Christ the King Sunday
The Rev. George Pejakovich
Matthew 25:31-46

EVERY NOW AND THEN WE COME ACROSS A BIBLICAL PASSAGE THAT MAKES US VERY UNCOMFORTABLE, AND, TO TELL THE TRUTH, A BIT AFRAID OF THE IMPLICATIONS. THE GOSPEL FOR TODAY IS ONE OF THEM. THIS PARABLE OF THE FINAL JUDGMENT IS THE CULMINATION OF ALL THE PARABLES THAT HAVE PRECEDED IT WHICH JESUS TOLD IN THE WEEK BEFORE HIS PASSION. THE IMPORTANCE OF THIS PASSAGE CAN NOT BE UNDERSTATED, SINCE IT IS THE LAST THING JESUS SAID ABOUT THE END OF THIS AGE AND THE COMING OF THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN. IMMEDIATELY AFTER SAYING THIS, JESUS TELLS THE DISCIPLES THAT THE PASSOVER IS IN TWO DAYS, AND HE WILL BE HANDED OVER TO BE CRUCIFIED. WHAT MAKES US UNCOMFORTABLE ABOUT THIS PASSAGE IS THAT IT SEEMS TO CONTRADICT OUR UNDERSTANDING THAT WE ARE SAVED BY GRACE AND NOT BY OUR WORKS, SINCE THE REWARD OF THE SHEEP AND THE PUNISHMENT OF THE GOATS IN THE LIFE TO COME APPEARS TO BE BASED ON WHAT THEY DID IN THIS LIFE. AS WITH ALL THE PARABLES OF JESUS, HOWEVER, THE MEANING OF THE PARABLE LIES DEEPER THAN ON THE SURFACE.

AT THE END OF THIS AGE, JESUS SAID, THE SON OF MAN WILL RETURN WITH ALL HIS ANGELS AND WILL SIT ON THE THRONE OF JUDGMENT. ALL THE NATIONS OF THE WORLD, ALL THE VARIOUS PEOPLES FROM ALL LANDS, WILL BE GATHERED BEFORE HIM, AND HE WILL SEPARATE THE SHEEP FROM THE GOATS, BASED ON WHAT THEY DID IN THIS LIFE. THE STANDARD FOR BOTH THE SHEEP AND THE GOATS IS THE SAME; DID THEY FEED JESUS WHEN HE WAS HUNGRY, GIVE HIM A DRINK WHEN HE WAS THIRSTY, WELCOME HIM WHEN HE WAS A STRANGER, CLOTHE HIM WHEN HE WAS NAKED, TAKE CARE OF HIM WHEN HE WAS SICK, OR VISIT HIM WHEN HE WAS IN PRISON? WHEN WE HEAR, OR READ, THIS APPARENT CHECK LIST, THE FIRST THOUGHT WHICH COMES TO OUR MIND, TO MINE AT LEAST, IS, “WHOA! I AM IN TROUBLE!” HOWEVER, THIS IS NOT A CHECKLIST FOR US AS AN ADMISSION TICKET TO THE KINGDOM OF GOD; SOMETHING ELSE IS GOING ON HERE.

THE CLUE, OR THE HOOK, IN THE PARABLE IS THAT BOTH THE SHEEP AND THE GOATS ARE SURPRISED. BOTH ASK, “WHEN DID WE SEE YOU?” THEY ASK THIS WITH A STUNNED SURPRISE AS THEY STAND BEFORE THE GLORIFIED CHRIST SURROUNDED BY HIS ANGELS, BECAUSE THE SHEEP CAN NOT REMEMBER SEEING THE GLORY OF CHRIST IN THIS LIFE AS THEY WENT ABOUT DOING WHAT THEY DID, AND THE GOATS ARE SURPRISED BECAUSE, HAD THEY SEEN THE GLORY OF CHRIST IN THIS LIFE, THEY WOULD HAVE SERVED HIM. TRULY, I TELL YOU, JESUS WILL SAY, AS YOU DID OR DID NOT DO TO THE LEAST OF THESE MY BROTHERS, YOU DID OR DID NOT DO IT TO ME.

LAST WEEK, IN THE ADULT FORUM, AFTER WE HAD TALKED ABOUT WHAT IT MEANS THAT OUR BODIES ARE THE TEMPLE OF GOD IN THIS WORLD, ONE OF THE MEMBERS OF THE CONGREGATION STOPPED STEVE AND ASKED, “DOES THAT MEAN WHEN WE HURT SOMEONE ELSE WE ARE HURTING GOD?” THE ANSWER TO THE QUESTION IS, OF COURSE, “ABSOLUTELY.” IN THE BROADER CONTEXT, THE ANSWER TO THE QUESTION HAS EVEN GREATER IMPLICATIONS, BECAUSE WHAT WE DO OR DO NOT DO TO ANOTHER, WE ARE DOING IT OR NOT DOING IT TO GOD IN CHRIST.

