November 22nd: The Last Sunday after Pentecost

The Rev. Joseph Peters-Mathews is the vicar of St. Hilda St. Patrick. The sermon for November 22nd, was based on the below manuscript. The sermon was preached on Matthew 25.31-46.

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.
All the nations will be gathered before him,
and he will separate people one from another
as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats,
and he will put the sheep at his right hand
and the goats at the left.
It must be the last Sunday after Pentecost,
or the third Sunday of Advent
if we’re keeping the very old
Seven-week Advent calendar.

We have a text —
like we will until Christmas —
about the end of the world.
Jesus’ final judgment.
In addition to Jesus’ great teaching
in the Sermon on the Mount
we have a guide for how to live as Christians.
And a warning for how not to live:
feed the hungry,
give drink to the thirsty,
welcome the stranger,
clothe the naked,
care for the sick,
visit the imprisoned.
Matthew’s community has been waiting
about fifty years for Jesus’ return,
and he’s still not back.
Persecutions and trials are starting.
What are they supposed to do?

We’ve been waiting not quite 2,000
for Jesus’ return.
Christianity has survived
being the religion of empire
and the blunt force of conversion and subjugation.
Jesus’ still isn’t back
despite all the good — and bad —
done in Jesus’ name.
Our siblings in Christ
are acting as a public nuisance
and hosting and coordinating
COVID19 superspreader events
claiming their right to freedom
is more important than anything else.
Constitutional scholars
are warning that what’s happening looks like a coup.
Maybe a dumb coup,
or a poorly executed one,
but an attempted one nonetheless.

For decades and centuries,
Christians have asked —
from places of being persecuted
or from wanting all this mess to be over —
how long O Lord?
Jesus, how long must we wait
for your return?
Life is uncertain as it ever has been
for Christians and nonbelievers alike.
What are we supposed to do?

Over the last few weeks —
again Advent —
Jesus has been telling us
what we’re supposed to do.
Matthew’s writing in Chapter 25
gave his community delightfully clear directions:
keep your lamps trimmed and burning,
steward your resources of time, talent, and treasure,
and wait for the Lord.
These directions from Jesus
come right after Matthew 24 —
signs of the end times.
Heads up:
there are always signs of the end times,
so Jesus tells his first followers
not to worry about the specific dates.

As Anna Case-Winters put it,
“In Matthew’s community
where the delay of [Jesus’ return]
has become a troubling concern,
the Gospel of Matthew
puts the matter in its place.
The real question is not,
‘When will the Son of Man come in all his glory?’
The real question is,
‘How shall we live while we wait?’”
Jesus tells his followers
how to join the just, the righteous,
those who have done anything they can in their power
to help those who cannot care for themselves.
Jesus tells his followers
that to join the just, the righteous,
is to love.

Jesus has given his followers
higher standards than these acts of mercy
in his teachings through the gospel.
Now Jesus talks about those who are surprised
that they have fed and clothed him,
visited him and cared for him.
These startled ones
are those not looking for social rewards —
or even heavenly rewards.
These startled ones
are those who simply served those on the margins.
In doing so, Jesus says,
they have met and cared for him.
When Jesus comes in his glory,
they will receive their reward.

This isn’t a reward that they or we earn.
You don’t buy your way into heaven,
or Jesus’ eternal reward,
by being a good person
or doing good works.
You don’t buy your way into heaven
with anything at all.
Knowing that Jesus is here, now,
among us in spirit and on the margins of society,
we are called to love Jesus and one another.
In that love,
Jesus reminds us that
he’s in charge:
stupid coups and superspreader pastors aside.

In Matthew 24 Jesus gives warnings
for what the end of time will look like.
In Matthew 25, which we finish today,
Jesus reminds us that
even he doesn’t know when it will be.
So, instead, we live in faithful hope.
We hope for his coming
to restore all things to rightness
simply because God loves the cosmos.
We hope for his coming
to mete some justice to those
who avoid it on this plane.
We hope for his coming,
while we serve him in love
enfleshed all around us.
We faithfully hope
that we serve the king of kings
and see his coming in glory. Amen.

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