When did we…

least_of_these

Matthew 25:31-46

Let’ admit it, Jesus is much easier to see in some people than he is in others.

I got to know David while I was serving in my last congregation. Some would have said that he was a bit odd and hard to approach. He would amaze me though as I would see him out in the flower beds of the church cleaning them out, or sweeping the walnuts from the parking lot. Half of the time, he would be using crutches to assist his movement. He would come into the office and let me know that he had a box or bag of food that he would like us to donate to the food pantry, or he would simply give us money to support the pantry. David was not a member of my congregation, but lived in the Samaritas Senior Living Apartments located directly behind the church.

It is easy to see Jesus in the people that give freely of their time and talents without expecting anything in return. Do we choose to see Jesus in the people that come asking for money or get in line at the soup kitchen?

This is where we run into trouble in the gospel text. Jesus continues to share with the disciples what the kingdom of heaven is going to look like. This is the last story that he will share with his disciples before they sit down together for the Passover meal and his arrest and execution on the cross.

Once again, hard words to hear, coming from the one that we now know is suppose to be the Messiah. We do not have the opportunity to hear what the disciples response is to this last story. I have a feeling that their response is probably not too different from ours. The judgement talk seems to be a little different from the Jesus we know that would sit down with sinners, tax collectors, the sick and outcasts of society. There are also some inklings of the idea that there is a tinge of works righteousness present. Do we really have to treat everyone the way Jesus describes? What about grace? The judgement here seems to tell us otherwise.

As we come to the last Sunday of the church year, Matthew has taken us on quite the arch this past year. We have walked through a gospel that brings us the good news of Jesus’ birth and his ministry with the disciples. We have heard of the miracles that he performed, and the openness that he showed to all that came to him.

While we listen to Matthew’s gospel, we also get caught up in our own stories. Our lives have pulled us this way and that way during the past year and we at times forget the gospel good news that we hear residing in the words of Jesus. The more that we forget the words of Jesus, the more self-centered we become and can be seen as naval-gazers. As we turn the attention to ourselves and our own little world around us, we become critical and judgmental of the other. Especially those that we do not understand. We become fearful and thus seclude ourselves even further.

We do not see Jesus in our midst, because we fail to look. We look beyond the opportunities to reach out an outstretched hand to help someone up. We walk past the beggar sitting or standing on the sidewalk. We cannot wait until the light changes so that we do not have to look at the person standing on the corner looking for any type of assistance.

We build walls instead of opening gates of welcome for those that are being persecuted and oppressed.

In the judgement that Jesus speaks of, there is both blessing and punishment. The blessing that is encountered comes in the form of those that reach out and quench the thirst of those feeling parched, feed those that have hunger pains, gave someone the shirt off their back, welcomed in the stranger, took care of the sick, and visited the imprisoned. We read that the punishment comes to those that do none of this.

In this, the grace of God is at work. How can that be, you are probably thinking. Jesus is not going to condemn us to a life in hell. We do that ourselves! God is present in all places, even when we feel that we are encountering hell here on earth.

Jesus uses this last story as a wellness check. It is an opportunity for the disciples to prepare themselves for the ministry that is laying ahead of them once Jesus has died. He will be resurrected, yet they will be empowered to go out and begin proclaiming the gospel good news of Christ. In this wellness check, they are brought to question their own roles and if they are living out the faith that Jesus has instilled in them during the last three years. Are they ready to quench the thirst of the the thirsty, feed the hungry, welcome the stranger, cloth the naked, care for the sick, visit and even possibly be imprisoned themselves?

The grace of God works throughout their living out the gospel that Jesus has bestowed upon them. In this grace, Jesus is holding them accountable to his teaching.

It is a good thing to be held accountable. We are able to accomplish much more when we are working towards a common purpose or goal. When others know what we are hoping to achieve, they can stand by and cheer us on and possibly even help us change course when we have been blown in the wrong direction.

