18 November 2007
Homily - Trinity 26
"Truly, I say to you...you did it to Me"
Last week I read today’s Gospel reading to one of our shut-in members. As soon as I finished the reading, the gentleman said, “Wow, that’s a pretty works-righteous passage!” I said, “Oh? Really? Let’s just see about that.” Is that your reaction when you hear our Lord’s words for us today? When Jesus separates the sheep and the goats, will He do so on the basis of their works, the good, the bad, or the ugly? Will the goats go to “eternal punishment” because of their lack of good works? Will the sheep enter eternal life on the basis of their good works? Well, let’s just see about that.
For the second week we hear about the “End Times,” especially the Last Day. Our Lord will come again in His glory, just as He promised. He will sit on His glorious throne – the throne He’s had from eternity, the throne He left to become one of us, to live life in our flesh and blood, to suffer, die and rise again to restore us to life with God, the throne He took up again when He ascended to sit at the Father’s right hand. When our Lord comes again, we will get to see how all things have been renewed and restored. We will get to go back to the Garden – no, we will get to see and live something better than the Garden.
When our Lord comes in His glory, He will gather the nations and separate the people – some on His right, others on His left. Then He will talk to both groups, and the conversation will sound very similar both times. What will He talk about with each group? About feeding the hungry, giving drink to the thirsty, welcoming the stranger, clothing the naked, visiting the sick, and going to the prisoners. Some will have done better than others at these things; others, well, they may have done them, but perhaps with the wrong motives. But the real kicker will come when Jesus will identify Himself with those who needed the help! He will say, “You fed Me; you gave Me drink; you welcomed Me; you clothed Me; you visited and came to Me.” And both groups will say, “When, Lord? We didn’t know we did, or did not do, these things to YOU! How did we do these things to you?” And the King will answer them, “Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.” “Yes, you did it to Me,” Jesus will say.
Those words will make all the difference between the sheep and the goats, all the difference between eternal reward and … well, you know. “Yes, you did it to Me.” Actually, those words make all the difference even now! You see, the Church does not give us these “End Times Sundays” to scare us to death or to make us question our Lord or His gift of life and salvation. No, these Sundays with readings about the Last Day are designed to give comfort and hope. They are designed to spur us on to keep living in holiness and godliness all the way to the end. How did we pray just minutes ago? “O Lord, so rule and govern our hearts and minds by Your Holy Spirit that … we may be stirred up to holiness of living here and dwell with You forever hereafter.”
It’s what St. Peter talks about in our second reading. Don’t doubt our Lord’s promise that He will come! Don’t scoff that He judged the world in the global Flood of Noah’s day! Don’t think that our Lord is playing with your mind when He promises “judgment and destruction for the ungodly” or a “new heavens and a new earth” for the righteous! Don’t fear! Don’t cower! But also, don’t live like bumps on the log of this fallen world! Don’t live self-centeredly, like the unbelieving people around you! Instead, as St. Peter says, focus on “What sort of people ought you to be in lives of holiness and godliness, waiting for and hastening the coming of the day of God.” As St. Peter also says, “Therefore, beloved, since you are waiting for these, be diligent to be found by him without spot or blemish, and at peace.”
But that’s our number one dilemma, isn’t it? When we look in the mirror and examine our lives and hearts, we know that we are not without spot or blemish. We are not at peace. “Lives of holiness and godliness” seem like such a foreign country. We know that if King Jesus were to talk with us right now, the conversation would go something like this: “When you got angry with your spouse or your child, your brother or sister, you did it to Me. When you spoke that unkind word to your neighbor, or about your neighbor, you spoke it to and about Me. When you did not welcome that visitor at church, you did not welcome Me. When you failed to help that hungry, homeless person, you failed to help Me. When you paid little attention to the sermon, the liturgy, the hymns, and the Supper, you paid little attention to Me. When you did not support your church and school with your time, your labors, and your money, you did not support Me.” Need I go on?
This, dear friends, is why the Lord seems slow in coming. Actually, He “is not slow to fulfill His promise as some count slowness, but [He] is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” Your Lord Jesus “desires all people to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4). And, yes, that includes you and me! You see, King Jesus has indeed taken His “glorious throne” – on the Cross. As He hung there, bleeding, suffering, and dying, He gathered all nations to Himself and separated people one from another. In His gory suffering our King of Glory shows how you are blessed by His Father. On the cross He reveals your true inheritance, “the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” And what is that inheritance and kingdom? It’s His great grace, His lavish love, His fabulous forgiveness. That’s what makes the difference between sheep and goats. That’s what makes the difference between eternal life and … well, you know.
That’s also how this is not “a works-righteous passage.” The sheep – the righteous, the believers, the Christians – inherit only what is given to them as a gift. Jesus commends them only for what He has already given them in His dying and rising. You see, we sheep need what our Shepherd-King has to offer. We are hungry and thirsty for God, and He feeds us on His Body and gives us to drink from His Blood. We are estranged from God, and He welcomes us back to life with God. We are the naked ones, exposed for the sinners we are, and He clothes us with His garments of holiness in our Baptism. We are sick in our sin, and He visits us to forgive and heal us. We are imprisoned by death, and He comes to us and sets us free from that prison. That’s the life of holiness and godliness that our Lord gives as a precious and wonderful gift!
So, now, you and I get to go about all of life living the inheritance that we have already received. Now, we get to live that renewed, restored life of Jesus with everyone around us. Now, the Holy Spirit stirs us up to holiness of living here as we eagerly await dwelling with our Lord forever hereafter.
Now, a conversation with our Lord and King might sound something like this. Jesus might say: “When you help those in need, you do it to Me. When you visit the sick, the shut-in, and the imprisoned, you do it to Me. When you love one another, when you hold your tongue from complaining or gossip, when you keep your anger in check, when you live for one another to serve one another, you do it to Me.
“Oh, don’t worry,” Jesus says, “if you don’t consciously think that you’re doing it to Me. I know that you’re plenty busy serving and loving your neighbor. That’s how I created you and recreated you to live and love. In fact,” Jesus says, “when you love as I have loved you, when you live for others as I have lived for you, you are already living in My eternal life. When I come again in glory, when I sit on My glorious throne, we will get to live this life together … more fully … more gloriously … and for all eternity.” Amen.