"True Humanity" - Christ the King A
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Delivered By
Pr. David Fleener
Delivered On
November 26, 2017 at 10:45 AM
Central Passage
Matthew 25:31-46
Description

Pr. David Fleener

Sermon: Christ the King A, November 26, 2017

Matthew 25:31-46

 

True Humanity

 

            When I lived in Chicago, I learned to ignore people. If someone asks for money, pretend you didn’t hear them. Someone flips you off in traffic, mutter a choice word or two under your breath and move on. Someone falls down on the sidewalk in front of you, mind your own business and move on – they could be setting you up for getting mugged! Few places dehumanized humans for me like the big city did. People were often obstacles to be negotiated or overcome rather than, well, related to.

 

            But before we get too smug about living in a small town, sometimes the same thing happens with us as well. Our giving ministries are a wonderful testament to the faith of our church – but they can isolate us from the very people we are trying to help. I know when I get a call requesting help with a utility bill or rent payment or gasoline, the first thought that usually goes through my mind is, “Not this again.” It’s hard for me to see the other person as a person when our relationship is based solely on the need of the other. Even when we have the best of intentions and do the “right thing”, we can lose sight of the other person as a person. They easily become an object in need of help – little more.

 

            Jesus knows this. This is why we hear such a disturbing story today, the last Sunday of the church year. In this story about the final judgment, Jesus refers to himself explicitly as the king and judge of the world, who will judge between the sheep and goats based solely on their acts of mercy toward others (take that, “faith alone”!). But acts of mercy aren’t just related to what people do for others. It isn’t just about feeding the hungry, giving the thirsty something to drink, clothing the naked. There are three acts of mercy that especially strike me in this parable, in this age where we are more isolated than ever from each other. In addition to feeding, watering, and clothing, Jesus says, “I was a stranger (literally, a foreigner or an alien) and you welcomed me,” “I was sick and you took care of me,” and “I was in prison and you visited me.” These three acts, to me, emphasize our call to see the human being in the other person. We can give food or other items, and these are well and good. But we can increasingly do these things without having to interact with anyone outside our social circle. Welcoming the stranger, caring for the sick, and visiting the prisoner inherently require relating to the human being as a human being. It takes us out of our comfortable little world and drives us into that dangerous middle space where we meet Jesus.

 

            Which is surprising about this king Jesus. Jesus, when he comes in glory, isn’t going to say that he was most present in powerful places and people. He isn’t going to point to the President, or Congress, or the courts. He isn’t going to point to investors, inventors, or producers. He isn’t even going to point to those people with good moral character. He is going to say that he was most present in those who were most vulnerable.

 

            That, for us, is good news. There is no velvet rope around Jesus. Jesus is as close as the nearest human being in need. If we want to see God, all we need to see is the human being next to us. The human being in need, who carries the image of God, has the risen Christ within him or her. The king of creation, who died on a cross to redeem humanity, is alive in the world. He reveals himself to those who have the faith to see him in these vulnerable ones, who dare to connect with them as human beings and not as objects.

 

            In this Facebook and Twitter age, connecting to people as people is so much easier than it used to be, and yet it is so much more difficult. I am “friends” with people half a world or a lifetime away, and yet, am I really and truly their friend? Or are they really and truly my friend? Probably not. In fact, whenever I go on social media I know I am looking at carefully curated representations of each person’s life. It is unsafe to be vulnerable online. At the risk of sounding grouchy, I fear that most of our connections are with mirages of human beings rather than genuine human beings themselves. Real human beings, after all, are complicated. We’re not always easy to love.

 

            And yet Jesus, God enfleshed, came in love and not judgment for each one of us. He saw each of us as hungry, thirsty, naked, lonely, sick, and imprisoned (in whatever prison we find ourselves in) and came to bring us out of our self-imposed darkness and sickness into light, life, and health. He took the entire weight of our sin upon himself, giving us peace with God. And rising from death, he remained here (even after ascending to heaven), alive and loose in the world, appearing most clearly in the most vulnerable.

 

            So if we want to know Jesus better, he has shown us how to do it. Look for him in the stranger. Look for him in the prisoner (whatever the prison may be – literal or figurative). And you have this promise – whenever you see the human being, the image of God, and are a friend to that person, you are a friend to Jesus. You may not even know that it is Jesus you are befriending. After all, neither the sheep nor the goats know of Jesus’ presence. But he is definitely there, in the human, in the world. God help us have the faith to know that he is present in the other human being, even when we do not notice him at all.

 

            Let us pray.

 

            Lord Jesus, your reign is marked by paradox. Rather than revealing yourself in glory, might, and power, you reveal yourself in the vulnerable and weak. Help us to welcome the stranger, take care of the sick, and visit the prisoner, in addition to the other acts of mercy, so that we can serve you in relationship with others. Amen.

 

© 2017, David M. Fleener. Permission granted to copy and adapt original material herein for non-commercial purposes with appropriate credit given.