Butting in Line

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. 32All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 34Then 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; 35for 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, 36I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ 37Then 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? 38And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 40And 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.’ 41Then 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; 42for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43I 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.’ 44Then 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?’ 45Then 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.’ 46And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Children’s time: Let’s pretend we’re at the end where I pass out tootsie rolls on the way to Sunday school. Line up. Now, one of you butt in line… it’s okay, because we’re just pretending. How does that feel? Not very good? What can you do about it if it happens at school? Tell them to wait their turn? Tell a teacher? Tell your parents? Did you know this happens all throughout life? The Bible tells stories about fat sheep and lean sheep and how the shepherd takes care of them all. Let’s thank God for watching out for us when we can’t watch out for ourselves, and let’s remember to share what we have for those in need around us.

Intro: Dear friends in Christ: grace to you and peace, from the One who is and who was and who is to come: our living Lord and savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

Today is a day of reckoning: a day when we get a glimpse at what it will be like on that last day – when it all comes down. On this Christ the King Sunday – all that king will be concerned about is:

Feeding the hungry
Giving drink to the thirsty
Welcoming the stranger
Clothing the naked
Visiting the sick or imprisoned

And for those who have turned their backs on those opportunities over the years – well, woe to them, right? There’s eternal punishment! How do we reconcile this last judgment scene with a God who is slow to anger and abounding in steadfast love?

Butting in line… what happens as a result? We get “first dibs.” We get our own way. We learn to expect only the best. We get “more” than the rest. We get fatter. More mass, more weight to throw around. We require extra attention. The problem is: the poor just barely make it. Where is the shepherd when you need one?

Any shepherd worth her salt is going to see this and, of course, separate them out so that the weak & hungry ones can get some fattening up!

This is what God does – and has always done – from a biblical standpoint. In our first lesson from Ezekiel 34, we see how God intends to be the shepherd – to seek out the lost ones – to rescue those in danger – to bind up the injured – to strengthen the weak. But there’s a chilling indictment to those who are fat and strong: I will destroy you, says the Lord, I will feed you with justice.

So, what does it mean that the top 10% of Americans hold 70% of the wealth in this nation? What does it mean that the typical salary for a CEO has risen so dramatically in the past 20 years? From 40 times the average employee in the 80s to 400 times the average employee in 2000?

What is a faithful response from us, the sheep? I mean really?

We can bleat our impatience to the shepherd, or baaaa at the injustice of the fat ones butting their way to the front of the line. We can try and take the staff in our own hands and seek to overthrow the shepherd, who obviously isn’t paying attention.

It makes one wonder: Is God really even a player in this real life drama unfolding across the country? Does God really care about protesters being arrested for a cause? Does God take note when Dorli Rainey, an 84-year-old protester from Seattle, is hit with pepper spray in the face because of her beliefs in economic justice?

Remember Robert Schuller’s Crystal Cathedral? My grandma used to watch his show all the time: The Hour of Power! Well, they’re not so powerful anymore in these lean times. This the news reported that the Roman Catholic Diocese of Orange County, FL is buying the Crystal Cathedral for $54 million. This megachurch that did so much good for so many – filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy last year.

What is God up to in all this? And what does it say about the life you live each day? Are the governing authorities all just a part of God’s sovereignty? There are examples in the Bible where God clearly uses neighboring kings to work his will among the people of Israel. During the Reformation, Martin Luther wrote hundreds of letters to the dukes and governors of his day – trusting that God was working through them. So, ought we just sit back and trust that it’ll be okay? Or, does God have a role for us to play?

Clearly, the sheep and the goats are held accountable at the end of time. There’s some feeding of the hungry to do, some visiting of the sick, some clothing of the naked and some welcoming of strangers that needs to happen. God looks to the flock on that last day to see how they did with this while they were living.

So, how are you doing when it comes to the least of these? And I ask not only as an individual, but also as a church: How are we doing? As the body of Christ in the world we are his corporation, so to speak – the term corpus Christi means literally the body of Christ in the world – made up of each one of you. Is Holy Cross living out a faith that uplifts ‘the least of these?’

When I think of the Occupy Wall Street demonstrations, I’m reminded of the American Civil Rights movement – of how Martin Luther King, Jr. differed from Malcolm X in his approach to reform. One held the stance of non-violent resistance, of the long-suffering involved in waiting upon the Lord to effect change – while the other kept the stance of militant change by force if necessary. Both have been lauded for their commitment to positive change for people of all colors in this nation. And both involved taking action. The ones who remain silent in the face of injustice are the ones who do nothing – who accept the way things are – who turn a deaf ear and a blind eye to the least of these among us.

As I watch the occupy phenomena unfold in this country, it seems as if our nation has lost course when only big corporations are given bailouts at the taxpayers’ expense. Clearly, there is something wrong with lavish executive bonuses while the majority of Americans remain uncertain about their future incomes.

You can only expect people to wait for so long before they grow restless and weary in their waiting. The change many had hoped for in American politics seems far off, if not impossible. Some believe it’s up to the people to re-take control of their government. Trouble is: we are the government. It’s made up of people and systems which are made by people to direct and order our common life. Somehow, as we move forward as a nation, we’ll have to overcome our disparities in beliefs, in politics, in age and in cultural diversity to build a stronger America.

I don’t have any clear answers through this turbulent time we are in – except to lift up what Jesus requires of us. In the end, it really will come down to who took action on behalf of the poor, the hungry, the naked and the imprisoned.

“We Are The Children” Project – Many of you know that I love to write and play music. And on a few occasions I’ve shared that here in worship. A couple of people have even said, “You should record some of those songs!” (my fan club of 2 is growing!)  So, on a serious note, when tragedy struck our community at the beginning of the school year, I began to feel a calling to do something to uplift the children in Oakdale and throughout the community.  I’m going to record an album called “We Are The Children” full of songs I’ve come to enjoy as uplifting – and others that I’ve written over the years. 100% of the proceeds will go to help the least of these in our community: The Almarez Fund, the DeHaven Fund (both at Wells Fargo Bank) and our own Building Bridges organization in Oakdale, which provides after school enrichment for the children of this community. I’m not doing it to gain God’s favor – or to get to the front of the line – but make a statement that people really do care about kids in our community.

If you’re out there to impress the shepherd, you’ve already become a goat, right? That’s the irony of the last day – everyone was surprised! Helping the least of these was just hard wired into the sheep.

So let’s be people who join the shepherd in Seeking out the lost, in Rescuing the sheep in peril, in Binding up the wounded, and in Strengthening the weak.

The good news is that God does watch out for us when we can’t watch out for ourselves. This is, after all, Christ the King Sunday. A day we commemorate the strength and power of Christ made perfect in weakness and in unseen acts for the poor.

Let us pray: May the peace of God which passes all understanding guard and keep our hearts and minds together as one in Christ Jesus, our Lord. Amen.

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