Nov26SunPastor Carey's First Sermon - Reign of Christ Sunday November 26, 2017
The opening of this passage in Matthew’s Gospel jar us with words about God’s judgement. The sheep and the goats will be separated, the blessed and the cursed will be at God’s right or left hands. The picture painted is - that our life together on earth matters. Caring or neglecting the needs among us impacts our relationships with God and community.
Let’s not get carried away here. This passage has been used to instil fear in the faithful. Are you a sheep or a goat? Will your care of others be good enough for heaven. I don’t think this is either the purpose or intent. Although, it quite accurately reflects the heart of the Gospel. That God cares for the least among us, including us. Our response to care for those in needs flows from this love for all creation.
Jesus, the shepherd king, goes among the people of the kingdom to see what type of treatment is received. At the coffee shop, Jesus arrives in torn jeans with food on the collar asking for work. In the pews, Jesus is the noisy two year old - listening to the welcome given. On the doorstep, Jesus is the addict desperate for dental care seeking a scrap of hope from the church. In the dark of night, she is the poor pregnant girl with no place to give birth soon to be responsible for a life. Jesus walked among them and Jesus walks among us.
What gets me about this passage is that both the goats and sheep are surprised that the request for help came from Jesus. When was it that I fed you, clothed you, and cared for you? When was it that I listened you into greater existence? When was it I welcomed you with a place at the table? When was it that you knew belonging and love? The sheep on the right hand do not notice the hospitality they’ve extended, nor do the goats notice the hospitality they failed to extended.
The pattern in todays Gospel is: God comes near surprising in the least likely places and people. Walking among us. Opening our eyes to God’s presence in the midst of us - both known and unknown.
As I get on in age into my forties, something strange seems to happen. A room full of strangers doesn’t seem as strange as it once might have. Likely because I have met many people over the years. In the face, or voice, or gait there is a familiarity - that often reminds me of a person met on this journey called life. I wonder if our paths have crossed before - somewhere or sometime. You know, this familiarity offers a sense of comfort and belonging even as there is much still to learn.
I am grateful for moments of familiarity, of God with us in the known. In the tried and trusted places we look such as the bread, the wine, the water and the word - spoken word and the sung word of a favourite hymn. Yes, in these we have tasted and seen that God is good. They are places we go again and again for nourishment.
Here’s where we are challenged a little in todays Gospel. We are also reminded to step out of this comfort zone because God is present in more than just the familiar. The hidden God finds us in the people and places we’d never think to look or even venture. Jesus - in the least of these -means being surprised and transformed by where God chooses to be found. One place is helping those in need and finding blessing in the midst of it.
Jesus walks among us. Opening our eyes to God’s presence in the midst of us. Asking us to see and respond with eyes of faith.
It’s fair to say, we all know people who exemplify this call to love the least of them. Over the years I have met quite a few. In the church and outside of the church too. One comes to mind. She gave of herself, not just her time - to feed the hungry, to know the homeless by name, settle refugees, and contribute where she was needed. This was obvious. One day she said to the group, “Serving others in need is the main way I live out my faith.” Her clear words matched her even clearer actions. This loving service was deeply ingrained in who she was and how she lived out her baptismal calling in the world.
People of St. Matthews, you have a long and established history of ministry that serves the needy in the community, which also builds up people inside of these walls. Your Sharing and Caring committee has a big portfolio that includes Out of the Cold, refugees, casserole ministry, providing companionship for the lonely, and belonging for those on the margins. The ministry St. Matthews provides to those in need is not static but open to further discernment of how to best use our time and resources to contribute to the common good. To create a piece of heaven on earth for the despairing.
In these beginning weeks of ministry with you the people of St. Matthews, I’ve seen both the familiar and the unknown. The needs surrounding a downtown church present themselves almost immediately. I’ve served in a downtown Toronto parish before, so this is not all together unusual to me.
While there is some familiarity - even in a new parish - I am not sure if the faces and stories of extreme need will ever be familiar to me. Maybe they aren’t meant to be familiar to any of us. They jar us with how very difficult life is for many people. The faces extreme need creates aren’t how God intends creation to be. What do we do?
There is no doubt, this ministry is a challenge. Dealing with the needs of the world makes us uncomfortable for good reasons of safety and ability to help. Not dealing with the needs of the world makes us even more uncomfortable.
This Gospel text this morning tells us that God will be there, present in the people and places that need our help. And there will be life and blessings even amidst the difficulty of it all. Jesus walks among us. Opening our eyes to God’s presence in our midst both know and unknown.
Come you that are blessed.