Sunday, March 3, 2019

Ash Wednesday, Matthew 25:31-46, The Heart of Jesus

Matthew 25:31-46
31 "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."

The Gospel of the Lord.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus the Christ.   Amen
During this Lenten journey we will be focused on the theme:  “The Heart of Jesus”.
We will end with reflections on Maundy Thursday where Jesus says:  “I give you a new commandment, that you love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”
And on Good Friday we will, of course, remember again the tremendous love that he had for us, loving us even unto offering his life for ours on the cross.
The love of Jesus. 
His precious sacred heart.
All that’s fine and good as a place to end, but why start with this last teaching of Jesus on the judgment?
How can that possibly be a revelation of Jesus’ love?
There are days, when I read this text, that I think “you know, I’ll be alright.”
First of all, there is a question about the nature of the judgment.
Are we going to be judged as a nation?  Or as individuals?
Notice if you will that Jesus says that all the nations will be gathered before him.
As a nation, we often do quite well at these things.  Or so we think.
But what if we are to be judged as individuals?  Will we end up at Jesus right hand or at his left?
In this regard, I’m not quite as confident.
It’s one of those “is my glass half empty, or half full” questions.
I shared my food sometimes, but not always.
I never recall refusing a drink to the thirsty, but quite frankly, that’s rarely been an issue.
I’ve tried on occasion to welcome the stranger, but more often, because I’m an introvert, I’ve tended to shy away from that.
Clothing, well, we used to have a clothing bank in Sandpoint – but we closed it. . .
I’ve cared for the sick, as pastors do.
I’ve even visited the imprisoned – once that I can recall.
You see, it’s a mixed bag.  I’ve done these things some of the time, but not all of the time.
Am I a sheep or a goat???
When we ask that question we are focused solely on ourselves.  It’s all about me.
And that’s part of the point.  It’s not about just you and me.
It’s about Jesus, and the love he has for us, even the least of these.
'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. “
If we focus on Jesus, and not ourselves, what is crystal clear is that he cares, deeply and profoundly, even for the ‘least of these’.  No one is outside and beyond his love.  No one.
Which is good, because when you think of it, we are all “one of the least of these”. 
That’s one of the interesting things about the way we hear this text.  Rarely do we realize that when Jesus lifts up the “least of these” he may in fact be talking about us!
In Psalm 8 it is written:
3 When I look at your heavens, the work of your fingers,
the moon and the stars that you have established;
4 what are human beings that you are mindful of them,
mortals that you care for them?

Consider the vast reaches of the universe and the eons of time that has past, and is yet to come.
Against eternity, we are not even the blinking of an eye.
And when you think of the vast reaches of the universe, we are hardly even a speck of dust.  Here today.  Gone tomorrow.
Remember that you are dust.
And to dust you shall return.
Can you get any lower than a speck of dust?
We often fancy ourselves to be greater than we are.
But even the greatest, the most powerful, are mere dust, mortals whose time quickly passes.
5 Yet you have made them a little lower than God,
and crowned them with glory and honor.
6 You have given them dominion over the works of your hands;
you have put all things under their feet, . . .

We are nothing apart from God’s grace.
And yet in his love, he has lifted us up out of the dust of the earth, to serve him and have dominion over the very dust from which we came.
The heart of Jesus, and God’s love.
Consider also this passage from the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 6:
25 "Therefore I tell you, do not worry about your life, what you will eat or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will wear. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothing? 26 Look at the birds of the air; they neither sow nor reap nor gather into barns, and yet your heavenly Father feeds them. Are you not of more value than they? 27 And can any of you by worrying add a single hour to your span of life? 28 And why do you worry about clothing? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they neither toil nor spin, 29 yet I tell you, even Solomon in all his glory was not clothed like one of these. 30 But if God so clothes the grass of the field, which is alive today and tomorrow is thrown into the oven, will he not much more clothe you—you of little faith? 31 Therefore do not worry, saying, 'What will we eat? ' or 'What will we drink? ' or 'What will we wear? '

God cares for the least of these—which is why he cares for you and me.
And God has provided for us all, which is why he expects us to share with all according to each one’s need.
We are but the dust of the earth, and yet God breathed into that dust the Spirit of life itself.
We will return to the dust, yet even still, he will raise us up on the last day.
And because of God’s concern for each one of us as his children – he asks nothing in return except for our praise and thanksgiving, AND, that we pay it forward.
God forgives us.
                And so we are to forgive others.
God is merciful to us,
                And so we are to be merciful to each other.
God has provided for our every need,
                And so we are to share that which we have with others in need.
And when we are found wanting, in this regard, there is Jesus who has done for us what we could not do for ourselves.
How does Jesus love us?
This teaching which comes at the end of Jesus’ ministry points us to the beginning of Creation itself.
God has called us forth from the dust of the earth and crowned us with glory and honor.

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