The First Presbyterian Church of Watertown
Text: 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. Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
“Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?”
Today we celebrate Christ the King Sunday! Christ is King, but when have we saw God in need of food, shelter, companionship, the essentials of life, and healing? Christ is King, but not the kind of king that we often imagine. It’s not a very pleasant thought for us to think about, but one that is ever present as we confront the reality in which we live…
Did you know that here in Watertown, NY, there are a number of individuals who are without a place to live. And unlike other metropolitan or urban areas, those who don’t have a home are often forced to sleep in their car, making their need invisible to our sight and creating a false sense that everything is fine when it really isn’t.
Did you know that not too far away there are women and men at Fort Drum who come from all different parts of the world. There are those who come from Africa, from Asia, from Europe, from South America, and from all different parts of the United States.
Did you know that the North Country is facing an opioid epidemic that has impacted thousands upon thousands of individuals and families. And our traditional technique of preventing drug usage has not had any positive effect. Locking men and women behind bars without any means of rehabilitation or social safety nets means that a large number of those incarcerated will be disproportionately Black and Brown along with those who find themselves in situations where they are unable to pay their way out of the current correctional system we have in place.
Did you know that in Watertown, 30-40% of the population is on Medicaid. And the truth is that there are probably a good number more who are sick and in need of medical assistance, but do not have the means to acquire the treatments that could potentially make them better. Are we willing to pool together our resources in order to make sure that those are vulnerable are cared for, or will we neglect the call to be the Good Samaritan?
If we are to take seriously the belief that each and everyone of us is created in the image of God, then we better take seriously the question of where we find God in the situations named above, and what that means for us as people who hear God’s voice saying, “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
How did we get to where we are today? What forces have driven us to become so polarized that we are unable to come together to address the needs of the communities in which we live? Why is it that we label one another ways that are destructive and divisive? When the time comes for us to stand before the throne of God who reigns over the heavens and the earth, what will we say when we are asked to present an account of the things we have done?
The text for this morning pushes us to think about the kind of King Christ is, and also asks us whether or not we are living under the sovereignty of God or following our own ways.
There are so many needs in the world that it sometimes feels like the work we do will never be enough to solve all the problems that are at hand. It may surprise you, but psychologist actually have a name for this feeling and they call it “compassion fatigue.” I’ve always been on the fence when it comes to compassion fatigue, because on the one hand I believe in the importance of self-care, but on the other hand I believe that each and everyone of us is called to participate in a work that goes way beyond ourselves.
For those of you who don’t know I’ve spend the last two weeks on a whirlwind tour of the Adirondacks and New Jersey. At Lake Clear I got to hear about the wonderful work that is being done by communities of faith in the Presbytery of Northern New York, and in New Jersey I had the opportunity to meet future faith leaders as they got to hear about the summer internship program offered by our church and the presbytery. In addition, I also got to spend time at Johnsonburg Camp and Retreat Center learn about the continued work that they are doing in order to provide spiritual opportunities for youth, young adults, and people of all walks of life.
It’s really a beautiful thing… to hear about the magnificent work that is being done in communities both near and far. And it’s a shame, because the news tends to report on the bad things that go on rather than all the good that is being done. Maybe if we took the time to see the good that is going on around us we wouldn’t be as divided as we are today and maybe would then be able to come together as one body to care and love for one another in a way that reflects the character of Jesus Christ. The work that we are called to do is not easy… Breaking down the walls of division that we have erected for ourselves is not something that happens overnight. But as we begin to deconstruct the labels and preconceived notions we have given one another, the work of healing and reconciliation may begin to take place.
Our spiritual identity, our worldly identity, is founded on whether or not we are living into the lives that God has set before us. The core of our very being is dependent on whether or not we are willing to let the sovereign grace of God govern our lives, or if we are going to rely on methods that have caused such schism in our human family and created world. While we may be concerned with the labels or titles that the world offers, God is more concerned about a different kind of “labeling,” a labeling that identifies whether or not we have been faithful stewards of the gifts we have been given and whether or not we have used what we have to care for the least of these.
Rich, poor, right, wrong, liberal, conservative, refugee, citizen, patriot, unpatriotic, Jews, Greeks, male, female, slaves, and free – the labels that we place on one another are endless. But in the end our attempt to categorize individuals based on their traits are futile. As we’ve seen in the passage for this morning God isn’t concerned about the labels or categories that world assigns to us… Instead, God is concerned with whether or not we have fed, clothed, cared, and visited those individuals whom we are called to love and serve.
Having finished a time of thanksgiving and feasting with friends and family, we know what it is like to give, we know what it is like to share and care for those whom we cherish and adore. But those aren’t the people God is concerned about. As we have seen time and time again in the New Testament Jesus continually challenges us to be with those whom we would never normally associate ourselves with. And while we may think that this is a hard task to accomplish, we will soon bear witness and celebrate a God who did that very thing… Coming down to earth in the form of an infant God came to be with those who needed a savior the most…
Have we responded with compassion to “the least of these”? Have we seen the face of Christ in those in prison, the hungry and the sick, and treat them as we’d treated our Lord, our Savior, our King, Jesus Christ, or did we continue to follow in the ways of sin and let their cries fall on deaf ears? We know what Jesus would have done… We proclaim that truth every Sunday we gather to worship… But the true test for us will rest on whether or not we will allow the Spirit of Christ to challenge us by encouraging us to connect with our neighbors in new ways, discovering opportunities that allow for spiritual growth, and understanding what it really means to worship Christ as King.