Beginning Notes: For the second time since starting at Grace, I used a manuscript. I use a manuscript when the words will not come to me as I prepare or when I need to choose my specific words–and not just my thoughts–before I begin to preach.
This Sunday I needed to choose my words carefully and thoughtfully. I only trust myself so far when anger and sadness guide my voice around what we treat as a political issue when politics should have nothing to do with it.
If I traverse a minefield, I want a very specific map drawn out for me.
Unlike most weeks, I preached exactly what you read here (with a couple of minor edits for my sanity).
Sermon on Matthew 25:34-46 – Stand Up Against Your Allies
I often need to ask myself these questions I ask you today:
“How do you respond when your friends and allies do horrific things?”
“Do you speak up when those whom you align yourself do terrible things?”
“How do you respond when atrocities become politicized and evil becomes a bargaining chip for the powerful?”
“Are you willing to provide witness when you see evil, or do you cower or, worse, justify atrocities to protect the atrocious out of loyalty?”
I chose to preach on this passage today, Sunday, June 24th, 2018, to respond to the world. I rarely choose a passage based solely my own heart—and rarely reuse so quickly—but the spirit directs me and a phrase, “the least of these,” has not left my mind in ten days.
I believe we live in a unique and abnormal time with unique and abnormal challenges. Today we have challenges beyond the growing pains of the progression of time and how we change the ordering society. I sound alarmist to myself, and I want you know to know that I doubted the wisdom of including this thought of unique struggle, but I need to say it: we live in a unique and abnormal time.
Despite the uniqueness and abnormality of our current world and political climate—and the difficult challenges we stare down today—our call remains the same. The call of the gospel does not change, and the example of Christ does not change.
I want to reflect deeply on Jesus’ words the spirit placed on my heart. “…whatever you did for one of the least of these [sisters and] brothers of mine, you did for me.” Whatever you do for or to the least, you do directly for or to God.
Very simple and very convicting; God judges us most strictly on our treatment of the lowest and least amongst us.
Jesus gives a list of “the least”; the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, and the stranger—translatable to “the exile, the immigrant” or “the foreigner” or even just “the guy who wandered up to you on the street”—all qualify as the least.
Your treatment of them is your treatment of God.
If we do not dig below the surface of that list, I have nothing to preach about. We joyfully and intentionally do what we can with what we have here at Grace. We do not always know the exact right course of action—especially now as we discern the practical expression of our mission “Following Jesus . . . Serving Others”—but we strongly desire to help. We feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, provide resources to clothe the naked, and we open our doors to the stranger.
We desire to help and comfort the least of God’s children. I do not qualify, and I do not downplay. I will not take that away from this congregation.
Let us start to dig below the surface of that list a little bit. Nothing on that list immediately strikes an uncomfortable nerve. We just fill in the blank of “Why?” that Christ left blank with “Innocent Neediness,” but Jesus makes no mention of innocence or guilt in his least.
The list feels different if we fill in the “Why?” blank with something:
- The hungry because they gambled their entire paycheck away.
- The stranger filled with hate.
- The thirsty because they spent the money for the water bill on heroin.
- The naked by choice and situation to make money.
These seem lower than the innocently struggling. They fight losing battles—battles of sin and battles of illness and addiction—that make them hungry, thirsty, naked, and a stranger, and they cannot claim innocence, at least in part.
Jesus did not say the innocent when he said the least and yet we condemn the guilty whose actions have made them hungry, thirsty, naked, and a stranger. We convince ourselves they deserve their situations and feel sinful helping them.
We can dig deeper. Each of these make us uncomfortable but we have not politicized these pains—at least not yet.
Let us go a bit deeper. How about these “least”:
- The victims of violence and terror who thirst in the desert, fleeing to a place they believe will provide them hope.
- Those in rags who hope to find a land of plenty.
- The hungry who seek a home that does not have abject poverty.
- The infant stranger ripped from their parents’ arms.
How do we treat these least?
Do we compassion and love for them, or do we dehumanize them and see them as animals?
Should they receive the treatment of people—as human and deserving as us, just different in situation—or the treatment of pawns in a vile political game?
Do we love them, or do we hate them?
I do not speak of immigration policy today. I know I cannot fully discern the right policies of who can and cannot enter our boarders. I cannot give you a Christian and scriptural immigration policy for the United States. I believe we must not divide ourselves on political lines in that discussion, but I understand the positions of a completely closed and completely open border, and we must find a policy that does good while also providing protection.
I do not speak of immigration policy. I speak of policies that dehumanize anyone, that treat humans worse than most dogs, that describe a people as roaches, that indefinitely inter anyone, and that do anything to separate a child from their loving and safe parents. Those policies do these things to God because they do those things to the least of God’s children Christ spoke of—the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, and the stranger.
Doing harm to the least does harm to God. Politicizing harm and insulting outrage at doing harm to the least politicizes harm and insults outrage at doing harm to God.
Do you respond in horror or do you turn a blind eye and downplay doing harm to the least of God’s children?
Sometimes we cannot directly help with resources, but we can witness to good and evil and speak out against evil, or we can turn a blind eye. We can feel outrage toward atrocity, or we can ignore forced and intentional pain and suffering and look away.
What you do for the least of these—speak up or turn away—you do for God.
What are you doing for and to God? Amen.