Sunday’s sermon: Willing to WELCOME

Text used – Matthew 25:31-46

  • To begin the sermon this morning, all, I want to share a little bit of a video clip with you.
    • Clip that comes from the Presbyterian Mission Agency website → portion of the “Introduction” video to the PC(USA)’s Matthew 25 program

    • You see, back in 2020 just before the COVID-19 pandemic hit Minnesota, our Session voted to become a Matthew 25 congregation.
      • Our presbytery – Presbytery of the Twin Cities Area – is also a Matthew 25 presbytery
      • Our synod – Synod of Lakes and Prairies – is also a Matthew 25 synod
      • And as Rev. Dr. Diane Moffett said in the video, the General Assembly – the national body of the Presbyterian Church (USA) – has made a commitment to be a Matthew 25 Church.
      • All the denominational structures that surround us – from our local congregation here all the way up to the national level – have made the commitment to those 3 focus points[2]:
        • Building congregational vitality by challenging people and congregations to deepen their faith and get actively and joyfully engaged with their community and the world.
        • Dismantling structural racism by advocating and acting to break down the systems, practices and thinking that underlie discrimination, bias, prejudice and oppression of people of color.
        • Eradicating systemic poverty by working to change laws, policies, plans and structures in our society that perpetuate economic exploitation of people who are poor.
    • Now, throughout the season of Lent this year, we’ve been working through this idea of places where willingness and faith intersect, and with this parable from Matthew 25 this morning, we’re going to think about being willing to welcome. As we do that, I want to remind you what I said about willingness at the beginning of this series.
      • Element of willingness that requires sacrifice, especially in terms of making space for the experiences, wisdom, concerns, and needs of another
      • Can be an element of obligation to willingness
      • Willingness requires dedication
      • Willingness can also bear beautiful, unexpected fruit
      • I wanted to remind you of these things because they go hand-in-hand with one of the really important things that Dr. Moffett said in that clip: “When we engage in the work of proclaiming good news to the poor, sight to the blind, and liberty to the oppressed, we may end up hungry, thirsty, naked, sick, in prison, and in need of welcome. As we work to change systems that cause human suffering, we too are part of the least of these.”
  • You see, I know I can’t be the only one who loves this parable.
    • Maybe it’s the familiarity
    • Maybe it’s the orderliness
    • Maybe it’s the utter compassion and extravagant welcome it calls for
    • But at least for me, I think I love this parable because it’s one of the many times Jesus turns everything upside-down and forces those listening into a new perspective. → hear this perspective flip in the story itself
      • Begins with a description steeped in language of decadence and luxury, grandeur and power: Now when the Human One comes in his majesty and all his angels are with him, he will sit on his majestic throne. All the nations will be gathered in front of him.[3] → tracks with the expectations that swirled around the idea of the Human One/Son of God/Messiah figure in Jewish tradition
        • Messiah figure was supposed to be a returning of the might and majesty and military muscle of King David → supposed to be a fierce and powerful warrior-king who would drive off the oppressors at the point of his sword and restore the people of Israel to their former independence and glory → And Jesus starts his story playing into that sort of imagery, speaking of majesty and angels and thrones and gathering “the nations” before him.
      • BUT that reference to “the nations” should have been Jesus’ listeners’ first hint that this wasn’t going where they thought it would. → Gr. “the nations” = intentionally expansive word that truly meant all the nations
        • Jews and Gentiles
        • From near and far
        • Those who have already heard and those who have yet to hear
        • Those who are “us” and those who are “other”
        • Jesus makes it clear from the very outset of this parable that it’s a parable for the masses. For all. For every. For each.
          • Not a message that the Pharisees and Sadducees would have appreciated – those who were tasked with keeping the people of Israel (the wider community) religiously upright and pure which, according to the Law, meant keeping them separate and apart
          • Not a message that jived with the traditional understanding of the Messiah → Human One was supposed to be one who came specifically for the people of Israel … not for everyone
          • Yet Jesus very purposefully says, “All the nations.”
      • Goes on to talk about the ultimate, final judgment of these nations → Human One sitting on his throne and separating the righteous sheep from the unrighteous goats
