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Matthew 25:31-46

The Beauty of the Bride - Called to Mission


Sermon preached November 2, 2014
Opening
One of my favorite recent cartoons - Have you found Jesus? Look closely now...
Well, if you were interested in finding Jesus, where WOULD you look?
Scene from text
Our reading looks ahead to a time when everyone will find Jesus - or be found by him -
the scene of Last Judgment.
This scripture is the last teaching of Jesus public ministry in Matthew. It comes within a
larger body of teaching about eschatology - whats going to happen at the end of the
world. Earlier, Jesus warned his hearers to be alert, to keep watch, to be ready for his
return while we wait for him to come back - and in this teaching Jesus tells us what were
supposed to do while we watch and wait - he gives ethical shape to the time of waiting.
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In this scene, the time of waiting is over - Jesus Christ has returned in glory as Lord of
heaven and earth - when we say part of Apostles Creed And he will come again to judge
the living and dead, this is what were talking about
And when Jesus comes again, he has brought the new heavens and new earth - there are
no more children dying of starvation, no more young people cut down in war, no more
cancer striking down people in their prime, no more ecological devastation like elephants
being slaughtered for their ivory tusks - evil is rooted out and death is defeated - and the
world - its all made new.
And the Lord calls together every human being who has ever lived - and its judgment
time - where the Lord determines who belongs to him and is going to part of his new
creation. And who is not.
But there is a big surprise in this passage - a big surprise for the human beings being
judged, a big surprise for us as we read it. Here Jesus Christ judges every human being
not on the basis of church membership or baptism or theological knowledge - but on
concrete demonstrations of love towards poor, suffering and hurting people.
And those who are welcomed into Gods new world - they get in because they cared for
sick, suffering, poor and hurting people. And those who did not care for sick, suffering
and hurting people - they are shut out.
Whaaat???
Now we read this and respond, what about being saved by grace through faith - faith in
Christs completed work on the cross? That whole Reformation thing about being saved
by grace, not by works - what we do? Like, I pray the sinners prayer in the Four
Spiritual Laws, and Im saved, Im going to heaven....what is this about? Like Ricky used
to say to Lucy, got some splainin to do - so lets figure out whats going on here.
When you dig into the gospels, you see that this really isnt all that surprising.
Consider Jesus birth and family:
Jesus himself born into very humble family - how do we know this - when Mary
& Joseph took Jesus to be circumcised, they had to bring an offering, it was
required by the OT law - and they brought a pair of pigeons - which was the
offering that the dirt poor were allowed to bring rather than the more expensive
alternatives.
This was not a mistake that Jesus was born to poor parents. This was Gods plan
all along - for Jesus reach the poor of the world to bless them with the gospel by
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becoming one of them.
Jesus so identifies with the poor that he became one of them. Never forget that.
Consider Jesus own conception of his ministry:
Jesus first sermon, preached at his hometown synagogue - the Lord said he had
come to fulfill a prophecy from Isaiah and the Lord applied to himself the reading
that went, The Spirit of the Lord is upon me because he has anointed me to bring
good news to the poor, release to the captives, recovery of sight to the blind, to let
the oppressed go free (Luke 4:16-20).
Or check out the time John the Baptists disciples came to Jesus to ask if he was
really the Messiah, the chosen one - Jesus told them to look at what Ive been
doing, that the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are
cleansed...and the poor have good news preached to them (Matthew 11:2-6).
In Jesus the Kingdom of God was breaking in - as the Lord said, in him the
Kingdom of God is at hand - and one way you know God has come near - is the
poor are blessed - this is one way you know you have encountered the living God
Jesus is saying, whenever I am present, this is always there.
