Based on Matthew 25: 31-46
For: The Summer Spirit Congregation gathered at Knox United Church.
May the peace of Christ which passes all understanding, be with you all.
And, also with you.
Let us pray: May the words on my lips and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight this day, amen.
At a first glance, we might be tempted to think this morning’s story from scripture is about ‘end times’, “Judgment Day” or what some folk might call “The Day of the Final Exam”.
You know the day I mean?
The day we are called before God and held to account for all we’ve done and all we’ve not done.
This idea of ‘end times’ has found its way into our culture so much so that I recall my own son naming it, even at the tender age of twelve back in the 1990’s.
Not finding church compelling in the least, he offered this indictment of my involvement in the church:
“Mom,” he said vociferously one day, “You’re just using church as an insurance policy for when you die!”
Some twenty five years later, I find myself wondering where did he get this idea of being judged from?
How is it that the concept of Judgment Day happening when we die has so easily found its way into common culture?
This idea of ‘end times’ is intriguing and this story about my son’s indictment of my sense of call to life in the church is what popped into my mind on reading this morning’ s passage.
It perhaps was also at the root of what the author of Matthew’s gospel was offering his persecuted listeners-a word of hope in an unimaginably dangerous context.
What could it all mean for our listening ears here this morning?
For me, the reading does indeed speak to ‘end times’, ‘end times’ for the One whose coming turned the word upside down.
So powerful was Jesus’ impact on people as a prophet, teacher, healer, and full embodiment of God’s love, the powers that be knew his mission had to be stopped.
And, so it is, here, in the 25th chapter of the gospel according to Matthew we’re treated to the great surprise of Jesus’ final words of farewell:
His ‘end times’ speech to his listeners to be about the in-breaking of God’s vision of Shalom and to do this through the love of neighbour.
Here, Jesus reminds all who have ears to hear that it's not our needs we’re called to focus on; it’s the needs of the neighbour.
In particular, its the needs of our neighbour; the one we so often cannot or will not see: -the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the sick, the ones in prison, and the stranger.
Here, in his ‘end times’ speech, Jesus also tells us this:
In loving the last and the least in our midst, so also do we encounter the very essence of Jesus, the Christ, servant of the poor, the blind, and the lame.
He utters these prophetic words none too soon as he, himself, is about to be imprisoned, tortured, and put to a shameful death on the cross.
None too soon in Matthew’s gospel will Jesus thirst and be given sour wine.
None too soon will he be strung up naked and vulnerable on the cross, and none too soon, will he be left to die forsaken, even by his own beloved followers.
Coming back to Jesus’ last words before his incarceration, we hear again the promise of his abiding presence in the most vulnerable of our neighbours.
It will be through relationship and engagement with the last and the least, the hungry, and the thirsty, the sick, and the imprisoned, he tells us, that we will find ourselves participating in the in-breaking of God’s kingdom.
The place where the last and the least will be made to feel as welcome as the rich and the powerful and where all that has divided us will merge, where compassion will be wedded to power, and where softness will come to a world that is harsh and unkind. (a paraphrase of prayers from Reign of Christ Sunday, Celebrate God’s Presence, p. 217A Resource of Seasonal Prayers)
What a timely reading for our gathered together this day!
A community of like-minded neighbours, a community of sisters and brothers offering ministries of healing and wholeness, all under the banner of the same denomination.
Certainly, even here on the west side of Vancouver, there is no shortage of opportunity to meet and welcome the stranger face to face.
There is no shortage of opportunity to meet the risen Christ in the faces of the hungry, the thirsty, the sick, and the imprisoned.
There is no shortage of opportunity to engage with the last and the least,
even here on the west side of Vancouver.
But, what if we just can’t cross the divide?
What if it feels too risky?
What if, indeed.
Not all of us are called to come into close contact with the homeless and the hungry.
But, we are called to do something.
Indeed, some of us might feel more rightly called or suited to be about the in-breaking of God’s vision of Shalom by addressing the systemic issues underlying poverty, addiction, and homelessness.
Some of us might more rightly use our gifts to establish partnerships with those who do control the purse strings or set policy or who are already actively addressing the root causes of the growing gap between the have’s and the have-not’s right here in our community.
And, if all that feels too daunting, then look around and see who, here, in this particular gathered community of friends and neighbours. Ask yourself this: “Who might you imagine yourself building potential partnerships with for the in-breaking of God’s Kingdom."
And who knows what might happen?
Anything is possible with God!
Some scholars think Jesus’ final words in this morning’s reading dovetail well with his opening remarks in the 5th chapter of Matthew’s gospel.
Some think the instructions he gave this morning to feed the hungry and give something to drink to the thirsty are connected to The Beatitudes:
You remember those admonitions?
Blessed are the poor in Spirit for theirs is the kingdom of Heaven.
Blessed are the poor in Spirit for they will see God.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Maybe those scholars are right, maybe not.
Regardless, Jesus’ words from the 25th chapter of Matthew’s gospel speak volumes for, the privileged ones called to respond in faith to issues of hunger, homeless, poverty, and addiction.
Let us continue to reflect on the meaning of God’s word for us this day and, while we are at it, let us pray without ceasing that God’s will , will be done for the birthing of the Kingdom right here and now, this very day.
Blessed be and may it be so, amen.