A sermon based on Psalm 95:1-7 and Matthew 25:13-46 preached on November 23rd, 2014.
It is indeed our New Year’s Eve. We live our lives in a different sort of rhythm from the rest of the world, we Christians—or at least we should. Today we close out the Christian year by lifting up Christ as King. That’s the way we celebrate our New Year’s Eve—by giving thanks that God has sent Jesus among us to be our Guide, our Ruler.
Next Sunday we enter the Advent season—my favorite time in our Christian calendar where we prepare ourselves for the arrival of our Savior. The brightest light there ever has been is coming to us in the strangest way: through an infant’s birth.
We come today to proclaim that this infant who was born among us more 2,000 years ago grew up to be King—the One we long to give our greatest to, the One we give our best daily effort to follow in the footsteps of, the One who we seek above all else. But Jesus is a peculiar sort of King. We usually have images of kings and queens as snooty people cooped up in huge palaces deck with gold, atop thrones high above everyone else—sitting pretty far above all the rest of us. The kings of this world are the sort who look down upon the people and shout out orders. Jesus, though is not that sort of king.
And as we come together this Sunday before Advent to proclaim the reign of our King Jesus, we find our eyes not pointed upward toward some lofty throne high above us—out of our reach. Rather, our eyes are drawn outward—downward even, because the message for us today on this Christ the King Sunday is that Jesus is here, on our level, always right in front of us. ]In order to pay homage to our King, our eyes must not float upward but gaze outward, because it’s out there—where none of us think to look for Him that our King Jesus will be found. Right here. In front of us. In the faces, in the lives, in the very needs of those around us.
The parables in Matthew 24 and 25 are Jesus’ last teachings to his disciples before they begin their trek to Jerusalem—and we know what awaits Jesus in Jerusalem. The shadow of the cross looms large in the center of that city.
In these passages, Jesus is squeezing in all that he wants to tell his followers before they, along with him, get swept up in the disasters of that first Holy Week.
The last parables of Matthew 24 and 25 are about the Kingdom of Heaven—the Kingdom of Heaven that exists here on earth as well as the one that exists in the hereafter.
We can make the mistake while reading these parables that Jesus is only trying to describe what Heaven is like—that place we believe we will go to after we die—but Jesus’ message about the Kingdom of Heaven is bigger than that. Through these parables, Jesus is trying to teach us about how to live here on earth just as we will live there in heaven. That’s mainly what Jesus is interested in—the stuff of this life, how we make our time matter here. Jesus’ attitude is that if we focus on how we live our lives here and now, right where we are—the rest will take care of itself—or really that God will take care of the rest.
A big part of our Kingdom task—this peculiar lifestyle that God has called us to lead as we follow Christ—is in the taking care of the least of these. And today’s passage wants our eyes focused right in front of us as we stare into the faces of those with whom we share our neighborhoods and our town.
There’s an Episcopal Church in the town of Davidson, NC that decided to purchase a piece of public art and display it permanently on its property.
St. Albans Episcopal Church is fixed right in the center of Davidson, and they decided to place the sculpture where everyone in town could see it and be reminded of its message every time they drove past the town center.
The sculpture is entitled “Jesus the Homeless”, and there’s a picture of it on the front of your bulletin this morning. I urge you to gaze at it for a moment. See what you see.
This sculpture depicts Jesus as a vagrant sleeping on a park bench. He’s huddled under a blanket—his face obscured. The only real sign that this sculpture portrays Jesus are the nail holes that you see in his feet.
Well, the town’s reaction to this sculpture was immediate. Some loved it. Some didn’t. One woman in the neighborhood called the police the first time she drove by it. She thought it was an actual homeless person.
That’s right. Somebody called the police on Jesus.
Another neighbor wrote a letter to the church saying that the sculpture creeps him out. Others said that it’s insulting to depict the Son of God as a hobo curled up on a park bench. I wonder if any of those people ever read these words from Jesus.
Lord, when did we see you hungry, thirsty, a stranger, naked, sick, in prison?
That’s the question both groups of people in today’s reading ask the King. And the king replied with these very familiar words in verses 45:
I assure you that when you haven’t done it for one of the least of these, you haven’t done it for me.
Jesus, King Jesus, doesn’t reside atop lofty thrones—he never has. Jesus the King has always been right here—on our level. Right in front of us.
Jesus was a wanderer during his earthly ministry—going from town to town, sick person to sick person—broken or diseased or lonely or cast out—that’s where Jesus is, that’s where we will find our King—in the faces of those cast down and cast out.
Our King lives not in the center halls of the royal and the important but on the fringes—in the dark corners of our towns and our neighborhoods. In the faces of those forgotten all too easily.
Jesus is in the kind of people most of us would call the police on. He’s the woman down at the mission who smells a little funny. He’s the one walking down the sidewalks in Huntington or here in Barboursville who creeps us out.
He’s here—in the face of others, in the places we don’t care to look. The people we would rather turn our eyes away from.
The goats are surprised when the king tells them that he was among the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the imprisoned. They had no idea the king was there—they’re quite confused about this. The king has to explain to the goats,
You didn’t help me, because you didn’t help them.
The goats reply back,
Well, if he had have known that you were there, we certainly would have done something. We would have done anything for you, O king! But we didn’t know. How were we supposed to know?
We’re good at showing up trying to impress others. If we get fair warning that an important person is coming for a visit, we’ll spruce up the place.
Of course our house is always this clean,
we like to pretend.
Of course, our lives are always as put together as they seem when we dress up and go to work or church! If we know people are looking, then we’ll do whatever we need to do to look good for them.
There’s that bumper sticker, “Jesus is coming back. Look busy!”
Lord, if only we knew it was you there, then we certainly would have been there to help—to feed, to clothe, to visit, to welcome you in!
And that’s when the King gives the secret away:
I’m always there. In every face you see. In every shivering or hungry or lonely person you encounter whether you help or refuse to help. That’s me. I’m everywhere. In everybody. All the time.
Notice, too though, that the sheep in this story are just as struck dumb as the goats are. They too had no idea the king was there—that they were serving him as they served the least and lost and lonely around them.
But the sheep weren’t serving to look busy or to gain brownie points. They were just serving out of kindness, when they thought no one was watching—no expectation of return or reward. And for this reason, they’re the ones who the king favors. They’re the ones he calls righteous.
Do you see in the sculpture the empty spot on the end of the bench? That’s the place where we are all invited to sit.
We are invited by our King—our servant King—to take on the perspective of those who are the least and the lonely among us. We are the ones challenged to experience their point of view—to sit alongside of each of them and see things as they do. And if we take the time and the chance to do so, then we will have a glimpse of the King’s view also. Then, we will see as Jesus sees.
Jesus is here. Residing with the lost, the naked, the lonely, the hungry, the imprisoned. On their level. Not high and lofty atop some throne, but seeing life through their eyes.
What a peculiar King!
All praises to the One who made it all and finds it beautiful!