Posts Tagged ‘The Least of These’

The Favor of the King – Sermon for Christ the King Sunday

The Favor of the King

Christ the King sermon based on Matthew 25:31-46

Deaconess Jennifer Clark Tinker

 

On Christ the King Sunday we recognize that Jesus is the King above all kings; he is the one to whom our highest allegiance is due. And yet his kingdom is not like the typical kingdoms of this world…

 

You can listen to this sermon by clicking the link below, or scroll down to read the manuscript.

Audio for “The Favor of the King” 

http://www.spreaker.com/user/5989422/the-favor-of-the-king

 

 

“Would you do me a favor?” my mom asked me at the end of a phone call a number of years ago.

“Um…” I hesitated. I never know what a favor is going to entail, so I don’t say yes until I hear what exactly is being asked of me. But to deny my mother a favor she is asking is not cool either, so I certainly didn’t want to say no. I just hoped it wouldn’t be too difficult of a task to perform for her.

“It’s really simple,” she explained. “Will you please give David a hug for me and then have him hug you back for me?”

I smiled. This was one favor I could certainly take care of for my mother.

You see, for most of my married life I have lived hundreds of miles away from my mother. She visits us and we visit her, but that’s still only a few times a year that we see each other. So, we have our phone calls and since that request all those years ago, we have these hugs.

Now that we have our son, my mom regularly asks me to do this for both my husband and my son.

I admit, sometimes it seems a little awkward hugging my husband and son for someone else. I mean, the way I hug them is unique to my relationship with each of them. I figure a hug from someone else should reflect that relationship. This was even more obvious when a long-distance, good friend of the family asked me to do this at the end of a phone call. Since this friend is a man, I decided to give my husband and son sideways “guy hugs” so it would be more like it was from this guy friend.

Despite the seeming awkwardness of these hugs, it is a way that these people who care about us can be present with us even though they aren’t actually here. As my mom put it, I am doing her (and the guy friend) a favor by giving these hugs to my guys.

This idea of indirectly doing a favor for someone is a theme in our Bible reading from Matthew. The passage gives us an image of Jesus in his glory, seated on his throne with all the nations of the world gathered around. Jesus then separates the people and pronounces judgment on them.

He admits some into his kingdom saying, “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.”

But they are puzzled, they can’t remember doing any of those things for Jesus. Surely they would remember if he was the one they fed or clothed or visited! But Jesus reveals that it wasn’t him directly that they did this favor for, but whenever they did these things for “the least of these,” they did it for Jesus.

By contrast there are others that Jesus denies admittance into the kingdom because they did not care for the “least of these” when they had the chance. This sounds pretty harsh. I imagine I miss a lot of opportunities to do favors for Jesus if feeding, clothing, or visiting “the least” means doing this for Jesus. Maybe (probably) we all miss a lot of opportunities like this if we’re honest.

But on a deeper level, I think it’s important to see that these kinds of “favors” for Jesus are entirely different than how the world ordinarily thinks of impressing kings.

It’s a bit like that first time my mom asked me to do her the “favor” of giving my husband a hug for her. I braced myself for some impossible task that I would have to do for my mother, but it turned out to be something much simpler still.

Jesus is not asking us to bend over backwards to impress him!

Give people food. Hand them a cup of cold water. Make sure folks have clothes to wear. Take care of those who are sick. Don’t give up on people when they get in trouble. These are pretty simple tasks in one way of looking at it.

This is not at all like how we usually think of impressing powerful people. The typical ways that we go about impressing powerful people are much more directly in service to the powerful. We might give them gifts to endear ourselves to them, we make an exchange that will be mutually beneficial, we perform an act of service that directly benefits them, or if all else fails, we grovel at their feet and try to kiss up to them.

But Jesus isn’t that kind of king. He isn’t that kind of king at all. Even though Jesus himself is God—you know, All Powerful, he doesn’t ask us to kiss up to him, to earn his favor by performing elaborate gestures of deference to him.
No, Jesus is the kind of king who identifies with the lowly, the least, the vulnerable. This is a very different kind of kingdom. It’s a bit upside down when you think about it.

There’s a scene earlier in the book of Matthew, in chapter 20, starting at verse 20, that makes a similar point. The mother of James and John asks that Jesus seat them at his right and left hands, in places of honor in Jesus’ kingdom.

The other disciples then get angry at James and John for them presuming to have favor with Jesus. But they are all thinking about power and glory in typical human terms. And in verse 25 Jesus shows this idea to be bankrupt saying, “You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and their great ones are tyrants over them.” I mean, yikes…nobody likes a tyrant. But that’s what happens when we exalt those who are already powerful. We puff them up and they wield their power and control over us.

