Terry Larson’s Homily from November 22, 2020

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Sunday of the Fulfillment

Sunday Assembly, Holy Wisdom Monastery, Matthew 25:31-46

November 22, 2020

             In our Gospel Jesus tells us that when ‘the Son of Man’ returns and is sitting on his throne in glory …  “All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.”
        The sheep are gathered on the right side of Christ—the side of approval and honor, and the goats on the left side—for condemnation.
And the standard for judgment:  Christ does not ask anyone about their creeds or their standing in the community, but instead, in so many words: “What have you done for the family who lost their home? How about care for refugees at the border or needs of the families of those who are in prison?”
     The hungry, the thirsty, the homeless, the naked, the physically afflicted, the oppressed, the poor…what have we done or not done for them?  Wow!  God continues to show up where we least expect God to be…a manger, a cross, a person in need. The command to care for the most vulnerable is clear throughout Scripture; the promise that God is shown to us when we do care for those in need is the surprise.

On a good day, we get it.… A man stopped at the church I was serving one cold, blustery, winter day years ago.  After decades of experience with con-artists preying on my mushy, sorta liberal pastors’ heart, I thought that maybe he’s conning me or maybe, yes, this is Christ driving the beat-up Dodge caravan asking for a gas card.  It was really that cold morning.  It wasn’t anything about my wanting to be counted among the righteous but if somebody is going to tell me about they desperately need gas because he and his wife and daughter were sleeping in that vehicle, I’ll take a chance. I gave him the gas card and he went on his way. 
          Maybe we aren’t, by nature, trusting, generous or caring.  And we certainly aren’t righteous.  But in Christ’s righteousness, which we take on in baptism and are empowered by each day, we do the will of God by taking care of the poor, the widow, the child, the afflicted. We rely on Christ’s righteousness because sometimes we are hanging out with the goats and not the sheep, or, as Ezekiel puts it, we may be in league with the fat sheep and not the lean sheep.

We all may have of a boatload of examples of our goatliness. One that comes to mind for me was on an afternoon a couple of years ago when Sue & I stopped at the grocery store to pick up a few items…some veggies and fruit, and a few other things.  We got the intended items plus a few things more, and took our cart to the check-out.  The clerk was a woman about our age. She started scanning our items. She grabbed the bag of organic carrots and whizzed them across the shiny metal counter, bang! Then the bag of Brussel sprouts …rumble, rumble, bang! The oranges, and the apples…crashed and thundered across the smooth surface. The bananas…bang, squish! I was scowling at her because of her rough-handling of our fruits and veggies. She scowled right back. Then came the carton of a dozen organic, free-range, chicken eggs. She took the carton and slowly slid it across the counter. I, in my most cynical and unpleasant voice said, ‘At least you didn’t throw those!!’ She didn’t but it could tell by her look that she wanted to!  After we checked out, and were walking out to the car, I saw that Sue was scowling also. She too must be upset with that woman, I thought. But Sue wasn’t angry with her…she was angry with me. She proceeded to remind me that we don’t know what was going on with that woman…she was probably tired after a long shift of being on her feet, maybe she had a disagreement with her boss, maybe she was having health problems or problems at home. Sue challenged me to be less unpleasant and insulting, and reminded me that after all I am a Christian pastor!!  It’s not easy being a Christian!
     As we encounter others, we look straight into the eyes of Christ.  It’s difficult to get beyond our biases, our prejudices, our judgements to be Christ to others.   The prayer in our Ephesians passage is for God to give us a spirit of wisdom and revelation so that, with the eyes of our heart enlightened, we may know the hope to which we have been called.  And then others, through us will know that blessed hope. By God’s Spirit, we see all people with totally different eyes…with the eyes of our heart. There’s another prayer that nurture’s and strengthens us in our challenge to be Christ to others. It’s in today’s closing hymn:  ‘O may this bounteous God, through all our life be near us; with ever joyful hearts, and blessed peace to cheer us. And keep us still in grace and guide us when perplexed (or irritated!), and free us from all ills in this world and the next.’  Christ is with us in the needs of those around us. God blesses our efforts when we reach out to those who are struggling, just as God reaches out to us in our struggles. In these difficult days of isolation and separation, of division and unrest, it’s only by God’s Spirit that we can get beyond scowling and cynicism to see Christ in all people. No person is beyond God’s love in Christ, nor should they be beyond our reach and love.  We are inspired in our calling through others.
    There’s a story of Martin of Tours, who was a Roman soldier and a Christian. One cold winter day, as he was entering a city, a beggar stopped him and asked for alms. Martin had no money; but the beggar was blue and shivering with cold, and Martin gave what he had. He took off his soldier’s coat, worn and frayed as it was; he cut it in two and gave half of it to the beggar.  Then, that night, he had a dream.  In the dream he saw the heavenly places and all the angels and Christ among them; and Christ was wearing half of a Roman soldier’s cloak.  One of the angels said to him: “Master, why are you wearing that battered old cloak?”  And Jesus answered: “My servant Martin gave it to me.”
     We see Christ everyday, you and I.   We see Christ in the face of the grocery clerk in need of a thoughtful word, in the refugee in need of welcome, in the sick in need of hope for healing, in the hungry in need of nourishing food, in the stranger in need of a friendly nod.  We see Christ as we, through the eyes of our heart, see each other.  
      On this Sunday of Fulfillment, the last Sunday of our Church year,  we thank God as the One who cares about the needs of all; we thank God as the One who comes in justice and in mercy; we thank God as the One who both judges and is judged for us; we thank God as the One who meets us in the need of our neighbor; and we thank God as the One who works in us and through us in common and remarkable ways.

Amen.

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