Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Gate Wide Open!



WE HEAR from the Gospel According to Saint Matthew, words spoken about a distinct, right freedom that has been given to us as Christians. Reading for Christ the King Sunday, our gospel lesson provides us with a picture of final judgment. It tells about that which is expected of our Lord’s gathered flock…

“When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will place the sheep at his right hand, but the goats at the left. Then the King will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, O blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’
 Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’
 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.’
 Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’
 Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it not to one of the least of these, you did it not to me.’
 And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”  (Matthew 25:31-46)

We’re Saved! What Now?
As the community of blessed Matthew gathered parchment and wrote this text, we find the Author of Life had intentionally reached very far geographically. By including that the message was written “for all nations” (In the Greek - οὐκ ἐδωκατε μοι φαγειν [pronounced ouk edōkate moi phagein] ), the text echoes from Matthew that our Lord reached not only to a few of the original disciples gathered. Jesus has also addressed others far removed in place and time. Both those who were amid the early church of Matthew, but those out in the future world were made also to be subject to final judgment. God’s Law is thus said to be immutable and eternal.

If we consider the source of judgmental power, we find that the text is very familiar to those who were part of either synagogue or separated church. From the psalmist we read…
Once God has spoken; twice have I heard this:
that power belongs to God; and that to thee,
O Lord, belongs steadfast love.
For thou dost requite a man according to his work.
                                                                                    (Psalm 62:11-12)

 Thus the declaration that all men are subject to judgment. And from the Law we know that we fail according to the Law. This rings out as we are examined before the commandments (see Exodus 20:1-20).
 All people are described by the prophets as but lowly sheep, and goats…grazing before their shepherds. In that status we all are thus judged, even as to whether we are sheep, goats or shepherds. We read from the prophet that all humans, even the sheepish guilty…  will be judged, no matter our classification…

“Therefore, thus says the Lord GOD to them: Behold, I, I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep.”
                                                                                           (Ezekiel 34:20)

Therefore, both the disciples who had heard the Lord’s teaching and those of Matthew’s later synagogue and early church… heard and could understand the pronouncement. The Hebrew scriptures were clear. And we now, who have also read this lesson, are subject to the same judgments. We who are Christians saved not by our own works, but by the grace of God through our baptism into Christ, must then ask about confirming our fate before God. To answer, we must ask of scripture whether God will view us as authentically working in the eternal kingdom. We shall stand before God to find whether or not we have truly followed our Lord’s example. I find it particularly sinful and odd, that we sheep often think that we are goats and some goats think that they are sheep. Let us not judge the fate of one another, nor ourselves… but simply do as we are instructed. God has raised up our judge from the tomb, and thus we should not perform that ultimate, judgmental task on our own  merits. We are simply called to do as instructed by him. His words to us were simply put. We are to love God, and love one another.

Obedient Sheep?
What does the duality of these instructions look like today? Examine the descriptive passages spoken by our lesson. As followers of our Lord, we see that we are to work as a forgiven people. Even though originally found as sinful, the forgiven church is to thankfully work toward fulfilling our tasks in the kingdom.
 To do this, we are to share not only simple food and drink, but the body and blood of Christ and the waters of Holy Baptism. We are to seek out and welcome those who are estranged from God, providing them also with proper, enduring clothing… especially the robe of saintly baptism. As the gathered sheep in the Good Shepherd’s kingdom, we are called to work for the freedom of those imprisoned by sin… opening wide the heavenly gates so that even though held by the bonds of this fallen earth… these too shall know that they are truly made free by the faith given to them in Jesus Christ. This is the task of those in the true church.
 Of those who do not accept this task, the scripture speaks clearly. When all things have been said and done, those persons who have not accepted these commands as their own, shall be cast out. Yes, many persons have been saved unto eternal life by the faith given through the grace of God. Indeed also, those who are baptized into the kingdom are made by witnesses to be aware of the mercy supplied by the sacrificial blood of the Lamb, who is Christ our Lord. But also be sure that any of us who fail to strive and live according to the model that Jesus has set before his church… who gave himself for even the sinful… shall be judged as voracious goats who have eaten at the manger. We trample the blessed food given.
 Thus it is said to us on Christ the King Sunday. As individuals before God, you should thus consider whether you are really called to be trotting alone and cantankerous amid a sinful world, or should you be gathered together by the Holy Spirit as sheep with the rest of the true flock. To do this last deed I think, will indeed be pleasing to our Good Shepherd. Shall we see you in church? I hope so, for he is surely our loving Lord and our Judge.







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