Tuesday, November 25, 2008

Princess and Princesses in His kingdom

     I shared with those present at the two services this weekend some of the incongruities regarding the commentators' thoughts regarding our passage from Matthew's Gospel lesson. The schools of thought tended to be either very joyful or very critical. There were very few commentaries, given the time that parish priests have to do reading, that written that were ambivalent about the passage. On the one hand, one set of commentators seemed to rejoice that good works were necessary to be judged a sheep rather than a goat. The is no requirement of faith. There is no need for "church trappings." In fact, some commentators wondered whether the disciples, apostles, and early church simply misunderstood Jesus when they declared Him the Son of God. To love God is to simply love others. Church is superfluous. Faith is unnecessary.  

     Another group of commentators seemed to relish either for or against the idea that we are saved by what we do. Those that argue in favor of works righteousness hear Jesus' command to visit the sick and imprisoned, to feed the hungry, and to clothe the poor as the requirement of faith. Of course, those who seem a bit overly sensitive to ideas of works righteousness argue vehemently against such understandings.  St. Paul and others throughout the history of the Church remind us that faith without works is worthless.  So, good works are good and important, but they only point the way toward the One walked the road to Calvary.  They do not ensure that you ad I will be judged any better than the unbelievers.

     What a number of commentators seem to miss about this passage, however, is the pre-requisite for both these wonderful works and that love of others. At the center of Jesus' message this week is the reminder that a right relationship with Him should be first and foremost in our lives. How can such be true? Think of the judgment scene which He describes. Where are the witnesses? Where are the lawyers? Only the judge is there. Only the Son of Man and each individual are present when this judgment scene takes place. And the judge looks at everyone before Him and makes an infalliable judgment. This person is a sheep; this person is a goat. The testimony of each individual's life points them towards His left hand or His right hand. There is no need for witnesses; there is no need to even speak. The heart is lived out in one's life.

     How is such a thing possible? Consider Jesus' teaching. The righteous are called sheep and set off to the side that will experience the blessings of God for all eternity. Such a person recognizes that God has come among us, lived with us, died for us, and has promised to raise us. Such a person discovers that love of God necessarily leads to love of neighbor. Everyone whom we encounter in life, every single person with whom we come into contact, has been created in His image. How we treat them, how we love them reflects how we love Him. When we allow our brothers and sisters to languish in poverty, to languish in hopelessness, to be forgotten, we are allowing ourselves to forget God. Worse, when we ignore people in that condition, we forget the condition our Lord assumed when He took on human form. Though He could have come among us as a king, with attendant wealth and glory, He chose, instead, to come among us as the son of a carpenter in a hick town in a backwater province. Though He could have chosen to mingle only with the powerful, He chose, instead, to eat with and teach prostitutes, tax collectors, lepers, the poor, cripples, possessed, and ceremoniously unclean. He came as one of our least and served among our least to remind us that in God's kingdom there is no least! All are loved by God. All have been imprinted, like that denarius which He had to borrow for illustrative purposes, with the image of our Creator. And how we respond to His love is best demonstrated by how we respond to His images in our midst. But, until we know Him, we cannot see Him in the face of others. Until we know Him for who He is, we cannot serve Him with intention. He may well wash our feet, but He does so beneath our notice. He may well die for our sins on a cross, but we miss His offering in the hustle and bustle of our lives.

     Similarly, if we reject Him, if we accept the argument that He is not the unique Son of God, all our works do us no good. The goats in the narrative ask of Jesus when they did not serve Him? Usually, we take that question to be rhetorical in nature as if the speakers are saying, "We would have served You, but we did not see You." and so we believe that the goats did no service. Nowhere, however, is such an understanding necessarily implied. Just like those who "prophesied in His name," "taught in His name," and "healed in His name" and were condemned to remain outside the feast, these goats may be doing some works. They are simply serving themselves rather than their Lord when they do them. They, perhaps, imagine some scale of justice where their efforts determine that they were god and worthy of salvation.  Such efforts are simply futile. We cannot serve ourselves and expect to save ourselves. Either way, whether we have rejected Him or have attempted to "earn" His grace, those of us that are goats are doomed.

     Loving our neighbors, loving strangers can be costly. There can be a strain placed upon budgets, upon time, upon relationships, and upon abilities. Sometimes, the service of others can seem outright impossible. There is so much need; we are so inadequate to the task at hand. Yet it is that relationship with Jesus which gives us the power to conquer all things in His name! If we believe He is who He says He is and if we accept Him as Lord over all our life, He can accomplish anything through us, if we are simply willing to serve. And such faithful service itself serves a purpose. How we serve, how we love may be the best sermon that another of the peoples ever hears or sees.

     For the past few weeks, we have been looking at a number of parables and examining what it means to live a life worthy of His disciple and to live in expectation of our Lord's return. What does the prepared life look like? In this last of those teachings and, in fact of this church year, we are reminded of our callings as people who live between the advents of Christ's coming. He has identified Himself for us among the poor and the forgotten, and He as instructed us to care for one another as He Himself first cared for us. This teaching, brothers and sisters, reminds us of the costly love He bore for each of us. To be His princes and to be His princesses means that we must die to selves, rise with Him, and serve others as He has himself done. There is no other calling like it in this world! There is no love like it anywhere else to be found! And there is no future to be found in anyone or any place but Him!

     And such a faith, such a life is easily demonstrable in our midst.  Such a believer takes home the underwear of the homeless and hobos and washes them because "no one should ever be forced always to wear dirty underwear."  Such a group of believers, when budgets are tight and when income seems to be down, recognizes the need in those around them and commits their finances to some relief, expecting, believing that He who owns everything will provide for His people and ministries in His name.  Such a faith, such a life finds itself on its knees in prayers, not hoping, but certain that God is active in the world today and looking for those faithful intercessors who will simply ask Him to act in the beloved name of His Son.  Such a faith, such a life trusts that all its ministries are God's and that He will make sure that they accomplish His purposes.

     This week we celebrated the end of the church year and Christ the King Sunday.  We reminded ourselves that we serve the King of kings and Lord of lords.  Better still, we reminded ourselves that He calls us each to be princes and princesses in His eternal kingdom.  But we also reminded ourselves of the cost of His kingship.  To save His people, to tend His flock, He walked the road that led to calvary.  When He calls us, when He places on our hearts a particular ministry, how can we ever say "no" to such a king.  If He was willing to die for us and if He has the power to redeem all things in our lives, even death, why would we ever want to say "no"?


No comments: