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We are reaching the end of our time in the gospel of Matthew come and we are reaching our end on our time with the parables. If you have been traveling this journey This story might seem like a relief After bridesmaids in lanterns, wedding clothes, wheat and weeds. They have been confusing and have left us with more questions than answers, which it’s generally the point of a parable but not how we would prefer them.
In this gospel, we have spent a lot of time thinking about kingdoms. It began with Scholars from far-off places coming to the leader of the kingdom of this world searching for the new king who was born. And all along, Jesus has been telling these stories again and again to reveal The differences between the kingdoms of this world and the kingdom of God.
Way back when we started in January with Matthew the 1st teachings of Jesus was the sermon on the mount, And they started with the beatitudes: Blessed are the poor and the peacemakers, Blessed are those who grieve into hunger and thirst for righteousness.
Jesus spent his time of years revealing what The kingdom of God would look Like while he taught about it: Healing the sick, feeding the multitudes, and welcoming those on the margins.
And now we are heading towards the end. Jesus is not acting like a man who is planning to die, he is spending his days in the city surrounded by people who are on his side and then Retreats to the home of a friend at night. But he also seems to be aware that there are some who would prefer Jesus be gone, out of the way, that they would kill him if given the chance. And so there’s a sense of urgency, there are things these disciples needed to know and hear to be ready for what was to come next.
In our parable today all of the nations of the world come before the kingdom of God. And all of the people of all of the nations are represented by sheep and by goats, and divided among who is welcomed into eternal life. There’s a translation that says eternal life, could also and perhaps more completely be defined as a whole and abundant life that is here and not just one beyond.
I think there are a couple of reasons why we like this story so much. one is that it seems to be so much easier to understand than some of these previous parables. but I think the other is that we are able to find tangible ways in which we can enter into eternity and abundant and whole living in this world. We’re able to look at it and know that at least we are doing something.
in early 2013 Canadian sculptor Timothy Schmalz installed his sculpture Homeless Jesus, also known as Jesus the Homeless, which depicts Jesus as a homeless person, sleeping on a park bench. The original sculpture was installed at Regis College, University of Toronto. Over the years, more than 100 casts of the statue have been installed worldwide.
When this sculpture was installed in Davidson, NC, an affluent community outside of Charlotte, “One woman from the neighborhood actually called police the first time she drove by,” says David Boraks, editor of DavidsonNews.net. “She thought it was an actual homeless person.”
“Another neighbor, who lives a couple of doors down from the church, wrote us a letter to the editor saying it creeps him out,” Boraks added.
In other communities where a sculpture was placed, it was commented on how it “forced” one member of the community to notice the other homeless living in her city.
Rev. David Buck. “It gives authenticity to our church,” “This is a relatively affluent church, to be honest, and we need to be reminded ourselves that our faith expresses itself in active concern for the marginalized of society.” https://www.npr.org/2014/04/13/302019921/statue-of-a-homeless-jesus-startles-a-wealthy-community
The world is full of nice people who would never call the police on Jesus if he stood before him and introduced himself, was robed in glory; but they might call if he were laying homeless sleep in a bench in their park.
Here’s the thing I want to believe that I am the Sheep but I think most of us do, But I think if we’re honest and I think if we look at the statement of Jesus saying what You have not done for one Of these…” And I can think of more than once when I have turned a blind eye on the street or to someone in need.
Sometimes I too am the goat. Sometimes the person sleeping on the bench isn’t seen as the image of God the face of Christ or even fully human and just as an inconvenience.
In 2008 local news stories and new stories across the country wrote a short article about a church in Northampton Massachusetts. It’s getting their very expensive pipe organ with hand-painted art on them had been taken down wrapped in blankets and placed in the corner before they could be shipped out or reinstalled wherever they were in the process of restoring this historic organ. The news stories tell us then that a homeless man had gotten into the church and saw these piles of what he thought were rolled-up rugs or blankets and fell asleep. The articles tell us that he caused $15,000 in damages and delays on the restoration of the organ. The articles don’t tell us that Reverend Peter Ives got up on Sunday morning and address his congregation saying something like this “I understand you are upset, angry, disappointed, sad. I am, too. How is it that we can live in this community where there are people who have no other options are so desperate that they have to break into a church and sleep on the rolled-up pipes in the basement.”
