Lectionary Reflection: Matthew 25: 31-46: Pack Your Bags

Oh man!  Last week (The End of the Story) and this week’s passage are ones to make a faithful pastor tremble in his or her boots.    How do you honestly preach these thoughts without getting in pastoral trouble?  How can you speak about these things without having your bags packed and tossed from the second story window?  I mean, last week God said everyone has been given a gift and will be held accountable at the end of the story for how they invest their gift.  This week, God is plainly saying if you are counted among the saved you had better be about doing God’s work in the world or you may discover you are not as saved as you think you are.

These days too many people are offended by the idea that the church expects something from them.  Stewardship is like pulling teeth.  Time, talent and money is to laugh at.  Pledging?  I know people who only give when the Spirit moves them, and the Spirit hasn’t move some in more than twenty years.  Of course, stewardship is not what Jesus is talking about here.  He is talking about involvement, about actually rolling up our sleeves and getting into the midst of doing the work of God.  I don’t see anywhere here where he says giving money is an acceptable substitute.

Here, of course, is where the trouble comes in.  People these days don’t feel like they should have to do anything – especially when they are already doing so much other stuff.  And they revolt at the idea that God might actually require them to do stuff (or as per last week and this week, hold them accountable).

Well, here’s the truth of it:  GOD REQUIRES US TO DO STUFF.  Sorry.  I’m shouting again.  I really am sorry for shouting.

Of course, I know plenty of churches where at least some of the members do stuff.  Some have soup kitchens.  Some have food banks.  Some support prison ministry or college or hospital ministries.  Some help at homeless shelters weekly or provide space right in the church once a week or so.  The thing that gets me upset is I have noticed the tendency of most (actually nearly all of the churches) to remove or cover up anything that might indicate God in Christ.  Christianity is hidden and not spoken of at all for fear of some backlash.  Either that or the thinking is the Christianity part is covered up out of deference to those in need who might not share the same faith.  Many believe they are being open minded and fair by removing all mention or indication of God in Christ.

And how do you think God feels about that?  Hmm?  Yes, you in the back.

“I think God is probably not happy about it.”

Yes, very good.  And I agree.  Jesus loves you should go out with every ladle of soup.  If the person responds offended and says How can you say that?  or I don’t believe that? or What makes you say Jesus loves me?  Answer: because if it wasn’t for Christ we would not be here handing out free food.  This is all by God’s grace so don’t thank us, thank God.

Of course if you tell church people to say that, they will resist you.  They may not put it in words, exactly, but most church people want the good work glory for themselves.  They want to be thought of in the community as “good people.”  They want the credit now.  But you know what?  They will have already received their reward.  (You can look that one up). 

So how do you preach or teach on this?  Jesus does not leave any wiggle room.  Eternal punishment is pretty severe for people who would swear they are saved.   Of course, all you can do is be honest.  At some point we all have to let go and trust in God.  Hopefully, at least God may be there to catch your bags when they are tossed from the second story window.

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