Sunday, November 17, 2019

The Second-Last Sunday of the Church Year (Trinity 26)

Matthew 25:31-46; 2 Peter 3:3-14; Daniel 7:9-14

In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
The Church of Christ always has Her eyes set upon Her Lord Jesus. In Advent She is focused upon Her Lord in His coming as an infant child, the Babe of Bethlehem. Throughout the Epiphany, Easter, and Trinity seasons She is focused upon Her Lord who has come as the Lamb of Calvary. And now, at the end of the Church’s Year of Grace, She is focused upon His coming again as Redeemer, Judge, and King.
He has come. He comes. And, He is coming. Our Lord Jesus, Emmanuel, has beenis, and will be with us always, even to the end of the age. He was before the foundation of the world. He sustains the world in its present existence. And, He is coming again at the world’s end. And, throughout it all, He is a two-edged sword, He is a stone of stumbling and a cause of division amongst men. Indeed, the Prince of Peace did not come to bring peace, but a sword; that is to say, Jesus did not come to leave things as they are, but Jesus came to break hardened hearts of stone and to bring hope to the hopeless and despairing. But this world must, and it will, pass away; its very elements will burn and melt in fire.
And when He comes again, He will not come in lowliness and humility. He will not come in a scandalous manner that will be questioned and doubted. But, when He comes again, He will come in the fullness of the glory of God with a multitude of the heavenly host, and He will sit upon His glorious throne. Then all will be gathered before Him from all the nations and every knee will bow in heaven and on earth and under the earth and every tongue will confess that Jesus Christ is Lord to the glory of God the Father.
But He was, and He is, and He will be the same Jesus, the same Lord. Those who believe know this and they can see His glory now through the eyes of faith. They can behold the same glory beheld by Mary and Joseph, by Moses, Jacob, Isaac, and Abraham, and by Adam and Eve after their fall. It is a glory that is hidden but, nevertheless, is real, like the mass of an iceberg below the surface of the water with just the peak exposed for all to see. He was Lord of Lords before there were men. He was Lord of Lords before there was a world. And, as it was in the beginning, so it is now, and so shall it ever be in the world that has no end.
And, this is the truth. He is the Truth. Jesus is the Truth incarnate; Jesus is the Truth in human flesh. He has always been the Truth, and He is the source of all things that are, the very Word of God, the Word of creation apart from whom nothing was, is, or ever shall be. But, at His Father’s bidding, He willingly laid aside His glory and became what we are so that we might become, in Him and through Him, what He is. And, here’s the really amazing thing – He has done this for everyone in all the world, for all of creation, He has done this for you, whether you accept it or not, whether you believe it or not. And, because of this, God the Father has given Him the Name that is above all names, the only name under heaven given among men by which we must be saved.
And so, when He comes, He will come as King and He will come as Judge. He will come with the fullness of His glory and with the fullness of His Kingdom, and no one, no one will be able to deny Him any longer. Then He will judge all men; then He will judge the world. He will judge the world in this way, like a shepherd separating His flock, dividing the sheep from the goats. He shepherded them both, cared for them both, fed and gave drink to them both, and He died for them both, laying His own sinless body into the jaws of the wolf, that both His sheep and His goats would be spared and live. But, though He did this for them all, though He died for them all, there is a key difference between His sheep and His goats, the goats believed that it was their good works that kept them in the Good Shepherd’s flock while the sheep truly believed that they were there by grace alone and thus they trusted in their Good Shepherd’s favor alone.
This difference is exhibited in the responses of the sheep and the goats to Jesus’ judgment concerning them. To the sheep on His right Jesus said, “Come, you who are blessed by 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.” The sheep’s mystified and humble reply is, “When?” “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?” They simply cannot imagine that they have done such a thing for anyone, least of all their Lord Jesus. 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.”
The sheep do not look to themselves for righteousness. They do not find righteousness within themselves. When the sheep look to themselves they  see only unworthiness and helplessness. But the Lord declares them blessed, inheritors, and righteous. Blessedness, inheritance, and righteousness are each things that come from outside of you; they are bestowed upon you by another. The righteous sheep are recipients of Christ’s righteousness. They are blessed by the Father for Jesus’ sake. They will inherit Christ’s kingdom because He died for them and has presented them pure, holy, and blameless before His Father in heaven. The sheep do not look to their works; they do not look to anything in themselves at all, but their eyes are set on Jesus and Him alone. When Jesus points out that they actually have done much good to others and that they have in fact done good to Him, they are amazed, they are stunned, they are incredulous. They cry out, “When, Lord?” But the truth and the reality is this, when they kept their eyes upon Jesus, gratefully receiving the gifts of forgiveness, love, and mercy He died to give them, then they were equipped to bear fruitful good works toward their neighbors in need who exemplify our Lord Jesus who, though He was rich, became poor and needy, low and humble, He suffered mockery and ridicule, suffering, pain, and even death for you and all His precious sheep and goats.
