Saturday, November 26, 2011

Matthew 25:31-46 - Christ the King

Matthew 25:31-46
What is a king? What does it mean to have
a king? Who is a king? In this land of
democracy, which was built throwing off our
ties to a king and breaking out on our own
without the fetters of a dieing feudal system
and its monarchy, what does it mean to say
that Christ is king? England still has a queen
and will someday in my lifetime have a King.
But the monarchy there is little more than a
living parade, a living heirloom of by gone
days of England’s past. But many countries
still have kings in far off places of this world.

This past week when I was at the District
Pastors and Spouses retreat, a group of us
went to eat at a Thai restaurant. On three of
the walls of the restaurant was the picture of
this very regal looking couple. When we
asked the waitress who this couple was, she
told us that they were the king and queen of
Thailand. From what I understand the king
and queen of Thailand are held in great
affection by the Thai people. The waitress told
us quite a bit about how wonderful this couple
is and how much they are revered and
respected by Thai people everywhere. The
owners of this restaurant live here in the
states, but they still honor and revere the king
of their native land.

I can ascertain that a good king is respected
and honored by his people. A good king is
kind and just and is loved by all those whom
he rules. But a king does not have to be these
thing in order to be king. A king is a king by
birth by lineage or by coo, by over throwing a
the current king and taking over his throne
and establishing his line and his lineage as the
new succession to the throne. A king is king
by power of the law but ironically in many
ways is above the law and not required to
adhere to the very law which makes him king.

A king can still be king due to this power he
wields even if he is cruel and tyrannical. A
king can still be king even if he squanders the
people’s money and mistreats them at every
turn. As long as he can hold onto his power
the king. History shows us that a king can be
good or bad; kind and just or tyrannical and
bent on nothing but his own gain.
So there are kings who are revered and
honored, kings who deserve to be praised for
their kindness, generosity and the just way
they rule the people. When we look to God
we, as Christians would expect that Jesus as
king would be the later. But what kind of king
is in this passage? This passage presents to us
a king who divides people as a shepherd
separates sheep from goats. The sheep he
allows into his kingdom and the goats are
throw out, not allowed to enter. The way that
I understand it a king just accepts the people
he is given. Just as he was born to be king
everyone else who was born within the
borders of his kingdom are born to be his
subjects but Christ the king is picky. He does
not simply want subjects, he wants a certain
kind of subjects. He wants subjects who live
and act in ways which he deems worthy, just.
He only wants subjects who are righteous, for
it is those whom he calls righteous he decides
are the sheep and accepts, it is those who do
not live in righteous ways whom he calls goats
and casts out.

Jesus is not only our king but he is choosey
about those who will be in his kingdom.
Jesus, the Son of Man will sit on the throne of
Heaven and divide up those who are in his
kingdom and those who are not. On his left
he puts the goats on his left saying to them
that he was hungry, thirsty, a stranger, naked,
sick and in prison and you did not feed me,
give me something to drink, welcome me,
cloth me, take care of me or visit me. To the
right he puts the sheep and he will likewise
say to them, I was hungry, thirsty, a stranger,
naked, sick and in prison and when you saw
me you fed me, gave me a drink, welcomed
me, clothed me, took care of me, and visited
me. To those on his right he praise them and
welcomed them into his eternal kingdom, to
those on his left he will cast out of his
kingdom where they punished.

And all the good protestant Christians who
know that the grace of God and the gift of
eternal life are freely given to those who have
believed and have and not earned entrance
into God’s kingdom by merit or by good
works, look on wondering, “when was it that
the world turned upside down and how is it
that everything we believed to be true about
how these things work can proved to be
false?” What is Jesus saying? Earning our
way into God’s eternal kingdom is earned by
giving to those who are less fortunate than
ourselves. That can’t be right, can it? It goes
against everything that I have ever been
taught, when it comes to how the grace, and
forgiveness of God works.

But that is what Jesus says there. I just read
it, “Then 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; for 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, I was naked
and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you
took care of me, I was in prison and you
visited me.'. . .‘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.' Then 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; for I was
hungry and you gave me no food, I was
thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I
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.'. .
.‘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.' And these will go away into eternal
punishment, but the righteous into eternal

It says it right there if you give food the
hungry, water to the thirsty, welcome the
stranger, cloth the naked, take care of the sick
and visit the imprisoned we will be called
righteous and welcomed into eternal life.
Jesus says it, so it must be true.

And it is true, but it true because faith and
belief came first. Those who live the love of
God in their lives, those who accept the truth
of the gospel of Jesus Christ and have faith in
him for eternal life will visit the sick, cloth the
naked, welcome the stranger, give water to the
thirsty and feed the hungry. They will do all
these things because their faith compels them
to, because the love they have from Jesus will
not allow them to not.

