Sermon for the Last Sunday of the Church Year
(Proper 29)

Text: Matthew 25:40
Jesus said, ‘The King will reply, “I tell you, whenever you did this for one of the least important of these followers of mine, you did it for me!”’

“You did it for me”

A story is told of a little boy who had learnt about God from his Sunday School teacher and was so impressed by what he had heard that he decided he wanted to meet God.  He knew it was a long trip to where God lived so he packed his backpack with cupcakes and his water bottle with two cups (a spare one in case God was thirsty when he met him).  When his mum asked him where he was going he simply stated, “I’m going to meet God”.  She watched him as he little legs carried him down the footpath.

He hadn’t gone far from home at all when he saw an elderly woman sitting on a seat in a park watching the pigeons.  The boy sat down next to her and opened his backpack.

He poured himself a drink from his water bottle when he noticed that the lady looked a bit hungry so he offered her a cupcake. She gratefully accepted it and smiled at him.

Her smile was so wonderful that he wanted to see it again. So he offered her a cup of water as well. Once again she smiled at him.  The boy was delighted!

They sat there for ages watching the pigeons, eating and smiling, without saying a word.

It was starting to get late and the boy could see his mum just up the road still watching so he thought he had better go home.  He got up to leave but before he had gone no more than a few steps, he turned around and ran back to the old woman, giving her a big hug. She gave him her biggest smile ever.

When the boy met up with up his mum, she noticed the look of extreme joy on his face.  She asked, “So what has made you so happy today?”

He replied, “I had lunch with God.”

Before his mother could respond he added, “You know what?  She’s got the most beautiful smile in the whole world!”

Meanwhile, the elderly woman also radiant with joy, returned to her home at the retirement village.  Her neighbour was stunned by the look of peace on her face. She asked, “Marj, what’s made you so happy today?”

She replied, “This afternoon I ate cupcakes in the park with God.”

And before her neighbour could say something about her mental health, she added, “You know, he is much younger than I expected.”

You would agree that’s a cute story but it’s more than that – it’s a commentary on what Jesus is telling us in his parable about the king who passes judgement on those who will be allowed in his eternal kingdom and those who will be excluded.  He says to those who are being rewarded with the joy of eternal happiness, “I was hungry and thirsty and you gave me food and drink; I was a stranger, naked, sick and in prison and you took care of me.”  Those who are listening to the king reply, “But when did we do these things to you, your Highness”. 

And the King responds with these well-known words, “I tell you, whenever you did this for one of the least important of these followers of mine, you did it for me!”

Jesus’ story reminds us that we see the face of Jesus in the faces of the people around us and we become partners with Jesus as we seek to minister to them in the same way Christ has ministered to us in our times of need. 

You see, when we are joined with Christ,
when we become one with him through his death and resurrection,
when he claims us as his own adopted his children in baptism,
when he fills us again with his love and forgiveness and the power of the Holy Spirit at Holy Communion, a special bond is created between Jesus our Lord and Saviour and us. 
What is important to him becomes important to us. 
What values and attitudes are important to him become important to us.

In the gospels we read how Jesus went out of his way to help the gravely ill, the incurable, the dying, the ruthless and the greedy, the helpless and voiceless.  He spoke and did things that gave assurance to the lonely, the depressed, the sad, the guilty and the excluded. 

He didn’t look the other way.  He didn’t pretend that such people weren’t in the crowd around him.  He had time for the even least important person in the crowd at any given time.  Sure he got flack when he hugged the leper and the unclean and the sinner.  For him the least important person was the most important in the crowd. 

This follows that rather strange saying of Jesus that in the Kingdom of God the first will be last and last will be first.  The great and important people have the resources to take care of themselves, it’s the least important that Jesus is concerned about and how they will survive the tragedies of life.

Other people might regard them as insignificant.  They are people who are easily forgotten; people who are easy to ignore.

This parable has nothing to do with getting into heaven by doing a few good deeds for the underprivileged.  It is about how our faith in Jesus and our worship penetrates and is interwoven with the ordinary everyday things of our lives. It about how we as brother and sisters of Christ, uniquely joined to him, take on his values and what is important to him.  Our relationship with Jesus infiltrates every moment of every day. The love of Christ makes us eager to do something for the least important people of this world.

