Christ the King, November 26, 3017, Year A
Ezekiel 34.11-16, 20-24; Psalm 95.1-7a; Ephesians 1.15-23; Matthew 25.31-46
Pastor Renee Splichal Larson
Grace and peace to you from the One we find in love and service to our neighbor, Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.
To begin I’m going to quote Sister Kathleen, a Benedictine nun. If she were in our pulpit this morning she would say that our Gospel reading can be summed up in one sentence. She would say, “I don’t know how Jesus said it in Aramaic, but I’m pretty sure the English translation of what Jesus is saying in Matthew 25 is: “Just do it, darn it.” Earlier year this week she used a different 4 letter word I don’t feel comfortable using from the pulpit so I’ll let you use your imagination.
Matthew 25 is a call to action. We are to hear it and to ask ourselves the question: Am I seeing the people in need around me? And, what am I doing to meet their need?
If you feel convicted when hearing this Gospel reading, good, let it convict you. If you are feeling like you may be a goat and will be sent to eternal punishment, that’s not so good. You do not have the power to judge your own self. That is reserved for Jesus.
Instead, let Jesus’ words light a fire underneath you, let them open your eyes to the most vulnerable, and let them move you to caring for those around you as Jesus would have us do.
Matthew 25 can be used as more of a diagnostic tool in our lives rather than a scare tactic. It holds a mirror up to us, shining a light on how we are doing at feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, giving drink to the thirsty, welcoming the stranger, and visiting the sick and those in prison.
The incredible good news of what Jesus is saying is that you and I can encounter him in this world here and now. Jesus is not just far off in heaven and we are simply waiting for him to return. No. Jesus tells us that we meet him every day in the people who are hungry and thirsty, and in people who are sick and in prison.
Sometimes it’s easy to picture ourselves as the one who feeds hungry people, or someone who welcomes a stranger. But what about if you are on the receiving end? What does that feel like? And how do you and I experience Jesus and his presence through others who minister to us?
I’ll give you one example of each in my own life. One happened just a few days ago when I had the chance to feed hungry people. Since the emergency shelter has closed people who are homeless have been coming now for a couple weeks to Ministry on the Margins at 5:30pm. Each person has a conversation with people from United Way or Missouri Valley Coalition for the Homeless and are given a hotel voucher to get off the streets for a night.
I was there on Wednesday night and had some extra pizza. There were only 8 pieces, not nearly enough to feed everyone. I thought about just going home, but that Jesus, he just gets in my head and heart. “Feed those who are hungry.” Fine, Jesus.
I cut the pieces in half and I had just enough for everyone to take one piece. People were very grateful. Only one complained that it was cold. Some people certainly smelled as if they have been on the street for a while, some also reeked of alcohol.
Jesus said, “Feed the hungry.” I think what he means when he says this is: “I don’t care if people are smelly or drunk or could have worked but didn’t. They are hungry. Give them pizza.”
On the website for the Missouri Valley Coalition for the Homeless it reads: “Our job is not to judge. Our job is not to decide who is deserving. Our job is to lift the fallen, to restore the broken, to heal the hurting.”
In other words: “Just do it, darn it.”
Now what if we are on the receiving end?
Many of you know I was in the earthquake in Haiti and somehow am alive to tell about it. I remember when I was in a vacant lot with many other Haitian people who survived. My mouth was so dry and full of concrete dust. I was thirsty. A Haitian man came up to me with a jug of water and said, “Here, take a drink. If you need anything just let me know.”
That long night, shaking and in shock, lying on the ground, I couldn’t get warm. A group of a few women and some children saw me and without a word they gave me one of their precious sheets to wrap up in.
The next few days at the embassy, I had no food. Someone came up to me and gave me a corn tortilla with peanut butter on it and said, “Eat.”
It is amazing to me that even in the most devastating of circumstances, I felt the presence of Christ with me through the ministering of other people. And I can assure you, they were not giving me water and food, or a sheet because they thought they were serving Jesus. They did it because they saw my need and met it.
A person by the name of John Buchanan, writes this: “Jesus said, God is here, in the messiness and ambiguity of human life. God is here, particularly in your neighbor, the one who needs you. You want to see the face of God? Look into the face of one of the least of these, the vulnerable, the weak, the children (Feasting on the Word, Year A, vol. 4, p. 334).”
It’s not easy for me to share either of these stories with you. The first one because I don’t share it to communicate how great I am because I fed some people, but it can maybe come off that way. The second one is not easy for me because it’s not fun to be vulnerable.
I think part of what Matthew 25 does for us is remind us that we are all human beings, creatures who need basic necessities to live. And it’s supposed to bother us if someone else doesn’t have these basic things. So, just do, darn it.
I came across this poem that was written in 1970 by a man named Steven Allen May. It is a reflection on Matthew 25 and titled, Where were you when I needed you.
I was hungry and you formed a humanities club to discuss my hunger.
I was imprisoned and you crept off quietly to your chapel and prayed for my release.
I was naked and in your mind you debated the morality of my appearance.
I was sick and you knelt and thanked God for your health.
I was homeless and you preached to me of the spiritual shelter of God.
I was lonely and you left me alone to pray for me.
You seemed so holy, so close to God
But I’m still very hungry, and lonely, and cold …
We do ourselves and our neighbors a dis-service when we spend our time being occupied with whether or not we are doing everything right or worrying about where we are headed after we die.
Jesus invites us to open our eyes and see the needs in the world. He blesses us in order that we may share what we have. He gives us his Spirit in order that we may have the courage to walk into a room where someone is dying.
Each one of us can’t do everything. As one person, I can feed someone who is hungry, but I may not be able to visit someone who is sick. As the body of Christ, together we can do what Jesus asks of us.
God’s kingdom reigns here on earth through deeds of love, mercy, & compassion. God’s kingdom reigns in you when you feed the hungry, clothe the naked, give water to the thirsty, welcome the stranger, and visit those who are sick and in prison. When Christ comes again, you will inherit the kingdom because it is already alive and at work in you.
And so, my brothers and sisters, just do it, darn it.