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the sermon for

Christ the King

26 November 2017

Matthew 25:31-46
We believe in charity and in charity alone!

11262017In the past, I, probably, would have just said it as it was written! Read the passage, say the words, and, simply, moved on. At most, I might have smiled or rolled my eyes, amused by the contradiction.

Matthew writes, "And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life!" The Gospel of the Lord. Praise to you, O Christ!

But this morning, I couldn't do it. Maybe it's because of the buildup, the crescendo, to this year's Reformation Sunday. All the reading I'd been doing. All the movies we've watched. Whatever the reason, this time, I just couldn't do it. It just didn't feel right. And as for the smirk, the eye roll... Well, it just wasn't funny, anymore. You see, there's too much at stake! Too much that matters! For too long – and by too long, I mean since back before I was ordained – I'd hear the words and I'd back away. I'd read them and I'd blink. I'd flinch. I'd look the other way. I figured that if I ignored them, they'd go away. They haven't. Thirty-some years later, they're still here. After all, what could I do. They're part of the bible! Chapter and verse! Printed in red!

And these will go away into eternal punishment... into that outer darkness Matthew's so fond of talking about... with the weeping and the gnashing of teeth... Into the fire... the eternal fire... the fire of hell... prepared for the devil and his angels...

But this year, this time, before we move on, as a called and ordained minister of the church of Christ, I wanted to say that this... this is NOT the gospel of the Lord! This is NOT the gospel of the Lord! Not, even, close! Gospel means good news! And I ask you, where in this passage, where in this parable, do you hear that? Some are saved, some are damned? Some punished, some rewarded? Forever and ever, amen? That's not the gospel! At least, that's not "our" gospel! It might be a part of popular religion. It might be what a whole lot of other churches – especially churches in this neck of the woods – say is gospel. But for us, as heirs of the Reformation, gospel is something else entirely!

Gospel – good news – is the message of god's grace and mercy! Period. Exclamation mark! End of sentence Gospel, good news, for us is the announcement, the proclamation, what god has done for us in Jesus Christ! Done for us out of the goodness of god's own heart! The gospel was spoken at the very beginning of worship, this morning. "In the mercy – the charity – of almighty God, Jesus Christ was given to die for us and for his sake, god forgives us all! That is good news! In its most basic form, the gospel is simply Jesus! Conceived by the spirit and born of a virgin! Suffered, died, buried, descending! On the third day, rising! That's the gospel of the Lord! God redeeming! God delivering! God saving! God setting free! And punishment and reward, no matter how hard we try to make it so, have nothing to do with it! God loves! Period! God loves! And that's all that matters! God loves! That's what's important! God loves each and every, one and all... or god doesn't! It's as simple as that! God loves without limit and without measure, loves no ifs, ands, or buts, or god doesn't! There's no compromise! Nothing halfway! No middle ground! Our life depends on Jesus... or it doesn't!

One of the lessons I've learned, over the years, is that the more we talk about ourselves, the less we talk about Jesus! The more we focus on rules and regulations, the less we mention Jesus! Mention Jesus and his love! There's a reason why the baptizer says, "I must decrease!" It's the only way for Jesus to increase! It's either ourselves or it's Jesus! We can't have it both ways. That's why we Lutherans don't give testimonies here in church. It's not our story! It's god's story! Jesus' story! The gospel isn't about morals or ethics or principles! That's just another way of making it about us! The gospel is the message, the good news, about Jesus! Indeed, the gospel IS Jesus! It's something – someone – to believe in, not to obey! It's something – someone – to stake your life one, not, merely, to heed!

Don't get me wrong, acts of love are important, even essential! But only as echoes and reflections of the love god has for us! We feed because we have been fed! We give the thirsty something to drink because we once were thirsty, ourselves! Making a place for the stranger, for the refugee, for the exile and immigrant, because that's what god's done for us! Clothing the naked! Caring for the sick! Visiting the lonely! We don't do it for the merit or the payment or the reward! We do it because we care! We do it because we love! We do it because that's what god has done!

But, of course, we still hear about punishment and reward. And we're threatened! With darkness! With fire! As if that will motivate and inspire! Anymore, even for us, it's impossible to hear about Jesus and not think of hell. But truth is, that's Matthew! Matthew and Matthew alone! That's the way he tells the story! But for us... for us, it's all about grace! It's all about charity! It's all about love! Unearned and undeserved! Pressed down, shaken together, overflowing! Pure and unbounded! No lines in the sand! Separating sheep from goats! Worthy from worthless! Wise from foolish! You see, that's all Matthew, as well! Matthew and only Matthew!

So, after a year of Matthew... of simply reading the passage and saying the line and moving on... I, finally, had to say something. This is not us. This isn't what we believe in. All this talk about punishment and reward. Instead, we believe in love! We believe in a mother holding her child close, in a stable, on a winter night! We believe in a man feeding a multitude in a deserted place with nothing more than five loaves and two fish! We believe in a god hanging on a cross, on a hilltop outside a dusty, desert town! We believe in a savior that not even death can keep away! Not wrath! Not retribution! But love! Love that comes to us! Love that picks us up! Love that holds us close! Love that never, ever lets us go! That, my friends... That is the gospel of the Lord!

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