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Where There’s Suffering and Fear, God’s Love is Shown (Nov. 26, 2017)

Matthew 25:31-46

“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. 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, 33 and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 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; 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, 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.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 40 And the king will answer them, “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.’ 41 Then he will say to those at his left hand, “You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; 42 for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 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.’ 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?’ 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.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

There are some events that change history. Pearl Harbor for the Greatest Generation. Nothing would ever be the same after that.

For me and many around my age it was the assassinations of JFK, MLK, and RFK.

For many now it’s 9/11.

If you live through events like these your world is forever changed.

That’s true with Matthew’s community, too. To really hear this gospel, we need to know the life-changing events that forever changed Matthew’s community. Their “Pearl Harbor” event, their “9/11” event was the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem by Roman forces in 70 AD.

This gospel was most likely written between 80 and 90 AD. All the original eye-witnesses of Jesus’ ministry are long dead. The Apostle Paul has been dead for 20-30 years. Every Christian living at this time was part of the 2nd generation of the church.

Matthew’s community probably was located in Syria. They were mostly Jewish Christians, who may have scattered and relocated in Syria after the Roman invasion of Jerusalem.

In about 66AD or so, Israel got tired of unjust (sinful) taxes they had to pay to Rome, and they revolted. The revolution escalated until Jewish zealots were killing off Roman citizens in Jerusalem.

Rome, of course, retaliated and plundered the temple, taking all the wealth there, claiming it all belonged to Rome anyway.

The plundering of the temple led to an all-out rebellion by the Jews against Rome.

Rome sent in armies from Syria to put it down and restore order, but by then the Jewish authorities in Jerusalem had already set up their own autonomous government. Because Jerusalem was so well fortified (with three thick walls surrounding the city) and well defended, Rome sought out rebel strongholds an eradicated them, beginning in Galilee.

This sent Jews from Galilee fleeing to Jerusalem as refugees. Which would have been fine except that the Galilean Jews had formed their own government too, which now clashed with the rebel government in Jerusalem. That internal conflict escalated too.

So in 70AD, (ten or twenty years before Matthew’s gospel was written), Rome attacked Jerusalem directly. After a 7-month siege, they broke through the third wall, sacked Jerusalem, and destroyed the temple.

The Jews that weren’t enslaved scattered throughout the region, perhaps with the author of Matthew’s gospel among them. The tensions between he Jews and Rome continued for decades, breaking out into two more wars in the 2nd century.

In any case, this particular community of Jewish people who were disciples of Jesus now lived in Syria with the tension of Roman conquest changing everything. They weren’t native Syrians, they were Israelites. Still living within the boundaries of the Roman Empire, they were still vulnerable.

With all that these Jews had been through in the last 15-20 years, they had to be wondering how God was going to deal with all of it. What does Jesus the Messiah, resurrected 50-60 years ago, have to do with it?

The author of Matthew takes the last couple of chapters in his gospel to address some of that. What will Jesus do to the world at the end of time? This text is part of that speculation.

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory . . . all the nations will be gathered before him.” All the nations. Including Rome and all the other Gentile regions. Jesus will be on the throne then and will decide the fate of all these Gentile countries. And the same Jesus who taught the Beatitudes, who preached love for enemies, who revealed God as merciful to all, is the same Jesus who will judge these nations.

God hasn’t forgotten the persecution of these Jewish followers in Mathew’s community. God knows their suffering at the hands of some, and also knows the kindness shown to them by others.

On the day of the Lord, at the end of time, when Jesus is rightfully sitting on the throne of judgment, he will separate nations and peoples according, in part, to how these nations have treated “the least of these who are members of my family.”

Do you hear how that would sound to these people whose family and friends are either enslaved or who have had to flee for their lives? God remembers them, the least and most vulnerable of all people, and looks with favor on the nations that have shown them kindness. These refugees matter to God.

And how consistent that is with everything Jesus taught and did! Those who are powerless matter. Those who are poor and who mourn are blessed. Those who are frightened and vulnerable are lifted up in love. Live in hope, because God sees you and remembers you!

And God will also look with kindness on those who are kind to you. Not because they’ve tried harder (in the parable they don’t even know they’ve done things God finds favorable), but because they are filled with God’s love and simply live that way.

So, this isn’t a gospel text about trying harder to be nice to people. It’s two-fold: Jesus remembers you when you are suffering and frightened and helpless. But also, that  God’s love is going to be shown. Because God’s love changes people. Even now when our world feels more chaotic and frightening than ever, God’s love is still changing the world. May Christ’s love continue to change us. May we then be among those who show mercy and compassion to refugees, to the poor, to the vulnerable, to the forgotten.

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Posted by on November 29, 2017 in Sermon

 

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A Legacy of Loving the World: 7 Easter C

John 17:20-26

”I ask not only on behalf of these, but also on behalf of those who will believe in me through their word, 21that they may all be one. As you, Father, are in me and I am in you, may they also be in us, so that the world may believe that you have sent me. 22The glory that you have given me I have given them, so that they may be one, as we are one, 23I in them and you in me, that they may become completely one, so that the world may know that you have sent me and have loved them even as you have loved me. 24Father, I desire that those also, whom you have given me, may be with me where I am, to see my glory, which you have given me because you loved me before the foundation of the world. 25“Righteous Father, the world does not know you, but I know you; and these know that you have sent me. 26I made your name known to them, and I will make it known, so that the love with which you have loved me may be in them, and I in them.”

I’m mindful today of the fact that my mother has Alzheimer’s disease and that it is progressing. I call her every week, but that’s becoming less successful because sometimes she forgets how to use the phone. Alzheimer’s has been called the disease of 1000 griefs, because you lose the person you love one little piece at a time.

I’m mindful today that I won’t be able to talk to the woman who raised me again. That woman is gone. What’s left is someone who looks like my mom but who sometimes can’t remember how underwear works. I miss the fiercely independent, strong, vibrant, intelligent woman who raised my sisters and me. I’d like to tell her one more time how much I appreciate the sacrifices she made, how I think she was right to value education as highly as she did, how proud I am of the awards and honors she received as a social worker–both statewide and nationally, and that much of what I’ve learned about authentic, self-giving love I’ve learned from her.

I can tell her these things–and I do–but they are just words to her. She doesn’t always track the meaning of what I’m saying.

I’d like her to know that some of the things she valued most in life are still making a difference in the world, that she has left a legacy. She had a hand in shaping the way resources are now provided for families with handicapped children in the state of Utah. She raised four responsible and caring children who live many of the values she instilled in us and show love and care to their families. Her commitment as a parent, sacrificing whatever was necessary for the sake of her children, is my model for being a parent. She emphasized always doing the right thing, even if it costs you, even if it is hard, even if the consequences aren’t fun, even if no one believes you. You still live with honor, with dignity, and with ethics.

I’d love to tell her that this is her ongoing legacy, that these values and accomplishments are still making a difference in the world, but I can’t communicate that to her any more. I can’t tell her, but that doesn’t diminish her legacy. This world is kinder, more helpful to people with challenges, more honest, and more ethical because of her. I’m part of that legacy. And I’m proud to be.

What would you like your legacy to be? What are the values you’d like to continue to affect the world after you’re gone? How do you want the world to be different because you were here? That’s your legacy, and it’s what you leave behind for the world.

Some people leave a legacy through their finances. They set up a foundation or a trust or an endowment so their money can continue to provide something they value after they’ve died. Many churches have an endowment for exactly that purpose.

Others leave a legacy through their children. Raising them to carry on the family business or the family reputation or the family values. This is often the concern for royal families who ascend to the throne of their country.

Others leave a legacy through modeling the values of a particular lifestyle that inspires others to live those values in a similar way. Mother Teresa or Martin Luther King, Jr exemplify this.

Regardless of how you do it, it’s worth pondering what kind of a difference you’d like to make in the world after you’re gone. What would you like your legacy to be?

In this text from John, Jesus is praying that he would leave a legacy. Sometimes texts from the gospel of John don’t make immediate sense and just sound like a lot of words. That one today, I think, can be like that. But what’s happening is that Jesus is praying that his disciples will carry on his mission of loving the world. Just as he has known the Father’s love in order to share it, he’s praying his future disciples would know his love so they can share it. As he and the Father are joined together to love the world, he’s praying that we would be joined to one another to do the same thing. He’s praying that we would carry on his legacy of loving the world with God’s own love.

What Jesus wants more than anything is that his love, which has saved the world, won’t die with him. He’s imploring the Father to allow his legacy of loving the world to continue; that his disciples would somehow unite with him in this. He knows the only hope the world has is that God’s love can continue to be shown. He has lived his whole life showing that love. And now he is pleading that his disciples will be able to do it.

Jesus is praying for us here. He’s including us as part of his legacy. This is his hope, that God’s love for the world continue to be revealed.

I’m moved that Jesus has invited me to be part of his legacy. I’m honored to be included in that with you. The love he has shown to us, the love that has restored us, comforted us, assured us, is the love he invites us to share. The love that has saved us is the love that will save the world. And Jesus is praying that we will be united with him in showing them that love.

That’s Jesus’ legacy: the creation of a community of people that love the world like he does. May God’s love continue to hold us as we carry on that legacy.

 
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Posted by on May 9, 2016 in Sermon

 

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