Jesus continues in verse 26, “It will not be so among you, but whoever wishes to be great among you must be your servant, and whoever wishes to be first among you must be yours slave.” See how upside-down this is? Jesus is the kind of king that cares about his people—even, or especially, to jump back to our text for today—the “least of these.”

While we may not much like to think of ourselves as weak or in need, we sometimes are the ones who need cared for. So, it can be a great comfort to us to know that no matter how low each of us may sink, Jesus still cares for us.

In fact, there is no low that we can reach that Jesus has not already sunk to in his time here on this earth. He took the lowest place of all—giving his life for our sakes. As Matthew 20, verse 28, says, “he came not to be served, but to serve, and to give his life a ransom for many.”

Our typical ideas about impressing powerful people don’t hold up for Jesus, but the way of service is at once both very simple and very difficult. And so, Jesus took this lowest place for us—in our place. In Jesus’ death on the cross, he is the one stooping to do us the favor. And in his rising from the dead, he wins the victory over death itself.

You see, he has already won the day. His kingdom is already advancing. We do have a choice here and now—whether we will join forces with Jesus, and honor him by favoring “the least of these” or whether we will reject his victory and continue striving for power and fame in the typical human ways.

Taking care of others does require something of us. But Jesus prepares us for this work through our baptism, nourishes us for it through the bread and wine that we share, and empowers us for this work through his Spirit.

And so finally, when Jesus asks us for these favors of feeding, clothing, and coming alongside “the least of these,” we can smile and confidently say yes to Christ Our King.

Is God on the Side of the Oppressed?

Oppressed

The question “Is God on the Side of the Oppressed?” came up in one of my favorite 0nline discussion groups. My simple answer is “yes,” but there is much more to say about that…

God is always turning things upside down on us: greatest is least, lose your life to gain it, last will be first, caring about the least of these, and so on.

As far as my brain can understand it, when it comes to power struggles, God is not interested in our human determinations about who “deserves” anything. As soon as we decide to pick favorites, God subverts our arrogant ordering and picks the opposite.

The pecking order is not God’s idea though because God loves all people! But those who seize power are “feeling the love” in some way whereas the last-chosen are not. So God takes the side of those who are being dishonored–even to the point of dishonoring Godself to do it–because their needs for love, acceptance and whatever else are the least met.

One tricky thing about the human pecking order though is that it can change on a whim when someone new seizes power or when those in power decide they want to give or take status. It’s like that one time when all of a suddenly a new Pharaoh came along who didn’t know Joseph, you know? So, who is “on top” in human pecking orders isn’t necessarily static–so God readjusts, because God doesn’t take kindly to any of God’s beloved people being oppressed.

Also, our “place” in human pecking orders can vary from one group to the next. As a pastor’s wife in a small church and trained church worker, I’m a “big fish in a small pond.” But if I were in a very large church next door to a Lutheran college or seminary with lots of students and professors attending, I would be a relatively “small fish in a big pond.” I’m the same me, but my “place” would be different. Okay, lame example, because there’s not oppression involved, but you get the idea about different groups and different pecking orders. But, again, God readjusts and ministers to us at our point of need when we are feeling lowly.

I don’t think any of us are all one thing–either always oppressors or always oppressed. And yet, I think we are all both capable of oppressing in more ways than is comfortable to admit and vulnerable to oppression in some degree or another.

God loves us all the while—all of us, all the time, no matter what.

But God is setting things right—dismantling our human pecking orders, welcoming the outcast, giving hope to the poor, washing feet, and all that. God is subverting our expectations with a prodigal love that won’t quit.

Of course, the ultimate expression of God’s subversive love is through God’s coming to be one of us in the person of Jesus. Through Jesus, God embodied the most excellent way of love, love so selfless that Jesus didn’t even consider his divinity as something to be exploited, love so complete that Jesus endured suffering and death, love so powerful that Jesus rose victorious over death itself.

And…God wants our partnership—to wash one another’s feet, to flatten the pecking order, to smash the patriarchy (I just love that phrase, so I had to throw that in there), and to proclaim the Good News of God’s love to all people.

God calls us to align ourselves with God’s purposes, with God’s way of love. It is not easy and we can’t do it on our own because on our own those crazy pecking order ideas keep creeping up on us! Rather, the Spirit of God brings us to trust in the Good News of God’s love in Christ Jesus, and we are transformed by our victorious Lord to spread God’s love to all people.

And so, in Christian freedom, we are called to serve the least of these and in so doing, serve Jesus. We are called to help the poor and oppressed, bring good news to the captives, love children, welcome the outcast and show God’s love in word and deed to everyone everywhere.

We are called to live in such a way that we are Jesus to others, that they will know we belong to Jesus because of our love.

So, yes, God is on the side of the oppressed when we start making sides. But God would rather us not make sides at all. And God would rather that none of God’s created people be either oppressors or oppressed. And God continues to work to draw us all to God’s side—to God’s way of love.