Tag Archives: Matthew 25

It’s Advent Eve!

Sermon for Sunday, November 26, 2017

How many of you know that today is the last Sunday of the church year? When considering the Sunday calendar, today is like “Advent Eve”. Therefore, what better time is there to write our Christmas card letter.

The custom of sending Christmas cards has really changed over my lifetime and with the addition of personal computers in our homes, one change has been to include a holiday letter to share your life experiences with all those family and friends you are accustomed to exchanging Christmas cards.

My experience with the year-end letter is that it is a list of the high points in a family’s life. No one really mentions too many negative or sad experiences, yet I admit using the letter to let others know of some such changes in our family. Sometimes I feel like I do not have anything worthy of sharing as the year is just filled with the day-to-day activities of work and household chores. Those are the toughest ones to write.

Yet, time is getting away, so let’s get started:

 

Dear Family and Friends,

            Blessings to each of you this holiday season. The years are certainly racing ahead, but we are blessed with good health and a comfortable home.

            Sadly we have to report that we lost two of our family this year: Mary Ellen and Ms. Bonnie. Their passing leaves empty space in our pews, but we know that they have continued their faith journey to meet Jesus Christ himself.

            Joyfully, though, we can share that two have chosen to be baptized as Christians. Two young ladies made this personal decision and it was a joy to share in the sacrament with them. . . .

 

            These Christmas letters are ways to share with others the basic facts of the closing year, but sometimes they become an opportunity to share something that has influenced our lives in profound ways. My brother includes a list of favorite books, movies, and music that he has read, seen or heard through the year.

If we choose to include something like that in our church’s letter, it is difficult, especially if we are not participating in a small group study or even accustomed to the practice of reading scripture. Each week, the common lectionary is included on the bulletin. That is just one way to practice John Wesley’s act of piety of reading scripture.

Reading through the lectionary this week, I found the four readings all related to the same metaphor: the shepherd separating the sheep and the goats. The parable in Matthew is familiar and we have reviewed or referenced it repeatedly, so that makes it difficult to hear God’s message for today, Advent Eve. Of course, put the choice of these verses into the perspective of the Christian year’s conclusion one may discover something in these verses that does fit.

The common lectionary is based on a 3-year cycle. With this week, Year A concludes. But the lectionary for Year B is already available, as is Year C. Commentaries are available, and during the course of the year, a variety of on-line sources are available to help understand the significance of these verses in our lives.

How they are interpreted depends on real-life circumstances and how God uses the words to speak to us depends on a broad range of things—whether it is good sheep behaviors or troublesome goat behaviors.

Let’s consider the parable Jesus tells in Matthew 25:31-36

 

     31 “But when the Son of Manco mes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit upon his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered in his presence, and he will separate the people as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will place the sheep at his right hand and the goats at his left.

     34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. 36 I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’

 

Jesus is addressing the Pharisees who were testing him, but Jesus was a well-trained Jew and his answer directly referenced the scripture from the prophet Ezekiel as written in the Old Testament book Ezekiel 34:17:

 

17 “And as for you, my flock, this is what the Sovereign Lord says to his people: I will judge between one animal of the flock and another, separating the sheep from the goats. (emphasis added)

 

As the church year closes, considering the metaphor of God’s judgment as separating the sheep from the goats does help us to evaluate the church’s adherence to Jesus’ teaching. Before we can finish the year-end letter, we need to honestly determine how we have followed Jesus’ commandment to love God above all else and to love one another as we want to be loved.

But, let’s get back to the job of writing the annual Christmas letter:

 

            The church continues to hold weekly worship services and offer Sunday School for the kids and the adults. There has also been a Maundy Thursday service and a Community Christmas Program.

            Two events continue to be provided for the community kids and those are the Easter Fling and the Halloween treats. Through one member’s extra efforts, the local kids have also had movie nights and a summer food program.

            Members worked together to create food packs for delivery at Annual Conference in June, and school kits and hygiene kits for the annual Festival of Sharing in October.

            When school began, the church hosted one of the teacher work-day lunches. And no year is complete without the Chilhowee Community Fair and the church’s concession efforts. . . .

 

The Christmas letter conveniently packages up the year in a way to tell a positive story to all those reading it. But one might wonder what the letter does not say. There is no need to add more, God already knows.

The prophet Ezekiel goes on to tell how God will not abandon his faithful and despite the failures of the leaders at that time, he would send a “perfect shepherd.” This promise from Ezekiel 34:22-24 develops the metaphor of the Good Shepherd taking care of his flock:

 

22 So I will rescue my flock, and they will no longer be abused. I will judge between one animal of the flock and another. 23 And I will set over them one shepherd, my servant David. He will feed them and be a shepherd to them. 24 And I, the Lord, will be their God, and my servant David will be a prince among my people. . . .

