Archive for July, 2018

Matthew 25:37-40

July 6, 2018

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. Matthew 25:37-40

When a parent tells their child to take out the garbage or to clean their room, they aren’t inviting a conversation about the nature of garbage or an argument about the organizational standards a child chooses for their own sleeping environment. The parent expects the child to take out the garbage or clean their room. Said expectation is fulfilled when, and only when, the garbage has been taken out or the room is cleaned by said child. Period.

Why ought what seems crystal clear when talking about earthly parents and children seem so cloudy when it comes to what the Bible tells us about the will of God?

Since Jesus is the one telling this story, isn’t it safe to say that feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, welcoming the stranger, clothing the naked, and visiting the sick and imprisoned is right there at the center of what Jesus would want his people to be about in the world? It is a laundry list of the sort of thing that Jesus did. He set an example. He modeled exemplary behavior. He expects those who follow him to do the same.

The interesting thing is that the “righteous” – those who got it right by aligning their lives to the model of Jesus (Jesus sets the standard for righteousness) – don’t even realize what they did. They are the children who took out the garbage because they saw – just like their parents could – that the garbage was full and needed therefore to be taken out.

I trust every parent has seen that happen. They have returned home from work to smell dinner cooking because a child knew it was going to be dinnertime again that day too. The garbage out because the can was full. The floor vacuumed because it needed it. The room picked up because it had gotten messy. Even without asking. No fuss. No arguments. It is wonderful when that happens. And, in most families, it is rare.

The righteous don’t realize that they have been doing what is right. To them it seems that they have only been doing what is obvious. They are shocked when the king says that “just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”

The writer of 1 John would later encapsulate this scene with the words, “Those who say, “I love God,” and hate their brothers or sisters, are liars; for those who do not love a brother or sister whom they have seen, cannot love God whom they have not seen.” Love, in this passage and in life itself, is not a feeling. It is a decision to be loving. Thus it might look like a meal, access to fresh water, welcoming, rather than rejecting, those who are different, comprehensive immigration reform, access to affordable health care, bringing justice into the criminal justice system.

The king commands us to clean our rooms. Are we willing?

Let us pray: Dear Lord, we live in a world that tells us that might makes right. Again this morning, you remind us that right makes right. That there is a right way to live and it is measured by the care, concern, and justice afforded to the most vulnerable among us. This turns our world upside down. It might even heal it. Guide us to do right today. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Matthew 25:34-36

July 5, 2018

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.’” Matthew 25:34-36

Sometimes it is helpful to remember the vast gulf between us and the people of Jesus’ day. While human nature might not change, human conditions certainly have.

In Jesus’ day, the vast majority of people lived on a subsistence diet that barely kept them alive. There was nothing approaching what we know as the “middle class.” There was the rich and the extremely rich and those that suffered under grinding poverty. There were no opportunities to change one’s position in life.

The good news that Jesus brought was not only the forgiveness of sin, it was the promise of healing of all that separates us from God and from one another, including peoples’ public social realities and physical needs. It was good news for the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, and the imprisoned. It was good news for those who needed it most. Conversely, it was a real challenge – and still is – to those who had plenty to eat, drink, and wear. A challenge to those who sat at the “top” of the humanly created pecking orders of life.

In Jesus’ day, the remarkable thing about Christian community was how it reached across dividing lines of class, culture, and gender. People who otherwise might not have anything to do with each other beyond social and economic functions joined their lives as a community. They shared what they had with one another. The writer of Acts says “All who believed were together and had all things in common; they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need.”

We certainly have poverty and hunger and oppression in our culture today. No question about that. But we have softened those realities with the work of non-profit caring efforts, and state and federal programs for the poor and the poorest of the poor. There is also real opportunity for upward mobility for those that work hard and take advantage of those opportunities.

Along the way we have learned that efforts to create and sustain large populations of people on the principle of “from each according to their abilities, to each according to their needs” doesn’t work. It might sound good on paper but the dark side of human nature gets in the way. All human systems are vulnerable to corruption, self-dealing, and catering to those that accumulate power and wealth while ignoring the common good. All human systems see life from the top down.

Jesus would lead us, instead, to view life from the bottom up. To consider – in our personal and public lives – first the needs of the poorest of the poor. There will always be enough for all.

Let us pray: Soften our hearts and open our eyes, O Lord, that we might see the world as Jesus did. That the good news which we both receive and share, be truly good news for the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, and the imprisoned. In Jesus’ name. Amen.

Matthew 25:31-33

July 3, 2018

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.” Matthew 25:31-33

Like many other people in Houston, I was disappointed at the news that Lebron James had decided to take his basketball skills to Los Angeles. Nothing against Lo$ Angele$, he had lot$ of great rea$on$ for moving there….but it would have fun to see him play for my town.

I’m thinking of Lebron today because he will always come up on the list of NBA GOAT’s. I find it just a bit ironic that we use GOAT to refer to the “greatest of all time.” Ironic because anyone who has read the Bible knows, like the childrens’ song has long taught us, “I would rather be a sheep, bah, bah, bah, bah.

Jesus turns the heat up now in the 25th chapter of Matthew. Now he isn’t telling stories about unnamed masters and slaves, now he is painting a picture of a future to which “all the nations” are heading. He describes a gathering together of the scattered nations and a sorting process that puts some on the left and some on the right. The sheep and the goats. I just wanna be a sheep.

We’ll have to read on to learn more about this sorting process but for today – especially as we in the United States prepare to eat hamburgers and hot dogs to celebrate Independence Day – let’s notice just how undemocratic this future vision is. The Son of Man is in charge. The sheep and the goats have no say in the matter. Regardless of their earthly power, their constant jostling for position, their past tales of glory, “all the nations” are reduced to farm animals.

The Good Shepherd, once reduced to pastel images of carrying the lost sheep home or surrounded by children, is now the Great Separator. Backed up by an army of angels.

Anyone, it seems to me, upon hearing this brief introduction to the story that will now carry us to the end of the chapter, will end up wanting to be a sheep. They just might not want what it takes.

Let us pray: Dear Lord, our ears perk up at the idea of a great separation. We don’t want to be left out, or left behind, or found wanting. We don’t want to be exposed. We want to be insulated and protected and privileged. We like the illusions of control. We like to justify our likes and defend our divisions and protect our preferences. But we know the day will come when all of that will be stripped away. Help us live today as we want to be found on that one. In Jesus’ name. Amen.