Preached in the Center Moreland Charge on Nov. 20, 2011
Matthew 25: 31-46
This morning’s gospel reading may seem familiar to some of us. But it may also be new to some of us.
This scripture is traditionally read on this Sunday, the last Sunday of the liturgical year, the Sunday before the first Sunday of Advent. It is the last teaching he gives to the people, to his disciples. Matthew’s version has it happening two days before the Passover, and the authorities have started plotting, He goes to Bethany, and is anointed by “a woman”, who is unnamed in Mathew’s version. He calls it his anointing for burial. Judas makes his agreement. The Passover with his disciples occurs, within which he institutes the Lord’s Supper. He goes to the garden of Gethsemane, and then is arrested.
These words today are, in Matthew, the last things he teaches to his people. And what does he teach? God’s judgment is coming, and you won’t know what you’re going to be judged by. The righteous won’t make it, and the rich will have plenty of problems, no matter how much they donate to the faith.
You won’t know, because you judge on the wrong things. Your synagogue attendance doesn’t matter. The volume of your prayers is irrelevant. How loud you wail at a funeral isn’t going to change the balance.
Instead, you will be judged on your generosity, rich or poor, and not just your material generosity. You will be judged on your generosity of heart. Your patience with people, your conduct when you disagree with someone, whether you stay engaged and mature of huff off when you don’t get your way.
What he is saying, as his last statement is this: if you want to know about my Kingdom, the one that is coming, listen to how the path to salvation is to be structured; by helping, be assisting; by serving. You’ll never know when you might run across someone who will actually be Jesus, so you must treat everyone like Jesus. Everyone.
And here is the irony, or the design: if you treat everyone like Jesus, then everyone will see Jesus in your actions.
Your way to the Lord has been mapped out- it is not in power accrued, but in power given away. Not in accumulation, but in generosity.
According to Toys R Us, it was Christmas A week before Thanksgiving. Joe and I went into the store up on Kidder Street this week to buy a birthday present for his cousin, my nephew. And the music we walked in on was that song by John Lennon and Yoko Ono called War is Over, which is a song you ONLY hear at Christmas.
So, since it is Christmas, let me remind you about the story by Charles Dickens. The point of the story, the visits of all the ghosts, and Scrooge’s change of heart on Christmas morning is to move him to a greater heart, a more generous spirit. The Grinch learns the same lesson.
It’s an enlightenment that these characters achieve, a realization, an a-ha moment. In Ephesians, Paul writes about an enlightenment of the eyes of the heart. With an enlightened heart, we understand that the riches are in the inheritance we have received, to become one of the saints of God. That inheritance gives us the hope that God wishes on us all, the awareness of God’s power. Scrooge and the Grinch, it might be said, both become enlightened when they realize that true power lies not in money and the keeping and hoarding of it, not (in the Grinch’s case) the baubles, the trees, the tinsel, and the roast beast, but instead in the generosity and the spirit. The kids playing in the street in front of Scrooge’s house, the Whos in Whoville standing around the last tree, the one in the square, singing.
There’s a power in having the enlightenment of knowing your place in this world, your inheritance as one of God’s children, the hope that comes from knowing you are a child of God. You are not so important that you must solve all the problems of society- your money will only go so far, your physical energy will only keep you working for so many hours, and then you need rest. Then you need to recharge. Then you need to move over and let someone else work. We are just not important in that way. We are not indispensable.
But neither are we irrelevant.
T many of the people of Jerusalem, This is the last public thing that Jesus says. The next time they see him in public, two or three days later, he is being beaten and being prepared for crucifixion. Maybe a privileged few would see him on trial, but all he says there is that “from now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.”
When most people see him again, they are screaming for his blood.
They are shouting for his death because of his preaching the kingdom of God, and threatening the powers of earth. For teaching love and generosity. In Matthew, Jesus’ last words to them are that they will be judged by God for their spirit and their generosity.
Do you think they might have had the words “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…” ringing in their ears as they call out of his crucifixion?
May those words ring in your ears this week, and this season of Christmas. And may you heed them better than the first people who heard it.