The stories that Jesus tells about his return and the last judgement aren’t intended to scare the living daylights out of us or to force us into doing good things for other people out of fear.  No doubt as most of us hear these words of the King, “I was hungry and thirsty, a stranger and needed clothes, sick and in prison but you chose to ignore me” we reflect on the times when we have done just that or when our attitude to the least important has not been anything like the attitude the Jesus has toward them. 
And as we reflect, we do feel guilty and we resolve to be more attentive to the love of Christ in us and be more compassionate and less critical.

This parable does all these things but, just as importantly, it reminds us of the heart of Jesus and how he feels about the least among his people.  It reminds us of the unique and special connection we have with Jesus and through the power of the Holy Spirit working in us our values and attitudes are reshaped and our thinking about the least important people in our world is also changed. 

Sometime ago I was privileged to listen in on a conversation between two boys one about 11 or 12 and the other in about 7 or 8.  The younger boy (let’s call him Joe) seemed to always be in trouble and got into scrapes with other children during playtime and was a bit unpredictable in the classroom.  Well these two were sitting on the haunches, leaning against the wall and the older boy just listened as Joe just prattled on and on about anything that popped into his head.  Every now and then Joe would get up and walk around because he couldn’t stay still very long but kept on talking to his older friend. 

As a distant observer I admired the older boy’s patience.  Scratching on the ground with a stick as he listened, he nodded every now and then.  I was sure this would end soon with the older boy fed up with Joe’s rattling on.

Suddenly Joe stopped and gently grabbed the older boy’s face and turned it so that they could look into each other’s face (I was sure this would end the conversation).  Joe asked softly, “Why are you so nice to me?”
The older boy stopped scratching with his stick and said, “Why shouldn’t I be nice to you?”
“Well”, said Joe, “it’s just that a lot of other kids aren’t nice to me”.

Whether the older boy realised it or not or even if he was a Christian or not (though I know he is) he was doing exactly what Jesus is describing here in this parable when he talks about the least important.  The kindness, patience, friendship and encouragement that he was showing Joe that day is what Jesus meant when he said, I tell you, whenever you did this for one of the least important of these followers of mine, you did it for me!”

Or we could look at it this way, the older boy was being like Christ to Joe.  He may not have even given it another thought after the bell went to go back into class but the love of Jesus in his heart was shining through and making a difference in someone else’s life.

You see, there you have the real point of what Jesus is on about here in this parable - making a difference.  Jesus’ love for us has made a world of difference in our lives.  We would be stuck in all kinds of guilt and feelings of hopelessness and despair as we reflect on how often we fail to see Jesus in the face of those who need our help.  We would simply give up looking after others and simply look after ourselves. 

Jesus has made a difference to the way we see other people and has made it possible for us to boldly step out to be Christ to others around us even if it means rejection by onlookers or even from the person we are trying to help. 

Jesus wants his love in us to make a difference in other people’s lives – not just those people we like but for the least important people, the people others ignore.  The Holy Spirit encourages and urges us on and makes us bold in making a difference in the lives of others.  We need to listen to him speaking to us.

Martin of Tours lived in the fourth century.  He was a Roman soldier and was preparing to be baptised.  One cold wintry day, as he was entering a city, a beggar stopped him and asked for assistance.  Martin had no money but the beggar was shivering with cold. Martin gave what he had. He took off his soldier’s cloak, worn and frayed as it was; he cut it in two and gave half of it to the beggar.

That night, Martin had a dream.  In the dream he saw Jesus wearing half of a Roman soldier’s cloak.
One of the angels said to him, “Master, why are you wearing that battered old cloak?  Who gave it to you?”
Jesus answered softly, “My servant Martin gave it to me.”

We see Jesus every day. 
God grant us the eyes to see Jesus in the face of the people around us. 
God grant us the ears to hear Jesus sighing and weeping in the people we meet. 
God give us hearts filled with compassion and love to comfort Jesus in the sad and depressed around us. 
God give us willing hands to serve Jesus as we help those who are finding life’s journey tough going.


© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
20th November 2011

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