We should not have to ask, “when was it…” or “when did I… .” Our faith is not met to be stagnant. From the time we are born to the time we reach the end of our lives, our faith ebbs and flows. In our struggles and challenges, we are tested, and also reassured by the love of God. How we care for those around us and if we reach out to those hurting and in need, is a reflection of our faith. We should not have to ask, “when did we… ,” because we should be living out the gospel truth that is taught to us in Jesus Christ everyday.

David Lose, in his weekly blog, refers to this call from Jesus to care for the least of these as a third sacrament. It is called for by Jesus himself, and God is present in the midst of it. How incredible would it be if we were to care for others in this manner and treat it as a sacrament as we do baptism and communion?

Our love for our sisters and brothers should be no different than our love for that new iPhone or that new car. Richard Rohr says, “How you love God is how you love everything. And how you love everything is how you love God.” God is present within you at all times. Are you loving God and sharing that love with all around you, or are you choosing to be judgmental when that is not your place?

It is tough. I am sure you can find yourself on both sides depending on the day. It is the reminder of being sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked with the cross of Christ forever that we find grace that is never ending and a hope that moves us beyond despair.

Let us pray…Ever present God, be with us in our earthly journey as we try to live out the gospel of your Son, Jesus Christ. When we falter, pick us up. When we reach out in love, rejoice. May the Holy Spirit guide us in our days as we try our hardest to do your will and love the least of these. Amen.

Advertisements

Waiting…

Bread Queues

November 12, 2017

Matthew 25:1-13

We spend a lot of our lives waiting.

Waiting in lines at the grocery store, for amusement park rides, in traffic on the highway, for a doctor’s appointment. Yet we get very impatient when things do not come to us as fast as we would like them to. Waiting is not easy.

There is a song from the recently deceased Tom Petty titled, The Waiting. Here is the refrain, “The waiting is the hardest part. Every day you see one more card. You take it on faith, you take it to the heart. The waiting is the hardest part.”

As we enter into these last few weeks before the beginning of a new church year and Advent, we receive a gospel lesson that tells us we must wait. People two thousand years ago were no better at waiting than we are. They were impatient and were especially concerned with what would happen with their ancestors that died before Jesus had a chance to return.

Matthew’s gospel was written about fifty years after Jesus’ death and resurrection and the promise of his coming again to a world that was awaiting his return. The purpose of this parable that Matthew has included in his gospel is to reassure people that waiting is a good and necessary thing. There is much pain and suffering that is happening in Israel after Jesus’ resurrection. Pain and suffering that has been experienced in the fall of Jerusalem to Roman soldiers, and the persecution and death that has came to many of the followers of Jesus. By the time that Matthew’s gospel was written, there were not many eye witnesses alive that had seen Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem, his trial, and his death on the cross. They have been told of his resurrection, and are still waiting for his coming again. Their faith led them to believe that Christ has died, Christ has risen, Christ will come again. Perhaps this may sound a little familiar.

So, what are we to do with the bridesmaids from our lesson?

Where do you see yourself in the story? Are you one of the five that thought ahead and brought along extra oil just in case you were left waiting? Or are you one of the five that had just enough to fill your lamp and realized that it was starting to run low and had nothing to refill it? Thus, going out at the last minute to find a 24 hour oil convenience store.

The waiting is the hardest part. Especially when you are ill prepared for whatever may come your way. As the five foolish bridesmaid are off trying to find that oil store, the bridegroom comes and ushers in those that came with enough oil. The five foolish bridesmaids return to find that the party has started without them and they are left on the outside looking in. Jesus concludes the parable with instruction to, “Keep awake therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour.”

We can relate with the bridesmaids. Most likely, we can find ourselves in both those that are considered wise, as well as those that are deemed foolish. We live with pain and suffering all around us, in our country and in our world. We live in fear of what may come to threaten life as we know it. The news reports of trucks running over and killing multiple people in the streets and even on the sidewalks. We have people suffering from mental health issues that have access to guns and can rain bullets down on unsuspecting crowds in Las Vegas injuring over 500 and killing close to 60; and walking into a baptist church in Sutherland Springs, Texas and opening fire and killing 27. These are just our most recent examples.

