Kindness is the Key

Pastor Jim Kniseley presented this sermon at Resurrection on Christ the King Sunday, November 20, 2011.  The text is Matthew 25:31-46, especially the verse, “Truly  I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did to me.”


Dear Friends in Christ,


The old-time evangelist Billy Sunday was once asked a question that helps us understand today’s gospel story.  The question was this: “What must I do in order to go to hell?”  He answered, “Nothing.”


Today’s gospel story is intended for those of us who are blessed with abundance, who are proud of our station in life, and who do nothing to help the poor and outcast in our community, the nation or the world.  This story is especially aimed at us Lutherans who may be so proud that we are saved by faith that we have not heard Jesus’ plea for taking care of the very least in our midst.


Our gospel story presents a scene of heaven and judgment day.  Jesus is on his throne and God has given him the responsibility for determining who will be in heaven and who will go to hell.  I want to stop right here and ask  this of you: What is your image of the Day of Judgment?  Do you picture a Joyful Celebration or a Fearful Reckoning?  I ask that question for a reason.  How we view the day of judgment is really a description of how we understand Jesus.  Is he the judge to be feared or is he the shepherd who shows mercy and kindness?


In our gospel story, all the nations of the world are gathered before Jesus, and he separates the people as a shepherd separates sheep and goats.  He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.  Then King Jesus invites those on his right into his kingdom, for “when I was hungry you fed me, and gave me drink, when I needed clothes you clothed me.  I was sick and you looked after me.  I was in prison and you visited me.”  These folks on the right expressed great surprise.  When were you in such need and we helped you?  The King  says, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.”


Then the King Jesus addresses those on his left and says, “Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil, and his angels….for I hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink.  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.”  Amazingly, they give the same answer as those on the right, “”When did we see you in need... and not help you.”  And the King says, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.”  Here is the verse that startles us: Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.


So, dear Friend, based upon how you are living, do you expect to be on the right or on the left on that day of judgment?  This story does not say which of us here today will be on the left or the right.  In the spirit of Scrooge’s Christmas Carol, I believe that Jesus gave us this gospel story for a reason.  We still have time to  live unselfishly, to show kindness in how we care for others, to do God’s Work with our Hands.


I invite you to consider something about this story.  It is not addressed to us as individuals so much as it is addressed to us corporately.  The scripture today says that all nations will be gathered before King Jesus at the day of judgment.  Nations will be judged on their acts of kindness, on taking care of the less fortunate.  One Bible commentator gives us this sobering statistic about the United States: We are the wealthy six percent of the world’s population and we cluster around the well of the earth’s resources and drink deeply from it, while the vast majority of people are shunted aside lapping up the trickles that spill from our cups…


Why would Jesus be so emphatic that we should take care of the poor, oppressed, outcasts of society?  Could it be that when the Lord of the Universe humbled himself and came to this earth, he identified with and became poor, oppressed and outcast?   


Jose Miranda reminds us of something important when we are considering whether or not to help people in need:  Giving food to the hungry or clothing to the naked is not just a charitable handout but an exercise in simple justice – restoring to the poor what is rightfully theirs, what has been taken from them unjustly.  So Jesus’ vision is not a plea for tax-deductible donations but a fervent cry for justice, for setting right what has gone wrong.


In talking about corporate responsibility, we can certainly consider our corporate responsibility as a congregation, as Resurrection Lutheran Church.  We may not be able to directly influence what Fredericksburg and Virginia and the United States and the United Nations does, but we can and do have direct responsibility for what takes place here in this congregation.  If Resurrection suddenly ceased being a congregation, do you think anyone in the community would miss us?  To answer that, I want us to think about what we are doing now that directly helps people in need in our surrounding community.


In the narthex, you will see two trees today, the Baobab Tree and the Angel Tree.  All the canned goods under the Baobab Tree were collected by our Boy Scouts in Troops 791 from folks in their neighborhoods and many of us here also contributed.  These will go directly to needy folks in the community, including folks who come to the food pantry at Christ Lutheran.  The Angel Tree is our way of helping some families at Christmas.  We received the names of these families from the staff at Chancellor Elementary School.  After worship today I hope you will take note of what is on the Big Green Bulletin Board and what is on the floor at the base of that Bulletin Board.  We can sign up to provide food for feeding homeless folks on December 11 at the Thurman Brisban Homeless Shelter.  We can donate items for Hope House (the women’s shelter) and we can contribute food for the Christ Lutheran Food Pantry.  I read through the November newsletter and noted these acts of kindness: We had a thank you from the Piecemakers, our Quilting Group, for providing resources for their work in making quilts for Micah Ministries, Hope House and Mary’s Shelter.  I saw that our Sunday School children participated in Buck a Chick for World Hunger and they gave $42 for the ELCA World Hunger’s God’s Beloved Barnyard Project.


Here’s my vision for the day of judgment as we gather before the throne of Jesus:  St. Peter announces “King Jesus, our next group is Resurrection Lutheran Church.”  Jesus will look at us with love and mercy and say “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”  And then Jesus will say to us, “For I was hungry and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”  And we too will probably wonder aloud when we did this for Jesus.  And Jesus will say to us, “People of Resurrection, 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.” 


Some of you are doing to ask, “So Pastor Jim, is going to heaven based on faith in what Jesus did on the cross for us or is it based on how we have taken care of people?”  And I will answer you with an emphatic “yes!”