Faith is a strange kind of belief. Faith is a
belief that is lived, it is a belief which can only
exist in action. You can believe that the earth
is round. You can believe that the world is
made up of tiny electrically charged particles
whose properties dictate how our world
works but those kind of beliefs require
nothing of us. We either believe that these
unseen forces are at work in our world or we
don’t. There is nothing that believing or not
believing in electrons requires of us, but faith
in Jesus Christ requires something of us. It
moves us, it changes us and spurs us into

Once you know the truth of the gospel,
once you come to and understanding of the
God of the universe and that God’s love for
each and every one of us, that love, that truth
changes who we are, it changes how we live.
It compels us to move in our world in loving
ways. The love of God is a love that requires
us to then in turn love those around us. If we
truly understand that God loves us and calls
for us to love the world around us, we can not
see one who is hungry and desire to feed, see
one who is thirty and desire to quench that
thirst, we can not see one whom God loves
and cherishes in pain or in need and not desire
to reach out with the love that God had given
to us and share that love by soothing that
pain or meeting that need.

If we truly believe that God loves us. If we
truly believe that Jesus Christ showed that
love in his life, teachings, death and
resurrection and that love calls us into
relationship with the God of the universe and
then we can not help but be filled with that
love, that love fills us, lives in us and is
worked out in our actions and interactions in
this world. The love we have for Christ is
manifested in our love for those around us.
Christ, the king of heaven, knows that if we
truly love him then that love will be lived out
in how we treat those around us. When we
love Jesus we will treat each and everyone we
meet as if that person were Jesus. As
Christians we should see Jesus in everyone we
meet, in everyone with whom we interact. We
should treat our boss, our siblings, our
parents, the stranger we pass on the street
with the love, the dignity and the respect with
which we would treat them if we truly
believed them to be Jesus Christ himself.
No this passage is not putting forth a works
related righteousness. This passage is not
telling us how to earn our way to heaven, this
passage is describing what a life lived in love
with God, in love with Jesus Christ will look
like. This is not a prescription of how to get to
Heaven, feed three hungry people, take a cup
of cold water to one who is thirsty and call me
in the morning. This is a description of what a
life lived completely and totally given over to
God will look like; if you love Jesus. If you
live the love of God in this world, the hungry
will be fed the thirsty will be quenched, the
stranger will be welcomed, the naked will be
clothed, the sick will be taken care of and the
prisoner will be visited. Those who are in
need around you will be provided for. You
will live a life of compassion. You will love
each and every person as if they themselves
were God. You will speak to each person you
meet as if they were Jesus Christ. Everyone
you meet will be treated as if they were your
God and your savior. You will honor
everyone as if they were you king. When you
love God, you will love your neighbor. When
you love Jesus Christ you will love the outcast
and the lonely. The love of God will be the
hallmark of your life. When people encounter
you they will encounter the love of God in
you, because you are loving them as if they are

We love because God loves. We love
because we believe. We love because our faith
compels us to. We can not love Jesus without
loving those around us. We can not be people
of faith unless we are feeding the hungry,
quenching the thirst of the thirsty, clothing the
naked, welcoming the stranger, taking care of
the sick and visiting those in prison, because
that is what a life of faith will look like to one
who is observing it from the outside. It will be
a life marked by action, a life marked by love
moving; a life marked by someone who can
not stand by and to allow those around them
to suffer. Our faith moves us in ways that will
not allow suffering to continue to go on
around us in this world. A true believer in
Jesus Christ will not go unmoved when
another is suffering. A true adherent to the
faith can not but help but be torn apart when
one around them is hurting. We, as follows of
Christ will be forced into action by our faith
and by our love for Jesus to mend the broken,
and be balm to those who are hurting. The
love of Christ compels us, moves us and
transforms us in ways that we are ruled by an
over powering, outreaching love that will not
stop until we have loved all those we touch
and are moving to right the wrongs that Jesus
himself came to this world to right.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Revelation 7:9-17 - The Story of a Saint

Revelation 7:9-17
She was working her field alone on the side
of Wild Mountain. She was working because
that is what she needed to do feed her large
family and she was alone because of the coal.
Well, not so much because of the coal but
because of the lack of it. When the coal had
dried up, her husband had been unable to find
work in the hollers and valleys of their native
land and had headed to the cold, heartless city
to find work and send back the small amount
of money on which they lived.
The Sun was hot and was rising in the sky,
she wondered idly at the time. As a pearl of
sweat dripped from her bun festooned head
down her back, she stopped for a moment,
wiping her dripping face and leaning on her
plow. She looked up at the Sun to determine
the time. As she squinted into the light, she
noticed that something was wrong, it was
terribly wrong. A plum of dark smoke was
rising up over the tall trees on the mountain.
She frowned at it for a heart beat and the
broke out running. That was not someone’s
cook fire, that was not a hearth from a home,
that was a home! That was her home!
As she tore through the trees up over that
mountain that day, I am told she was
screaming, “My babies, my babies!” In her

