Updated: Aug 24, 2019
Sermon for June 23, 2019
Texts: Deuteronomy 15:7, 1-11; Psalm 96:1-3, 10-13; Colossians 3:12-17; Matthew 25:31-46
Sermon: "Clothed with Love"
I believe that it was Mark Twain who said, "It is not what I don't understand about the Bible that bothers me. It is what I do understand."
Truth be told, not one of us can say the parable about dividing people like sheep and goats is a favorite passage.
And yes, we do understand.
Or do we?
Don't we shrink from all the words of Jesus in the difficult passages where he explains what it really means to follow him, to take up our cross, to love as he has loved us, and to bear fruit for the kingdom, fruit that will last?
I wonder what would happen with this parable of the sheep and goats, though, if we were to look at it as encouragement from Jesus and not a narrative about punishment. What if we hear in his words that he has gathered us to remind us to be his church in the world; to remember what he gave for us; to lead us to dedicate our lives to blessing him by giving to others?
How sweet it is then to read the words of the apostle Paul alongside the parable from Jesus. Listen again, for example, to these we read a moment ago. Paul says, "Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts." (Colossians 3:14)
Love is the centerpiece of life, both divine and human life. From love will radiate harmony. From love, peace will settle in our hearts.
It is a beautiful thing to imagine the love of Jesus taking the central place in a church.
I believe you know what that means -- love as the centerpiece! It leads us to welcome the stranger, to feed the hungry, to clothe the needy, to visit people imprisoned not just by walls but by circumstances of their life. To be clothed with love is to be clothed by Christ.
When was it that we served you, the righteous in the parable want to know from Jesus? When was it that we failed to serve you, the ones who are on the other side want to know?
This is not a new concept for us: You will find Jesus in those needy ones you serve with your heart and your hands. You will find Jesus in the child you hold close who has been mistreated, bullied, or left to go hungry. You will meet Jesus in the lonely stranger who finds the world a terrifying place every day because there seems to be no sense to be found in it.
Clothe yourself with love and go find the lost, the hurting, the helpless, and the hungry ones. Jesus provides the love and shows us how to serve. Then he sends us to the neediest of the needy. He sends us to the ones who need the invitation to be issued now, today, and over and over again, the vulnerable ones, the weak ones, the small ones.
We pass them every day without seeing them.
How tenderly Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew teaches us to be kind, merciful, generous, and loving; how truly he teaches us what it means to offer hospitality and to serve those who have not experienced love, grace, or hope.
Early in Matthew, in chapter five, Jesus teaches the Beatitudes, a list of blessings.
He ends his ministry in Matthew with the Parable of the Sheep and Goats.
Bookends, you might say -- he names the ones who will inherit the kingdom and the ones who will be comforted. He reminds the disciples of what his teaching means for them every day they are out in the field seeking souls for Jesus.
"Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled."
Jesus promises that the merciful will receive mercy. Those who have a pure heart will see God. Those who are the peacemakers will be called children of God. He says in the story of sheep and goats, "Come, you that are blessed." Jesus calls those who are blessed to bless others, to be merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers.
Jesus issues the invitation to us. We are among the blessed, don't you think?
Aren't we ones who want to bless others in his name? I believe that we do! And so maybe we sigh in relief rather than live in a moment of joy. Maybe we think about the sheep and goats rather than about how we might seek more lives to bless and little ones to comfort.
How can we be sure we are sheep? Well, the answer is that we can't. If we think we can do that adequately, we immediately become goats!
Yes, the truth is that we are all sheep and all goats, just as we are all part wise and part foolish -- like the maidens who were wise and foolish in last week's parable.
The Parable of the Sheep and the Goats, like many of the parables we have been studying in Matthew, lies in large measure beyond our grasp. We know what Jesus means, we think. But we tend to sense fear rather than encouragement there.
Well, friends, Jesus wants us to remember who he is. Jesus Christ is the one who will judge the nations at the end of the age. And he is the one who loves us the most; the one whose compassionate heart and grace-filled love led him to the cross and the grave for us. Jesus reigns in power for us, the one whose name is exalted above all names on earth.
We cannot pray often enough, "Thank you, God, for making Jesus Christ the judge and the king over all the earth."
And so I will say this: Take these images seriously. But do not be afraid. Take this as a call to look at your life and see how you're doing. It's a reminder that Jesus has shown us how to love God and neighbor. He has taught us what to do.
God wants us to do well.
From the beginning, "from the foundation of the world" (v. 34), God has loved this world and everyone in it. God has given and God has blessed. And in Jesus Christ, God has gathered the church to serve as the hands and feet and heart and voice of the risen Christ.
We have learned in our immersion in the Gospel of Matthew for the past eight weeks, that this evangelist has his own way of telling the gospel story. For example, Matthew lifts up Jesus' teachings on righteousness and righteous works.
Matthew lets those moments shine so brightly, in fact, that if we are not careful, we might forget all we know about grace alone through faith alone as the source of our salvation!
The truth is, though, that Jesus did demonstrate clearly how we are to seek his righteousness and live as lovers of his righteousness, how we are to emulate his mercy, justice, and peace, and live as those who favor the needy and work among them.
That is: Jesus asks us to follow; Jesus calls us to commit our lives to service. Jesus wants all of us, all of our life, all of our heart.
As we serve others, we meet our Lord Jesus Christ.
We witness moments of judgment and moments of mercy.
It is God's greatest desire that we be sheep -- now, not in the way-off future.
Yes, this is a parable to which we must pay close attention. It is the only description in the New Testament depicting a scene of final judgment, including Christ as king and all the angels of heaven along with him. So please notice what it says and what it doesn't say.
It is our gift and our privilege. It is God's grace given to us that we might live blessed by God's love in ways that will bless others. "Come, you that are blessed." It is an invitation that our Lord wants everyone to have a chance to hear.
Yes, grace is free. But righteous works naturally follow in the life lived in gratitude for such a gift as God's grace freely given.
Sometimes we are sheep. Sometimes we are goats. And sometimes we are the needy ones, the least of these -- people who have lost our way and can't get back on track.
In all the ways that we are human, lost, sinful, and afraid, we are at the same time loved by the great God of the universe, loved in such a way that we cannot begin to imagine how deep and high and broad that love really is.
Now: "Come, you that are blessed by my Father; inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world." Let us show our grateful love in return. Amen.