Yes, even for the goats. The goats belong to Jesus too. They too are the recipients of Jesus’ atoning life, suffering, and death. But the goats are shocked and stunned that Jesus could say that they abandoned him hungry and thirsty, a stranger, naked, sick, and in prison. The goats are certain that there has never been a time that they did not serve Jesus when He was in need. That is because they were so focused upon serving Jesus and being recognized for their service that they neglected and ignored, perhaps even despised, the poor and the lowly, the sick, naked and imprisoned people who truly had needs and in whom Jesus is exemplified. For, when you are concerned and worried about earning and meriting favor with Jesus for yourself, how can you be concerned with and serve your neighbor in the selfless way of Jesus?
Jesus calls His sheep to Himself, to inherit the kingdom that was prepared for them before the foundation of the world, but to the goats Jesus says, “Depart from me, you cursed into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” Indeed, as much as the kingdom of heaven was prepared for the faithful even long before the foundation of the world, so the hell of fire was prepared for the devil and his angels, but not for people, not even for goat-like people. But, nevertheless, that is where some will find themselves, not because of Jesus’ judgment, but because of their rejection of Jesus’ gracious gift and their insistence that they be judged according to their works, their wisdom, and their reason. The sheep are those who listen to the Good Shepherd’s voice and follow Him, while the goats are those who stubbornly go their own way. Moreover, it is the nature of sheep to follow their shepherd’s voice, trusting Him to lead them to good pasture and cool water, while it is the nature of goats to walk along the cliffs and the precipices which represent sin and the temptation to sin.
But you must understand that the goats are every bit as much a part of the Good Shepherd’s flock as are the sheep. For each and every one of them has the Lord provided, cared for, protected, kept, and even laid down His life to save. In their goatishness, however, they have chosen to go their own way. They have actually chosen a damnation that was not intended for them at all. Their judgment is not the result of their failure to do good works, but their judgment is the result of their refusal to believe, and their faithlessness which made it impossible for them to do good works, to bear the fruits of faith.
And, what you must understand also, dear Christian, is that seeing Christ in everyone is the fulfillment of the great commandment to love your neighbor as yourself. Jesus has promised to be with you always, even to the end of the age. Because of His incarnation and ascension to the right hand of the Father He now fills all things in His humanity and in His divinity. Thus, Jesus is you neighbor, and He is seen and served most clearly in the poor, the hungry and the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, sick, and imprisoned. That is to say, Jesus is seen and served in the humble and lowly and in the despised of this world.
St. Peter warns that in these last days scoffers will come saying “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.” But they deliberately overlook this fact, says Peter, “that the heavens existed long ago, and the earth was formed out of water and through water by the word of God, and that by means of these the world that then existed was deluged with water and perished. But by the same word the heavens and earth that now exist are stored up for fire, being kept until the day of judgment and destruction of the ungodly.” That is to say, the earth and the world had a beginning; so too, will it have an end at a time that we do not know. The scoffers would have you believe that the world will continue onward perpetually evolving in a natural course under the authority and control of no God at all, therefore, eat, drink, and be merry, for tomorrow you may die, but don’t worry about any accountability or judgment for your actions, for there is no one to judge, therefore judge for yourself what is right and what is wrong, what is good and what is evil, what is moral, ethical, and virtuous.
“But the Lord is not slow to fulfill His promise as some count slowness, but is patient toward you, not wishing that any should perish, but that all should reach repentance.” “But the day of the Lord will come like a thief, and then the heavens will pass away with a roar, and the heavenly bodies will be burned up and dissolved, and the earth and the works that are done in it will be exposed.”
Therefore, “what sort of people ought you to be?” That is the question. Will you be a sheep or will you be a goat? Will you listen to the Good Shepherd’s voice and follow Him, or will you choose to go your own way and skirt the precipices of sin?
You do not have to gaze into the heavens to find Jesus. Nor do you have travel or send your gifts far away to serve Jesus, for He is right where He promised to be, with you, always. Jesus is in the face of your neighbor in need of kindness, charity, grace, mercy, love, and forgiveness. By loving your neighbor you love Jesus. And you love your neighbor only with Jesus’ love. There’s no need to calculate how much love you show, for there’s always more with Jesus. There’s no need to make certain you are seen in your charity, for Jesus knows the intents of your heart and the deeds that you do in secret. And the best place to begin in your charitable service is right in your own home, towards your husband or wife, your children, and the members of your church. Each and every one of them is the face of Jesus, hungry and thirsty, a stranger, naked, sick, and in prison for you to serve with the love, mercy, grace, and forgiveness Jesus has show to you.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.

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