People are quick to jump to conclusions and respond in ways that they may think are helpful. Yet, are we talking with one another and listening, or are we talking at each other? Are we so bound with fear that we are afraid to step foot outside of the house?

I honestly do not have any answers to this. I wish I did. This is the pain and suffering that we are living in our world today. In the midst of it, we are left waiting for answers. We can pray for those that are directly affected by the violence, but is that enough? Will “justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an overflowing stream,” as we read in our first lesson from Amos?

In the meantime, we wait. We wait for what has been promised to us in our baptisms. We wait for those words to be fulfilled that we recite during communion, Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.

We have the same struggle that our ancestors had going all the way back to 1st century Israel. Two thousand years later, we are still waiting. And keep awake we should.

The five wise bridesmaids were prepared. They were prepared to wait. They brought enough oil to last them until the bridegroom came. The waiting is made much easier when you are prepared for what comes your way, or in the wise bridesmaids case, being prepared for a delay.

Are we expected not to get any rest since we are told to keep awake? None of the bridesmaids followed these instructions. They had all been sleeping when the bridegroom had arrived at midnight. In the delay they fell asleep, and when they awoke and trimmed their lamps, it was only the wise that were prepared to go out and greet the bridegroom because they still had oil left.

It is in this preparation that they are called to keep awake. Be ready for the bridegroom, or Jesus Christ, at anytime. It was in these words that those hearing the gospel of Matthew for the first time, fifty years after Jesus death, would find words of hope and encouragement. While Christ may not have returned yet, be prepared as you wait.

How do we prepare as we are left waiting amidst the pain and suffering of our world?

Many of the social justice movements of the present time speak to staying “Woke.” Be aware of those things that are happening in your neighborhoods, communities, states, and country. Be bold enough to speak out against the injustice that you see happening around you. Stay woke to those things and issues that affect the lives of your neighbors and greater humanity. Stay woke to the injustices of racial  and sexual inequality. Stay woke to the injustices that happen to our environment. Stay woke to the legislative issues that are affecting a large number of Americans that do more harm than good. Stay woke and listen to the conversations that are happening among the younger generations as they are the ones that will be caring for the world as we know it in the next twenty, thirty, and forty plus years.

In the midst of all of this, we wait. We must wait in the midst of refugee crisis, mass shootings, and many other injustices of the world. The waiting is the hardest part.

Ed Stetzer, discussing the Sutherland Springs church shooting, wrote in a CNN article:

“Earlier today I asked Kevin Cornelius, pastor of neighboring church First Baptist Church in Karnes City, TX, about the situation as he and others are there, on site, dealing with the pain. He said: The church still works. We don’t have a plan, but we have a community. We don’t have answers but we have grace and peace. We don’t understand, but we’re present. Our hearts are breaking, but we have hope and we’re giving it away as quick as we can.”

We wait, as a community of God. We wait with each other in solidarity in the gospel promise that has been given to us through the grace of God. We wait with each other in community as believers and questioners alike. We wait with each other in fellowship as we break bread together in the hope that Christ has died, Christ is risen, and Christ will come again.

Let us pray, Risen Lord, we give thanks for the hope that you have infused in our lives. In the midst of our waiting, we look towards the promise of salvation and the grace that comes to us abundantly. While waiting is the hardest part, we find that hope and love in our communities and your word have the ability to sustain us. Amen.

A Multitude Gathers

All-Saints

November 5, 2017

Revelation 7:9-19

Shall we gather at the river, where bright angel feet have trod, with its crystal tide forever flowing by the throne of God. We’ll gather with the saints at the river that flows by the throne of God. The imagery that we receive from our opening hymn this morning as we remember the saints that have lived among us is wonderful. The river of life. The flowing water that we find in our baptismal font. The water that flows over us and cleanses us of our sins. The water that joins us to those saints we now give thanks for.  It is a familiar hymn.

The familiarity does not end there. The gospel lesson should sound familiar as it was read just over six months ago during the season of Easter. A return to the Beatitudes is never a bad thing as we are reminded of those that are blessed among us and what the kingdom of God looks like.

