Christ the King Sunday
Gospel: Matthew 25:31-46
Good morning! We have made it to the end. The end of a four day weekend. The end of the church year. The end of Matthew, and the end of the world, at least in our Gospel reading for today. Matthew gives us a picture of Jesus in his full maturity, on a throne-- a ruler, in highest glory with his subjects before him. All the nations gathered. And then he separates all people to his right side, and to his left.
It’s a familiar painting of extremes in Matthew, particularly in our readings from the past several weeks. We have heard about wedding guests who are properly dressed, and those who are not, and are thrown out of the party hand and foot. We have waited with the wise virgins who filled their lamps before the bridegroom came, and the foolish virgins who ran to get oil too late and were locked out of the party.
And last week, we scratched our head at the faithful servants whose were rewarded for their riches, and the lazy servants punished for holding onto what little they had.
All of these stories have come from Jesus last sermon in the Gospel of Matthew. All about the End of Times, and the Great Separation of good from evil, eternal life from eternal punishment, You who are blessed from you who are accursed, the sheep from the goats.
This week I got to see my family, who were visiting from the West Coast and the East Coast. My brother and his wife brought their ten month old Leonard. It is still surprising to see brother, who once played his trombone in my face to wake me up, as a dad. Surprising, and beautiful.
You see when my brother was in Kindergarten, with enough energy that today he would surely have been recommended for prescription drugs, his teacher told our parents that when he grew up he would either be president of the United States or head of the Colombian drug cartel.
Today I’m not sure which is… better?
The point stands — even as a child he was destined for one extreme or another.
President, drug lord, father.
Who will you be in the end? Who will you be before the throne?
Maybe it’s easiest to imagine for children, whose futures bottled up in them remain a mystery,
But we are all forming and growing, no matter our age, no matter how certain our futures, we each have the potential for good and evil within us.
Every day we face moral decisions,
To clothe the naked,
to feed the hungry,
To talk to the person on the median asking for change or simply to be noticed.
To give water to the thirsty,
to take care of the sick,
To purchase local food and only use as much water as you need.
To visit the imprisoned,
to welcome the stranger,
To stand with our Muslim and brown-skinned neighbors who face scrutiny and threat from our government.
Every day we face moral decisions,
To notice, and not turn away, from hurt.
In his last sermon before heading to the cross,
Jesus describes a clean separation of extremes,
But the difference between good and evil in our world
Is not so comfortably black and white,
Although liberals might like to think so, fundamentalism is not only found in the political or religious right.
We can take to the same task of cutting off ties. The people whose Facebook posts we just can’t read any more. The conversations that end as soon as we find out who someone voted for.
We like to separate, to set up clear boundaries that distinguish us from immoral other.
We want to say, I know who the sheep are in this world,
More importantly, I know who the goats are,
and I know which news channel they watch.
But without denying the reality of evil in this world,
We also know that it is not so simple to untangle its feathery grasp on us.
Ion the play Watch on the Rhine, staged at the Guthrie this fall, the protagonist Kurt Muehler is an underground resister to the rising fascist powers in Europe in the early years of WWII. During a visit to his wife’s family in America, he meets an enemy who blackmails him and puts at stake the entire resistance movement.
Meanwhile, the Nazis are gaining power.
Meanwhile, only the audience knows the human destruction WWII will bring to bear.
Facing the choice to kill this enemy before his family, or give up the resistance, Kurt says,
“What a luxury it is to do what is right, when what is right is clear.”*
What a luxury.
One theologian and conflict mediator puts it this way: the uncomfortable truth is that “most people do what’s reasonable to them at the time, most of the time.”**
In a moral world we mock up in black and white, the truth is that we see only in gray.
Our potential to do good, and our proclivity to do evil,
are indelibly interwoven until the end of days.
We carry the extremes of Matthew’s gospel within ourselves.
We are, as Luther says, in the same moment saint and sinner,
goat and sheep, broken and good.
We are broken. And we are good.
This is not to say that we live in a morally relative world.
We paint moral extremes in black and white, and operate in gray,
But God — God sees the human heart in full color.
We see dimly, but God sees clearly
What is good and what is evil.
God is not neutral, God is not sitting in the audience,
God moves and acts and takes a stand in history and in our lives today.
The one thing that sheep and goats have in common is that neither can recognize God. “Lord when was it that we saw you?” we ask.
God, if you act in history, where?
Jesus answers us. God doesn’t hang out with the goats, and not with the sheep. God doesn’t say, “You decide to do the right thing first, and then I’ll show up.”
He says “Where the need is — where sickness and nakedness and poverty are— that is where I am.”
If you want to see Jesus acting in human history,
Don’t look for good deeds.
Look for the hurt.
That is where God’s love begins.
Jesus came to earth to be hungry and tired and afraid with us.
Jesus is here, with the poor and grieving and sick ones among us.
Jesus is in the hurts of the person sitting next to you,
Jesus is in you — in your vulnerability,
That is where God’s love begins.
Christians, this is what it means to worship a God
Who died on a cross,
A God who became incarnate not so He could rule above us in perfection,
But so She could meet us in our pain,
Who said, before I heal you,
Let me take on your wounds,
Before I rescue you from evil,
Let me experience its worst effects,
I will die,
So that you will live.
God is not neutral, God is not far away, way up high on a throne.
God took on flesh, and taught and healed and died,
for the oppressed on this earth.
For you in your weakness, today.
At this worship, in this bread and wine,
God meets you
And Loves You
Matthew paints in extremes,
The far off day when Christ will come again.
But the stakes are just as high today.
Our choices matter,
Whether it’s the choice to recycle,
Or the choice to revolt.
Christ is not coming some far off day,
He is already here among the suffering,
And He needs us to give and to struggle and to resist.
God is in the world, and today, we are Her hands and feet and voices.
We, friends, part sheep and part goat,
we are called to tend to each other as shepherds,
So that we may see God in each other,
And see each other in God’s eyes,
Beloved and whole.
This is what it means to be church.
To forgive each other, as God forgives us,
To tend each other’s hurt, even as we are hurting.
Friends, we paint in black and white,
we see only gray,
But God sees clearly,
Our brokenness and beauty,
In full color,
And calls us
*Paraphrasing. Lillian Hellman, Watch on the Rhine, as staged at the Guthrie in Fall 2017.
**Padraig O’Tuama. Quoted from interview with Krista Tippett. < https://onbeing.org/programs/padraig-o-tuama-belonging-creates-and-undoes-us-both-mar2017/>.