November 22, 2020 – Pastor Teressa Sivers
Do you remember your baptism? Or, if you are like me and baptized as an infant, can you call to mind a baptism that you witnessed. Or perhaps you can remember the yearly reaffirmation of baptism service with which we begin each year on the second Sunday of January. The sacrament, the sacred mystery, of baptism is beautiful to behold. Picture it in your imagination: the gathered community—something that takes on new meaning in today’s world, the one to be baptized coming forward, the clergy person ready, the sponsors nearby, family and friends present to witness and celebrate. The water is prepared. All that is needed is for the words to be spoken, the promises made.
On behalf of the whole church, I ask you:
Our answer to that is to be a bold and confident, “I do.” In the Anglican church, the one to be baptized answers with those key verbs: I Renounce! I Reject! I Repent! I Accept! I Resist! I Confess! I Trust! I SERVE! There is a strange juxtaposition that happens in the traditional celebration of baptism in the United Methodist Church. We gather in a sanctuary, literally a ‘safe space.’ We gather apart from the world. And in a non-pandemic world, we gather surrounded by love and care and community—safe, nurtured, wrapped in love. And yet, in that safe space we promise to be WARRIORS of JUSTICE. We promise to stand up in the face of evil. We promise to live these awesome, world-transforming vows, and we enter into the death of Christ in the waters, and we rise with Christ as we drip with sacrament. Is this irony?
If it is, that is okay. Jesus likes himself a bit of irony once in a while. Just read again the final parable of Jesus in Matthew’s gospel, that last of the three parable stories of Matthew 25. Some call it the Parable of the Sheep and Goats. Others call it the Parable of the Last Judgment. I call it uncomfortable…and ironic. Let’s explore this unsettling story. Let’s get our Jacob-wrestling-with-God thing on and hold tight until we find the blessing. But first some contextual reminders.
The parables of chapter 25 are Jesus’ last teaching with his disciples before the crucifixion. Chapter 26 begins the Passion Story: the Last Supper, Judas leaves to betray Jesus, the prayer and arrest in the garden, Peter’s denial. What Jesus says here in chapter 25 must stay with his disciples through all the fear and pain and horror of the next 3 days and into the reality of resurrection.
- The Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids: Even if they are unprepared and foolish (which they are), even if their lamps burn out and their resources are gone (which will happen), stay the course. Await the bridegroom who is always coming.
- The Parable of the Talent: The very keys to God’s kingdom—kin-dom—Beloved Community—is in the disciples’ hands (our hands). Don’t bury it!! Risk it all for the sake of the world.
And now, the tone changes…intensifies. “When the Son of Man comes in all his glory…” No more talk of what the Kingdom of Heaven is like. Here it is! The Kingdom of Heaven has arrived! And it is everything the disciples could ever have hoped for from Jesus! This should be our first clue that things are NOT what they seem. We are in for a bit of irony, and a blessing that might smart a little.
When the Son of Man comes in his glory, attended by ALL the angels of God-the entire heavenly host, the mighty army of the Almighty. He will sit on his throne, which is his glory (note that the word ‘glory’ comes up twice in one verse). All the nations—all the world—will be gathered before him and he will begin to pass judgment. Christ the King!!! The Reign of Christ!!! Hallejuah! At last, the disciples think, here it is—King Jesus!! All Praise!
But wait…this is a parable and they always come for a twist or two. Here it is. “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink… When you did it to one of the least of these…you did it to me!” Surprise…Irony. The king is NOT in some majestic throne room. The King is NOT at the head of the mightiest of armies. That is not where we will find our King. Our King is NOT shut away in some palace, or high above floating on the clouds. Our King is right here among us…in the last…in the least. He is in the victims of those spiritual forces of wickedness, those evil powers of this world. He is found in the victims of evil, injustice and oppression in so very many different forms. And everything, EVERYTHING, hinges on that final promise we made before the waters of baptism, to serve Jesus as our Lord…to Serve!
Neither the sheep nor the goats have recognized Jesus, the King, in those humble and lowly places—another shocker—and that is part of the point. The goal of discipleship is not to scrutinize every person we meet to see if we can recognize Jesus within them. Our work is to be about meeting the very real and life-threatening needs around us, and within that work, to be surprised by Christ’s presence again and again.
Our Bridegroom comes to us. Our Master returns to us. Our King arrives in all his glory…
- In the homeless and hungry individuals right now standing at intersections along Route 13 holding signs asking for help.
- In those quietly taking some food from the blue cupboards around the neighborhood, or via take out with Loaves and Fishes, or boxes of groceries from Kitchen Cupboard.
We meet our King in the people of Ferguson still waiting for clean water, and in the Indigenous People calling out across our land, Mni Wiconi—Water is Life!” Our King—gasping for breath on a COVID-19 ward or quarantining at home, alone and afraid. Our King—crammed into overcrowded prisons with little hope. Our King—sitting with a domestic violence counselor in an emergency department handing over all her clothing as evidence of abuse, and going to a shelter in paper hospital scrubs and slippers. Our King—locked in a cage on our border, separated from all family, all comfort. The sheep don’t stop to check if it’s Jesus or not. Dripping with the waters of baptism, they accept and trust and serve, resist evil in all its forms. They live the Kin-dom, the Beloved Community to the best of their ability. They serve food and pour water and reach out and lobby and protest and advocate.
And then, as the ironic and uncomfortable parable closes and chapter 15 ends. Jesus does indeed enter that glory, sit upon the throne that is his glory…the cross. And in embracing the cross, he does away with death and punishment and the final say evil wants to have. He opens his arms in love for the whole world, sheep and goats alike. Behold Christ our King! Let us enter into the true Reign of Christ!
On behalf of the whole WORLD, I ask you:
- Do you RENOUNCE the spiritual forces of wickedness, REJECT the evil powers of this world, and REPENT of your sin!!!!? (I don’t usually say it quite like that)
- Do you ACCEPT the FREEDOM and the POWER that God gives you to RESIST (makes resistance fist) evil, injustice and oppression in whatever forms they present themselves!!!!!?
- Do you CONFESS Jesus Christ as your Savior, put your whole TRUST in his grace, and promise to SERVE him as your Lord, in union with the church which Christ has opened…which Christ has OPENED to people of all ages, all nations, all races…ALL people!!!?
I Renounce! I Reject! I Repent! I Accept! I Resist! I Confess! I Trust! …I SERVE!!! Amen!!