Scripture: Matthew 25: 34 – 40
Jill A. Kirchner-Rose, MDIV, DMIN
January 29, 2017
There’s a story about a brand new Senior Minister who was going to preach in his new church for the first time. The Senior Minister arrived at the church 30 minutes before the congregants came. He dressed as a “homeless” person. Only three people greeted the “homeless” man as he sat in the pews. He asked for bus tokens and food, but no one helped.
As he sat in the back of the church, he listened to the church announcements. When all that was done, the President went up and was excited to introduce the new Senior Minister of the church to the congregation. “I would like to introduce to you Pastor Jeremiah Steepek.” The congregation looked around clapping with joy and anticipation. The homeless man sitting in the back stood up and started walking down the aisle. The clapping stopped with ALL eyes on him. He walked up the altar and took the microphone from the President (who was in on this) and paused for a moment then he recited,
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
‘The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
The Senior Minister then concluded his sermon, dismissed the congregation until the following week, and encouraged them to “ponder” this sermon in their hearts. I imagine that first sermon made quite an impression on his congregation.
Generally, when we hear this scripture passage, we think of the “you” in this passage in personal terms. “I was hungry and you gave me something to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink. I was sick and you looked after me.” Or conversely “I was a stranger and you did not invite me in. I needed clothes and you did not clothe me. I was in prison and you did not come to visit me.” We hear this scripture, generally, on individualistic terms. But I believe that these admonitions are not just to individuals, but to the whole nation.
Jesus, after all, was a prophet. Over and over, Jesus described a political vision that he called the ‘kingdom of God’. That one phrase sums up his whole ministry. When Jesus announced the coming of the kingdom of God, he was announcing a social revolution. In order to fully comprehend that phrase “Kingdom of God”, it is important to understand the political structure of first-century Palestine, which was an occupied province of the Roman Empire.
Jesus was confronted by a monarchy in Galilee (Herod Antipas), an oligarchy in Jerusalem (the wealthy Sadducees who ruled the Jews on behalf of Rome), and an emperor or dictator in Rome (Augustus Caesar). This was the domination system into which Jesus was born. Domination systems are characterized by unjust economic relations, oppressive political relations, biased race relations, patriarchal gender relations, and hierarchical power relations. This structure has persisted for 5000 years (from Pax Romana to feudal Europe to modern market capitalism) (Walter Wink).
Jesus enters into the domination system and uses the term “kingdom of God” which expressed the kind of government God desired for God’s people. What would life be like if God and not Herod or Caesar ruled the land? Or in our contemporary terms, what would life be like if Jesus was President? Jesus would rule not with a fist, but with a towel. His platform is ‘Jubilee’: the forgiveness of debts and release of captives. His Inaugural address comes straight from the Beatitudes: Blessed are the peacemakers. He probably would never get elected because he would appoint someone like the Amish for Homeland Security. Yes, this is a different kind of campaign, a different kind of commander in chief, a different kind of Kingdom (Shane Claiborne, Jesus For President). The poor and the outcasts would model life in this kingdom of God for the wealthy and powerful. The least would be the greatest in the kingdom, the last would be the first, the outcast would be welcomed. Love and compassion would be at the center of this new political reality. The lion will lie down with the lamb, swords will be beaten into plowshares, justice will roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream. This Kingdom defines our mission as followers of Jesus.
The phrase “Kingdom of God” appears over 85 times in the Bible. If you notice in the bulletin, our new sermon series is called Kingdom / Kindom living. Many progressive Christians today believe that Jesus would not use the phrase “kingdom of God” because kingdom language evokes domination. Jesus was working to create the very opposite – a liberating, barrier-breaking, domination-shattering, reconciling movement. So, the term some are using now is Kindom of God – that is regarding one another as kin – as brothers and sisters of God.
What does Kingdom / Kindom living look like in today’s world? How many of you participated in the Women’s March last Saturday? I am so proud of you! You caught a glimpse of the Kingdom/ the Kin-dom of God. You saw Eden. As people of faith who participated in the Women’s March, we are saying we value inclusion, diversity, equality and kindness. We care about the environment, women’s rights, healthcare, compassionate immigration policies, marriage equlity. Muslims. We believe that God is calling us to a different way of living. This is what it means to be the Church! Jesus says, “The Kingdom of God is within in you.” Any move toward justice is a move toward the manifestation of God’s love on earth. March on, Beloveds!
Dr. William Barber, a Disciples of Christ pastor, says this to government officials, “You didn’t just swear to uphold the Constitution; you put your hand on a Bible. The Bible says that your use of public power must be measured by the mandates of God’s standard of justice. So if you are going to claim a commitment to morality and if you are going to keep having chaplains open your legislative sessions with prayer, then be it known unto you and all of us that the same Bible you swore on says…” (Barber, Forward Together, A Moral Message for the Nation, p. 14)
What does the Lord require of you? But to do justice. To love kindness. To walk humbly with your God. (Micah 6:8).
Do not oppress a foreigner (or refugee); you yourselves know how it feels to be foreigners, because you were foreigners in Egypt. (Exodus 23:9)
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me. Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did to me (or whatever you did not do for the least of these, you did not do it for me)” (Matthew 25: 34 – 40). Dr. Barber contemporizes that passage to say, “When I was sick did you give me healthcare; when I was hungry, did you help me have a job; when I wrongfully in prison, did you fix the system? And then Jesus said, “Inasmuch as you’ve done it to the least of these, you’ve done it unto me” (Forward Together, p. 45).
As we continue to march (and I imagine there will be more Marches in the days ahead) know this people of faith, “Love and Justice have never lost. They might get crucified. They might get beat down. But at the end of the day, when the fame is over and the dust settles, Justice and Love always win. Let’s keep our heads up. It’s time to walk! It’s time to march! It’s time to say: Forward Together…Not One Step Back!” (Barber, Forward Together, p. 33). March on, Beloveds. March on. For the Kingdom / Kin-dom of God is a hand.