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,

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