later years when her mind was gone and time
no longer journeyed in an orderly fashion
through her mind, the cruelty of her illness
brought her back to that moment and she
would awaken from a nap or from dead sleep
in the middle of the night reliving these most
horrible moments, jumping from her bed
ready to tear through her small apartment to
go save her babies from that fire once again.
When she came up over the ridge of that
mountain and came into the clearing by the
creek where here house stood she saw all of
her small ones sprawled safely in the grass
surrounding the charred remains of her house.
They where choking but their black smoke besmudged
face showed that they were none the
worse for wear from their ordeal. One of the
elder boys, having gone back into the burning
house to retrieve the two youngest boys,
picking the one up as he screamed and
grabbing the two year old by his diaper and
dragging him out by it, saved both of their
lives. She looked at her home and her small
children and wondered what to do. She had
11. She had had others but as is typical of
mothers in her days, several had not lived to
see their first birthday and two had passed just
before their 5th birthdays. But all those she
expected to be alive, remained alive on this
day. The eldest four were old enough to care
for themselves but the younger ones were still
in her care.
She looked her small ones and she looked
at the distinct lack of hearth and home she
now had. Life was hard on the mountain, the
land did not easily give up its fruit and the
only thing of value, the coal, had gone, taking
her husband from her, except for the handful
of visits he made back to see her leaving in his
wake another precious baby for which shed
cared and now her home was gone, it was
probably high time she was gone as well.
The family chroniclers do not tell me how,
but I imagine that she had been gathered in by
her scattered relatives who lived up and down
the creek in their holler and had gathered the
money she needed, because of course all the
money she had had was in the house when it
burned and money burns just as well as cloth
and wood. They had each given to her what
they could spare and it was just enough to buy
bus tickets for her and her family to make it to
What my grandfather did or thought when
to his bachelor’s flat bell had rung one evening
after work and he went to the door wondering
who was calling on him at this time of day,
opened the door to see his wife, babe in hand,
two year old pulling on her skirt and the rest
of his children gathered around is also lost in
the family lore, but my grandmother had
bustled into the flat with nothing more than,
“The house burned down, so we’re moving in
here,” as her explanation. And that is the
story of how my father, who was the two year
old by-the-by, who had been born in the hills
of Appalachia came to live most of his life in
one of the poorest sections of Baltimore.
Family, stories, we all have them. Some of
them are more dramatic than others, some are
filled with sorrow and hardship, and some of
them are down right hilarious, we share them
with each other at family gatherings. We
share them with young men when they are
planning on marrying our daughters, you
know right after we show them embarrassing
pictures and we tell them to our children so
they will know who we are and from where
we have come. Family stories are the stories
of our identity, they are the stories that make
us who are they are the stories that bind us
together and connect each new generation
with the generations who have gone on before.
We as the Church have our stories as well.
Just like families, these are the stories which
make us who we are. Some of them are stories
we would rather not remember, stories of the
burning of inhabited monasteries, or people
who baptized others via fatal full immersion.
There are other stories that are easier to
remember; stories of how we have overcome
persecution, stories how we have bonded
together in the face of adversity, and stories
how the church has been the driving force in
bringing hope and stability in the presence of
tragedy. We have stories about crazy uncle’s
with whom we don’t know what to do (just
look at Origen’s story sometime) and our
pious grandmother’s (like Theresa of Avila).
We have stories of hero’s of the faith, (Joan of
Arc and Dietrich Bonhoffer come to mind).
We have heard stories this morning of people
we would consider saints of the Faith; people
who lived their lives devoted to God, who
spoke truth to authorities, shared the gospel
with others in every day life and spent their
whole lives teaching and preaching the gospel
to the next generation. Today we have heard
several stories of saints.
Here in John’s revelation we also hear the
story of some of the saints of the faith. John’s
vision has brought him to the great throne
room of heaven where and uncountable
multitude gathered from every tribe and every
nation, from among all peoples and every
language, have gathered before the throne, are
dressed in white robes and waving palm
Robes in the first century were the primary
piece of clothing. They were practical and
their color and make designated your position
in society. There robes where white, they
were clean they were pristine to show the
righteousness and holiness of those who wore
them. The palm branches were a sign of
victory and joy. This is a picture of the multilingual,
multi-racial church, standing before
the throne of God in triumphant victory and
joy, singing praises to God because it is in God
and God alone that salvation is found.
These are the ones who have come out of
the ordeal, the saints of the church. Saints is
an interesting word. It has been used in many
ways over the centuries. I don’t know about
you, but usually when I hear the word “saint,”
I think of those who have passed on, whose
lives were lived as holy examples of what it
means to live a life dedicated to God. Some
may think of a Saint as something more
formal, as a person who has been sanctioned