The Christmas letter is almost done, but what is left out is probably the very reason that we need to continue reading scripture and meeting in community to work together loving one another.

Wesley repeatedly demanded accountability from his congregations in weekly class meetings. His focus on mission came from his understanding of Jesus’ message. Jesus’ use of the parable becomes a checklist for how we are living out the commandments. We must ask ourselves the very questions included in the parable from Matthew 25:37-39:

 

37 “Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? 39 When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’

 

Before we can finish this year’s Christmas letter, we need to ask ourselves these questions. We need to be accountable just like Wesley expected the early Methodists. We need to hear the King tell us:

 

I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!

 

Today we must reaffirm our efforts to serve one another as God asks us to serve. We need spiritual wisdom and we can find it in the words of Paul’s prayer:

 

. . . I pray for you constantly, 17 asking God, the glorious Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, to give you spiritual wisdom and insight so that you might grow in your knowledge of God.

 

18 I pray that your hearts will be flooded with light so that you can understand the confident hope he has given to those he called . . .

 

19 I also pray that you will understand the incredible greatness of God’s power for us who believe him.

Believing in God’s incredible power is not easy as we face the daily challenges of our life, but as we close out the church year we need to honestly ask the very question the Pharisees asked:

 

‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and not help you?’

 

God is all-powerful.   God is mighty. God never gives up on us, so we must not give up following him. The resolution we have to add to our Christmas letter should be quite simply:

 

. . . In closing, we return to the most basic commandment that Jesus gave us: Love one another. How we live that commandment needs to look like the work that Wesley did—doing all that we can for all we can in any way we can. This is our new year’s resolution.

            The wish we share for each of you is the blessings that come from being part of the God’s family. We invite you to join us each week during Advent as the new year begins. Join us in learning how God’s love was so strong that he gave his son so that we may be saved.      

                                                Love,

                                                Your brothers and sisters in Christ

 

 

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The Big E: How well are we following Jesus’ commandment?

given Sunday, February 26, 2012

During LENT, let’s open our minds to the Big Evangelism through scripture, worship, prayer and discussion.  The bulletin and quotes will be from The Message translation.  Consider reading your favorite translation and study notes to compare the ideas being discussed.  This is the first of the Lenten series.

Ephesians 2:1-5  Paul’s letter explaining the nature and purpose of  the church

It wasn’t so long ago that you were mired in that old stagnant life of sin. You let the world, which doesn’t know the first thing about living, tell you how to live. You filled your lungs with polluted unbelief, and then exhaled disobedience. We all did it, all of us doing what we felt like doing, when we felt like doing it, all of us in the same boat. It’s a wonder God didn’t lose his temper and do away with the whole lot of us. Instead, immense in mercy and with an incredible love, he embraced us. He took our sin-dead lives and made us alive in Christ. He did all this on his own, with no help from us!  (the Message)

Additional verses referenced in today’s sermon:

  • John 3:16  Apostle John writing to New and searching Christians
  • Matthew 28:19-20  The Greatest Commission
  • Matthew 22:37-40  The Greatest Commandment
  • Matthew 25:34-36  from the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats

Today is the first Sunday in the Lenten season, and during this Christian season tradition establishes these 40 days—excluding Sundays—as a time for deep, personal reflection.  Ash Wednesday is the first day of Lent and marks the beginning of the process.

Methodists do not have any requirements for the season, but suggestions do include giving up something for Lent.  Over the past few years, I found that adding something for Lent is another way to add focus to the season of reflection and evaluation.  In fact, one possibility is to carry your personal Bible to church each Sunday.

With that suggestion, I challenge each of you to bring your favorite translation with you during the remaining Sundays.  The scriptures provided are from the Message, but each one of us has our favorite language to read.  We may have a version with study notes that help us to hear the message.  Just bring your own Bible each Sunday; and during the week, read as often as possible.

Now that the challenge is issued, it is time to begin working through the discussion of “The Big E,” which is a subject that can strike horror in one’s psyche.  Evangelism has evolved into one of the scariest words in church language, and it is one that causes many to run away from the church.  Why?  Just what is evangelism?

Go back to Jesus’ greatest commandment, Matthew 22:37-40:

37-40Jesus said, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your passion and prayer and intelligence.’ This is the most important, the first on any list. But there is a second to set alongside it: ‘Love others as well as you love yourself.’ These two commands are pegs; everything in God’s Law and the Prophets hangs from them.”  (The MSG)

The Greatest Commandment turns out to have two parts, really.  Love God, but then also love one another.

The question for our personal reflection is “How well are we following Jesus’ commandment?”  Stop and review what has happened over the past year.  Has there been a time when life got in the way of this command?  Has something hurt you causing you to focus on yourself rather than on others?  How many times have you recognized someone’s need and worked to meet that need?

