This Is Us Service
Passage: Matthew 25:31–25:46
01.28.2018 This Is Us service
Scripture: Matthew 25: 31-46
There’s a critically acclaimed movie that came out in the early 90’s called Before Sunrise. It tells the story of two young adults who meet on a train in Eastern Europe. One is French, the other American. And after talking for a little on the train, the American guy convinces the French girl to get off the train with him to hang out in the city before he flies home to America the next day. And the movie follows their journey as they get to know one another and dare I say fall for one another. The movie ends with them, having expressed their love for one another, not exchanging phone numbers or addresses, but agreeing to meet in the same spot six months later.
The movie ends on that cliffhanger. And for years people who saw the movie were left wondering what happened six months later? Did they both return to that spot? Or did life overtake them and they never saw each other again? What happened on the day they agreed to meet?
Eventually they made a sequel, but it was nearly a decade after the first movie came out. I’m not going to spoil anything, that’s not the point in bringing this up, the point is can you imagine having a life changing encounter and then not knowing whether you’ll encounter that person ever again?
Can you imagine meeting someone that you knew made an indelible impact on your life and not sure if you’d ever see them again? Can you imagine having that sort of important connection and realizing you might never connect again?
In our lives as Christians, we can have incredible experiences of God and wonder how can we encounter that again? How can we connect with that again? How can we not just relive that experience, but have that experience again and anew?
Throughout this sermon series we have talked about ways in Scripture that people encountered Jesus. How the wise men encountered Jesus in following the star and worshipped him. How the disciples encountered the risen Christ and were drawn to worship. How the two men on the road to Emmaus encountered Jesus in the understanding of Scripture and in the breaking in the bread. And we ourselves attempt to encounter Jesus in those things, in worship in small groups, hoping that like the disciples we can encounter him there.
Now let’s look at a way Jesus promised us was a way to encounter him in our world.
31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 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. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. 34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ 37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ 40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’ 41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’ 44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’ 45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’ 46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”
This story occurs towards the end of Matthew’s gospel and its given in the middle of Holy Week. This is one of the final parables Jesus tells before the passion, the trial and crucifixion. And we are taken up into the heavens for the final judgment of the nations. All the nations will be gathered before him and he will separate the sheep from the goats.
We make choices all the time, we make judgments. We call some successful and some failures. We call some winners we call some losers. We separate people into groups, good bad, righteous, greed, etc. And now we can see how Jesus, how God separates. We can see what criteria God uses. And its on the basis of service.
Jesus says to the righteous Come you who are blessed by my father, take your inheritance. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ The criteria God uses is not how much you did for yourself, but how much you did for others. Particularly the marginalized. Particularly the poor. Particularly the least among us.
But the way Jesus tells the story is peculiar. Jesus says that he is the one that was hungry, he is the one that was thirsty, he is the one that needed clothes. This confuses the righteous who ask when did they see Jesus in those states? Jesus replies that anytime they reached out in compassion to the least of these his brothers, they did it unto him.
A lot of times I’ve preached on this passage and I’ve talked about the necessity of service. I’ve talked about how God evaluates us based on what we do and how we treat others. I’ve talked about how small acts of service have eternal implications. But one thing I’ve never talked about, one thing I’ve always missed, is that this story, told right before Jesus was going to die, is on a basic level about how we can encounter Jesus.
Jesus knows what is about to happen to him. Jesus knows what is about to take place. And Jesus probably intuits that after his death (and subsequent resurrection and ascention) his followers are going to want a way to encounter his presence again. This parable spells out precisely how we can encounter Jesus Christ.
And that way is simply this: we encounter Jesus in the eyes, in the face, in the presence of those whom we serve. We encounter Jesus in the eyes, in the face, in the presence of someone who is hungry that we are feeding. We encounter Jesus in the eyes, in the face, in the presence of someone who is thirsty that we are giving a drink. Someone who needs clothes.
If Jesus’s disciples wanted to find him, wanted to encounter him, wanted to feel his presence again, they wouldn’t be sent to a grave stone, they wouldn’t think back on his life, instead they were to go out and serve. And when they fed a hungry person, they’d experience Jesus. When they gave a thirsty person a drink, they’d experience jesus. When they healed someone who was sick, they’d experience Jesus.
The same thing works for us.
And that’s why our mission statement is oriented towards service. That’s why our mission statement has some movement in it and that movement is towards service. Because as we mature spiritually, as we encounter Jesus Christ more and more, we learn the simple truth imbedded in this parable. We learn that the best way to encounter Jesus is to serve others. That learning is called discipleship.
When I came to Spirit & Life, church leadership had begun the process of re-examining our mission statement and evaluating our programs in light of our mission. Our previous mission statement says we wanted to help people authentically encounter Jesus Christ through worship, praise and small groups. After nearly five years with that statement we wanted to see if it needed updating. As part of that process we solicited input as to what people thought about our various programs. Through that process, through conversations with others in leadership and those on staff, what kept coming up was that we needed more of an emphasis on service. We needed more of an emphasis on mission. We needed more of an emphasis on volunteering. We weren’t leading people and discipling people to see that the end of faith, the goal of faith is service, discipleship, reaching out, caring for others.
