Posted on in Sermons by The Rev. David Marshall
Year A, Christ the King Sunday
Finally, clear instructions on how to get into heaven. Jesus’ parable of the sheep and the goats finally gives us clear instructions for what God wants from us. All we have to do is go out and find someone who is hungry and give them food, or someone who is naked and give them clothes, or visit someone who is sick or in prison, and our work is done! Christ the King will then put us over with the sheep instead of the goats and we will live happily ever after in God’s kingdom! If we can find a naked sick stranger in prison who is hungry, we can get all our work done in one visit!
That is ridiculous, of course. Even if you did exactly what Jesus describes in this parable, you could miss the point. This parable is not about a trick or technique to become a good Christian, nor is it about what to do to get into heaven. Jesus is describing a way of life that flows from God’s grace.
I mean, can you imagine how you would feel if a stranger came up to you and handed you a Hallmark card with a cute message and announced that he was now your new friend? A simple gesture, even a friendly gesture, is not enough to create a friendship.
Friendship grows from knowing each other, knowing our interests and passions, knowing our concerns and struggles, and from listening to one another. We grow to care about people and call them friends over time: through shared experiences and through learning to care about one another. A card or a favor given does not create a friendship.
Once is not enough. We do things for our friends ongoingly, and that builds relationship. God wants us to do loving things with and for God for the same reason – to build a long-term relationship of love and trust.
Jesus tells us how to build our relationship with God: When I was hungry you gave me food, when I was naked you clothed me, when I was sick and in prison you visited me. We love God by loving “the least of those who are members of God’s family.”
Feeding the hungry and visiting the sick are not things we do to win God’s favor. We don’t make friends in order to make sure we have someone to talk to, or someone to give us a ride, or someone to have lunch with from time to time. We may do all these things with a friend, but we do them out of friendship. The gestures that build and strengthen the bonds of friendship are a natural expression of the relationship between true friends. When we have a friend we want to be with them, we care about how they are doing, we enjoy spending time with them and doing things together.
That is how spiritual growth works too. We grow in our love and knowledge of God by investing in the relationship. God cares about the least, the most marginal and the most vulnerable members of God’s family, and so we care about them too, not as a thing to do to win God’s favor, but as an expression of our relationship with God.
We invest in our friendships because life is richer when we have friends. We experience happiness, contentment, and even fun when we have friends.
In the parable of the sheep and the goats Jesus is showing us that we can enjoy the abundance, joy and freedom of life in God’s kingdom now, in this life, regardless of our circumstances. The sheep in the parable welcomed the stranger, gave water to those who were thirsty, and visited the sick, and every time they did these things they were blessed.
This is exactly what we have been talking about these past weeks. When you pay it forward by blessing others, you receive great blessings yourself. When you go through life with generosity, compassion and friendliness, you experience those same blessings yourself. When you are a friend to someone, you receive the blessings of friendship.
By living this way we tap into the deep truth of God’s love. Forgiveness, compassion, generosity and kindness are like roots that we put down into earth and tap into God’s grace.
When we pay it forward as a way of life, we experience abundance and joy no matter what our circumstances. Like the sheep in the parable, we are blessed because our love for God inspires us to feed the hungry, welcome the stranger, and visit the sick. Each time we pay it forward we are growing our roots and receiving nourishment from God. Each time we pay it forward we are tapping into eternal life, here and now.
The Rev. David Marshall
St. Dunstan’s Church, Shoreline WA
November 23, 2014