Measured by a Different Standard
Pastor Diane Gordon
Mt Pleasant FUMC
November 26, 2017
Scriptures: Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24 CEB and Matthew 25:31-46 CEB
Today is Christ the King Sunday. We celebrate this day as the last Sunday of the Christian calendar. Next week is our “new year” when we begin the season of Advent, the season of waiting for the birth of our Savior. On Christ the King Sunday we remember Jesus’ words to us about his eventual return to bring to fruition the completion of God’s Kingdom here on earth.
Americans today don’t have a good sense of what it is to live under the rule of a king. We learned about our country’s rebellion against a king’s rule and the American Revolution, but the people of Jesus’ day were living under kingly rulers and they could totally relate to the concept. They embraced the idea of a benevolent king who would right the wrongs and protect the people of the kingdom, ensuring they had enough to eat, jobs and homes and a life worth living.
We Methodists are less about an apocalyptic ending and the great final judgment than we are about living lives worthy of the gospel in the here and now, and being prepared for the end times in our soul because we don’t know how long we have. We want to do all the good we can in this life, living moral and righteous lives, and connecting with the Spirit in such a way that when Jesus does return and the dead are raised, we will have nothing to fear. In the meantime, we are all about the feeding and clothing, caring for those most vulnerable in our midst, as if we were caring for Jesus himself.
Yes, we believe there will be a final judgment, but because we believe in God’s prevenient grace that continually reaches out to all people, offering love even when we really don’t deserve it, we do not fear being part of an “unchosen” group who stand no chance for salvation. We know we have free will and sometimes we chose poorly. But we trust in God’s grace and repent of our sins, often, seeking to live each day in such a way that we draw closer to Christ, opening the door for Him to enter in and dwell with us. Truth be told, He’s already there. We just hope for the ability to see and feel His great love; the transforming love of Christ.
Sorting good from bad, dirty from clean, perfect from imperfect is less the point in today’s scripture than it may seem. The lack of transformation in the hearts of the righteous seems more to the point. The lack of love and care for one’s neighbor is more to the point, especially given Jesus’ view on the two greatest commandments of the Jewish law; loving God above all else and loving one’s neighbor the same way we love ourselves.
Who among us who is hungry or thirsty without access to what we need doesn’t wish that someone would share some of what they have? Who among us who is imprisoned, even by loneliness, or lacking clothing to protect us from the elements wouldn’t want those who are able to share a bit of their time and attention or give a warm coat, dry socks or boots to keep out the ice and snow?
We do well to remember Jesus’ audience. He was speaking to those for whom fulfillment of the Law was the highest good. Living in obedience to the rules in Leviticus was what they were taught, but they could see the hypocrisy of the priests who took advantage of the loopholes and didn’t really care about the widows and orphans, the elderly and poor. Jesus was being critical of those in power – especially the religious elite – who used their power to line their own pockets rather than for the good of the people they were called to lead and serve. They may have obeyed the religious laws that said they couldn’t eat pork, shrimp and lobster, and they washed their hands before every meal, but they didn’t obey the greater law of loving neighbor as self.
Jesus wanted his followers to see the flaw of legalism, following the letter of the law while ignoring the intent, which was health and wellbeing of the whole community. With legalism in play, they could skillfully justify the condemnation of the “other” in their midst. They could excuse themselves of having to care for those who had no one else to care for them. They could look the other way, rather than stop and bind up the wounds of the abused, the neglected, the terrorized and marginalized.
Jesus was not having it! He was calling them out, naming the evil he saw, and warning that, in the end, this evil will get its just reward.
He surprised some in his story; those who had cared for those in need because they saw it as the right thing to do. He did something we need to help our culture do today. We need to connect the dots for those who see caring for those most vulnerable as simply right and good, kind and merciful, but not anything to do with God. We do these acts of mercy in service to God, in service to Jesus himself.
We live in a time when it is not fashionable to proselytize to the poor as we serve them a hot meal. We live in a time when it is lauded to help the poor, but without requiring they hear why we do it. We are not encouraged to tell them we see Jesus in them. We are not encouraged to share the good news of Jesus Christ as we hang out and welcome them into our church. So, what should we do?
We’ll keep serving, welcoming, feeding, clothing, and loving them anyways. And in our hearts, we do it for Jesus. We serve Him, whether the world knows it or not. We do this because we are not doing it for credit. We do these things because we have felt the love of Christ shed abroad in our own hearts, and we can’t help but share that love with everyone we meet. Our hearts, we pray, have been transformed in such a way that acts of service are just part of who we are and how we live, because of the love of Christ.
Imagine a world where all hearts have been so transformed. Imagine living in a world where no one seeks to take advantage of others for their own profit or power; where no child goes hungry or cold, no one dies alone, no one is abused and society turns a blind eye because they think that’s just the way it is.
This is possible, thanks be to God, but it’s not easy. It takes the power of the Holy Spirit to bring it to pass. It will take the entire Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, to establish this way of being. This is God’s kingdom, open and available to all who would say, “I believe, Lord. Help my unbelief.” This is God’s heaven, open to all. This is God’s healing, available to all. This is where I want to be. So, what does it take to be transformed in this way? How can a person be set free to this kind of life?
First, open your heart to God. Open that door that was shut out of fear of damnation, fear of condemnation and know that Christ’s love has already set us free, by what He did on the cross. He died that we might live. All people, not just a select few.
Second, ask Jesus to come in and take up residence in your life. Let His ways become your way of being in the world. This may feel awkward because it is extremely counter-cultural. You will lose the desire to deaden yourself against the pain and you will begin to heal. It takes time and intention. The evil one will do all manner of things to dissuade you, tempt you, and try to suck you back in. But stay the course, and when those moments come, say, “Help me, Jesus” and He will.
Third, read the gospels. Learn what Jesus taught His disciples, because you are becoming one. Pray, worship and don’t stop repeating the practices that John Wesley called the “Means of Grace.” These are things we can do that bring us into contact with the Holy. Google it. John Wesley’s Means of Grace.
As we draw close to Jesus, His Spirit grows within us and we have the desire to serve and share with those most vulnerable. We are transformed by His grace. We are saved by His love. We serve a new king. Thanks be to God. Amen.