      • Continues with a wonderfully helpful, teachable description of what made the sheep sheep and the goats goats: “I was hungry and you gave me food to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger and you welcomed me. I was naked and you gave me clothes to wear. I was sick and you took care of me. I was in prison and you visited me.” Then those who are righteous will reply to him, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you a drink? When did we see you as a stranger and welcome you, or naked and give you clothes to wear? When did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?” Then the king will reply to them, “I assure you that when you have done it for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you have done it for me.”[4]
      • And when the goats ask the same thing – “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison and didn’t do anything to help you?” – Jesus answers likewise: “I assure you that when you haven’t done it for one of the least of these, you haven’t done it for me.”[5] And in that description, we hear Jesus flip the world upside-down because in that description, Jesus – the Human One, the Son of God, the Messiah, the king of kings, God Incarnate – equates himself not with the powerful … not with the wealthy … not with the religious leaders … not with those whose lives were pretty and perfect and all wrapped up. No, Jesus equates himself with the least of these.
        • Scholar echoes what Dr. Moffett expressed in that video clip: Matthew’s vision is an important reminder that what we do matters. God’s grace and love are given freely, and there is nothing that we do to earn them, but that does not mean that we can forget to care for the least. After all, the least too are members of Christ’s family. In fact, the story presses even further than that and insists that our care for the least is care for Christ himself. If we do not care for Christ, then how can we expect him to judge in our favor?[6]
          • Share stories from Matthew 25 entities
  • I want to turn something else a little bit on its head with this parable this morning, and that’s our You see, I think when we hear Jesus’ parables, we have a tendency to try to identify ourselves as someone in the story.
    • Not something particular to just Jesus’ stories → something that we do with all stories → That’s why we’re able to get so invested in the stories that we hear or read or see. When we identify with someone in the story, we experience it in a new way. We’re more engaged. We’re more affected. We get caught up in the ups and downs of the plotline as if they were our own ups and downs. That’s why we laugh and cry, cheer and fear along with the characters … because we can see ourselves in and amongst them.
    • With this particular parable, I would guess that many of us – most of us, even – first saw ourselves as either the sheep or the goats. Maybe we remembered moments when we played both parts – moments when we had offered some sort of help to relieve another’s suffering and moments when we failed to do so. But let me ask you this this morning: What if we put ourselves in the place of those Jesus designates as “the least of these”? What if we put ourselves in the place of those who needed someone else to reach out … to welcome and sustain us … to be by our side in a time of deep need?
      • Remember Dr. Moffett’s words: “When we engage in the work of proclaiming good news to the poor, sight to the blind, and liberty to the oppressed, we may end up hungry, thirsty, naked, sick, in prison, and in need of welcome. As we work to change systems that cause human suffering, we too are part of the least of these.” → This gospel-work … this work of compassion and hope and radical welcome and unconditional love … this Matthew 25 work is work that challenges and changes us in all the ways, and some of those ways (a lot of those ways!) have a maddening tendency to be uncomfortable. Ways that push us outside our comfort zones. Ways that challenge our long-held beliefs. Ways that make us look at the world and the people around us not through our own imperfect human eyes but through God’s eyes. Ways that teach us lessons we never knew we needed to learn. But no matter what part in this story we find ourselves playing, it is work that God calls us to do. Each of us. All of us.
        • Scholar: With discernment comes clarity about the simplicity of the tasks before us and the God-given ability faithfully to fulfill them. Food, water, clothing, hospitality, companionship: these are not only the most necessary elements for communal life; they are the most readily available gifts to give. The lesson of the sheep and goats is good news, because it asks each to share precisely what each has. That is the true center of this passage. Whether it is food or water, a compassionate ear or an open heart, everyone has something to share.[7] → And that, friends, is indeed good news. Thanks be to God. Amen.

[1] (up to 1:51).


[3] Mt 25:31-32a.

[4] Mt 25:35-40.

[5] Mt 25:44-45 (emphasis added).

[6] Daniel J. Ott. “Matthew 25:31-46 – Theological Perspective” in Feasting on the Gospels – Matthew, vol. 2. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2013), 270.

[7] Robert M. McClellan. “Matthew 25:31-46 – Pastoral Perspective” in Feasting on the Gospel – Matthew, vol. 2. (Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 2013), 268.

2 responses to “Sunday’s sermon: Willing to WELCOME

  1. Pingback: Sunday’s sermon: Willing to HONOR | Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

  2. Pingback: Sunday’s sermon: Willing to WITNESS | Fearfully and Wonderfully Made

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