Rev. Wilson’s Sermons

Do Right Always

Matthew 25:31-46

26 November 2017

In his younger days, the father of a woman I once knew was something of a walking miracle.  He survived a host of death-dealing events, among them a fall through the ice, a rattlesnake bite, a massive exposure to rabies, and a double diagnosis of melanoma.  These things didn’t happen all at the same time of course.

In his fifties, her father came back from a stroke.  In his sixties, he convinced his doctors to release him from the hospital just over two days after a quadruple bypass surgery.  At 71, just a few months after his pelvis was crushed beneath the wheels of a passenger van, he was back at work, lecturing at a veterinary school and advising local ranchers on best practices to keep their livestock healthy.  He finally stopped working at 78, but only because he was offered an early retirement bonus!  He was like an Energizer bunny.

Life changed for him in his early eighties.  He was diagnosed with Lewy body dementia—a neurological illness.  It was not long before he was confined to a hospital bed at home.  He lost all ability to move his body.  His cognitive abilities deteriorated at the same time as his physical decline.  It was readily apparent that there would be no miracle this time for her father.

Yet, miracles came in another form.  They appeared at the doorstep as men and women who, for more than six years until his death, brought food, friendship, service, and love in abundance.  They were a living example of the people “from among the nations” who are invited to move to the king’s right hand as we heard in the parable this morning.

These miracles came as visitors and caregivers; volunteers and employees alike.  They prepared countless meal, cleaned the house, took her mother out for lunch so that she might have a reprieve, or dropped by to share a smile, a hug, and warm words.  They sent cards and knitted prayer shawls.  They listened to and told their own stories about a man who was precious in the sight of many.  They held the family’s grief.  They attended to the needs of a man who had attended to so many other’s in his life.

Some of those regular visitors were members of local churches, including the church to which her parents had been members for more than six decades.  Presumably these folks were there because of their desire to love God by loving their neighbor and to love their neighbor through their love for God—something we have all been asked by God to do.

Their compassion reflects the parable’s criteria by which the sheep and goats will be distinguished—through acts of mercy such as feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, welcoming the stranger, clothing the naked, caring for the sick, and visiting those who are imprisoned.

God created the world we now inhabit out of an abundance of love.  Imagine, if you will, a bubbling fountain with water freely flowing over its edges.  That is what God’s love is like—it never ceases to flow.  Through the Holy Spirit and through Jesus, God shares God’s own self.  It is how we come to know and love God in return.

God created us in God’s own image.  In keeping with that image, we freely share God’s love with those who are considered unable to give back—the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the imprisoned, the sick.  We do this not to curry favor with God—to earn God’s love—but to make sure that we are judged righteous one day when the time comes for the sheep to be separated from the goats.

That day will come for each of us sometime.  What do we know of this shepherd who will be doing the separating?  To not ask this question would be remiss on this Christ the King Sunday.  We can learn much by looking at the titles given to Jesus in Matthew’s Gospel.  As Son of Man, Jesus is the one who is to come.  Matthew 10:23 reads, “When they persecute you in one town, flee to the next; for truly I tell you, you will not have gone through all the towns of Israel before the Son of Man comes.”  Jesus gives his life as a ransom for many.  Matthew 20:28 says “just as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”  As Shepherd, Jesus is the compassionate leader of his people.  According to Matthew 9:36, “When he (Jesus) saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”  This shepherd of ours willingly rescues any single stray sheep, as we learn in Matthew 18:12. “What do you think?  If a shepherd has a hundred sheep and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray?”  As King, Jesus stands in the line of David.  Matthew 2:1-3 tell us, “In the time of King Herod, after Jesus was born in Bethlehem of Judea, wise men from the East came to Jerusalem, asking, ‘Where is the child who has been born king of the Jews?  For we observed his star at its rising, and have come to pay him homage.’  When King Herod heard this, he was frightened, and all Jerusalem with him.”  As King, or Lord, Jesus has the power of God to heal.  According to Matthew 8:2, “there was a leper who came to him (Jesus) and knelt before him, saying, ‘Lord if you choose, you can make me clean.’”  Therefore, we know that the one who separates sheep from goats is none other than the Messiah, crucified and raised, who has the authority to judge and forgive.

My friend and her family found themselves cared for by the righteous.  One caregiver arrived each evening before dinner and stayed until after breakfast, checking on her father throughout the night.  Another read aloud from All Creatures Great and Small by James Herriot.  This book is a memoir of Herriot’s life as an English country veterinarian.  Often, her father’s laughter would ring out as he recalled some similar episode from his own long career as a vet.  There were days when these stories spoke to him in a particularly poignant way—days when he could not recall the names of his wife or children.  A nearby choir would come to sing each week—music that soothed all the souls in the house.

All those who came may have been or will be surprised that they are among the righteous because they cared for the King of creation.  They shared who they were and what they had freely with no calculation or expectation of anything in return.  Their reward is likely unexpected—they are among the sheep.

All those who did not come may have been shocked to discover they missed opportunities to show love to the King.  Perhaps if they had known God was in their midst, they would have done the right thing.  Instead they find themselves with the goats.  The King desires a natural overflowing of love, rather than calculated efforts designed to project a certain image.

All of us have an opportunity to be either a sheep or a goat.  However, it is something that must be genuine—authentic.  This isn’t something you put on for show depending on who you believe is paying attention.  Are you someone who would visit another who is struggling and could never repay you?  Would you have come to the home of my friend’s father, offering God’s love?  This, of course, the choice we all must make.

Blessing and glory and wisdom and thanksgiving and honor and power and might be to our God forever and ever!  Amen.