Consider the whole Bible:
As Tim Keller points out, over and over again in the Bible, if there is a poor
person next to a powerful person, or a woman next to a man, or a racial outsider
next to a racial insider, it almost always the poor, the woman, the outsider, who
gets what God is doing and is open to Gods will and salvation. - its
overwhelming when you start noticing
Look at how this has played out in the history of church:
There have always been more poor than rich, more women then men, more
outsiders than insiders - and this causes elites to look down on the church and
patronize believers for clinging to a false hope that supposedly consoles them for
not being one of the winners in life
God has a special love and concern for the poor and suffering of the world. If we know
all this, then maybe what the Lord says in our reading isnt a complete surprise. But still,
its pretty stunning - here you have the risen Christ in bright blazing glory, and the text
says that all the angels of heaven are there - its a scene of power and authority - and
heres a Jesus you cant miss, hes blazing like the sun - and yet he says to the billions of
humans gathered before him, that I was with you all along, in the guise of the lowest of
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the low, the poor and suffering of the earth, and you are judged on whether you cared for
them, and when you did, it was like you were doing it for me.
Its like the time some folks were visiting Mother Teresa in Calcutta. She asked them to
hold up one hand. The gospel is written on your fingers, she said. Holding up one
finger at a time, she accented each word - You-did-it-to-me. She then added, At the
end of your life, your five fingers will either excuse you or accuse you of doing it unto the
least of these. `You-did-it-to-me.
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This is an outworking of salvation
Ok, deep breath time...
There is a story about an old nun who was living in a convent next to a
construction site noticed the coarse language of the workers and decided to spend
some time with them to correct their ways. She decided she would take her lunch,
sit with the workers; and talk with them.
She put her sandwich in a brown bag and walked over to the spot where the men
were eating. Dressed in her nuns habit and sporting a big smile, she walked up to
the group and asked: "And do you men know Jesus Christ?"
They shook their heads and looked at each other. very confused. One of the
workers looked up into the steelworks and yelled out, "Anybody up there know
Jesus Christ?"
One of the steelworkers yelled down, "Why?"
The worker yelled back, 'Cause his wife's here with his lunch."
Do you know Jesus...have you found Jesus?
Well, if you have, you will change. We are saved by grace, but grace changes us. Result
is - through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, we begin to see, think and feel as Christ
would.
Changes how we see other people
Tony Campolo told this story: I was teaching at the University of Pennsylvania
some years ago and the students were all there in the front row and we were
talking about social problems. And I got on the subject of prostitution. And I said,
What would Jesus have said to a prostitute?
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And one student in the front row, who was an atheist, said, Jesus never met a
prostitute.
I very quickly reached into my pocket and pulled out my New Testament and said,
He did and I want to show you what he said to prostitutes.
And the student yelled back at me, and he said, Jesus never met a prostitute.
I said, Im going to show you. I'm going to prove it to you.
He said, Dr., youre not listening to me. He said, When Mary Magdalene
encountered Jesus do you think Jesus saw a prostitute? When he looked at Mary
Magdalene do you think he saw a prostitute? Is that who you think he saw?
And Tony said, The kid was absolutely right. Jesus never saw a prostitute,
because he didnt see what other people saw. He saw the sacred, he saw the holy,
he saw the glorious.
Jesus Christ looks into us and sees the holy and glorious and saves us - and then
gives us new eyes so we can see deeper into who people essentially are - people
whom Jesus loves and came to die for, people he identifies so closely with that
when we act in mercy towards them, it is as if we did it for the Lord himself.
Grace changes how we feel about people.
New heart - promise of scripture - I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit
in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. -
Ezekiel 36:26
something like going thru suffering and now you understand and
empathize
Christ being moved with compassion for crowds and suffering - deep in
the bowels...
If you want to know if you have become a Christian - if you really know Christ - this is a
good test - do you see and have compassion for the poor and hurting of the earth, do you
move towards them to help them, do you give of your time and substance to do something
concrete to help?
You see, if we claim to receive Christ through grace by faith, we also must receive him in
the guise of the poor and suffering of the earth, with whom Christ identifies. A faith that
receives grace, is based in grace, must be gracious towards others, or it is no faith at all.
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These works of mercy and compassion that Jesus commends in our scripture, are the fruit
of receiving grace - and if one really receives grace, then one extends grace to others.
And if our hearts are not moved by suffering, and if we do not move our hands to help,
then we must ask if faith has really penetrated our hearts, or if instead our faith is
simply a matter of personal comfort and civic duty.
Comes down to this - if youve encountered Jesus, youll have the same desire to love and
care for the same people he did.
