(Matthew 25: 31-46)
Steve and I began a sermon series last week called “Sounds Familiar”- a look into stories we know and have heard for many years, the kind of stories we learned in Sunday school and have perhaps not visited since then. We’re looking into these familiar stories to unpack other meanings and interpretations that we may have ignored or missed years and years ago. As we look into these stories, we look into them with fresh eyes and ears, open to hear this good news as it comes to us this day.
With all that being said however, many months ago when Steve and I sat down to prepare these sermon series and we identified passages that we thought would be most appropriate, we could have never imagined or predicted the tragedies that would come with this past week in Orlando. The scripture we had chosen for this week and which Steve alluded to us preaching in the coming weeks- the Tower of Babel – just didn’t seem to fit the bill anymore. Instead, this morning we will re-hear with fresh ears but also with troubled and saddened hearts the familiar scripture passage of Matthew 25: 31-46.
These infamous lines come at the end of Matthew’s “apocalyptic discourse” a two-chapter long description of the apocalyptic end of times, a description of what the end of days will look like. This closing passage of Jesus’ apocalyptic discourse tells of those who will inherit the kingdom of God and those who will not – it tells that the criterion is rather simple yet also quite broad – those who will inherit the kingdom of God are those who have met the need of those whom Jesus describes as “the least of these,” but also those who he says “just as you did it to them, you did so to me” feeding, clothing, visiting them.
If we remember back to just a few months ago to when we celebrated Christmas, we celebrated the birth of a tiny babe born into meager circumstances – born in a barn lying in a manger, into a people being persecuted. That tiny babe who entered the world in these meager circumstances is the same man who came to do and teach wonderful and amazing things. Now of course, we remember that on Christmas, but today’s passage invites us again to remember; for that baby born in a manger in a barn grew into a man that continues to enter into our messy humanity. As Matthew 25 reminds us – a man who has revealed himself in the most-humble of ways – a man who claims to be seen in the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the prisoner. That tiny babe born in meager circumstances never stopped identifying himself with the lowly, the downtrodden, the outcast or the suffering for he himself was born that way.
Matthew 25’s scripture reading reminds us of this Jesus, the Jesus who was born into and lived into and identified with the suffering. Matthew 25’s text calls us to recognize this Jesus, the Jesus who is found in the mess of the life, in the hurt of the world, in the tragedy of life and to recognize him there, but also to meet him there, to serve him there, to love him there, right there in the mess of humanity.
So with the call of Matthew 25 resonate on our hearts, reminding us not only to serve the least of these but also to be with, to love, and most importantly to recognize Jesus there in the “least among us,” with that call on our hearts, I invite us to consider hospitality and care for one another. How do we rise up to the call of Christ that he lays out in Matthew 25?
In each of the examples Jesus gives in Matthew 25, “I was hungry and you gave me food” “thirsty and you gave me something to drink” “A stranger and you welcomed me” “naked and you gave me clothing” “sick and you took care of me” “in prison and you visited me,” in each of these Jesus lays out a concern, a problem or a need; “hunger” “thirst” “sick” “a stranger” and shares how the need was met. This passage is of course quite simple in its imperative, “meet the needs of the least of these.” See the need, recognize the need, meet the need. But also see me there, see Jesus there in the midst of the need.
The call for compassion and hospitality is what these verses have so often been described as doing, but they are doing a tad more than that, a tad more than simply asking us to be compassionate and hospitable to fellow human beings. This passage lays out for us the need for a kind of ‘radical hospitality,’ a hospitality that is neither convenient nor easy but is radical and hope-filled. A hospitality that calls us to meet the need, and also to recognize Jesus there in the need.
Radical hospitality uses all that good Southern hospitality we know and love – opening doors, kind words, casseroles in times of need, visits to your neighbors, extending a helping hand; it takes all of that good southern hospitality we’ve been raised with and brings it to those whom we do not know, those who are in need, those who are different than us, those who are suffering, and offers it to them with no hope or promise of reward, no expectation of reimbursement. This radical hospitality we are called to by Jesus Christ himself asks us to look into the face of the other and see there the face of Jesus Christ himself. To recognize the God-given value and dignity in each and every human life. This radical hospitality which Jesus preaches here in Matthew 25 calls upon us to learn how to love without bounds. To love beyond our comfort zone, to love beyond our familiarity, to love beyond ourselves.
