I listened to two sermons. Both excellent …
except they did not proclaim the Gospel when it was right there to be proclaimed,
so instead of being adversely effected by this let down, I decided to provide an outline or draft for a sermon worth preaching and hearing.
What is missing is the colour of the sunset and sunrise, the stories of heart and strength, the accounts of the saints in light, which guide us to embrace God’s Grace. Maybe I’ll find time to insert some.
The Gospel for this day: Matthew 35: 31-46
‘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. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. Then 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; for 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, I 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 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? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” And 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.” Then 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; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I 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.” Then 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?” Then 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.” And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.’
We might say: the End of Time, loved ones’ deaths or our judgment before Christ, or even the end of the church year provides clarification of what is truly important. Yet clarity is rarely the result of grief.
Rather grief, as the loss of one’s child (our losses that reflect God’s loss of Jesus) rips the innards of our lives right down to the foundation and leaves us totally discombobulated. Meaning and language and words do not organize. Chaos overtakes any order we used to have in our lives.
Clarity at the end of time, for loved ones, for ourselves, is not guaranteed. Rather it is rare.
Clarity about our judgment day reflected in the passage for today’s Gospel reveals that everyone (not denying their actions – a rather foolish attempt it would be before God)… everyone (all sheep and all goats) is surprised … because they did not see Jesus … in the outcasts, the poor, the homeless, the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, or in the imprisoned.
Any sane person is going to be frightened at the thought of facing Christ on our judgment day. Goats to the left into eternal perdition with the devil, and Sheep to the right into eternal life with Jesus.
And how is the determination made? It is determined by what we have done for the least of God’s people (all people.) Did we care for the outcasts, the poor, the homeless, the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, or the imprisoned?
Whether we are motivated to do these things by love, by passionate compassion, or by anything else, matters not one iota!
On the simplistic reading of the passage, our eternal path is determined by what we have done or not done for the least of God’s people!
Still, in this profoundly misguided, disturbing, and Gospel-less reading of this passage of scripture, we MUST DO what is right, OR we end up with the goats on the left.
If that is the ultimate determination for all of us, we are all lost into perdition, for by our own confession as faithful Lutherans, we confess that we are all bound to sin (and cannot by our own do what is right – including, by whatever means, care for the outcasts, the poor, the homeless, the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, or in the imprisoned. Therefore we are all lost into perdition – and great consternation or grand denial can be our only response to this passage. Surprise! When we thought we might get into heaven because we did a few things right, even profoundly right, instead we ALL get the goats path to perdition! That’s a hell of a surprise!
Thankfully our confession of faith is simpler and far more profound: We not only confess that we are all damned sinners. We also confess that we are God-made saints. That is we also confess that we are all saved (sorted out to be with the sheep) only by Faith through Grace (God’s gifts us faith!) and NOT by our works (by what we have done or do or will do!)
So how can we possibly read and respond to this passage, given our simple confession of faith: Everything relies on God’s Grace?
If left to our own deeds, we are all sorted with the goats. We all do not care for all the least of God’s people. Even if we think we did what God requires of us (whenever we saw Jesus, but we rarely saw Jesus at all), and even if we can throw evidence at the wall of judgment, nothing will stick, because we have already failed so many times in so many ways that nothing can make up for our wholesale sins. We all have failed, do fail and will always fail to see Jesus where Jesus surprises us with his presence!
Doch! We confess we are not left to be judged by our own deeds. Rather, Surprise! Jesus places his record in place of ours as we are judged. Therefore we will not know when we cared for the outcasts, provided for the poor, gave homes to the homeless, fed the hungry, gave clean water and drink to the thirsty, welcomed the stranger, clothed the naked, nursed the sick, or visited the imprisoned.
We will be sorted with the sheep, not because of what we have done or not done. We are sorted with the sheep because of how Jesus lived, and because Jesus gives us his record in place of ours!
It’s all grace! It’s all gift! Our judgment does not depend one iota on us and what we think, say, or do.
Instead it depends only on God, and God is sure, steadfast in unconditional love forever!
So, we are sorted with the sheep! Phew! We dodged an eternal bullet of damnation there!
So back to our cozy, mixed up, sinful lives?! Right! We are getting away with whatever we do, good and bad, heaven and hell that we create for others, great ambitions to do right and little follow through. Nothing really matters in the end or even now! Right!? So let us celebrate, eat, drink, and be merry in the days God gives us. Right!?
Once Jesus’ record is in place of our own, we are free.
And what are we free from? We are free from our sins strangling us, binding us, keeping us from recognizing we live not to provide for ourselves, but as Christ provides for us.
What are we free for:
We are free to recognize others’ needs, endless as they are. Empowered by Christ’s example of forgiveness for us and the renewed life we receive daily from Christ, and by the power of the Holy Spirit, we can provide for others. We GET to care for the outcasts, the poor, the homeless, the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, or in the imprisoned.
Gosh golly gee, for sure that’s passionate compassion. That is living to provide justice for all. That’s being transformed to embody Christ in this world.
As the wretched sinners that we are, we certainly are surprised that God gets us to do such good things!
Of course, it is not something we can do ourselves, or choose for ourselves. We cannot choose to be passionately compassionate, or live for justice, or be Christ embodied in the world! We simply cannot on our own choose to do what God requires of us in order that we can be saved at the day of our judgment.
Surprise! It is only possible because of God’s Grace for us!
Now that’s Good News, because anything that depends on us is wholly unreliable.
Doch, what relies solely on God is as sound as the music of the spheres, the music of the strings that make up the universe. It is as sound as God, our rock and salvation, the Creator, all powerful. So sure is our salvation and the gifts that enables us for, in spite of being sinners, we are also simultaneously God-made saints.
We get to reflect Christ’s Light in all our days!
That is the clarity that we receive and can reflect to others. It comes rarely as we face the end of times. More often it comes as a complete surprise, in the ordinary, mundane suffering and challenges of life. During Covid 19 there are more than enough of those to go around, and hit us from behind again in the second wave.
Even when it hits us again and again, what matters is the surprise of what Christ does for us, and by Grace through us for others.
What Christ does for us and through us is the only and the everything that is important. What Christ does determines our judgment day, and all of every day in all the universe! Now that is sweet music to our ears
as we sing, Take my life that I may be consecrated Lord to thee!