To Love or Not to Love

Scripture: “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.” Mt. 25:40

Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable to you, O Lord our Rock and our Redeemer.  Amen.

Jesus speaks about his return today in this fourth parable about the coming of the Son of Man.  Let me remind you that parables are stories often spoken in hyperbole.  That means that for the sake of teaching a central truth, illustrations within the parable are intentionally blown out of proportion, even unrealistic.  We tend to forget this from time to time; especially when we read a story like this one that some consider proof of judgment and damnation.  Is Jesus really threatening eternal fire if we don’t toe the line?

I prefer to look at it a different way: What do we know about Jesus and the character of God?  Jesus ate with sinners, seeking out lost sheep.  Jesus looked with compassion on the predicaments of the entrapped.  Jesus worked miracles of healing, speaking with the authority of God and taking upon himself divine roles of Revealer, Redeemer, Sovereign, Provider. Jesus died for us, taking our own finitude and incompleteness with him to the grave, rising in wholeness that each of us might also rise with him and be made whole, a new creation before God.  In short, Jesus does everything in his power – which is considerably more than our own human power – that we might not be excluded from the Heavenly Kingdom offered to us that is now and yet to be fully realized.

Inviting us over and over again to come, taste and see, know and understand speaks of a character of deep love, compassion, and grace.  For me, Judgment leading to damnation just does not seem to match.  Which brings me to this:  What exactly do we believe as Reformed Christians?  I don’t think it is the job of a pastor to tell you what to believe or to lay down the law.  I do think it is the job of a pastor to wrestle with scriptures and seek meaning; to invite you into wrestling with the scriptures yourselves and finding truths to live by, and to explore those truths together in community and in conversation with one another, tradition, historical creeds, and study of scripture.

Each of us has our own particular journey of faith, and to a certain extent must work out our own salvation with fear and trembling.  The Community of believers helps us on our way, challenging us to learn and grow, inviting us to take another step upon the road, and if needed, to lean upon one another for a time in our journeys together.

I warned you from time to time I would allow some of my doctoral studies trickle into my sermons.  This weeks’ reading for my studies relates to spiritual journeying together quite well. Father Abbot Aelred of Rievaulx (ree-voh) compiled in the 12th century of a multi-decade conversation he had with several of his brothers on spiritual friendship.  From his perspective, true spiritual friendship can only be sourced in the foundation of love in Christ Jesus.  This is also the central question for us in today’s text.  Have we lived in love?  Have we acted toward others in love?  Do we practice our life and our faith simultaneously from the foundation of love?

Jesus said, “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.” (Mt. 25:40)

Reflecting on this passage, Commentator John Buchanan wrote,

“God wants to save our souls and redeem us and give us the gift of life—true, deep, authentic human life.  God wants to save us by touching our hearts with love. God wants to save us by persuading us to care and see other human beings who need us. God wants to save us from obsessing about ourselves, our own needs, by persuading us to forget about ourselves and worry about others.  That is God’s favorite project: to teach you and me the fundamental lesson, the secret, the truth—that to love is to live.”[1]

Similarly, Thomas Stegman writes:

Jesus teaches that God’s reign—the full revelation of which we await—is characterized in the present, not by powerful works and miracles, but by deeds of love, mercy, and compassion, especially toward those most in need. Jesus’ kingly ministry is to be reflected in his followers’ exercise of shepherding care.[2]

Something occurred to me this week that I hadn’t considered before.  To speak of the Reign of Christ, is to speak with a present tense active voice.  To speak of Christ the King Sunday, it really doesn’t make as immediate a pull on the here and now; it feels more objectified, theoretical, removed.  With that in mind, I’d like to dwell a bit on the active voice, present tense Reign of Christ – what we might recognize now as divine shepherding care.  Commentator Mark Douglas tells us,

“The one who sits ‘on the throne of his glory’ (v. 31) and has the power to separate the sheep from the goats is also the one who lends his identity to ‘the least of these.'”[3]

This means that Jesus is here even now among us; are we allowing him in to rule our hearts, our words, our thoughts, our actions?  Do we truly give up personal sovereignty, submitting ourselves to God’s sovereignty through Jesus Christ?  Do we indeed?

Today is the last day in the liturgical calendar.  Called both Christ the King Sunday and Reign of Christ Sunday, we are reminded that the imagery of a Kingdom is meant to reassure us that we are members of something much bigger.  After all, Christ said during his trial so long ago, his kingdom was not of this world.  It is of another place.

Following Jesus means watching and waiting in faithfulness, acting in all ways as true disciples by serving others and inviting others to join us as Christ’s reign continues to unfold.  Lindsay Armstrong summarizes today’s text for us, complete with a warning much easier for us to apprehend: “If we cannot share freely and fully or if we do not make ourselves available to do so, this indicates that our relationship with God and the world is not as healthy and whole as Jesus’ triumph on the cross makes possible.  Loving those for whom Jesus gave his life, particularly those who are undervalued, is a primary expression of our love of God and of our experience of God’s love for us[4] (emphasis added).

And so I pray, Lord, even when loving is hard, help me to love more and more; and more and more and more…

May all glory be unto the One who lived, died, and rose again for us, even Him who is the Christ.  Amen?  May it be so.

[1] John Buchanan, “Pastoral Perspective, Matthew 25:31-42” in Feasting on the Word – Year A, ed. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010). Accordance edition hyper-texted and formatted by OakTree Software, Inc. Version 2.0

[2] Thomas D. Stegman, “Exegetical Perspective, Matthew 25:31-42” in Feasting on the Word – Year A, ed. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010). Accordance edition hyper-texted and formatted by OakTree Software, Inc. Version 2.0

[3] Mark Douglas, “Theological Perspective, Matthew 25:31-42” in Feasting on the Word – Year A, ed. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010). Accordance edition hyper-texted and formatted by OakTree Software, Inc. Version 2.0

[4] Lindsay P. Armstrong. “Homiletical Perspective, Matthew 25:31-46” in Feasting on the Word – Year A, ed. David L. Bartlett and Barbara Brown Taylor (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2010). Accordance edition hyper-texted and formatted by OakTree Software, Inc. Version 2.0

Question for Reflection

How would it change you to see the face of Christ in every stranger you meet?

Household Prayer: Morning

Almighty God, reveal to me the greatness of your power, that I may see your presence among the lowly and the lost and know the authority and sovereignty of your love in Jesus Christ, our Lord who is also our humble brother. Amen.

Household Prayer: Evening

Lord Jesus, When did I see you hungry?  When did I see you thirsty?  When did I welcome you, or clothe you, or take care of you, or visit you?  Have I ignored your claim upon my time, my attention, my resources?  Open my eyes; melt my heart; enlighten my understanding.  Let me see you in the world, welcome you as my brother, and serve you as my Lord, with the family you acknowledge as your own: the poor, the stranger, the sick, and the prisoner.  Amen.

About Scottrick

Parent ~ Pastor ~ Poet ~ Author
This entry was posted in Conversation Starters, Sermon. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s