Sermons

 

“Extended Family Values”
Matthew 25: 31-46, by Marshall Zieman, preached at PCOC 11-26-17, Christ the King Sunday

I trust we have all survived the Thanksgiving holidays, amidst all the turkey, pumpkin pie, and coaching changes.  Did you survive your relatives?  (I know, some are still here.)  Spending time with our extended families is often wild, wonderful, and deeply satisfying, with the potential of creating a lifetime of happy memories.   In today’s passage, Jesus speaks about who makes up our families, and as he’s wont to do, gives an added twist to what we thought we knew.

So, who all makes up your family?  Hear this reading from Matthew 25, beginning in verse 31, and I invite you to turn there now with me.  Jesus, even before his death, is already speaking about his return, one day.  It describes a future day when everything and everybody gets sorted out.

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.  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.”

The Word of the Lord.  Thanks be to God.

Once again, as Matthew is wont to do, the story ends with a stark contrast; a dramatic comparison which begs the question: On that day, on which side will you find yourself?  In some of Jesus’ parables we have to translate 1st Century language and culture to the 21st Century to understand them, but in this parable, we don’t.

When those destined for eternal punishment ask the king, ‘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,’ we can picture ourselves asking just the same thing, “Lord, we’ve never seen you in need.  If we would have seen you like that we would have helped you, but we didn’t see you.” So the answer comes back, “Well, you’ve seen others in need, and if you didn’t help them, then it’s like you didn’t help me.”  Oops.

I really wish Jesus would have said something else, but he didn’t.  This story is meant to hit us right between the eyes, just as it did to the original listeners.  In this, his third and final teaching in Matthew 25, we have Jesus’ final lesson before the last events of Holy Week begin to unfold in chapter 26.

Even before his death, he’s been answering questions about his return to earth one day.  In the first part of chapter 25, he’s said that we must always be ready for his coming, even though we won’t know when it will be.  Then in the middle part, from last week, we heard that meanwhile, in his absence, we must be faithful stewards. And in today’s lesson, when he does return, there will be a final reckoning, for all people everywhere, based on this: our obedience and faithful service to Him.

From today’s passage, it’s interesting to think about just what this obedience and service should look like.  We find that it has to do with love, love for others, especially for those in need (to the have-nots), “to the least of these.”  What did you do about the poor and needy among you?  To those you saw who were hungry or thirsty – or lacking (lacking either in friends or clothing or health or freedom) what did you do about it?

In this passage, which your pew Bible especially points out, Jesus goes on to say that any of “the least of these” folks that we are to help out are to be considered more than just random poor folks, but part of the family.  In verse 40 Jesus says, ‘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.’

In our pew Bible, Jesus calls even the least of these “members of my family.”  Other Bible versions translate this phrase as “to the least of these, my brethren” or “to the least of these, my brothers and sisters” or “to any of my people” or “these followers of mine” or “my people” or “to the least of these, my true brothers and sisters.”

To Jesus, the least of these are more than just random poor strangers in need; they’re family.

Some of us are gifted in working with the poor.  I have seen you at work.  You are amazing.  You can interact with folks Siena Francis House or at Heartland Hope or a food pantry or a clothes closet.  You’ve been there and done that, and you will gladly go back and interact again.

Others of us have gifts to go visit folks in nursing homes, or hospitals, or even prisons.  (Or with other needy groups, as well - like Jr Hi kids, for that matter!)  You’ve been on the inside with any folks who find themselves in need.  That’s how Jesus defines love in this story: You Were There.

But a lot of us still don’t know if we’re gifted like this because we haven’t tried it out very often.  The way you know if you have these gifts of compassion is to go try it out.  The easy way out is to never try it and just assume you aren’t gifted that way, which some are tempted to do.  But even if you find you’re not skilled in this kind of ministry that still doesn’t let you off the hook with Jesus.

We wish he would have said something like this: “On that great day when I return I will sort everybody out.  I will put the Presbyterians on one side and all those Baptist or Methodists or Catholics on the other side.”  Or, “I will put the Midwesterners on one side, and those on the East or West Coast over there.”   Or, “I will put those who post cat photos on one side, and everybody else on the other side.”  Or, “I will put the true Husker fans on one side and the fair weather fans on the other side.”

We are only too willing and tempted to sort people into categories.  And we think we’re right.  We know best.  Especially when someone fits our stereotype.

But assuming that Jesus is right, which most of us are wont to do when we’re thinking with level heads (and on this Christ the King Sunday when we remind ourselves of Jesus’ Dominion), if Jesus is right, then the outcome of you ending up with either the sheep or the goats one day depends on how you loved others.

Because that’s one way to prove your faith is genuine.  Your faith is shown by your deeds.  Faith without works is just dead faith, said James later on.  So our challenge is to love others, in truly helpful, practical, meaningful ways.

Jesus directs us to love others who are in need – even if they don’t necessarily look like us or act like us or haven’t ended up as successful as us.  Listen to Jesus again, and see who comes to your mind, people you could help:

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.’

Then Jesus says, for me, what is truly mind boggling, and it colors everything - ‘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.’

“Those other people,” Jesus said, “they’re family.”  We think, “No, they’re not.”  Jesus says, “Yeah, they are.  They’re in my family.”  And so, we have a “guess who’s coming to dinner” moment, when our perception of “those other folks” needs to be adjusted.

I pray you’re able to make that adjustment, and the best way to do it, is not to try to do it alone.  Consider your brothers and sisters here who have made that adjustment.  They may be serving on the Mission Committee.  They may be on that big 3M email list.  You may hear them give Minutes for Mission in worship - Go with them to the places we serve.  Look around you for people in need.  Ask the Lord to soften your heart, and to expand your horizons, especially as we enter into the Season of Advent, the season of giving.

When the King returns, and like with sheep and goats this great sorting event takes place, just how well… did you love others?  Just what were… your Extended Family Values?  

Our family just went and saw A Christmas Carol for the first time at the Omaha Playhouse.  They’ve been doing it for 42 seasons, but this was the first time for us.  The change in Ebenezer Scrooge is my visual for all of this.  Not to give away the ending (which everybody knows), but the change that comes over even the meanest and stingiest one of all is what you what you wish for everyone – beginning with yourself!  You just hope it doesn’t take three Christmas ghosts to get you there!  May our obedience to Christ our King provide the incentive instead.  Let’s pray.

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