Sermon for November 23, 2008
“You did it to me” Christ the King Sunday
This morning I have privilege of sharing with you the message for the day. Once again I thank you for the privilege of serving among you and more specifically to reach out to the homebound. Each of those I visit is so welcoming and appreciative. “What’s happening at St. John’s these days?” many ask.
Today is last Sunday of the church year aptly entitled Christ the King Sunday. As in previous Sundays the Gospel reading has a clear judgment theme in which the question is asked by Christ the judge, “have served others”. Have we reached out to the “least of these who are members of God’s family”? When we have done so, we have shown our love for Jesus. “You did it to me”, he says.
“You did it to me” The phrase is haunting, because Christ chooses to hide himself as it were in those who are wanting. He allows himself to be seen by the eyes of faith and to be discovered by hearts that are not deceived or living in denial. You too can see where Jesus is lurking, where God chooses to reveal his secret epiphanies as Thomas Merton calls them.
The Christ, who calls us to follow him as his disciples, is already present in the homeless, the hungry, the naked, the sick and the suffering.
The eyes of faith see and hear the lonely cries of the suffering, the poor and the dying, those to whom Mother Theresa lovingly reached out to in the impoverished streets of Calcutta, India.
The Outreach Ministry of St. John’s also touches peoples’ lives in difficult times and Jesus says, “You did it to me”.
In our parable Jesus challenges the church to serve the “least of these who are members of my family”. Matthew’s gospel calls Jesus’ followers “little ones” as in: “whoever gives even a cup of cold water to one of these little ones in the name of a disciple—truly I tell you, none of these will lose their reward.’ Matt 10:42 So it is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be lost. Matt 18:14
Paul writes, “So then, whenever we have an opportunity, let us work for the good of all, and especially for those of the family of faith. Gal 6:10 The “least of these” are the little ones who cry out for a cup of water, who have so little. Can we carve out a little space in our hearts to see the presence of Jesus, the hidden Jesus in those who lack essentials of life? Can we see Jesus in the stranger or the imprisoned?
It’s as if Jesus provides a way for us to meet him when we connect with basic human needs. Remember when we reach out he says, “You did it to me”. Some of us go each month to Luke House to serve a meal. It is a privilege and an honor, but as the Director often reminds us, do not come here as one who feels more privileged or more advantaged or superior. Come as one who enters into the world of those less privileged. And for that reason you cannot serve the meal without also eating at the table with these brothers and sisters.
Where have you seen Jesus lately? Let us who live under God’s grace be so bold as to offer ourselves to a world of hurt and need? If not us, who will? Let us look with eyes of faith to see those hurting and lacking and then reach out with hearts of compassion.Brueggeman in his strikingly worded prayers tells it like this: So we pray for your church….when we are driven to denial. Not to notice the suffering, Not to engage it, Not to acknowledge it. So be that way of truth among us. That we should not deceive ourselves. From “Awed to Heaven, Rooted in Earth” p 153 Be the way of truth for us O Lord so we do not deceive ourselves.
Martin Luther King once said, “Any religion which professes to be concerned with the souls of people, but is not concerned with the slums that damn them and the economic conditions that cripple them, such a religion is a dry-as-dust religion.”
In the Book of Deuteronomy there are frequent references to sojourners, strangers and aliens especially widows and orphans and Israel is admonished to reach out to them with justice and sustenance, food and clothing. Jesus himself taught that whoever welcomes the lowliest outsider, the stranger, the castaway, the newcomer, the other by doing so also welcomes Jesus himself. “As you did it to one of the least of these,… you did it to me.”
This coming week Americans will pause to gather as friends, family, loved ones howbeit in far more stressful times than more recent years, to celebrate with thankful hearts our blessings from a Gracious God. What if, in your family gathering, you chose to invite a stranger, a person without family for a home-cooked meal? What if you welcomed as Christ would a person living on the margins and treat them with dignity and love? What if?
My friends, a judgment Day is coming. As with you I too want to hear the Master declare, “Come you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” The King will say to you, “I was a stranger and you welcomed me; I was hungry and you gave me food, thirsty and you gave me something to drink, naked and you gave me clothing; sick and you took care of me, in prison and you visited me.
But when Lord did we see you like that? Note this same question was asked by both the righteous and those on his left hand. Both are unaware; both are surprised by the turn. But unlike those on the left the righteous have reached out to those in need with love and mercy. “As you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”
Frederick Buechner writes,”The one who judges us most finally will be the one who loves us most fully. Christ’s love sees us with terrible clarity and ‘still’ sees us whole. Still sees us whole – because of faith in Christ."
When we come to stand before the Judge, we can plead our case, but remember someone else has already pleaded our case for us. Through Christ’s suffering and death and our faith in Him, we will stand before the judge blameless, not-guilty and set free.
Christ’s righteousness will cover our unrighteousness.
Christ’s death and resurrection will bring forgiveness.Though our sins be as scarlet they shall be as white as snow; though they be as crimson they shall be as wool, promised the prophet Isaiah.
Each Sunday people of St. John’s celebrate the Lord’s Supper. To the table we are each invited. In Roman Catholic Churches the closing words are “The Mass has ended”. In Latin the words are “ite missa est” and they mean rather, Go and be in mission, because you have Christ in you and with you. Christ goes before you and Christ meets you in the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger and the sick and the suffering. You are Christ’s body in the world. Thanks be to God.
Go now in peace to love and serve the Lord.