“Now, Listen to The King!”
Matthew 25: 31-46
Sunday, November 26, 2017
Rev. Mark M. Vickers
St. Timothy’s UMC
Matthew 25:31-46New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
The Judgment of the Nations
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. 34 Then 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,[a] 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.”
Growing up in the Midwest I was a die-hard Chicago Cubs fan! Listening and watching faithfully on WGN Channel 9 out of Chicago, the voice of Harry Carry echoed through my house most weekdays after school when the Cubs had an afternoon game, and I could watch it on our little 6 inch Black and White TV.
Yet, through all of the commotion of Harry Carry singing “Take Me Out to the Ballpark,” there was a commercial that debuted during the late 1960’s and 70’s for a new up and coming financial institution. The commercial was simply a gathering of young business men around the conference room table, when a strikingly bald headed man entered the room and the room grew deathly quiet. Before the man could speak, you heard the narrator say, “When E. F. Hutton speaks, everybody listens.” It was a stark reminder to me, that people of importance should be listened to. However, at that age, I had no idea who or what E. F. Hutton was or was supposed to represent it still made me sit up and take notice.
Today, in our text we have a similar occurrence. We have the proclamation of Jesus in a Kingly fashion. It is absolutely important to understand in this text that Jesus is being compared to a King in a very important role. To me, it’s great writing! It’s great scripture, because like the E. F. Hutton commercial, it strikes a chord in people who may not have known exactly who Jesus is and was throughout his ministry, including his disciples. For the portrait of Christ as King is a fearsome one in this text.
All nations have gathered before him and behold his majesty and glory. Jesus is in one sense, the Great Shepherd here in this text as well. Tending to his sheep (or better yet the flock) he refers to them as “blessed.” Not the same “blessed” as in the beatitudes, but it conveys that a blessing is coming or has come from God. If we compare the beatitude, Jesus blesses those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake and who are reviled for their faith. Here, Jesus’ blessing of the sheep comes after his warning to the disciples that they will be hated by the ‘world’ and ‘tortured’ for their faith and his sake. Yet, it resounds with great accord that in “Christ’s kingdom, the blessed ones are those who do not retaliate with violence, but bear witness to a new empire by serving others.”
It is at this point of the Gospel story that we see that Christ has announced the arrival of God’s kingdom while he cures the sick, welcomes those despised and provided food for the hungry. In doing so, he commands us to do like wise. It becomes a bit confusing here in that it is not only Jesus’ commanding the disciples to do likewise to each other (for we often are the “least”) but to do it for and to those who have no idea who Jesus is or what Jesus brings to the table.
Keeping in mind the fact that the people who first heard this had a keen sense of what a King was supposed to do and this was radically different in the simple sense of this King, Jesus, was instructing his followers to do the work. Hence, living as a “kingdom people!”
Reminding ourselves constantly that God’s kingdom does not function like a typical kingdom. The Kingdom of God has invaded the world and is good news—especially to those on the fringes of society. As one preacher has put it, “this rule welcomes those who have no status and seeks to serve others rather than exploit them.” For it is the righteous that have inherited this kingdom. Those who claim to follow Jesus and hope to endure to the end are called to live faithfully to God’s righteous empire!
Our friend and pastor Reverend Frank Dew illustrates for us often when you are in his presence, this Kingdom that we are supposed to be about; he calls them “the least, the lost, and the left-out.” How are we, as Kingdom people, to minister and to react to them in order that we can help them see the Kingdom of God?
Early last week I was in a meeting with a group of “practical Christians” who were wrestling with this passage. We were challenged to bring it into contemporary language as we looked at the ever present culture of our time. Who are we to usher into the Kingdom of God? Some responses were; “I was addicted, and you gave me no treatment”; “I was an immigrant, and you made me stand in line”; “I lived in a rural community, and you closed my hospital”; “I was a grieving widow, and no one came to visit”; “I was depressed, and you told me ‘to get over it.’” This is only a small sample of what we came up with, what are some of yours?
I’m sure you ponder this question far more than you are ready and willing to admit. I’m sure we find ourselves on the other end of that statement far too often than we think. It is difficult to live as a Kingdom people but the good news is that we don’t have an option! We, who claim Christ as our Lord and Savior do not have an option to do anything else but to live as Kingdom People. It is sort of like eating a Lay’s Potato Chip, “you can’t eat just one!” There is something that keeps us coming back more and more in order to help bring the Kingdom alive.
My friend and mentor Stanley Hauerwas states in his commentary on Matthew these words; “The difference between followers of Jesus and those who do not know Jesus is that those who have seen Jesus no longer have any excuse to avoid ‘the least of these’.”
My friends, we don’t have an option! We don’t get to pick and choose who we want to assist and help if we are Kingdom People. Jesus, who makes this claim as King loud and clear sets the stage before us. It’s not like we have to guess, it’s not like we have to take a lottery number, it is put out before us.
Jesus in this text reminds his disciples and us that we have done this so many times, and in doing so, we did it for Jesus. But the task is becoming tougher, it is becoming clouded, the lines have been skewed and it is more difficult to see those whom we must reach out to.
Struggling to be the church is a hard job! It is the most awesome and daunting task a group of people can have before them! Enabling the Kingdom of God to come alive for people who have no clue what exists out there for them! That is our task as Kingdom people.
I’m always conscious when I give acclamation and praise for a job well done, but I can say with a clear conscience and heart that we here at St. Timothy’s are well on the way to living as Kingdom People. However, back to my Lay’s Potato Chip illustration, you just can’t do it once! You have to keep doing it.
As we approach 2018, as we approach the beginning of Advent next Sunday, the beginning of the new church year, I stand before you as your pastor challenging you to continue to live as a Kingdom People. It will take all of us. Doing our part not only to the “least, the last, and the left-out” but also to those who appear to be doing well, for each other, for those that we encounter everyday, we must usher the Kingdom of God to them! We must clothe them, visit them, feed them, welcome them, and make them feel like a part of the wonderful, glorious Kingdom of God.
As God works in wonderful ways, earlier this week I read a quote from the Right Reverend Sam Wells, the Rector for St. Martin of the Fields Anglican Church in London. He was formerly the minister to and the Dean of Duke Chapel. A man of God who has spent his life making the Kingdom of God come alive. This is what he says and I offer it to you in closing as our command for the New Year and for St. Timothy’s as we go forward. Hear his words:
“I’m trying to do something beautiful: to run a church. Every day we’re seeking to model the way Christ makes us God’s companion through fun, fellowship, sacrifice, service, prayer, and play, and to draw Christian and non-Christian, slave and free, prosperous and desperate, agile and disabled, privileged and excluded into the company of grace and glory for which the simple word is communion.
That’s what gets me out of bed in the morning: a stranger might wander in to a church cafe’, concert, homeless drop-in, or committee meeting and say, ‘This kingdom you speak of-this turning of society into community, this freedom and flourishing beyond market and state, the company of grace-what does it look like?’ And we can sweep our hand over every aspect of our life together and say, gently but truly: ‘It looks like this.’”
My prayer, my job, my humble adoration is that we here at St. Timothy’s can say, “It looks like this!” AMEN & AMEN