Serving Jesus/October 29, 2017

Lincoln Second Baptist
October 29, 2017

Serving Jesus 

Matthew 25:31-40

31 "When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory.
32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.
33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
34 "Then the King will say to those on his right, 'Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.
35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in,
36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.'
37 "Then the righteous will answer him, 'Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink?
38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you?
39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?'
40 "The King will reply, 'I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.'

I saw a meme the other day on Facebook. It read, “They say ‘Only God can forgive me’. And I say, ‘Dude that should really scare you.” It’s strange that people are offended by the judgement of other people, but welcome the judgment of God – yet it is God who will be our final judge in how we live our lives.

In Matthew 25, Jesus tells His disciples a parable with a similar twist. The point of the parable is simple and clear: God will judge us based on our caring service in the face of human need.   It seems in this passage; Jesus removes any excuse we might have of mistreating or ignoring other people who are unlike us.  In Matthew 25, Jesus shares a parable with his disciples.  The single message of the parable is this:  God will judge us based upon our caring service for in the face of human need.   Don’t misunderstand me.  This may sound very much like the social gospel, which it is.  Yet Jesus is not disregarding the world’s need for a savior who redeems us from our sin.  He is making it very clear to those who have been saved and redeemed from their sin, that caring for those in need is very much part of our mission. 

I want to take a moment to clarify who this parable is NOT written to.  It is not written to non-believers who feel passionate about serving the needs of the poor.  There are many who do not believe in the saving power of Christ who still believe humans should be kind to each other and the poor should be served.  But this is written specifically to the followers of Christ. 

Secondly, this is not written to the government.  Government programs are important and vital for helping the poor, but this is speaking to people who follow Christ, not the government.  Knowing this relieves us of the temptation to disregard Jesus’ voice as it speaks to us by saying, “Well, I pay taxes to the government, and I think the government should help the poor.”  Jesus is telling his people to respond personally to the needs of the poor.  We don’t get off that easy.

This parable teaches us four basic truths concerning God’s call to service which He places upon the life of every believer.

I.  God Call Us to Loving Service
The first truth we see in this parable is that God calls us to loving service.   The Bible verse that everyone has memorized is John 3:16  “For God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten son…”  That verse teaches us that God loved the world.  But If we go on to I John 4:16, it tells us that “God is Love”.

The word love, as it is used to describe God, is not merely feelings of sentiment or warm streams of emotion that overwhelm a person’s consciousness.   

God’s love is a demonstrative love. He does not merely say, “I love you,” but along with those words is the proof. The love of God is living and active. It is tangible and easily recognized. When God’s love is poured out, there is no mistaking it.  Our God is the God of love, and he expects us, his children, to be loving as well. Just as we are reflections of our human parents, mirroring them in our appearance in mannerisms, so too, we are to be reflections of our heavenly Father, imitating Him in our actions and attitudes.

The God of love calls us to loving service. It is not enough for us to meet together once a week and to celebrate the fact that we are children of God. We are expected to live as His children and live out our faith in Him.  Just as He is a God of giving and sacrifice, so too, we are to give, sacrifice and serve others.

Again to quote from 1 John, “This is love for God: to obey his commands” (5:3). God calls, He commands, us to loving service.

II. God Calls Us to Simple Service

The second truth found in this parable is that God calls us to simple service. Note the activities that Jesus mentions here: feeding the hungry; giving drink to the thirsty; showing hospitality to strangers; clothing of the naked; caring for the sick; and visiting the imprisoned.  We have numerous ways in our own congregation where we can serve people in need.  Monthly, we have a group who goes to the Matt Talbot kitchen to serve the poor of the city of Lincoln.  Some of us deliver Meals on Wheels.  Others serve the Yazidi women while others take care of their children in the nursery.  Some of our members drive clients at The Bridge Behavioral Health facility to their medical appointments at Lutheran Family Services.  Others role bandages for White Cross.  Some of our people regularly visit the sick or the imprisoned.   Loneliness sets in pretty quick when one is lying in a hospital bed away from the unfamiliarity of their family and friends.  This is especially true for those who are behind bars.  They are filled with remorse, wondering if their family and friends can forgive them for their transgressions.  When we consider this long list of service opportunities, we should be reminded that Jesus doesn’t ask us in this text to solve the world’s problems, but to make a difference in simple ways. 

One of those small ways is the distribution of paper products to people in need.  The Food Pantry doesn’t provide items such as toilet paper, paper towels, and Kleenexes, but we can – and we do.

I remember a few years back, we had a call from a woman who was awaiting heart surgery and was awaiting disability benefits and unable to buy simple Christmas presents for her daughter.  Some of our ladies stepped forward and purchased some Christmas gifts for her and her daughter.  You’ll also notice that Jesus equates our acts of kindness on behalf of those in need around us as acts of kindness given to Him. V. 25 states, “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers of mine, you did for me.’”

How many of you know what the words “Fake News” means?  All of you.  How many of you know what the term “going viral” means?  Most of you.   A few months ago, I got a viral Fake News report that said Harrison Ford was driving his car through Mandan, North Dakota on Interstate 94 and he had a flat tire.  In the article, Harrison Ford was quoted as saying, “We were just leaving the city limits of Mandan, North Dakota when the car overheated or something so I pulled it over to the side of the road and within just a minute or two there were a couple of cars that pulled over to help me out. I told them that I was on the phone with the rental car company but one of them had a brother who owned a tow truck and a few minutes later it was there and he towed it to a place nearby to get fixed.