The practice of radical hospitality is well lived out in Philadelphia’s Broad Street Ministry, a church primarily planted for the purpose of feeding and assisting the homeless of Philadelphia. The church opens its doors every weekday to a soup kitchen, and generous as that is, its not just any soup kitchen. It’s a restaurant. Everyone is welcome, you don’t have to be homeless, you don’t have to be able to pay, you don’t have to be anything. People sit together at small round tables built to create conversation and a server comes by to take orders for the guests. Its hospitality of course, giving food to those in need but it’s a radical hospitality, a hospitality that invites strangers into conversation, that gives dignity to those who are homeless, that gives a place of comfort in the midst of a scary world. This is radical hospitality which Jesus calls us to – meeting the need and also seeing that Jesus is there in the face of the stranger.
In the face of tragedies such as those which shook the Orlando community this past week , tragedies that affect the LGBTQ community, the Lantino/ Latina community as we seek to meet the need, we are reminded that our call laid out in Matthew 25 is to look in the face those who are different than us, those whose communities have been shaken across the country, and to recognize that in their face lies the face of Jesus, just as Matthew 25 preaches. That in their face lies the face of Jesus. And to remember that to love them is to love Jesus. To love the one whom we perhaps may not always be able to understand or know or agree with but the one whom Jesus asks us to care for, the one whom Jesus calls ‘beloved,’ the least of these whom Jesus came into the mess of humanity to be among, those whose grief is overwhelming at this moment.
In the wake of this past weeks’ tragedies in Orlando that have left communities of LGBTQ people and people across the country scared and hurt, how does Jesus call us to meet the need which is presented to us? The need of hurt and scared communities across the country who have been victimized and are in need of solidarity, prayers, and the ongoing chorus of “you matter, you are loved” Our call is to bridge the gaps, whatever they may be, between ourselves and those who are suffering – those with whom Jesus identifies himself.
This past week Greg Zannis, a man from a town in Illinois, 1,200 miles from Orlando crafted 49 individual crosses for the each of the victims of the Orlando shooting. After crafting each of these crosses, he drove the 1,200 miles from Illinois to Orlando to bring each of those crosses to the Orlando online pharmacy Health Medical Center where the injured victims are being treated. Passerbys are encouraged to write messages of hope, encouragement, and love on the crosses, messages which will be shared with the families of the victims. This, my friends, this is meeting the need just in the the way God calls us to.
Or there are the people in Orlando’s Shakespeare Theater who have joined forces with the Angel Action Wings Project to build massive angel wings to be worn by actors to cover the protests from the Westboro Baptist Church at the funerals of victims. The actors will don massive white linen angel wings as a symbol the love conquers hate, goodness is stronger than evil, and hope reigns absolute. This is meeting a need, draping angels over hate, screaming love and support over hate and more pain.
Finally, Chick-Fil-A, a group who has long supported traditional marriage, a company not expected to come out as supportive of the LGBTQ community, went beyond their comfort zone, beyond their beliefs or understandings to extend support to a community that was hurting despite their disagreements in beliefs. The company which is usually closed on Sundays opened several of its Orlando sites to serve food to the throngs of people who had gathered to donate blood to those who were injured in the tragedy. Crossing the lines of their comfort zone, crossing the boundaries of their political beliefs to met the need, to do as Christ called us to do.
For I was hurting and you comforted me.
I was scared and you loved me.
I was in need and you came to me.
All of these, they do not fix the problem, they do not erase the pain, eradicate hate, or eliminate the tragedy but they do stand in the face of the problem and say, we are here, we are here to state plain and simple that love wins, that hope wins, that we will look into those who are different than us and say, ‘we love you, we stand along with you as you cry, and we cry too.’ Radical hospitality, meeting the need of the least of these in the midst of their suffering.
Like I said, it may be hard for us to know the way to meet the need, the need is great, but let us take comfort that it is not on us to finish the job, it is simply on us to participate in the love. The Talmud writes, “do not be daunted by the enormity of the world’s grief. Do justly now. Love mercy now. You are not obligated to complete the work but neither are you free to abandon it.” We are not free to abandon the call which Jesus places on us, the call to recognize Jesus in the face of those who are suffering, but neither are we alone the answer.
As you leave worship this morning, I ask you to take with you a prayer card, written on the card is the name of one of the victims from the Orlando shooting, take that card and participate, participate in the the work of radical hospitality, the work of meeting Jesus in those who are different than us – pray for that individual, pray for their family, pray for their community, pray for the way the world has been changed – pray and meet the need. Take hold of that person and as you pray for them see what the Spirit might call you to do to support this hurting world, to love this person, to practice radical hospitality in this time of need.
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.