This isn’t to say that mission work wasn’t happening. This isn’t to say that no one was reaching out beyond themselves to serve. This isn’t to say we didn’t have a number of people serving their church or serving their community. It’s just that what was being done was self-started, self-guided. It wasn’t focused, it wasn’t intentional. It wasn’t a key part of what we did.
As a result, we felt God calling us to update our mission accordingly. Our mission statement now had an end point, it was directed. We encounter Jesus Christ in worship and small groups for lives of service. For lives of service. That’s the point, that’s the end, that’s the goal: lives of service.
Similarly over the past year church council has been looking at our vision to see if it still fits after seven years. Our vision now is to be a living sign of God’s presence in our community. For me, for us, that is necessarily linked to service. If there were a hundred people in our community living lives of service those 100 people would be a living sign of God’s presence here. For hungry people would be fed. People needing clothes would be clothed. The lonely would be visited. The sick would be healed. The thirsty would have water. Where there was inequality, need, and despair there would would be enough, there would be hope, there would be life. And that life would be the living sign of God’s presence.
Since July we’ve been collecting one thing or another all the time. Food. Hygiene supplies. Coats. Shoeboxes filled with presents. Money for propane. Socks. We’ve always been collecting something. The goal of that is to continually keep our focus outward. The goal of that is to remind us, because I need to be reminded, that we come here and we worship and we meet in small groups but it doesn’t stop there. There’s a so that to it. There’s a purpose to it. And that so that, that purpose, is that we reach out in love and compassion to the least, the last, the lonely, the left out, and the forgotten in our community.
But here’s the deal, friends. Our goal isn’t to end with collecting. Our goal isn’t to just find more and more and more things to collect. Our goal is that collecting things remind us of our need to reach out and helps spurn us forward in service. If bringing in socks gives you a sense of purpose, if bringing in socks helps you feel connected with the type of service that connects us to Jesus, why not go a step forward and serve at Streetlight’s weekly meal on Wednesday night?
Jesus says that when we serve our brothers and sisters who are in need we are serving him. Jesus says that we can encounter him as we reach out in service. Try serving at a Wednesday night Streetlight dinner, try serving at a Monday night Bread and Fishes dinner at Dumfries UMC, and see if, when you look in the eyes of the people you are feeding if you can’t see Jesus. See if you can’t feel the presence of Christ. See if you don’t encounter Jesus in the act of feeding someone who is hungry.
Collecting things here in worship is meant to help us see the needs in our community. I can go about my daily routine, I can go to work, I can come home, I can play with my kids, we can go out to dinner, I can go to the library, I can go shopping, I can do all the things I have to do and totally miss the fact that basic needs for people in our community are not being met. Aside from randomly seeing people standing in the median, you can miss it. But there are people who need food. Who need canned fruits and soups and food items that are easy enough for us to purchase on our weekly trips to the store. That’s a need we can meet.
There are people who need toothpaste. Who need a razor. Who need toilet paper. Who need things that have coupons at Costco and BJs all the time. That’s a need we can meet.
There are people who need socks. Who need white tube socks. That’s a need we can meet.
But once we know there are needs, once we see how we can meet these needs, the next step is to see the people who have those needs. To see Jesus in the people who have needs.
Friends, we’re going to keep collecting things. That’s not going away. We’re going to keep putting the needs of people in our community front and center. But were not gonna stop there.
We’re going to give opportunities to serve real people in real time in real space. We’re going to give you opportunities to look people in the eye and encounter Jesus in their presence. We’re going to serve our brothers and sisters, our friends, our neighbors, the children of God among us face to face. And we’re going to find that in serving them, in meeting them, in being with them face to face, we meet Jesus.
And we’re going to do this because we want to be a living sign of God’s presence in our community. God being present in our community means that hunger and thirst and sickness and poverty and homelessness and lack of clothing and loneliness are not forever problems. They are not things that will always be around. God’s presence means that no one in this community is abandoned. No one is forsaken. No one is lost. No one is given up on.
And we are going to embody that. We are going to be a sign of that. We are going to be a sign of hope. We are going to be a sign of grace. We are going to be a sign of peace. We are going to be a sign that one day no one will be hungry. We are going to be a sign that one day no one will be thirsty. We are going to be a sign that one day no one will be homeless. We are going to be a sign that one day everyone will have what they need to thrive. We will be that sign through working towards those goals now. We will be a sign through refusing to accept the way things are, the problems that exist, the status quo. We will be a sign through working tirelessly towards and outcome that society says is impossible.
But its not impossible. Because God is here.
Friends that is the journey we are on. That’s where we’re headed. And I for one think it’s exciting. I think it will lead to growth. I think it will lead to grace. I think it will lead to faith, hope, and love. I think it will lead to seeing miracles in our midst. I think it will lead to a whole lot of encounters. With Jesus.
I hope you’ll make that journey with us. I hope you’ll see this through. I hope you’ll encounter Jesus in worship, in small groups, and come to see how we authentically encounter Jesus in service. I hope you’ll become a part of our family. Worship, small groups, and service. Being a living sign of God’s presence. This is who we are. This is what we do. This is us. Let us pray.