So then the one guy finds out that I’m not from there and offers to take me in to get lunch while my car is getting fixed and I’m thinking, ‘Sure, why not?’ So we drove to the finest dining spot in Mandan – some place called Dakota Farms – and get a burger. Great burger too. These guys had no idea who I was either which made my day, honestly.

I’m telling you, these people in Mandan are the real deal. I’m gonna move there after I retire, ” Ford said with a laugh.

It was fake, but it got me thinking.  I saw some of the responses from people from North Dakota who fell for it.  They thought it was really cool.  Some said, “That would be so cool to stop and help Harrison Ford!  I mean, he’s Han Solo.  He’s Indiana Jones!”   And I thought, what if the person broken down was a person with old tattered clothes.  What if it were a Native American from just down the road at Standing Rock?  Would they get excited about helping him?

A nineteenth century painting shows a long row of beggars waiting in a soup line. They are all ragged and shabby looking. But around the head of one, barely perceptible, is a halo. One of them is Christ!   You may see no halo around the heads of your brothers and sisters in need, yet to serve them is to serve Christ.  While it is true that the type of service we are called by God to engage in is simple, that is not to say that it’s without cost to us.  The actions Christ mentions in this passage all have a ring of personal compassion, and require more than simply writing a check to charity. It is often risky, time-consuming, sometimes expensive, and most often inconvenient.  The call of God to simple service is the call to become personally involved in the lives of those who are hurting and to touch them with our lives. 

It is clear from this parable that Jesus is, in fact, warning us to help the helpless. Yet many Christians, including myself at times, have resisted obeying this scripture—except for giving very limited help to our own families and friends. 

Chuck Colson tells about an occasion when he was preaching in a conservative church. At one point in his sermon he said, “I believe in the literal truth of the scripture and the authority of the Bible.” In response to that statement, choruses of “Amens” roared through the sanctuary.   He recalled, “Later I referred passionately to Christ’s words that we are to visit those in prison. The sanctuary was silent.”   God calls us to let our light shine—through acts of simple service.

III.  God Will Judge Us Based on Our Loving Service
The third truth contained in this parable is that God will judge us based on our loving service. Jesus used the images of sheep and goats to describe two different groups of people based on how well they served those who were in need around them.   He said that the sheep are those who saw the needy around them and responded to their needs in acts of loving service. The goats, on the other hand, were those who also saw the needs around them, but failed to act to alleviate the suffering they witnessed.   As a result of their decisions, each was accorded what was due them—to the sheep was given great reward; to the goats a harsh judgment.  Neither the sheep nor the goats had ever equated the hungry and the homeless with the King. All they saw was either the suffering that needed help and acted compassionately toward them or the losers just looking for a handout and they got what they deserved. 

I wonder how each group will respond at the judgment? As the King pronounced His judgment on them and explained that every act of kindness or neglect was directed toward Him personally, I can almost hear them protest, “But I gave to this charity or that one.”   “I dropped my change in the pot outside the store last Christmas.” Or they might have tried to justify or excuse themselves by saying, “I pay my taxes. I put money in the offering plate at church. I did my part; it was up to those institutions to distribute the funds properly. It’s not my fault.”   However, as I pointed out earlier, we have a responsibility to be personally and intimately involved in our giving. It is loving service, not gift giving that we are called to do. “We have no excuse to neglect those who have deep needs, and we cannot hand over this responsibility to the church or government.

Jesus calls for our personal involvement.   I believe that there are many people that God places along our paths who we are supposed to help. I believe that He has chosen us to be the answer to much of the suffering that takes place all around us.   I believe that God will call us into account for those opportunities—offering us blessing or judgment. God will judge us based on our loving service.

IV. God Will Bless Our Loving Service
The final truth we can learn from this parable is that God will bless our loving service. In a world full of great problems, we might think that our small, personal service is not meaningful. We might wonder if our service can really make a difference. I know it sounds wonderful to feed the hungry and help the helpless, but I also know that often times our efforts to help those in need can lead to great frustration.  Even Albert Schweitzer, the great missionary to Africa, got discouraged. He reported the following incident:  “One day, in my despair, I threw myself into a chair in the consulting room and groaned out, “What a blockhead I was to come here to doctor savages like these!” Whereupon, Joseph, his friend quietly remarked, “Yes, doctor, here on earth you are a great blockhead, but not in heaven.”  We may not receive the pats on the back, or the praise, or the feelings of accomplishment we would like as we serve those in need, but those acts do not go unnoticed and they do bring blessing both to us and to those whom we serve.

We see in the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats, four truths about how God expects us to live out our lives as His children.  He calls us to loving service.

He calls us to simple service. He will judge us based on our loving service. And He will bless our loving service. To live the way that God calls us to is not an easy task. Yet when we live with the attitude that every act of kindness is a direct service to Christ and that we will be rewarded by Him, we will find sufficient energy and drive to meet the needs that come our way.

John Wesley, founder of the Methodist movement, wrote a challenging poem that I would like for you to listen to closely and etch upon your hearts:            
Do all the good you can,  By all the means you can, In all the ways you can,
In all the places you can, At all the times you can, To all the people you can, As long as ever you can.
May this be the way in which we live and are recognized by those we meet each day.