Sermons

pastorEric aug2014Sermon for Christ the King

A God of Surprises
By The Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer -

I have always liked the parable of the sheep and the goats and judgement day which is our Gospel lesson for today, this Christ the King Sunday. I guess it appeals to my social justice side – those who remember the poor, the hungry, the stranger, the ill, the imprisoned – those who remember these people often forgotten by society, they will be rewarded by God. And, yes, those who do not, well, they will receive punishment. Pretty straight-forward judgement by God as described by Jesus.

However, as is often the case with the Gospels, we once again need to look at the context for this passage. In this text, Matthew is not so much proscribing behavior for his congregation, for Christians, but rather Matthew is describing the situation of his community in Jerusalem in around 80AD, Matthew’s community full of people who were hungry, thirsty, lonely, imprisoned – people who felt that the world was against them. In this text, Matthew is promising that the judgment of the nations will turn on how those in power respond to the needs of the community, how those in power response to the needs of the people of his community.

That promise most likely would have been a powerful, comforting, and encouraging word to those early Christians beleaguered by oppression and persecution.


And, I believe there is something else going on here as well, and that is the promise that God regularly shows up in those places and persons we least expect God to be. Both groups in this text, the sheep and the goats both, both groups gave next to no thought to their treatment of “the least of these” and are surprised to discover that their actions (or lack of action) matter, simply because it never crossed their mind that God was present. They gave next to no thought to their behavior or disposition toward “the least of these” because those persons just did not matter. And so along these lines, another way to think about “the least of these” is “those of no account,” “those who do not matter,” “those to whom we give little thought,” perhaps even “those whom we disdain.”

quote redemptionOne of the central tenets of Martin Luther’s theology – often called “the theology of the cross” – is that God regularly, even relentlessly, shows up just where we least expect God to be. Not in Jerusalem or Rome, but in backwater Bethlehem. Not in armor but in the vulnerable flesh of a baby. Not in conquest but in crucifixion. Not in power but in weakness. Again and again, God in Jesus shows up where we least expect God to be, to surprise us, disarm us, overturn our expectations and judgments, all in order to invite us to give up our attempts to redeem ourselves – or even just our attempts to go it alone – and asking us to give in to God’s redemptive, surprising, and uncontrollable love.

Which means that the surprising element of this week’s Gospel does not only apply to first-century Christians who felt like the world was against them. It may just serve to remind any and all Christians that God regularly and reliably shows up in those to whom we give little thought, those whom we tend to disdain, those who seem beyond the pale of our attention or good judgment.

 


There is no doubt that this passage invites us to recognize the presence of God in the need of those around us. In doing so, it affirms one of the central affirmations of Scripture that God gives particular attention to those in need.

In the Lutheran church we define a sacrament as something begun by Jesus, involving a physical element, and including a promise. By this definition we have just two sacraments, baptism and holy communion. Both begun by Jesus with water as the physical element in baptism and bread and when physical elements in holy communion and each with a promise – eternal life with our Lord in baptism and forgiveness of sins in communion.


However, today’s text makes me wonder if we might add “service to those in need” and “advocacy for those oppressed” as a third sacrament, after baptism and holy communion. After all, this passage measures up to those classic Reformation marks of a sacrament. Commanded by Jesus? Yup. Connected to a physical sign? The very physical needs and presence of those overlooked by the world - so yes, again. Containing a promise of salvation. Pretty much. Thus, it is not much of a stretch to see our work on behalf of “the least of these” as sacramental, as it offers the real presence of Christ to us, as we see the face of Jesus in the eyes of the poor and needy.

And, might we extend this insight to include all those to whom we give little thought or even tend to disdain? Even if it includes those who disagree with us theologically or politically? Those who we despise because of their actions? Those whom we have decided are not just acting in unloving ways but are therefore inherently unlovable and, perhaps, irredeemable?

 


I will let you fill in the blanks here, but we all have those people we dislike and disdain, whether they be irrational world leaders or family members or others who we feel are just plain wrong in their actions or opinions.

What if God is present among those we disregard or despise? Might God still be surprising us by showing up just where we least expect God to be? Might our call on this Christ the King Sunday be to imagine that God’s reign of judgment defined and reshaped by mercy, that God’s reign includes even those we are so sure are just plain wrong?

This is not, let me be clear, a call to surrender one’s convictions or cease working for one’s vision of God’s justice. It is, rather, a call to work for justice while remembering that God often shows up on the side of those the world has declared unjust. Thus, this text calls us to work for justice, but not to despise those with a different view of justice; to work for peace, and pray for those who disrupt it; to show mercy to the least of these, including showing mercy by considering the factors that have led persons with whom we disagree to their convictions.

I like the Rev. Dr. David Lose’ oft-used statement that “whenever you draw a line between who’s in and who’s out, you find Jesus on the other side.” I find that comforting when I think about how inclusive and expansive God’s profound love is. I find it uncomfortable when I imagine that includes those whose views I find troubling or even threatening (conveniently forgetting that they may find my convictions equally foreign).

Today’s text tells us that no one is left out of the reign of God. Or, perhaps more to the point of this Gospel lesson, who might we be leaving out of the reign of God’s love?

There is judgment in this parable, without question. But it is ultimately God’s judgment, a judgment we do not control, a judgment rendered by God in and through the Son of Man who in the verses which immediately follow today’s text will be handed over in vulnerability and weakness to be crucified by those he came to save.

No one is beyond God’s love and redemption. That is challenging and comforting and surprising and ultimately redemptive. And, once again, we have cause to be thankful for both the surprise and the redemption God offers.


Thus, we say on this Christ the King Sunday, thanks be to God who has given us the victory through our King of Kings and Lord of Lords, Jesus Christ!

Amen.

(Thanks to the Rev. Dr. David Lose for his words used in this sermon).

The Rev. Eric Christopher Shafer
Senior Pastor - Mt. Olive Lutheran Church
Santa Monica, California
Nov. 25 & 26, 2017


*Donate here to support Mt. Olive's many ministries.

Past Sermons

2017 (53)

December (3)

November (4)

October (5)

September (3)

August (4)

July (4)

June (4)

May (4)

April (8)

March (5)

February (4)

January (5)

2016 (53)

December (4)

November (4)

October (5)

September (4)

August (4)

July (5)

June (4)

May (4)

April (4)

March (6)

February (4)

January (5)

2015 (56)

December (7)

November (5)

October (4)

September (4)

August (5)

July (4)

June (5)

May (4)

April (4)

March (5)

February (5)

January (4)

2014 (44)

December (5)

November (6)

October (5)

September (4)

August (4)

July (3)

June (5)

May (4)

April (8)

Contact Information

    • Mt. Olive Lutheran Church
    • 1343 Ocean Park Blvd.
      Santa Monica, CA 90405
    • Office 310-452-1116
    • Preschool (310) 452-2342
    • Office Hours:
    • Tues. - Fri. 9-4pm / Sat. 9-1pm
    • Closed Sunday & Monday

Worship Services

  • Worship Services:
    Saturdays - 5:00pm
    Sundays - 9:00am AND 11:00am
    Join us for fellowship following worship!

  • Sunday School:
    9:00 am for preschoolers.
    10:10 am Confirmation Class.
  • reconcilingworks logo
  • elca logo logo

Contact Us