Monday, November 21, 2011

The King is Coming

My Sermon from Sunday 20 /11/ 2011

The King is Coming
Eze 34:11-17 & 20-24
Matthew 25: 31-46

We are at the end of the Christian year. Let me explain myself: we who follow Jesus use a religious calendar that helps us remember our faith.

Next Sunday is the first Sunday of our Religious year – a year that begins with the anticipation of a Savior – takes us to Christmas, the birth of the Saviour, and then through his life. We then celebrate the events of Easter, followed by the blessings of the Holy Spirit, which we call Pentecost. After Pentecost we remind ourselves of how the followers of Jesus ought to live. The journey from Pentecost to this week is one that should culminate with the reminder that this life is temporary, and that the moment will come when the King of Kings, the Lord of Lords, will return. This year’s lectionary used the passage from Matthew 25 to do so. It speaks of a time when “the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him…… all the nations will be gathered before him and he will separate people

 Here is the teaching: The end of all time has come, and the Lord of the Ages has returned to judge the earth. This is an enduring theme, which has been the subject of many, many sermons. I have often heard it used to scare people into the Kingdom of God

-      “if you misbehave, God will come and get you.”

-      We might have suffered for our faith – but one day the powerful King will return and will wipe all the sinners off the face of the earth”

This sounds like Christian revenge to me!

 The fact is that this is an image based on Imperial Rome in the time of Jesus: the Emperor would leave Rome to conquer new lands – and would return in triumph: with rewards for the people who had faithfully served him, and vengeance for those who dared to oppose him. But this is not the way of Jesus – and such an image is a perversion of the Gospel of Jesus! I do not believe that this is what Jesus intended when he told this story. This is not a story about God rewarding good people and punishing bad people! This is a teaching about the compassionate King who comes for those rejected by the righteous.

 In order to understand this story we need to realize that we cannot just lift it out of the Jewish culture of first century Palestine and paste it in our post-modern world and expect to understand what is going on. We need to understand the culture in which this story was told.

This is a culture that divided people into two groups: the Righteous and the Sinners. The righteous were those who worshipped God in the temple. They obeyed the law, paid their temple dues, and kept themselves pure. The sinners were those who did not.

Which is not as simple as it sounds:
·                    If you were illiterate/uneducated, you struggled to keep track of the law and probably remained a sinner for life.
·                    If you were too poor to afford the required offerings and sacrifices – you stayed a sinner.
·        And you were a sinner if you did work that was considered unclean – work such as leather workers, traders, government officials. (Leather workers involved handling dead animals; Trade involved handling Roman coin with its forbidden engraved image; and Government officials meant dealing with the foreigners and suspected of taking bribes).
·        There were other categories of sinners too:

Ø Sick people were thought to be sinners – obviously they had done something wrong and God had cursed them with illness.

Ø The non-Jewish people were sinners: called strangers/aliens

So let us now return to the teaching of Jesus and see if we read it with new eyes:
Mat 25:31  “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.
Mat 25:32  All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats,
Mat 25:33  and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left.
Mat 25:34  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;
Mat 25:35  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,
Mat 25:36  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.’

The King is returning – and he tells us who the people are that he hangs out with:

·        “Hungry & Thirsty” – the poor people

·        “Strangers”  – aliens / non-Jews

·        “Naked” – those who have been publically shamed

·        “Sick” – those thought to be cursed by God

·        Prison – those who owed money/debtors

Jesus is emphasizing: God will return for those who were rejected by the righteous.This is not a triumphant King who comes to destroy the sinners: this is a merciful King who loves those who have been rejected by the righteous. In fact: those who so self-righteously rejoiced that they had kept themselves pure by throwing the sinners out: will find themselves thrown out.

Mat 25:43  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.'
Mat 25:44  Then 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?'
Mat 25:45  Then 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.'
Mat 25:46  And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life

 And so we ask ourselves whether this speaks to us today?

Good news: the King is coming: and he will gather all those who have been rejected and cast aside. If this is your experience of Life hear the good news: God loves you.
Eze 34:11  For thus says the Lord GOD: I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out.
Eze 34:12  As shepherds seek out their flocks when they are among their scattered sheep, so I will seek out my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places to which they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness.

But there is also a very difficult place in this teaching:

Is it possible that we too have developed categories of people we call sinners. Do we think of people who are beyond God’s salvation, and we congratulate ourselves on keeping ourselves pure?

 Certainly there are some groups of people that are rejected by some Christians:

Some think that Muslim people are beyond the love of God. I find the current debate in the Vatican fascinating: an advertising agency has put together a picture of the Pope embracing an Imam and the Vatican says it will sue. I wondered why? Can the Pope not show the love of God to a Muslim. Or is this one group of people Jesus commands us to hate

 Some think gay people are the group to exclude. There are Christians who spend all their energy insulting homosexual people, assuming that the Lord will return and crush them. It is almost as if some believe Jesus said to us “Hate other people as I have hated you”.

 Often this is rooted in our own personal prejudices:
A good test is to ask who “them” is. Whenever you want to blame someone for the problems of your world, ask yourself “Who are ‘they’?”

Ø Everything was great before “they” arrived.

Ø If only “they” were not my neighbours

Ø If only I did not have to work with “them”

Ø Why do “they” always get first choice – said by everyone who has a brother or a sister.

 There is a warning:
Eze 34:20  Therefore, thus says the Lord GOD to them: I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep.
Eze 34:21  Because you pushed with flank and shoulder, and butted at all the weak animals with your horns until you scattered them far and wide,
Eze 34:22  I will save my flock, and they shall no longer be ravaged; and I will judge between sheep and sheep.

Conclusion: So as this Christian year ends, excuse me if I don’t get too excited about the vengeful Christ the King. I am on my way to Christmas – and I can smell the straw and the cow dung at a manger. The baby who will be born came for those who needed to know the love of God – and that is where God has called me to be.


Anonymous said...

Might there not be something deeper here, namely your anger at your own exclusion?

Anonymous said...

Such a powerful sermon and so very true! Thank you, Pete!