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Christ The King A Sermon
Matthew 25: 31-46
26, 2017


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May the grace, mercy and peace of God our father be with us, in the name of his son, our risen Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ; Amen.

The parable that Jesus tells in the second half of Matthew 25 continues the theme of surprise – or not seeing something coming – that was started in the parables of the bridesmaids and of the talents earlier in the chapter. This is the parable of the sheep and the goats, and if there is one thing that you have to admit about it, everyone is met with surprise in this story … from the ones who refused to help the least of God’s children to the ones who did help them. The surprise inherent in this parable is that Jesus is present even and especially when we least expect him to be.

One of the central teachings of Martin Luther’s theology is often referred to as, “The Theology of the Cross.” This has to do with the fact that God regularly, even relentlessly, shows up just where we least expect God to be. He was not born to nobility in Jerusalem or Rome, but to a poor couple in backwater Bethlehem. He wasn’t gilded in armor, but in the guise of the vulnerable flesh of a babe. He did not raise and army and conquer all earthly kings and powers, but was crucified alongside two other common criminals. God tends to show up not in power, but in weakness – where we least expect God to be to surprise us, disarm us, overturn our expectations and judgments, all in order to invite us to give up our attempts to redeem ourselves … or even to just go it alone. Jesus shows up in these places so that we can relent to God’s redemptive, surprising and uncontrollable love.

How does this parable call us to be surprised today – to realize that God works in ways that we might not expect? At the very least, it reminds us that God regularly and reliably shows up in those to whom we gave little thought, those we tend to disdain; those who seem beyond our attention or good judgment. That reminder certainly invites us to recognize the presence of God in the need of those around us. We don’t feed the poor, clothe the naked or visit the sick in order to bring Jesus to them; Jesus is there already, and this parable is a powerful reminder of that. We do these things in order to engage Jesus in one more place of life – not just here in church, in the word and sacrament and the fellowship that we share, but in the service to those in need and advocacy for the oppressed. Some have even called this a third sacrament, since Jesus commands it, it involves a physical sign, and there is a promise of salvation ingrained in it. Indeed, our work on behalf of “the least of these” can be considered sacramental, as it mediates the real presence of Jesus to us.
Beyond that, we might also consider how we are surprised by the presence of Christ with those to whom we give little thought, or even those we tend to disdain. Jesus is there – and also with those who disagree with us theologically and politically … those who we despise because of their actions … whose we’ve decided are not only acting in unloving ways, but are inherently unlovable and perhaps irredeemable!

What do you think? What are the implications that Jesus is not only present with those in need in ways we didn’t consider, but that he is also present with those we disregard or even despise? Might God still be showing up in ways that we least expect, that we didn’t see coming? How can we imagine God working in and through those that we couldn’t see ourselves working alongside? Can we imagine sharing the presence of Christ not only at the table of Communion, but in the kitchen of Faith Mission, the pantries of LSS and the CRC, the Holiday Shop and other places where we meet Jesus in the presence of the least of our families?

Now let me be clear, this is not a call to surrender your own convictions or values, to cease working for your own vision of God’s justice. Rather, it is a call to work for justice while remembering that God often shows upon the side of those the world has declared unjust. Work for justice … but don’t despise those with a different view of justice. Work for peace … and pray for those who disrupt that peace. Show mercy to the least of these, including showing mercy by considering the factors that have led persons with whom we disagree to their convictions.

Someone once said that whenever you draw a line between who’s in and who’s out, you find Jesus on the other side from where you are. That adage comforts us with the promise of God’s inclusive, expansive profound love, and at the same time makes us uncomfortable as we imagine God being present with those whose views we find troubling or even threatening. But who is left out of the Kingdom of God? There certainly have to be some left out! Perhaps the challenge for us is to consider is this: who are we leaving out of the Kingdom of God? There is judgment in this parable, to be sure, but ultimately it is God’s judgment, a judgment that we do not control, rendered by God in and through Jesus Christ – who in the very next verses will be handed over in vulnerability and weakness to be crucified by those he came to save. That is very surprising, to find God on the cross; and that is redemptive to find our King sacrificing himself for the lives of us sinners. Thanks be to God for that surprising presence, and that redemption given freely to us. May we leave the judgment to God and experience Jesus’ presence in everyone around us; Amen.