By The Very Rev. Sherry Crompton
November 23, 2008 (Christ the King)
Read: Matthew 25:31-46
Judgment Day. Our Last Sunday in Pentecost, this Christ the King Sunday, gives us imagery of Judgment Day. A great lead in to the season of Advent.
I’ll begin with the words to a song by Johnson Oatman entitled “If Today Were the End of the World”.
“If Today Were the End of the World,”
By Johnson Oatman.
The chorus is:
If the sun should be turned into darkness
And the stars from their orbits be hurled,
Oh, how would it fare with you, my brother,
If today were the end of the world?
WE ARE TOLD THAT A GREAT DAY IS COMING,
WHEN THE STARS SHALL LIKE BANNERS BE FURLED.
BUT WOULD YOU BE PREPARED FOR THE JUDGMENT,
IF TODAY WERE THE END OF THE WORLD.
WHEN THE ANGEL SHALL SOUND HIS GREAT TRUMPET,
ON THE CLOUDS WILL OUR SAVIOR DESCEND.
THEN THE CRY WILL GO OUT, TIME IS OVER,
THEN THE WORLD WITH IT’S TURMOIL WILL END.
NO ONE KNOWS BUT THE FATHER IN HEAVEN,
WHEN OUR LORD FROM THE SKY SHALL APPEAR.
BUT IF WE ARE PREPARED FOR HIS COMING,
WE MAY GREET HIM WITH JOY NOT WITH FEAR.
THIS OLD WORLD SHALL NOT GO ON FOREVER,
NOR THE MOON LIKE A BANNER UNFURLED.
THEN SUPPOSE JUST SUPPOSE FOR A MOMENT,
THAT TODAY WERE THE END OF THE WORLD.
Like this song, there is an urgency in our scripture today. It begs the question, where is the urgency to our spiritual lives today? How do we make connection with the divine a priority in today’s busy world? How do we make stretching our hearts the most important thing?
I am reminded of Twain’s novel, The Prince and The Pauper. Edward Tudor, the son of Henry VIII, and Tom Canty, a look-alike beggar, trade places and clothes. When they exchange clothes, the Prince is no longer recognized and is treated like the beggar Tom. Tom the beggar, then, becomes the Prince and upon Henry VIII’s death is believed to be heir to the throne.
Isn’t it amazing how two can see the same thing and see it differently? And how can we see something we think we know so well, but see it in a different context and not recognize it at all?
As Advent approaches think about how John the Baptist told the people to “Prepare ye the way of the Lord” for a king they wouldn’t recognize because he didn’t come in the power and glory they expected. He had come as a helpless, dependent infant, and more recently as a backwater, story-telling, rule breaking preacher.
Think about how Jesus’ disciple Philip said, “Lord, show us the Father and that will be enough for us,” and Jesus’ response, “Don’t you know me, Philip, even after I have been among you such a long time?”
So, what is Jesus telling the sheep and the goats? “I did come to you and you didn’t recognize me at all. I didn’t come in the form or shape or context you expected. But your actions reveal your heart.” Yes, the scripture is about faith in action, but it’s not about empty works. It’s about works whose foundation is love. Love for neighbor as self. Love extended without expectation of reward (after all, they didn’t recognize Jesus in the recipients).
Dennis Linn asked a group of retired nuns, “How many of you, even once in your life, have done what Jesus asks and fed a hungry person, clothed a naked person or visited a person in prison?” All the sisters raised their hands. Dennis said, “That’s wonderful! You’re all sheep.” Then Dennis asked, “How many of you, even once in your life, have walked by a hungry person, failed to clothe a naked person, or not visited someone in prison?” Slowly, all the sisters raised their hands. Dennis said, “That’s too bad. You’re all goats.”
The sisters looked worried and perplexed. Then suddenly one very old sister’s hand shot up. She blurted out, “I get it! We’re all good
It comes down to heaven and hell language and how we understand them. All who have felt alienated, unloved, overwhelmed by shame or helplessly caught in an addiction know what it’s like to be in hell. And all who have been welcomed home, who have seen their goodness reflected in the affirming eyes of another or who have been loved into recovery know what it’s like to be in heaven. We
all have wheat and weeds within us, sheep and goats. We’re all good goats.
In the movie ‘Pay it Forward’ there is a powerful scene where a homeless man talks a suicidal woman out of jumping off a city bridge and ending her life. Out of their mutual weakness and need, both are able to care for one another. As with the righteous servants in this gospel, both were unaware that they were serving each other in a time of profound trouble. At the end of the scene both have a new chance at life and a renewed sense of hope.
So, what if today were the end of the world? The story about the sheep and the goats is not a comfortable one. It is well-known, but not a favorite. What are we to take away from this judgment day story?
One of the first lessons that grows out of this parable is the awareness that our God, the true God, the one God, who created the universe, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, the God who raised Jesus of Nazareth from the dead; that our God is also a hidden God who hides himself. God goes incognito. God wears a mask.
Our God hides himself most completely in the faces and places of suffering. Our God is not only a God who reveals himself in the beauty of a sunrise, in the birth of babies, in the bounty of nature; But our God is also a God who hides himself under the faces and places of suffering.
A friend of mine tells a story about when his children were young and small, and used to play a game almost every night for a while. His car would come down the driveway and they would hear the car and go and hide. Joel would hide underneath the kitchen table. Anne would hide behind the door in the bedroom. And my friend would come in the front door and shout, “Where are the children?” Then he would look underneath the sofa, the dining room table, the curtains, and all around, still calling out, “Where are the children?” Anne and Joel would make noise, he would find them, they would shout, “boo”. The point is: the children would hide in obvious places. But every once in a while, they would seriously hide and go down into the basement, way down into the utility room, into the storage room, back behind the water tank, and they would hide. My friend would come and couldn’t find them. He couldn’t find them at all.
By analogy, God sometimes hides in the obvious places. Underneath the kitchen table. Underneath the bed. Behind the back door. The beauty of the sunsets, the birth of babies, the bounty of nature. But our God also goes down into the basement. Our God goes down into the basement and hides himself in a place that people don’t know where he is hiding. God hides himself in the midst of suffering. The place that our God hides is in the water and wine and wafer, but the primary place is in the cross. No other God in the whole wide world gets himself crucified. When our God is crucified, our God is the most hidden. When our God is being crucified today, he is the most hidden. So, a primary understanding of this Bible passage is that our God is a hidden God.
The real lesson of this parable today is an invitation for you and me to seek God. To seek God where God is found. Not to find God in the obvious places such as the beauty and conclude that there is a God. The real lesson of this parable is to seek God where God is to be found and God is to be found hiding behind the faces and places of suffering people.
When Jesus addressed the sheep about going to heaven, the sheep didn’t even realize that they had been generous. They were not even aware. That is the way it is with love, the true love of God. You, yourself, forget yourself in loving and caring for another person.
This quality of love then spreads. To the neighbor down the street and the man who had a stroke. To a person who had a car accident and is all crippled up and for some reason, you become involved.
This love spreads. You begin to realize that your brothers and sisters in Africa or Asia or Latin America or in our ghettos are hungry and starving. This quality of love cannot help but reach out to them. Of course we reach out to them. Why? I don’t know. My brother is starving. My sister is starving. Of course, we reach out to help. We are family. The love of God living inside of us begins to reach out to all kinds of people and we don’t even know it. Amen.
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