Jesus on My Doorstep (Matthew 25:34-40)

Sermon preached at St. Matthew and St. Luke’s, Darlington on 17th September 2017

My 4 year old nephew asks a lot of questions. It’s why I like hanging out with him. Children are great because they ask the questions we’ve stopped asking. I don’t know why we stop asking them. Maybe we think we ought to know the answer.

A typical 4 year old question is “What’s heaven like?” Wow, how do we start to answer that? What’s heaven like? Is it full of chocolate? Is it bright white and resting on clouds? How big is heaven? As my nephew put it, “Is it full of dead people and dead cats?” How does heaven hold them all?

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Jesus was asked this question by his disciples, not about the dead cats, but about what heaven’s like. Rather than describing its dimensions or how it looked, he did his Jesus thing and answered a much more important question about how to live in this world, so they’re ready for judgment when God’s Kingdom comes. Classic Jesus.

One story he told was about a wedding (Matt 25.1-12). There were those on the groom’s side who’d planned and prepared and were ready when he arrived. And there were those friends who hadn’t thought ahead at all, and had been lazy. They’d had to pop out to get more oil for their lamps, and by the time they got back, the wedding was in full swing and the doors were locked. They were shut out and they missed it. Jesus was telling his friends and us, to expectantly await his return. To do what’s expected of us in the here and now. So we’re ready. So we’re not left wanting.

Then he told another story called the Parable of the Talents (Matt 25.14-30). It’s essentially about good stewardship and the importance of being sensible with the resources we’ve been given by God. Again he’s teaching us how to live as God wants us to live, and how his heavenly Kingdom will be. And…bearing these conversations in mind, he then describes to his friends Judgement Day.

He frames it as a story about a king and his subjects but he’s talking about himself as the King, God our Father and us.

‘Come, you who 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 drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

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I think He’s saying: “Whenever you do a generous, loving, compassionate act, it’s as though I am on the receiving end”.

Now it’s no great surprise that The Generous Giving Project teaches the importance of being generous with our time and giving it to others, and with the skills and gifts we’ve been blessed, and of course the importance of not hanging on to our material possessions too much. In other words being generous with our money and giving away as much as we feel God is calling us to.

But… sometimes being as generous as Jesus calls us to be is actually quite difficult. Worries get in our way. Doubt and excuses and concerns crowd out our thoughts. We’re hampered by questions like, do I really want to offer a stranger hospitality in my home? Will I be safe? Will they come back? Will I have the right sort of provisions? If I give something away today, what if next time, I can’t give as much? If I give a homeless person a sandwich, am I keeping them dependant on handouts? Would it be better to sit and chat? What would I say? Do I really have time for that?

What if I increase my contributions to church, and my situation changes next year?  Will it be OK if my giving changes too?  What if I volunteer to go on a rota and give my time up but no-one wants to take over next year? What if I visit someone in prison, and someone sees me going in there and judges me?

Living as Jesus invites us to live is hard. Being one of his disciples is hard. Sometimes, being generous is hard. And that’s why this one passage in the Bible makes me sit up and listen more than any other, why it’s such a helpful encouragement when I struggle to be generous, and why I’m sharing it with you now.

‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

I simply try to imagine Jesus is on the receiving end of my generosity. And that Jesus is full of grace.

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I imagine it’s Jesus shivering on the high street under a blanket asking for change.  Jesus is the asylum seeker that I could go and visit in her bedsit and share a box of biscuits with.  Jesus is my neighbour who is old and goes on a bit, but is lonely and could do with an hour of my time. Jesus is the stranger ahead of me in the queue who doesn’t have enough change, that I could give money to and never get back. Jesus is on my doorstep asking if I had any odd jobs that need doing because he’s looking for work. Jesus is the prisoner who doesn’t get any visitors so he’s put himself on a list in the hope a stranger will come.

Jesus is the recipient of the offertory plate that comes up to the altar.

It’s His money. It’s His church. He gave Himself up so that we’d inherit eternal life. And He receives our offering with open arms because every little bit of it, and every other act of generosity, whether big or small, every time we inconvenience ourselves to serve others, every time we go without so that someone else can have something, each generous act is known, blessed and remembered.

So that the king can sit on his throne and say,

‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’

Jesus was telling the disciples all this on the Mount of Olives, because He knew His time was up, and in a matter of days He’d leave his friends and go to the cross. He told them these things with a sense of urgency because he wanted them to be prepared, just as He wants us to be ready for that final judgement.

And not because He expects we can meet the needs of the whole world. We can’t, of course. Rather, when we develop a generosity awareness we’ll be better prepared to meet the needs of those he puts in front of us. Opportunistic generosity and love. And, again, this isn’t because we need to earn His love through our giving. We can’t gain favour, or score points in heaven. Not at all. In fact nothing we do could ever earn it, or impress Him enough. That’s the beauty of God’s Grace. No, I don’t think that’s it.

I think Jesus wants us to know that when we give generously it’s as though He himself is on the receiving end, because this surely leads to a closer relationship with Him. Isn’t that what all of this is about? Loving God with all our hearts, soul, strength and mind, and loving others as we love ourselves? Giving like this brings us closer to Jesus. There’s an intimacy there when we think of Jesus receiving whatever we have to give, just as we receive Him.

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So, when will that next generosity opportunity arise? When will we next see Jesus with his hands outstretched?

Amen

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