Last Sunday of the Church Year A 2020
In the Name + of Jesus
John came home from work, knowing he is fortunate to have a job in these pandemic days. He sat down and opened the mail – some people still get things by mail, you know. After opening four bills in a row, big ones like the MasterCard bill too, he was feeling a bit overwhelmed at the debt laid out on his kitchen table. Then he spotted this – this ‘Gifts from the Heart’ brochure for Canadian Lutheran World Relief – looking for help for so many people. Honestly wishing it otherwise, he still felt like he could not help with that need this year. He put his head down on the table and was silent….
Maybe you feel like that some times. Maybe it’s not money, but time that you are lacking. Or maybe it’s that you don’t have the energy to give the needed help you’d like to give. Maybe your health restricts you from serving in these pandemic days…
And there are so many people who need our help. Food bank use is way up around here. The pandemic shutdowns have sent the hunger rates flying upward around the whole world. There’s a shortage of volunteers, in the community, and right here in our congregation too.
Many of the people in need are our sisters and brothers in Christ. And if your ears and eyes are open, you will find that the needs greatly outweigh our ability to provide. That can be overwhelming.
Nonetheless Christians are encouraged by St. Paul that: as we have opportunity, let us do good to everyone, and especially to those who are of the household of faith. (Galatians 6:10) We want to help with all needs, but especially with those of other Christians. This sincere desire to help is part of our sanctification, it’s as desire of the New Man in us worked by the Holy Spirit’s creative power.
Yet so often our own needs overshadow the needs of others. As a result, we might be unwilling or even unable to help those in need, to serve as Christ’s people serve.
Our own needs take on different forms. So do our excuses. Maybe we have health restrictions, or we are shy about what others may think of us, or we feel we have nothing to offer. Some of those limitations are legitimate; some are not.
As we listen in today’s Gospel to Jesus describing those who, without their knowing it, served HIM, as we hear Him tell of the simple good works of the sheep, we see more clearly our own neglect of others. Hearing this scene of the Final Judgement, we may well wonder if we quality as sheep. Or we might feel, like I feel so often, that we are not very good sheep.
I mean, so many things get left undone. Not only are there hungry ones we have not fed, and naked ones we have not clothed, and sick ones we have not visited; there are also a host of other omissions – things we failed to get done – in our vocations, our callings, as son or daughter or parent or citizen or member of Faith Lutheran Church.
These words of Jesus here are not optional. The care, the action, the compassion, the taking responsibility, that He describes of His sheep is WHAT THE SHEEP DO. That is, as we believe in Jesus, this will happen.
Yet know this. It is not the works – the feeding and welcoming and clothing and visiting – that make you a sheep. The righteous are righteous because Jesus makes them righteous by His blood and righteousness! This is all a JESUS-done thing! Those standing on the right – and YOU are there too by the grace of Christ – did not become righteous by their works. Those works just clearly display who they are.
You can’t make yourself to be a sheep. That’s a God-done thing. Yet you could try hard to make yourself into a goat. That’s a human-done thing. And it will show in Jesus’ words on the last day: For I was hungry and you gave Me no food, I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome Me, naked and you did not clothe Me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.‘ Underlying these ‘goat actions’ is a rejection of Jesus. That’s what Jesus says.
What does He mean? Well, Jesus isn’t talking here about whether or not we are ‘good’ people, people who will give the shirts off their backs, like you hear said at funerals. He’s not talking about ‘niceness’ in general.
The difference maker is in the two words that describe the sheep and the goats. The goats are those who are cursed. They have cursed themselves because they have refused to take refuge in the mercy God has shown them in Christ, His Son. They have refused – very specifically – those whom JESUS has sent to them – the least of these, My brothers. They have refused the ministry of the Gospel that comes through Christ’s church. And they have treated those who belong to Christ in some horrendous ways….
On the other hand, the sheep, the righteous, are those who are blessed by My Father, (to) inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. They are receivers first, then doers; they are passive first, then active…
Picture our friend John again. Sitting at the kitchen table, there is one more piece of mail that he finds at the bottom of all those bills. It is a notarized letter telling him that he is named as an heir in the will of a distant relative. He will be receiving a six-figure inheritance some time in the near future. That will sure make a difference to his debt load! It will also make a difference to his compassion ability. He has more than enough to spare. He does not have it in hand yet, but just knowing that it is coming is enough to change his mind and heart. He can live generously already.
That is the difference maker for you who are righteous in Christ. You are heirs of the kingdom of God. According to His great mercy, He has caused us to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading, kept in heaven for you, who by God’s power are being guarded through faith for a salvation ready to be revealed in the last time.
The fullness of your inheritance will be seen in the last time, on this Last Day that Jesus describes, when Jesus the King Himself will say to you: Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit – that is, receive, enjoy, live in – the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.
Revelation tells us that our names have been written in the Lamb’s Book of Life before the foundation of the world, in the book of life of the Lamb that was slain. God secured our inheritance by sending Jesus to be the Sacrificial Lamb on the cross. Our inheritance is in the precious blood of Jesus
God guaranteed your inheritance by raising Jesus from the dead. As St. Paul told us today: Christ has been raised from the dead, the firstfruits of those who have fallen asleep…Christ the firstfruits, then at His coming those who belong to Christ. This inheritance makes all the difference to us right now. All that Jesus describes as sheeply, righteous, compassion and care flows from this inheritance.
Luther remarks that Jesus’ words to us in this Gospel are an outstanding praise of hospitality, in order that we may be sure that God Himself is in our home, is being fed at our house, is lying down and resting as often as some pious brother in exile because of the Gospel comes to us and is received hospitably by us.…But if anyone earnestly believed that he is receiving the Lord Himself when he receives a poor brother, there would be no need for…anxious, zealous, and solicitous exhortation to do works of love. Our coffers, storeroom, and compassion would be open at once for the benefit of the brethren….
Because of the difference Jesus has made – because He has made you righteous, made you His sheep, blessed you with His inheritance from the world’s foundation –
You are a difference maker – in the very simple service of Holy Love that blesses the brother or sister in need.
By His grace – in His Word and Supper and absolution given to you – Jesus judges you to be His sheep today! Believe that. Live in that. Serve in that grace. By the same grace you will rejoice as His sheep forever when the King comes in His glory.