The following is the rough draft of the sermon at Peace Mennonite Church, November 20, 2011
1O come, let us sing to the Lord; let us make a joyful noise to the rock of our salvation!
2Let us come into his presence with thanksgiving; let us make a joyful noise to him with songs of praise!
3For the Lord is a great God, and a great King above all gods.
4In his hand are the depths of the earth; the heights of the mountains are his also.
5The sea is his, for he made it, and the dry land, which his hands have formed.
6O come, let us worship and bow down, let us kneel before the Lord, our Maker!
7For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand. O that today you would listen to his voice!
1Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth.
2Worship the Lord with gladness; come into his presence with singing.
3Know that the Lord is God. It is he that made us, and we are his; we are his people, and the sheep of his pasture.
4Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise. Give thanks to him, bless his name.
5For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.
15I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason 16I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. 17I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, 18so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, 19and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power. 20God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, 21far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. 22And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, 23which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.
31“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. 32All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 34Then 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; 35for 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, 36I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ 37Then 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? 38And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 40And 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.’ 41Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; 42for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ 45Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
The New Revised Standard Version, copyright 1989 by the Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
My sermon today has several goals. The first goal is to introduce everyone again to what it means to be a Christian, and to introduce us all again to what it means to be a Christian of the Mennonite variety, and then along with that discuss this in terms of Matthew 25: 31-46.
What it means to be a Christian. Well, it involves believing that Jesus and God had a special or miraculous relationship with God that involves some kind of unity. I’m not sure I can exactly, precisely understand the relationship between Jesus and God because at least one of them, God, is for sure infinite, and my mind and vocabulary are not. I’m just not eternal enough to pin that down. The language that seems to get all the focus is ‘son of God’. But that kind of big talk was popular around Jesus’ time. Caesar was described also as the son of God, or son of the gods. And Christians sort of said—no, Jesus is the son of God, not Caesar.
Messiah is an easier term to relate to—it means liberator, deliverer, savior, and for me it’s a little easier to understand. And Jesus is referred to as the messiah far more often than being called the son of God.
So, by whatever name we choose, Christians believe that Jesus is their savior, their liberator or that his life tells a story that saves us, or that liberates us, etc. There is something very miraculous and unbelievable and amazing about Jesus and his story and his connection to God, and we want to share in that magic, or in the wonder of God, by listening to what Jesus had to say.
But what was Jesus saying? We and many others could quote the words of Jesus to communicate what Jesus was saying, but if we had to sum up what Jesus was in general saying, each of us might be saying something completely different from one another, but I bet we might say that Jesus came into a world in which the rich and powerful exerted their power over the poor and oppressed, much like our world, and violence was used to keep this system in place worldwide, much like ours, and that all relationships from parents, to spouses and lovers, friends, co-workers and employers, masters and slaves, conquerors and victims, –all these relationships are based upon making class distinctions among below—lower and higher, and making value judgments among people—people are more or less valuable depending on where they are in the bug world system—white or black, poor or rich, Jew or Muslim, Democrats, Republicans, educated or ignorant. We live in a world governed by the exercise of power over others.
I believe Jesus understood that there was a new and different way for people to live, and that he and God understood this new way to be ‘the kingdom of God’. This kingdom, which would care for the poor, the oppressed, the imprisoned, the sick and lonely was announced as beginning by the beginning of Jesus’ public ministry. When Jesus began healing the sick, feeding the multitudes and questioning the godliness of the Jewish legal system and also the Roman legal system, he was calling for the justice of the kingdom of God to begin.
So, in this kingdom of God, you and I, as followers of Jesus are to begin right now to do this kingdom work. By doing this kingdom work we begin to know Jesus and to know God, grow together in a community of Christ, our church (but with a different and larger idea than the normal church designation).
What does this kingdom of God look like? People are finally completely equal. Don’t we know that some people in Columbia are seen as better than other people in Columbia? Don’t some people in Columbia live in houses worth millions of dollars and others live in mobile homes too old to be moved? Are some neighborhoods in Columbia better than others or seen as better? In a similar fashion, aren’t some nations and regions better off generally than other areas, and isn’t it better generally to live north of the equator rather than south of it?
Some nations have military power and wealth and others don’t. Different races, different cultures, different religions and languages. Human beings, it seems find any difference reason for hate, or separation, violence and control.
With power comes comfort, longer lives, better lives and healthier children and respect, and it seems human beings use any difference as a means for exercising control. The culture of the world that depends on power to function is a culture of imprisonment and death and leads away from God and away from justice.
The culture of Jesus is a culture of life and freedom and leads each of us to God. Instead of being a culture dependent on power, in the kingdom of God, we have to learn to give up power. This means that we, you and I, have to set each other free of all the expectations and controls you may have or wish you had.
It also means America and Europe will have to learn how to reduce what we have and what we want and share resources with the rest of the world. We’ll have to acknowledge that every human being is as good as a white human being that speaks English, and learning that a woman is as good and valuable as a man.
A world in which all persons are equally valuable means there will be no reason to dominate another person by force or by money or by marriage. If every one is equal there is no expectation in the culture that someone should be dominated or controlled, and so imprisonment or domination and death are no longer important. And no one should be afraid of us, and we do not have to live in fear of them, whoever us and them is…
So, this emphasis on the kingdom of God, and being servants in the kingdom of God is at least in mind, unique to the Mennonite culture. We are expected to not only love God and one another, we have to let God and others love us, and we have to work to care for everyone else. This emphasis on actually being something in the world right now in very Mennonite, rather than simply praying for the kingdom of God like a heaven to which we may someday go. Some might say that we want heaven here on earth, rather than waiting for it.
And if we thinking about when Jesus leads us all be equal, he is removing the causes of wealth and poverty, so that poor do not need to steal, people have fewer reasons to hate, and nations have no reason to go to war.
In today’s scripture Jesus seems to be saying that if there is any kind of ‘final judgment we will be judged not on what we believe but what we have actually have done for the less fortunate. Jesus, in Matthew 25 is promising that the closest we can come to him is by feeding the poor, caring for the sick, comforting those in prison and in need.
Note that Matthew doesn’t tell us how to feed the poor, or even how not to be poor ourselves, or how to care for the sick, and those in prison—he just tells us to do it! The words of a familiar Franciscan Blessing come to mind:
May God bless you with discomfort at easy answers, half truths, and superficial relationships, so that you may live deep within your heart.
May God bless you with anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so that you may work for justice, freedom and peace.
May God bless you with tears to shed for those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation and war, so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and to turn their pain into joy.
May God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you can make a difference in this world, so that you can do what others claim cannot be done.