You may have even connected the Revelation reading to our entrance into Holy Week earlier this year. An entrance in which Jesus is paraded into Jerusalem, and only him and possibly us, on this side of the story, are aware of what is about to play out in the days to come. If you recall, Jesus was paraded into Jerusalem as people were shouting, “Hosanna” and waving palm branches.

Once again, we have palm branches in our midst. “There was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands.”

I find it unusual and amazing that suddenly the author of Revelation forgot how to count. Earlier he counts that there were seven churches and seals. There were twenty-four thrones and elders. In the preceding chapter, we read of 144,000 of Israel being sealed with protection amidst the catastrophe. That is 12,000 from each tribe of Israel.

He is then shocked with such a multitude of people that the number at the throne of God could not be counted. This multitude comes from every nation, tribe, and race. How big could this number be? Everyone that had lived on the earth up to that point? Did you know that today, that number would be well over 108 billion people.

The book of Revelation has been used to scare people into doing. It has been used as a threat. If you don’t follow the law of God to each word, then you will not be among those 144,000. Books and movies have ran with these themes, like the Left Behind series, and left people in fear and an impression of God that does not reflect the God that we witness in Christ Jesus.

When we begin to use the bible as a hammer to try to nail in certain points against those we fear as our opponents, we do not leave much room for God. We do this to ourselves and those that we feel think differently than us. We are quick to raise our palm branches to celebrate what we think is good, and when we are later let down we find it hard at times to get back up.

This morning we remember those saints that have left us in this earthly world this past year. These losses that we have experienced have come expectantly due to long term health issues. Others have been more sudden and we are left wondering and have had little to no chance of getting to say our final goodbyes. That one last, “I love you,” before they died.

Some of us may be still mourning the loss of a friend or family member. Some of you may still be grieving the loss that you have experienced more than a year ago. While the person we have said goodbye to is no longer suffering, we may be suffering in our own hearts. God did not promise that there would be no suffering. God does not promise us an easy life where we receive everything we want and then some.

We seek answers for all of our questions and are still left wondering. People try to comfort us with words from the Bible, which at times are taken out of context and leaves us with even more questions. It is impossible to put God in a box when we do not fully understand the mystery ourselves. It is in that mystery that we find hope and ultimately love.

Salvation belongs to our God as Revelation says. It does not belong to anyone else. It is not something that can be given to us by someone in power. Salvation only comes to us through the love and grace of God and the son, Jesus who came to us incarnate and walked along side us to experience the same suffering that we experience.

It is this same salvation that is revealed to us through Jesus’ death and resurrection on Easter Sunday. The promise of life that we witness is given to us and the believers that are gathered around the throne of God. It is the white robes that have been washed in the blood of the lamb that symbolizes their death in the waters of baptism and the new life that is found there.

This is the reason that we too give thanks for those that have been baptized this past year. They have died their first death to the sins of this life and have been washed clean and now stand side by side with all of the saints of the world. The saints that have gone before us and the ones that are still alive. This is what a saint looks like today. Just like you and me. There is nothing special, just the grace of God that has washed over us in the waters of baptism.

Does the grace of God end there?

I can’t tell you. That is the mystery that is our God. A mystery that we will not fully experience until the kingdom of God comes into our own view. The Beatitudes that Jesus preaches this morning speaks to not just a time to come, but the time that we are presently in, and the time that was. “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 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,” and on and on.

In Revelation, hear the hope of the kingdom to come and the promise that God has made. “The one who is seated on the throne will shelter them. They will hunger no more, and thirst no more; the sun will not strike them, nor any scorching heat; for the lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”

Jesus will indeed wipe away every tear from every eye. Indeed Jesus is there in the present as well as the grace of God bringing us to the multitude that worships and praises God. As we join in the multitude this morning, we are surrounded by the saints, both living and dead. We gather for communion in the promise that we are communing with all of the saints of heaven. It is here that we find comfort and love.

Let us pray. God, our savior, we give thanks for all the saints. The saints that have guided us through our lives and continue to do so today. We pray for those still mourning, that you may bring peace to them and the love you share abundantly. You are the God who was, is, and is to come, and in this we receive your grace and are gathered into the multitude. Amen.