Holy Covenant United Methodist Church in Chicago every Tuesday Since 1992 hosts Dignity Diner “where respect is always on the menu.” They feed 50 or so homeless or food and secure people in their community every Tuesday.
I don’t know that dignity is a word that we use very often. Probably the 1st time I ever heard it used was in the musical Rent where the attendees an AIDS support group meeting and the homeless living on the streets in New York City in the middle of Winter sing will I lose my dignity will someone care? They wondered if they would die alone if they would their name would be remembered if anyone want to tell their story.
To offer dignity is to see the hungry and the naked and the sick and the imprisoned whatever reason they are in prison for as fully human, As full members of the creation of God-made in God’s Image. To see in the face of everyone Christ.
And I’m not sure that this is something that is inherently easy every day. but I wonder if it’s like putting down that piece of clothing every morning until it becomes routine and becomes part of Who You Are. I wonder if it is practicing the kind of kindness every day until it just becomes so innate that when you stand before Christ you aren’t doing it for any kind of Eternal reward because it is who you are and how you have been made.
That is the call of this story of this teaching of Jesus to be fully and abundantly human Is to offer the dignity of full humanity to another, every other. It is arms deep in food and clothing and the basic things you need for each day and it’s the quiet presence of listening to the stories of another.
This is the culmination of everything that is gone before, of Jesus’ life work, his teaching, of everything he wanted his disciples to know when he’s no longer standing before them telling them what to do, this is what he’s passing on to us. and he knows that we won’t always get it perfectly, It will be times when we will be more goat than sheep, we have in Christ Revelations again and again of the grace of God. We have a call that is we offer grace to ourselves and to others God is offering Grace already to us. And sounds very scary with that fire, our gospel writer is pulling again as always from the ancient text, and in them fires aren’t fires that burn forever but burn for a purpose. Who hasn’t failed to love the way they wanted and it felt like guilt and shame and fire. It refines it burns away what has been It prepares us to try again.
This is Jesus’ final story. Have to know the end was coming. Asking his disciples and us to choose a kingdom: the kingdoms of this Earth or the kingdom of God. Kingdom are we going to live in what kingdom are we going to give our allegiance to what kingdom are we going to be participating in and building up? He is asking us what kind of people are we going to be. Are we going to be prepared or unprepared wise or foolish faithful or scared caring or apathetic?
Jesus is telling his disciples, and us, that the only way for us to be fully and abundantly and wholly human is by offering and ensuring the full humanity in another, every other. that when we look in the mirror and when we look at our loved ones and when we look at the stranger and the person living on the streets and the person living a world away and the person that we would rather not have to look at we see the face of Christ. My abundant and whole living is tied to the whole and Abundant Living of all of humanity. Our lives are interdependent And depend on each other
James H. Cone, God of the Oppressed “The Christian community, therefore, is that community that freely becomes oppressed, because they know that Jesus himself has defined humanity’s liberation in the context of what happens to the little ones. Christians join the cause of the oppressed in the fight for justice not because of some philosophical principle of “the Good” or because of a religious feeling of sympathy for people in prison. Sympathy does not change the structures of injustice. The authentic identity of Christians with the poor is found in the claim which the Jesus-encounter lays upon their own life-style, a claim that connects the word “Christian” with the liberation of the poor. Christians fight not for humanity in general but for themselves and out of their love for concrete human beings.”
Jesus’ stories reduced folks at the time at least into two kinds of people: the prepared or unprepared, wise or foolish, faithful or scared, caring or apathetic, and then asked us who we are going to be.
What are you going to put on every day until it becomes a part of you? What are going to be your practices until they become your habits until they become characteristics? Are you willing to see the face of Christ in the Mirror, in each other and in a stranger, and be moved in kindness and love, to offer respect and dignity?
What kingdom are you going to choose?