by the Church of the East or the West as a
proper Saint. In recent years there has been
much discussion about the sainthood of
Mother Theresa and whether or not in her life
and her death she has met the requirements
that allow her to be a saint in the eyes of the
Catholic Church. There is also a much broader
meaning of the word saint, which is actually
how the word is used throughout the New
Testament, that is for any believer, any person
who is living a life shaped and formed by the
life, teachings, death and resurrection of Jesus
Christ. The saints found in our passage are
along these lines, everyday men, and women
who have lived lives given over to God.
The heavenly throne room is teaming with
these saints, a multi-lingual, multi-cultural
gathering of saints have come before the
throne of the Most High God. We are told that
these are those who are coming out of the
great ordeal.
These are the saints, who had passed on,
had died in their faith for their faith or in their
faith. John has a word of comfort for them
and for those they left behind, no longer will
they hunger or thirst, labor under the sun’s
rays or be scorched by its’ heat. God is with
them, will shepherd them and wipe away
every tear from their eye. All the pain and all
the turmoil they had lived in this life has
passed and they now live in the safety and
security of their Lord’s presence.
These ones, standing before the throne of
God, were vindicated, they were seen as holy,
worthy, and pure, celebrating their victory
through Jesus Christ, singing praises to God.
And they were assured that no matter what
they had suffered or undergone in their lives,
God was there to comfort and wipe away their
tears, and to shepherd them, they would no
longer go hungry, or thirsty. Life is now as it
should be; it will be lived as it was meant to
be lived. These who had gone on before, who
had suffered so much had so much to be
joyous about, they had won the victory and
would live in peace and security.
What a comforting picture for the early
church to which John wrote. The church to
which John wrote was a church in persecution,
a church undergoing a great ordeal. The
members of the congregation who would have
read John’s apocalypse would have seen these
saints who were coming out of the great
ordeal, as their brothers, sister, fathers,
mothers, friends, loved ones, fellow believers
in Christ who had suffer terribly and were
currently suffering unspeakably at the hands
of Domitian and before him Nero.
These were perilous times to be a Christian,
the Christians had been blamed for the
burning of Jerusalem during the time of Nero
and persecution had begun and those were the
good times before Domitian had come to
power, where those who believed lived in fear
of becoming a human torch lighting the
coliseums where fellow believers would be
forced to participate in the gladiatorial fights
or face the lions in the arena. These were
times when what happened to those who have
gone on before, who had suffered and died
for the truth of the Gospel laid heavily upon
the hearts and minds of living Christians.
And here in John’s revelation, their story is
told. They have come out of the ordeal. They
may not have survived in this life but they live
on in glory, filled and satisfied, comforted and
protected, never again will they face the fire’s
burn, never again will they be harmed by the
lion’s claw or the gladiator’s blow, and never
again will they live in fear. They live on
victoriously, triumphantly, in peace and
wholeness, holy and pure in their faith, in the
presence of their God. Things, during their
lifetime, may have been less than desirable
(to say the least) here but they live on. Their
faith is an example; their lives are a testament
to the greatness and holiness of our God.
Their stories are a comfort and an
inspiration. And their story is told here. They
may have suffered and lived in turmoil while
here on earth but in the end all things will be
set right, love and peace will reign and we all
will live as we were intended to live.
But the end is not yet here, right now all we
have are the family stories; the stories of the
lives of those who have gone on before us in
the faith. They are stories of harrowing
bravely, stories of quiet faith lived, they are
stories of heroism, and stories of those who
have paved the way for us. They are grand
stories, exemplary stories and sometimes as
time has passed the people who lived them
seem bigger than life. But each one did
nothing more than live faithfully, listening to
the call of God on their lives.
Today we celebrate their stories and can
rest assured that they one day will be counted
among those who will stand victoriously
before the throne of God. Their lives give us
examples of what it means to live lives wholly
given over to God. Their lives inspire us to do
the same, to walk in the Christ-light that their
testimony shines for us. But they are also a
reminder, a reminder that someday we too
will be gone. One day we will be the
generation that has gone on before. And these
saints remind us that a saint is not merely
someone who has done great and amazing
things for God. A saint is not someone who
history remembers for the truly remarkable
way they lived their life. A saint is not just
those whom the church somewhere, sometime
has decided to hang a banner over and declare
saintly. A saint is any Christian who daily
lives their life for God, quietly living, faithfully
obeying, and being the person whom God
calls them to be in all things. A saint is one
who brings the peace, the glory, the joy of
heaven to this earth in how they live their lives
here and now. A saint is you, a saint is me,
when we live holy lives, pure lives in which
we daily share the love of God with those
around us and love our God in and through
all things. And when we are no longer, when
our lives have passed our story will join that
of those whose stories is told in this passage
today. We will be those who gather before the
throne of God. And our story will be the story
of the life of a saint.