Proper 29-A;Nov. 23, 2008
Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24;Psalm 95:1-7a
Ephesians 1:15-23; Matthew 25:31-46
Next Sunday is the First Sunday in Advent. This is Thanksgiving week. Christmas decorations are being hawked – rather frenetically – in the stores. No matter how old we are or how many times we pass through the seasons, it is always a surprise and a mark of how time itself seems to accelerate year by year. We close down yet another year in the church cycle. This is the Sunday of Christ the King. This is a Sunday of apocalypse, of mystery, of judgment.
Jesus completes his big trilogy today. Two weeks ago, with the story of the wise and foolish bridesmaids, we were warned to be ready, to keep alert, to keep our wicks trimmed and our lamps full. Last week we were warned to invest – that the master would come to us demanding an accounting of what we had done with what we had been given. Both of those stories took us off guard a bit – ready for what? Invest – how? What an appropriate story last week’s was for today’s economic market: just what is a prudent investment in volatile times? Just what does the master expect from us? Today we find out.
Today we complete our year’s readings of the Gospel of Matthew and Jesus tells of the final judgment. This is Jesus’ last teaching story before he is crucified. This is the story of the King, Christ the King returning to earth. This Shepherd divides the sheep from the goats, the ones who got it from the ones who didn’t, the ones who invested wisely from the ones who just buried their treasure, and their hearts and their heads, in the sand. This is Jesus’ story of the Last Judgment, and we are held accountable.
So what is it that Jesus wants us, his followers, to do? Are we supposed to say the Lord's Prayer every morning when we get up? Read the Bible cover to cover every three years? Go to church every week, take communion, teach, preach, evangelize? Bring people to church? Increase our faith or increase our pledge? What does it mean to act like Jesus? To set ourselves up as the judge of what is Christian and what is not Christian for other people?
I was told a story about a group of Christians who had come to the final judgment, they were gathered as a great crowd outside the gates of Heaven. They were joyful in their praise of the mighty God they serve. The air was full of loud alleluias, shouts of praise, Praise the Lord! The joy was intoxicating and growing louder and louder as the gatekeeper came down to the gate directed by the King of Heaven himself, King Jesus. As the Gate keeper approached in one direction a group of known sinners came in from behind and were first to come through the gate and then the shouts of joy suddenly and joltingly stopped and from somewhere within the crowd of the joyous good and pious alleluia-shouting people came a loud protest. "Who do they think they are? Coming in here like that!" The Gate of Heaven slammed shut with a mighty crash leaving the crowd on the outside.
That is what this last and final story that Jesus tells is about. Have you fed the hungry? Have you given water to the thirsty? Have you given shelter to the homeless, clothing to the needy? Have you visited the sick? the prisoner? Just what have you done?
This is what the story of the bridesmaids is pointing to – we are supposed to be ready when someone comes to us needing something important. This is how we are to invest – and not merely to invest in a modest way – giving a little here, a little there, skimming off the top so our own pot is not diminished. The master expects us to take all the abundance we have been given and to take big risks: to give profusely, abundantly, extravagantly to those in need.
The king who comes on this day isn’t interested in the niceties of social behavior, is not interested in how well we provide for ourselves, take care of ourselves, feel sorry for ourselves. The king cares only about the bottom line, and this is it: the hungry, the thirsty, the needy, the imprisoned, the sick. What have we done for them, with what we have been given?
Look: God has been good to us. We have blessings in abundance, and at the last judgment we will be called to account for how we have invested these blessings. Were you ready, Jesus will ask. What risks have you taken?