Wednesday, May 10, 2017

God Shows Up With the Least of These

Scripture Reading: Matthew 25:31-46

Through the course of the year, the Church, like Creation, has seasons. We are in the season of Easter right now. The Season of Dinner Theatre is a secular season Symons Valley experiences, it’s not a church season, yet. Now Easter lasts until Pentecost which leads into what is called—without much imagination involved—Ordinary Time. With the exception of short break in September for the Season of Creation, Ordinary Time runs right until Advent. Advent marks the beginning of the new Church year and we begin all over again—after Advent there’s Christmas, some more Ordinary Time and then Lent and then we are back to where we are right now. Of course, Advent is all about anticipating the arrival of Baby Jesus. However, and this is where I’ve been trying to get to, the Sunday before Advent begins, which would be the last Sunday of the Church year, that Sunday is called Reign of Christ Sunday. That Sunday is the day that we are reminded that although Jesus came as a human into this world and did not have any military might, his power was so vast that he reigned above all other so-called gods and the tyrant rulers on earth—namely Caesar. And I’m telling you all of this because the scripture reading that Dennis read for us today is the scripture reading that is read once every three years on Reign of Christ Sunday in churches that follow the Lectionary schedule. This reading is a parable which Jesus refers to himself as the Son of Man who will return as a king, ultimately determining whether people have or have not led righteous lives. Jesus being the king above all other kings is what we are to be remember in late November when, on the next Sunday, we speak of the coming saviour arriving as a helpless and vulnerable infant.

However, here at Symons Valley, we do not follow the Lectionary for most of the year, so it’s been awhile since we’ve heard this passage. I chose this reading for today because, in these Sundays following the celebration of Easter, I wanted to explore what the good news of the Resurrection means for us as Christians in this day and age when the oppression, greed and fear of Jesus’ day are still known in the nations of the world. This passage clearly speaks to each of us striving to make the world a better place—this might be the best case made in scripture for taking the Word and ensuring the work of God is accomplished. But the good news in this parable is not necessarily the checklist. Rather, the good news of this story is the reminder that God will continue to show up in those moment when we least expect. Just as God was not expected to show up as a helpless baby but did anyway, we cannot anticipate where God will be made known in our lives today. The Divine will always make itself known in and through our lives—and not just in the high holy moments, or when we are out hiking the majestic mountains, but also the moments of my everyday life, your life, and even the life of that person who can’t get their crap together. God is there in lives that are messy, broken and, even, pain-filled.

This scripture reading of the sheep and the goats takes place just before the Passion story begins. This is the last time Jesus sits with his disciples before he is annointed for burial by the woman in Bethany and just before Judas agrees to betray his friend. It is important to note here, that in Matthew’s Gospel, this is the final teaching he offers, the last instructions he gives other than the request to remember him each time they break bread and pour the cup. He tells them—feed others as you would have fed me if I was hungry, welcome strangers as if I were that stranger. Of course, Jesus, being Jesus, rarely says things straight out—his listeners are to sit and struggle a bit with what he’s getting at, to spend time contemplating what he means with his stories and how it pertains to each person’s situation and context. This why the teachings of Jesus resonant with us still today because his stories are about the human condition, not just about the specific ills of his time. And so, he tells the group after letting them know the Son of Man will return as the king, that because they fed him, clothed him, welcomed him in, they are the righteous ones. And, you can imagine that his disciples are starting to fret a little bit and looking around at themselves, eyebrows raised as they hear this story. They were probably thinking to themselves along with the righteous in the story, ‘ummm, when exactly was Jesus hungry or naked? “Truly I tell you, just as you fed, or clothed or welcomed one of the least of these,* you did it to me.” And then he goes after the less righteous in the story, stating that those of them who ignored him while he was thirsty or ill or in prison are the goats who will, forever sit at the left side of the king and not get to enjoy eternal life. And again, probably a few of his listeners looked at each other incredulously and thought, ‘SHOOT! Have we ever seen him thirsty, sick or in prison and did not take care of him? Did we somehow miss that?’ And, again, he says, “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.”

I wonder how long it was after they picked up and left for Bethany, if it was on the walk there or if it wasn’t until after he died and was raised did the disciples realize that this story is not so much about the instructions to feed, clothe and welcome so much as it is about Jesus being the Son of Man—A.K.A being the son of God? That Jesus was so much more than the person who was right in front of them as their teacher? And, even more shocking, that the one who was as divine as he was human, could be found not with the wealthy, the powerful and the strong but could be found, instead, with the least of these? That the king who is at the start of the tale, who has the ability and power to know who amongst humanity are the righteous and who are not, that that king can actually be found amongst the homeless, the ill, the starving, the thirsty, the stranger?

In the Resurrection, we, the people of God, bear witness that the ministry of Jesus did not end upon the cross. Love overcame hate and Jesus was raised to make known to the world that God’s love must be carried on by all who proclaim to believe in The Way, that the Kingdom can come, if only we carry on the work of God by following the example that Jesus, our Christ, lived out for us. In the Resurrection we have the understanding that Jesus continue to walk alongside us, even today. For some this means that Jesus is there but not there as in the Footprints poem—you know the one, a person dreaming of walking with Jesus sees their path as two sets of footprints on a beach. During the times the person recognizes as difficult periods of their life, there is only one set of footprints. Where were you then, the person asks Jesus. Jesus answers, I was carrying you. Jesus is with us, not visible to us but offers support, courage and strength as we move through our days. But this is not the image our scripture reading today gives us about the presence of Jesus in our lives each and every day. Our scripture today, along with the good news of the Resurrection is that God did not leave us when Jesus died upon the cross, God showed up again in the raising of Christ, this scripture tells us that the Divine, through Jesus, is still very much with us and that, in order to find Jesus, we need look no further than amongst those of us who hurt, who are a little broken, or maybe a lot broken, God is very much present right where you least expect God to be.

He is not the policy-maker, the CEO, the priest. He is the least amongst us. He is the fentanyl user in Vancouver, he is the young woman beaten to death while being filmed on Facebook. He lives with those Canadians who do not have access to safe drinking water in any one of the 150 Native communities that are under a water advisory on any given day. He is the teenager reeling from the suicide deaths of his friends in Attawapiskat First Nation. He the guy standing on Cash Corner downtown, hoping to God that he can get a day’s work this week. He’s the daughter of parents who attended Residential Schools and because they weren’t given examples of how to parent when they were growing up, she is left to fend for herself. He is the mentally ill person who has done something too horrible to talk about and is now in prison. He is that woman who is afraid of entering her house of prayer because of the hate spray-painted on its front doors. He is that guy talking to loudly to himself on the C-Train. He is that woman who walked out into traffic and when the vehicles stopped for her, she insisted that she could lift one up by pulling up, up, up on the bumper—she was so high on glue that the smell made me sick so I had to lie down for hours afterwards when I tried to protect her from oncoming traffic until the ambulance arrived.

The good news of the Resurrection is that Jesus has not left us. Jesus walks with us still today. The good news of the Resurrection is that God continues to show up. Even the messy. Even in the broken. Even in the pain-filled. Even in the ordinariness of the bread and the cup. God is there. God is here. The people in the parable realized that they did not know in their helping or ignoring those who were not well, who were struggling, who were unfortunate that they were helping or ignoring Jesus. They did not recognize that the Divine was right there, amongst them. The question for us today is, will we?  

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