TO FULLY UNDERSTAND THE SURPRISE OF BOTH THE SHEEP AND THE GOATS, WE MUST REMEMBER WHAT PROMPTED THE SERIES OF PARABLES WHICH LED TO THIS FINAL ORACLE. THE QUESTION ASKED OF JESUS WAS, “TEACHER, WHICH IS THE GREATEST COMMANDMENT?” JESUS’ ANSWER WE KNOW BY HEART; “YOU SHALL LOVE THE LORD YOUR GOD WITH ALL YOUR HEART, WITH ALL YOUR SOUL, WITH ALL YOUR STRENGTH, AND WITH ALL YOUR MIND . . . AND YOU SHALL LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF.” THE SHEEP ARE SURPRISED BECAUSE THEY DID NOT SEE WHAT THEY WERE DOING AS ANYTHING SPECIAL; THEY JUST LOVED THEIR NEIGHBORS BECAUSE OF THEIR LOVE FOR GOD. THE GOATS ARE SURPRISED BECAUSE, IN SPITE OF THEIR PROFESSED LOVE FOR GOD, THEY DID NOT EVEN THE NEED TO LOVE THEIR NEIGHBORS. IT IS NOT THE WORKS WHICH PRODUCE RIGHTEOUSNESS; IT IS THE RIGHTEOUSNESS WHICH PRODUCES THE WORKS. WHEN WE LOVE GOD WITH ALL OF OUR BEING, WE WILL BE DOING THE WORK OF GOD’S KINGDOM WITHOUT EVEN THINKING ABOUT IT OR CONSIDERING IT AS ANYTHING SPECIAL.

MANY OF US DON’T FEEL THAT WE ARE DOING ANYTHING SPECIAL OR SIGNIFICANT, LIKE RUNNING A PRISON MINISTRY OR A HOMELESS SHELTER, OR EVEN BEING A MISSIONARY OVERSEAS. WE THINK THAT THOSE ARE SOME REALLY FAITHFUL PEOPLE, AND WHAT THEY DO IS SO FAR BEYOND OUR ABILITIES. SO, WE JUST DO THE LITTLE THINGS THAT WE CAN; LIKE MAKING PEANUT BUTTER LUNCHES FOR THE NEIGHBORHOOD ON SATURDAY; OR HELPING ONCE IN A WHILE AT “LET’S HELP; OR GIVING A COAT TO SOMEONE IN NEED. YET, EVERY LITTLE THING WE DO FOR SOMEONE IN NEED, WE ARE DOING IT FOR AND TO THE LORD OF GLORY. WE DON’T DO WHATEVER WE DO TO GET INTO THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN; WE DO WHAT WE DO BECAUSE WE ARE ALREADY CITIZENS OF THE KINGDOM OF HEAVEN BECAUSE OF WHAT GOD HAS DONE FOR US IN JESUS.

LUTHER SAID THAT WE ARE TO BE LITTLE CHRISTS FOR THE WORLD. WHAT CHRIST HAS DONE FOR THE WORLD, WE ARE TO DO FOR THE NEIGHBOR NEXT DOOR. PERHAPS, THE FIRST STEP IN BEING LITTLE CHRISTS FOR THE WORLD IS IN THE RECOGNITION OF CHRIST IN OUR NEIGHBOR; EVEN IN THE FACE OF THE DRUG ADDICT WHO WANDERS IN HERE ON A COLD SUNDAY MORNING TO GET WARM. HOW EASY IT IS FOR OUR EYES TO PASS OVER THE HOMELESS, THE HURTING, THE BROKEN, THE SICK, AND NOT SEE THE FACE OF CHRIST IN THEIR TORTURED FACES. HOW EASY IT IS TO NOT SEE THEM AT ALL, AND SO MISS THE CHANCE SHOW THE LOVE OF GOD TO THEM. THESE ARE THE ONES JESUS CALLS HIS FAMILY, AND IF THEY ARE JESUS’ FAMILY, SURELY THEY ARE OUR BROTHERS AND SISTERS. HOW THEN, DO WE TALK CARE OF OUR OWN?

PERHAPS THE MEANING OF THE PARABLE IS NOT ABOUT THE JUDGMENT AT THE END OF TIME, BUT ABOUT MEETING THE LORD OF GLORY IN THE HERE AND NOW. IF WE KNOW AND LOVE GOD NOW THROUGH OUR LORD JESUS, WE NEED NOT WORRY ABOUT WHAT WILL HAPPEN ON THE DAY OF JUDGMENT; WE CAN LEAVE THAT TO THE KING OF GLORY. IF WE KNOW HIM NOW, AS HE REVEALED HIMSELF COMPLETELY TO US ON THE CROSS, GIVING HIMSELF FOR OUR SAKES, THEN WE WILL KNOW WHAT IT MEANS TO FOLLOW IN HIS STEPS AND GIVE OUR SELVES FOR OTHERS. IT IS IN THE LOSING OF OURSELVES THAT BRINGS THE GREAT SURPRISE; WE WILL FIND THAT WE ARE BLESSED BY THE FATHER AND ARE THE INHERITORS OF THE KINGDOM PREPARED FOR US FROM THE FOUNDATION OF THE WORLD.
AMEN

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