Sermon by Rev. Steven McClelland on Matthew 25: 31 – 46. Focus on why we are saved by grace but judged by our actions or lack thereof toward the poor, the lonely, the hungry, the imprisoned. Check out Jody Sinkway and the Choir as they sing – Thanks Be To Thee.
I don’t think this will come as any news but the world as we know it is not working. In our society the gap between the rich and the poor is larger than any time in human history. The weather is changing dramatically and not for the better. And whether you call it global climate change or global warming it is happening. It is real. And we bear some responsibility for it.
If you consider yourself in the middle classes you are worried and anxious about the future and whether you’ll be able to take care of yourself in your retirement years. If you are young you are anxious about getting a job. And whether you are young or old there is a new loneliness and fear that is gripping this our country. You can feel it.
The world’s entire economic system is based on taking more and giving less. And Christians are not immune from this tendency but according to Jesus we will be judged for it.
I came across an article by Jim Wallis, the Publisher of Sojourners. It’s a Christian magazine dedicated to following the social dictates of scripture, of which our text is an example. And as an experiment Wallis went through the entire Bible and looked up every reference that mentioned the poor.
This is what he found. References to the poor in the Old Testament are second only to references to idolatry and a funny thing happens. The two are related. One commits idolatry by ignoring the poor. As the prophet Amos so delicately puts it: “I hate, I reject your festivals. I take no delight in your solemn assemblies. Take away from me the noise of your songs; … but let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like and ever-flowing stream.”
When we turn to the New Testament, we find that one of every sixteen verses is about the poor, in the gospels, one in ten; in Luke, one in seven. To open the Bible therefore is to be confronted by God’s concern for the poor.
If you were to cut out every reference to the poor in the Bible you would have a book that would fall apart in your hands. So what we’ve got to do today is put our Bibles back together to restore the integrity of God’s word in our lives, in our churches and in our streets. We should know by now that crying “Lord! Lord!” isn’t going to be enough. There is a test, an evaluation a judgment of how we lived our lives. What we have done and what we have not done.
And it happens in the most ordinary everyday occurrences by ordinary people like us. To this Wallis writes: “I’ll never forget a day when I came back to Washington, D.C., my hometown. And the headlines said that the issue of hunger in America had been solved. But the day after Thanksgiving the food line formed early, outside the Sojourners Neighborhood Center, our little community, just one-and-a-half miles from the White House – three hundred families standing in line to receive a bag of groceries which is critical to getting them through the week.
Just before the doors are opened and all the people come in, all those who help prepare the food get together, join hands and say a prayer. The prayer is often offered by Mary Glover. She is our best pray-er. She’s a sixty-year-old black woman who knows what it means to be poor and she knows how to pray. She prays like someone who knows to whom she is talking. She has been carrying on a conversation with her Lord for many, many years. She first thanks God for another day, ‘Another day to serve you, Lord,’ she says. On that day, I’ll never forget the words she prayed, ‘Lord, we know that you’ll be coming through this line today so, Lord, help us to treat you well.’”
Mary Glover’s prayer is the best commentary on the 25th Chapter of Matthew I have ever heard. She knows very well who it is that stands in line with the hungry or who it is that sleeps on those steam grates in Washington, D.C. She knows the meaning of Jesus’ words when He says, “I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat; I was thirsty; I was a stranger; I was naked; I was sick; I was in prison, you didn’t do anything for me.”
And the people said, “Lord, we didn’t know it was you. We would have responded had we known it was you, but we didn’t know it was you.” Jesus says to them, “As you have done it to one of the least of these, you have done it to me.”
What Mary Glover teaches me and what Matthew 25 is all about is the critical lesson of solidarity. The world is too small now for “us” and “them.” There is only “we.” We are bound together. We will either learn that or we will die. For we all share a common destiny.
I don’t know about you but I know that there’ve been times when I have been humiliated by the way I’ve acted or talked toward others. That’s why it’s so important to see ourselves as sinners, because if we don’t identify ourselves as sinners we’ll make the biggest mistake of thinking that we’re not. And when we do that we start judging others, which in turn means we are judging ourselves.
I love repentance and so should you. It’s the key that unlocks the door of humiliation and frees us to be sheep again. It’s God’s grace that let’s me admit I am wrong. God doesn’t make me callous. God doesn’t hide what he requires of us. God spells it out clearly. And claiming to be a Christian is meaningless to God if our actions say that we are not.
As a person who desires to call Jesus my Lord, this parable is sobering. For it not what I call myself that matters in the final analysis. What matters is will my actions lead Jesus to recognize me? On judgment day God will turn to the least and the lost and will ask them. “Is this someone who loved you? Is this someone who I should call my friend?”
Do you know why the sheep inherit the kingdom? It’s because they act in such an unconscious way that they don’t even know that their acts of kindness and love are being done unto Jesus. They just act that way because they know what it’s like to be in need of love and kindness. At some point in their lives they remember what it felt like to be the lost. They know how wonderful it is to have been lost and have someone find and love them.
I conclude with this: We are not called to change the world. We are called to love it in real tangible ways. And in order to love the world we must change ourselves. That’s what Jesus is all about. Amen