SCRIPTURE READING Matthew 25:31-46 The Message
31-33 “When he finally arrives, blazing in beauty and all his angels with him, the Son of Man will take his place on his glorious throne. Then all the nations will be arranged before him and he will sort the people out, much as a shepherd sorts out sheep and goats, putting sheep to his right and goats to his left.
34-36 “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.’
37-40 “Then those ‘sheep’ are going to say, ‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?’ Then the King will say, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.’
41-43 “Then he will turn to the ‘goats,’ the ones on his left, and say, ‘Get out, worthless goats! You’re good for nothing but the fires of hell. And why? Because—
I was hungry and you gave me no meal,
I was thirsty and you gave me no drink,
I was homeless and you gave me no bed,
I was shivering and you gave me no clothes,
Sick and in prison, and you never visited.’
44 “Then those ‘goats’ are going to say, ‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or homeless or shivering or sick or in prison and didn’t help?’
45 “He will answer them, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you failed to do one of these things to someone who was being overlooked or ignored, that was me—you failed to do it to me.’
46 “Then those ‘goats’ will be herded to their eternal doom, but the ‘sheep’ to their eternal reward.”
MESSAGE “Look Out!” Rev. James Renfrew
Our congregation is participating in a program of the Presbyterian Church USA called the Vital Congregations Initiative. Nine congregations are participating in our Presbytery.
On Friday night at the “School House Rock” musical there was a song about pronouns. In place of endlessly repeating the name of Rufus Xavier Sarsaparilla, you can simply use the pronoun “he”, “him” or “his” to describe him. Well, the phrase “Vital Congregations Initiative” is a mouth-full, but I can’t really use the word “it” to describe the Vital Congregation Initiative until we all remember what the “it” is that I’m talking about. But, in the meantime, we can use a simple abbreviation, “VCI”, which stands for “Vital Congregations Initiative”. The musical did not include a song about abbreviations, so I am launching out into new territory. We’ll use “VCI” to describe the Vital Congregations Initiative!
Each week during the Lenten season leading up to Easter we are taking a close look at what are called the Seven Marks of a Vital congregation. We started with the first one in Bible Study at the end of February, “Lifelong Discipleship Formation”, and last Sunday we talked about the 2nd mark, “Intentional Authentic Evangelism” and this morning we unveil the 3rd mark, “Outward Incarnational Focus”.
I like translating complex theological terms into simpler ones, so see if you like my simpler version of this 3rd mark, “Look Out!” It doesn’t mean “watch out , you’re about to bump into a low tree limb”, or “watch out you’re about to step in a deep mud puddle’. “Look Out!” is a reminder to a church that while we Christians often spend time looking inward in prayer, study, contemplation and reflection, we also need to be looking outward into the world. If we only look inward we are something like an exclusive club only concerned for ourselves. You know as well as I do that an inward-looking congregation will not survive.
There was a church across from the church that I served in New York City as a student. It was called the Catholic Apostolic Church, and you would think that with a name like that it would be an energetic center of worship and outreach, following the lead of the bold apostles of Christ heading out into the world. But the church building was completely lifeless, except for one Sunday each year when the church opened for an Easter service, and a handful of very elderly people attended. I don’t know the history of that congregation, but I can guess that somewhere along the way they lost the outward focus, and the world ended up passing them by.
Through VCI (see how handy that abbreviation is?) we will be discerning opportunities for being outside of our building, identifying places where we might engage in mission, thinking about the places where people like ourselves could share the Gospel hope. I am very pleased that right now we are launching an effort to be engaged with mission by generating personal hygiene kits for use in our town and around the world. It’s because we believe in hope and we have hope to share. Its because we believe in life and we have life to share. It’s because we believe in peace, and we have peace to share, starting with a toothbrush or a bar of soap.
The Gospel reading this morning gives us a checklist for our imagination by asking us the key question, “where have we been finding Jesus in our world?” Because wherever he is, we want to join him. But the surprising answer to the question is that Jesus is not on some high mountaintop or in some distant temple, he is actually very close by. You will see him as you look into the face of someone who is hungry or thirsty, someone who is sick, or needing clothing or shelter, or stuck in prison.
As Jesus tells the parable, you can see how surprised, shocked even, that they were looking for Jesus in the wrong places. What? Jesus, if I’d known that was you at the emergency food shelf, I’d have been right with you, but I didn’t know it was you!
After the service, please join us for a 20 minute conversation about this text from Matthew 25:31-46. Let’s name all of the situations where Jesus can be found in this world. We could start with soup kitchens, clothing closets, medical clinics, emergency shelters and jails because that’s what Jesus mentions in this reading from Matthew. But I am sure there are more places. Let’s name those places, as many as we can, but also brainstorm about how we can extend our ministry into those places. Maybe in some of them we can’t, but let’s try.
Our Bible Study is not for the purpose of making you feel sad or guilty about not having seen Jesus in all of these places, but to find ways to see him a little more clearly. And, of course, it’s not just knowing where to find him, but also to join him in what he is doing.
Our Bible Study is for the purpose of becoming a Matthew 25 church, to actively engage in the world around us, so our faith comes alive and we wake up to new possibilities.
Our Lenten Daily Devotional is dedicated to the prayers and preparation we need to become a Matthew 25 church.