These are tough questions and we are human.  So many times we walk right past someone in need—and we really do not see the need.  We pass right on by, caught up in our own thoughts.  The disciples wanted to understand how they were to know when they were following God’s laws.  The answer is found in Matthew 25, not just once, but repeated twice:

“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Enter, you who are blessed by my Father! Take what’s coming to you in this kingdom. It’s been ready for you since the world’s foundation. And here’s why:

I was hungry and you fed me,
I was thirsty and you gave me a drink,
I was homeless and you gave me a room,
I was shivering and you gave me clothes,
I was sick and you stopped to visit,
I was in prison and you came to me.’   (the MSG)

The answer Jesus gave the disciples is the same answer he gives us today.  Look at those needs and then review whether or not you have served others in any of those ways.

This list is not complete, but it is a list that covers the basic needs of all humans:  food, shelter, and clothing, as well as healing for those who are sick or in prison.  Each of us surely can think of other times when we have identified a need and then worked to see that it is met.

How does the Big E fit into this discussion?  A definition of evangelism is needed.  Evangelism, according to the HarperCollins Bible Dictionary, is ”. . . proclaiming the good news about God’s Kingdom and about Jesus the Christ . . . “  Those words sound familiar, and they echo the Great Commission as recorded in Matthew 28:19-20:

Jesus, undeterred, went right ahead and gave his charge: “God authorized and commanded me to commission you: Go out and train everyone you meet, far and near, in this way of life, marking them by baptism in the threefold name: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Then instruct them in the practice of all I have commanded you. I’ll be with you as you do this, day after day after day, right up to the end of the age.”  (the MSG)

The echo continues to be heard across the centuries and nothing has changed Jesus’ instructions since then.  During this Lent, we need to include or possibly conclude our reflection with the question How well have we shared the good news with others?”  The Great Commission is Evangelism.

A language search makes the connection much clearer.  Evangelism is the gospel.  The gospel is the good news.  The good news is found in John 3:16:  “This is how much God loved the world: He gave his Son, his one and only Son. And this is why: so that no one need be destroyed; by believing in him, anyone can have a whole and lasting life.  (the MSG)

The Big E should be the “Big Easy,” but in our harried, full, fast-paced lives we are frightened of evangelism as we think it is another job for us to do.  We see evangelism as imposing our views on someone else.  We see evangelism as a specific process to get others into church.  We do not know how we could possibly evangelize, as we do not have that talent.

These are reasons I know personally.  I did not get it.  I could not see how evangelism was something I could do.  I did not understand that evangelism as a process was simply living my faith openly.  Evangelism is easy; evangelism is Christian life.  What do we do to take fear out of that word—evangelism?

During the weeks of Lent, the Big E needs a makeover.  We need to conquer the fears that evangelism creates in our own minds and find ways to apply the gospel in our lives today.  Why the word evangelism did not even surface until the early to mid 1600s!  The word is certainly not as old as the faith, so surely we can tame it for our 21st century lives.

Evangelism can be studied and analyzed by theologians, but the simple fact is that evangelism needs to be as natural to us as breathing.  The question really becomes how do we share the love, the joy, and the peace that our faith provides us in all that we do in our earthly life.  How can we demonstrate to others the power of God when we just casually live with it?

First, review your own daily life.  Look at how your faith is woven into each and every little facet of the day.  As you prepare and eat a dinner, do you see God’s role in your life?  Is God in your life at work, whether in an office or out in the field?  When you look out at the birds, the sun, the thunderstorm, or the woods, do you see the wonder of God’s world?  In the doctor’s office, in a hospital, or even during a funeral, is God with you?

Second, think about the times you have been asked how you manage all that you do or have been through.  Don’t you say that you do it because of your faith?  Don’t you tell others that that is just life so you take it one day at a time—knowing that God is with you?  And, despite all that you are struggling to manage, when someone else is in trouble, don’t you put them first?  You are evangelizing.  You are living your faith.

As the Big E continues to loom over us, let’s continue with our personal reflection and a congregational discussion.  If living a Christian life is the good news, how can we share that with others?  Once you see the gospel in your life, now you will look outward seeing how to share it.  The final issue is defining the kingdom of heaven and then how to explain it to others.  This is our Lenten task.

Dear Loving Father,

Our lives are so full of family, work, and fun

     we are guilty of overlooking the Great Commission.

Forgive us for knowingly avoiding evangelizing.

Guide us through Lent as we review our own faith,

      as we struggle to understand our own good news.

Open our minds as we look at how our faith is evangelism

     and search for ways to openly share with others.

Teach us through the words of the Bible, the hymns,

      and the prayers how the Kingdom of Heaven

     was, is and will forever be available to all.

Thank you for this community of faith who join

     in worship, study and practice together.

Amen.

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