Gospel: Matthew 25:31-46
[Jesus said to the disciples:] 31“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 32All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 34Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ 37Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 40And the king will answer them, ‘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.’ 41Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; 42for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ 45Then he will answer them, ‘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.’ 46And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
At the end of the worship services, the worship leader will often will say, “Go in Peace, serve the Lord.” We all respond, “Thanks be to God.” I have a question for you… how did it go? You know, the going in peace - was it a peace-filled week? Quiet, serene, full of goodness, no stress, no concerns, only hope and joy?
And the Serving the Lord part - how did that go this week? Where, when and how did that happen? Or did it not happen? Did you find opportunities to serve? Was your week filled with activities to serve God at work, at home, in the neighborhood, or church?
One more question - why? Why are we to serve God? If I am saved by grace, and loved by God, and there is nothing I can do to make God love me more, nothing I can do to make God love me less, why should I even bother about serving, or caring, or giving?
A good answer to that question can be found in the Gospel lesson for today. And it may seem very obvious. Yes? Well, it may seem obvious, but you may just be surprised. Those in this story are surprised, and we may be too.
Let’s look at the Gospel lesson – and it seems to follow the old adage of “you will get what you deserve.” You will get what you deserve. That is justice, isn’t it? That is what we want… well, okay, maybe we want grace for us, but the other guy, justice is what he deserves!
Today’s Gospel lesson would be easy if we were to look at it quickly, and say, “Yep, justice! Sheep on one side – the good guys! Goats on the other side – the bad guys! The sheep do what God wants them to do – GOOD SHEEP! The goats are a bunch of bums who do nothing good – BAD GOATS! The sheep earn their way to heaven! The goats waste their lives away and up in hell!”
SO, to answer the question, it seems like what this lesson is saying is we ought to do good works so we can earn our way into heaven! Right?
In conclusion, I summarize the three points – be a good sheep! Do good things. Go to heaven. End of sermon!
But what if I am NOT a good sheep? What if I am not doing enough? What if I am a bad goat, and end up on the wrong side when Jesus separates the sheep and goats? This is where we can run into separation anxiety!
I know what some of you are thinking – you thinking to yourself - “I told you so, you see, Pastor, we DO have to earn our salvation, we are gonna be judged on our works. All that other stuff the past fifty-one sermons was just a farce – saved by grace!”
So God’s promise that, “All who are baptized and believe will be saved” has a giant asterisk attached to it? In our Lutheran understanding, are we supposed to rely on works after all? In a word, no. Let me say that again – NO!
That might be a conclusion we come up with, but that is not what this lesson is all about.
You see, dear sisters and brothers, this is not a message about works. Rather, it is a message about not keeping score. Note in the Gospel lesson – the sheep and the goats ask the question, “When did we do these things? When did we NOT do these things?” Those standing before the throne don’t come with score cards, they come oblivious to what has been done, or not done.
Instead, this lesson is stating that we do what we do because that is who we are. Being part of the baptized, we are expected to do these things for our sisters and brothers in need without regard as to what it will “get” us. When we are worried about who has done what for whom, we are totally missing the point that we are called to care for all of those who are in need. That means that we pay attention to what is happening around us and simply do, without regard to what we’ll receive in return.
God created us to be in relationship with God and with others. But instead of focusing on God and others, we focused on our own needs and desires, ignoring our brothers and sisters, and telling God we could do it on our own.
So God sent his son to the world to bring us back to a right relationship with God. It is through JESUS CHRIST, who took our sins upon himself, that we are forgiven, made right in the eyes of God, forgiven and made whole. Not by our doing, but by God’s doing.
This FREES us to live as God created us to live – as children of God who love and worship God, and who love and serve each other. In other words, we serve, because that is what God created us to do. It won’t earn your salvation – that has already been done.
So let me go back to my earlier question – why do we serve? Why does our mission statement focus on this - we love Jesus by serving others? Because that is where we meet God. We who are God’s children, baptized and forgiven, welcomed and loved, this is where we enter into the presence of the King.
Jesus the Christ. He is our King. A servant King who bows down to wash the feet of followers. He invites us to do to the same.
Filled with the promise that God loves you, names you and claims you as his own, and God will never let you go,
Go in peace and serve the Lord!
Thanks be to God
Let us Pray: Almighty God, may we love and serve as we have been loved and served by you. We pray this in Jesus’ name. Amen.