5 of whom are prepared and 5 who are not, Jesus tells us that preparation is truly a wise thing.

But, I will be forward with you, as I read this lesson, and prayed over it, it wasn’t Jesus’ image who came to mind. It was my good friend, Paul Darda, who often said to me the line “Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.”… But, if I’m going to give you the real image, it would be Paul’s way of saying it, which was usually a version of how he thought Tom Cruise might say it in a movie.

There is Paul trying to speak authoritatively, usually to a hypothetical group of High School students, (he’s a teacher.) “Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.”

Then there’s exasperated Paul, speaking usually to me after my lack of planning had led us into misadventure of some sort or another. “Failing to prepare, is preparing to fail.”

And so, this, is the point, I hear from Jesus today, coming through the person of Paul Darda, in the manner of Tom Cruise. “Failing to prepare is preparing to fail.”

This morning, as we hear Jesus tell this parable of the Bridesmaids, and we discern our own calling to be Stewards, we hear this parable tell us to prepare, by bringing our oil with us.

Now, this is not literal oil, as the church’s heat runs on gas…but one way to view the oil of this parable, is that it is God’s truth, it is the word of God that has been given to us in Jesus and the pages of scripture. To be prepared, we bring this truth to guide our thoughts, prayers, conversations, and decisions.

And, the truth that scripture tells us about giving is that the minimum is 10% of what we have, this is what is commonly called “tithing.” And, as we hear this truth, it is also important, to know the truth of where we are by that standard. The truth is, that as a congregation, according to our CAT survey, our giving equals 1.68% of our average household income.

Now, if we are like the foolish bridesmaids, we can speak our human truth, and come up with all the reasons about why 10% is an impossible number. In other words, we can leave the oil of God’s truth out of our preparations. And, if we do so, if we disregard God’s truth, like the foolish, we won’t have any oil, we won’t be quite as prepared when the bridegroom comes. And, instead of joyously awaiting Jesus’ presence among us, we will be filled with worry and anxiety, scurrying about, to raise more money, not for mission and growth, but just to keep the lights on. And, if we don’t prepare with God’s oil, if we don’t hear not only it’s call to tithe, but also hopeful truth about the abundance we have been given, we will simply never, ever have enough.

On the other hand, we can prepare simply by bringing the oil of God’s truth with us. We can wisely acknowledge that God has called us to grow in our generosity, and that tithing, or giving 10% is not for God’s good, or even for the good of the church, but for our own good. As we ponder our own call to generosity, we can seek to hold the oil of God’s truth up and ask God to light our lamps with it.

And the Good News, is that when we hold God’s truth up to our lives, when we allow it to light up our lives, it’s not about seeing where we are failures. If 10% is a seemingly overwhelming and impossible number, God’s truth isn’t here to shame or punish us, it is here to show us grace, love, and possibility. God’s truth is here to illumine our paths, and help us to grow and develop in our calling not only to be stewards, but to be baptized Children of God, and to be the body of Christ for the world, together.

We hold up God’s truth, so that we may receive God’s grace. We hold up God’s truth so that we may see even though “we fail to prepare” all the time, and thus “prepare to fail,” God continues to prepare a table in our presence, and gives to us the truth of Jesus Christ’s body and blood, given and shed for each of us.

As we seek to discern God’s work and presence, and our calling to be stewards, may we hold fast to the oil, the truth of God’s eternal love and life for us, so that we may bear Christ’s light for each other, and for all of creation.

In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit,