Sermon for November 23rd, 2014

Sermon for Christ the King, the Last Sunday of the Church Year

November 23, 2014, St. Paul Lutheran Church, Wallis, Texas

Sermon Text:  Matthew 25:31-46

Sermon Theme:  “Did You Feed Jesus When He was Hungry?”

(Sources:  Emphasis Online Illustrations; Anderson’s Cycle A Preaching Workbook; original ideas)

Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.

I love ancient legends and folktales, especially Christian legends, like this one I want to begin with:

One winter day, a Roman soldier called “Martin of Tours” observed a beggar shivering and asking for alms.  Martin had no money to give, but the beggar was so cold.  Martin would give him what he had.  He took off his soldier’s coat, worn and frayed though it was.  He cut it in two and gave half to the beggar.

That night he had a dream.  He was in heaven in his dream.  He saw Jesus standing in the midst of the angels.  Jesus was wearing half of a Roman soldier’s coat.  One of the angels asked Him, “Master, why do you wear this old frayed coat?”

Jesus answered, “Martin of Tours gave it to me today.”

Almost every one of us has had the experience of seeing or being confronted by a person in need.  Many of these situations cause us to pause and ask whether or not the person is really in need.  Yet, deep in our hearts, as followers of Christ, are found the words of Jesus in today’s text, “As you did it to one of the least of these, my brothers, you did it to me.”

Jesus said that as a response to the questions of the Righteous, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?  And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you?  And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?”

The sheep on His right did these good things, but the goats on His left did not.  His judgment on those of the left is very harsh:  “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”

Considering the deceit and fraud and huge aggregation of free-loaders in today’s society, what does a Christian do?

A new chaplain in the city of Detroit stopped at the corner of West Grand Boulevard and Van Dyke for a red light.  Suddenly there was a knock on his car window.  Standing there was an emaciated-looking person in extremely poor and dirty clothing.  His hand was out and he asked for “any change you can spare for a person in need.”  Reaching into his pocket, the chaplain willingly and eagerly gave money to this person who seemed to have great need.

Later, when the chaplain shared the experience with a local congregation, he discovered that this individual lived in a nearby group home and had stationed himself at the same corner for the past eleven years.

The call to Christian charity often presents a fine line between those who are in need and those who are simply using the system.  Each of us must decide how and when we will fulfill the words of Christ:  “You have done it unto me.”  As many of us have discovered over the years, it is a very difficult decision.

We must not let this difficulty, however, become an excuse for not obeying the Savior’s call to help others in need.  The hunger problem worldwide is enormous, with children and adults in underdeveloped countries starving to death.  And did you know that right here at home, over 46 million Americans live in poverty.  Yes, 46 million Americans live in poverty.  Many, more affluent Americans believe that the poor are to blame for their own poverty, — that is not a fair judgment, and could be another excuse for not obeying our Lord’s call to help.

You can learn a lot about someone by their priorities.  For example, if a house was burning down, what someone would save would say a lot about them, — like if they decided to save the file cabinet with the financial records rather than the family photo album.

Our first priorities get the most energy and effort from us.  If money is our priority, we’ll stay at work all weekend and skip our son’s baseball game.  If family is important, we’ll go to the game and leave the work project until Monday.

When you think about it, in the parable, as Christ judges the sheep and the goats, He judges them for their priorities.  Did they make the poor and hungry and naked their priority, or did they make themselves their priority?  Did they help the least of these or did they look after number one?  By not making others in need a priority, they have in essence not made God a priority.

Remember Jesus said to the goats on the left, “I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink,” and so on.  Then He explains, “As you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.”

By identifying Himself as the needy folks of this world, He makes it clear where our priorities should be.

In just a few days, it will be Thanksgiving.  Thanksgiving is a good time to ask ourselves if we are remembering Christ’s command to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and visit the sick and those in prison.  Have you ever rounded the corner coming home and seen a fire truck or an ambulance with a flashing light on your street?

Our most normal reaction is to say, “Please, God, don’t let it be my house.”  Yet, what are we really saying?  Let it be my neighbor’s house?  What kind of prayer is that?  But there is a reality to life that says we could have been born in a country where famine is common, we could have a life-threatening illness, or we could have found ourselves faced with an overwhelming temptation that landed us in prison.  Just because none of those things have happened . . . yet . . . it is important to maintain a grateful heart.  Never allow smugness or self-righteousness to stop you from reaching out a hand to those in need.

Today, the last Sunday of the Church Year, is known as “Christ the King” Sunday.  As we have seen, today’s parable paints a vivid picture of the time when our King will call us to His reckoning, when He will separate unto Himself those who are His own.  Those judged worthy of the Kingdom consist of the ones who reflect the compassion of their King.

The King of Norway almost always appeared at public functions wearing a simple gray suit.  Once, when an American visitor, visiting Oslo, Norway, saw this, he said he was surprised, because he had expected the King to wear a crown.

Throughout His life, Jesus was even more humble than the King of Norway, with a compassion that was beyond extraordinary.  His love for people sent Him into the hands of a traitor (Judas), jealous clergy (the Sanhedrin), and a cruel and fearful judge (Pontius Pilate).  While on earth Jesus wore no crown except the crown of thorns placed there by the hands of merciless soldiers at His crucifixion.  Through insults and torture, that painful crown of thorns, and an agonizing death on the cross, Jesus underwent unbelievable humiliation and suffering; submitting to it out of great love for us, so that on Judgment Day we might not be cursed, condemned, and cast into eternal punishment.

When we read today’s text about Judgment Day, we say, “Whoa!,” and we read it again.  Did it really say that?  That does it!  Calvin was right!  Salvation is by works!  Luther is wrong!  It’s not really by grace through faith alone!

Before you rush to judgment and join a Reformed church, let me assure you that we are indeed saved by grace through faith alone!  If that were not true, then all that Jesus did for us by suffering and dying on the cross was all for nothing!

You see, the reason we don’t have to fear the call to judgment is that with faith come the love of God, the obedience to His will, the desire to repent, and the forgiveness of our sins, all out of God’s grace.  By grace, through faith, the Holy Spirit enables us to do those good deeds, — feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, etc. — they are a reflection of our faith, proof of our faith, if you will.  As the Apostle James says, “Faith without works is dead.”  Because He lives, our faith is not dead!

“Crown Him the Lord of Heaven, enthroned in worlds above, Crown Him the King to whom is given the wondrous name of Love.  Crown Him with many crowns as thrones before Him fall; Crown Him, ye kings, with many crowns, for He is King of all.”  Amen.

The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.