Here's hoping you are enjoying a blessed and fruitful Thanksgiving holiday. It is not only Thanksgiving, but this coming Sunday, for Christian traditions that follow the Revised Common Lectionary, it is “Christ the King” Sunday or (for United States observers) “Rule of Christ” Sunday. November 26 marks the end of the Liturgical year.
Last week at Mount Hebron Presbyterian Church we finished up a series of sermons on Thessalonians with a message called “Blessed Assurance.” The reading for this coming Sunday is Matthew 25:31-46, a passage where a King is pictured as sorting out the righteous folk from the unrighteous ones, each group being characterized as being 'sheep' or 'goats.' The sheep are those who have both heard the voice of the Good Shepherd and acted upon it. The goats are those who have chosen to go their own way and failed to hear or respond to needs around them.
The message of the passage is plain. The validity of our claim to be Christ's followers is measured by our willingness to help those less fortunate than ourselves. This is the pattern we see in the life of Jesus, who teaches us that the commandments are summed up by “Loving God” and “Loving our Neighbor.”
Throughout the Gospel of Matthew, the teaching of Jesus announces and illustrates the kingdom of God. God's kingdom does not function like a typical kingdom. God's divine reign has invaded the world and is described as “Good News!” especially to those on the fringes of society. This new rule welcomes those who have no status and seeks to serve others, rather than exploit them.
Jesus says to those who emulate His actions, that whenever they give food to the hungry, welcome a stranger, clothe the naked, or visit the sick or imprisoned, they are acting in kindness towards Him. Jesus identified with the “least of these” because He had walked in their shoes.
He offers this parable as His ministry on earth is about to reach a close. He is about to face His betrayal, trial and crucifixion. This parable is His way of saying; “You know all that other stuff I told you? Well it is important. But the REALLY important thing is that you care for each other, and particularly care for those members of your community who are not able to help themselves.”
As during this Thanksgiving time we give thanks to God for the many blessings we have received, let us be mindful of those less fortunate than ourselves and seek to respond to the needs of others in ways that reflect the love and grace God has offered to us in Jesus Christ.
We read in this parable the response of the King to those who practice compassion. “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'” (Matthew 25:40.)
For some music; a song by Tim Hughes called “God of Justice (We must Go).”
The Reverend Adrian J. Pratt B.D