Cornelia Eckley
Let me tell you about a woman in my first church in South Carolina, named Cornelia
Eckley. One day, some years back, Cornelia read this passage from Matthew. She was
about seventy or so at the time. And she got it in her head that if this is what Jesus says
we ought to do, she was going to do it.
So this seventy-year old grandmother wrote to the chaplain at one of the state prisons in
South Carolina, and got a name of an inmate named John she began to correspond with.
After several years of letters, and building up trust, John said it was okay for Cornelia to
come visit her.
So this seventy-year old grandmother got in her Chevrolet station wagon and drove
several hours to a maximum security prison and visited John, and built a relationship with
him, traveling back and forth every couple of months to visit, and eventually leading him
to faith in Christ. When I asked Cornelia about this, she said she wasnt doing anything
special, just obeying what Jesus said in this passage.
But good news is that we dont have to go far, either
That seemed pretty remarkable to me - but note what the Lord is saying here - you dont
need to solve homelessness or visit every sick person in Franklin County - Jesus says if
you did it to ONE of the least of these my brothers, its like you did it to me, for me.
As Dale Bruner puts it, Big miracles arent happening here. Little ministries are. And
yet it is precisely in these little ministries that the miracle of the big mystery - eternal
salvation - occurs.
You dont need theological degree...you dont need to be a great speaker like Beth
Moore...you dont need to be like Martin Luther King Jr. and organize a mass movement
to overturn injustice - all you need is a little heart.
And its worth mentioning Martin Luthers observation that a loving parent performs all
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the ministries of this text.
And thats just what the sheep are commended for - for simple acts of mercy towards
ordinary human beings. These acts are not complicated or involved - simply feeding a
hungry person, - not solving poverty; giving a cup of water to someone thirsty - not
installing a city water system; visiting someone sick or in prison, not curing their disease
or liberating them from jail. These acts of mercy are in reach of everyone, everywhere..
And while these acts of mercy - visiting a prisoner, feeding someone hungry, seem small
to us, they are not small to Jesus. It is not a small thing to feed a hungry person - every
time we demonstrate our love in one of these ways, it is as if we are feeding Christ, we
are visiting Christ, we are caring for Christ.
Our opportunity at Central
But theres a problem. Jonathan Kozol, author of the book Amazing Grace which
describes the life of Americas poorest children, said in an interview, In the course of
their everyday lives, very few white, middle-class Americans have much intimate contact
with the poor. They might see them on the street and shy away from them because it
frightens them to see the homeless, for example.
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But here we are, downtown in Chambersburg. And there are lots of poor and hurting
people around us. We have the tremendous challenge and enormous privilege of meeting
Jesus Christ in ministering to them.
Heres one way wed like to do that. The Ministry to Young Families that I mentioned in
last weeks video and that was described briefly in the stewardship brochure you received
this week. There are lots of parents with young children living close by the church. You
see a pretty steady parade of people pushing strollers during the day down here. A lot of
these parents, these families, are really struggling. And theres a huge body of data that
consistently shows that if you can help a child in the first five years of life - it does so
much good helping that child succeed later in life. And a child that grows up and does
well in school and keeps out of trouble and becomes a successful adult - thats a huge
blessing to the larger society as well.
So were starting this ministry to build relationships with these families. Well start by
giving away diapers and formulas, probably once a month. As parents come to the church
to receive those gifts, well build a database of these families. Then well begin to offer
them mentoring and classes on parenting and nutrition and finances and how to help your
child succeed. Well invite them to church so they can become part of a community of
faith. Well continue to provide scholarships to Mothers Day Out that will reach some
of these children.
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1. www.homileticsonline.com
2. Books and Culture, January/February 1996, p. 9.
Closing
There is a story, probably apocraphyl, about Albert Einstein. One day Einstein is out for
a walk in his hometown of Princeton and is walking by a local inn. A rich widow has just
pulled up in a Rolls-Royce and she mistakes Einstein for a bellboy and orders him to to
carry her bags into the hotel. According to the story, Einstein does just that, receives a
small tip, and then continues on his walk, pondering the mysteries of the universe.
Today or tomorrow, you might encounter someone who is sick, hurting, troubled. Might
want to pay attention, because you never know who it might be. Amen.
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Endnotes
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