Sunday, November 26, 2017
When we selected this Christ the King Sunday for Grace’s baptism day, I was delighted to realize that the gospel passage would be one of my favorites from Matthew 25, the parable of the sheep and the goats. When I looked at some commentaries this week, I was surprised when I read this sentence, “The parable of the sheep and the goats may present one of the most outworn passages in the Bible.” “OK,” Mr. Dr. Greg Carey professor of New Testament at Lancaster Theological Seminary, I wanted to say, “you’re wrong!” I suppose you could say this parable is outworn because we know it well, like the Beatitudes, the Lord’s prayer, or the Greatest Commandment, all of which you will also find in Matthew’s gospel. There is a danger in going through the motions when we hear familiar Bible passages like this one so that they lose their power. But I am a believer that the words we hear most often are often the words we most need to hear, words like, “I’m sorry, I love you, thank you, I forgive you.” In fact, we probably should use those words MORE often, not less. These words from Matthew we probably need to hear more, not less. Instead of outworn, these ought to be well-worn words so that in hearing them and saying them we start to actually believe them and live them out.
After all, Matthew is also the gospel writer who gives us these words from Jesus that we shared for Grace’s baptism, “Let your light so shine before others that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven.” And Matthew is the gospel in which we are reminded that Jesus is Emmanuel which means “God is with us.” So Jesus reminds us that when we serve the least of these: the sick, the imprisoned, the foreigner, the hungry, the thirsty, we serve Christ, Immanuel, God with us. God is all around us in Christ who meets us in unlikely and otherwise seemingly ordinary situations all the time. God in Christ calls us to let our lights shine, to serve the least of these.
When Erin was baptized, I shared how she came to get her name, Erin Christine, which put together means Christian Peace. Grace’s first name is probably obvious: what better Lutheran name for a Lutheran pastors’ kid than Grace? Adelaide, her middle name, is for Rich’s grandma Addie, who was named after her Aunt Addie. It’s French, and here’s the kicker on this Christ the King Sunday: Adelaide means, “nobility.” This is our hope for our daughter Grace, that she wear her name proudly and well with noble grace. But we place our greater hope in Christ our Noble King of Grace, who does not rule with the world’s expectation of power and dominion but instead tells us with well-worn words, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” As parents, Rich and I bring Grace to the font today with the hope and prayer that her baptism propels her forward into this world with the light of Christ, that she indeed might let her light so shine so that others will see this light of Christ and glorify God. This is God’s hope and prayer for all of us, that through our baptisms we receive the light of Christ so that we CAN serve the least of these in word and in deed. Our prayer is that we do not OUTwear our baptisms, but that these promises become well-worn in us.
It’s easy to get this parable backwards and to ignore the grace of God in these instructions from Jesus. We can all think and confess of times when we have turned a blind eye toward injustice and overlooked Christ in our midst. Today, we can ask God’s forgiveness for those times. However, I like to think of this passage from Matthew not as a prescription but as a description. That is, what if we heard these words from Jesus not as “Do this or else?” What if he is simply giving us a description of what his followers do: when they see someone hungry, they feed them. When someone is thirsty, they give them water to drink. Naked? Clothing. Stranger? Welcome. This is what Christians do. This is how our lights so shine before others. This is Emmanuel, God with us in our midst. This is living our lives with noble grace. This is following a different kind of King, a King of noble grace who comes to save the little, weak ones and the lost. Baptized children of God, wear these words well. Amen.