Jesu Juva

Sermon for the Last Sunday in the Church Year, 2014  (Proper 29A)

Text: Matthew 25:31-46

Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. Beloved in Christ, these words are addressed to you today even as they will be addressed to you on that day. For you have been separated from the world through Holy Baptism, even while you for a time have been left in the world to love your dear Savior in the bodies of His little ones, His children whom He calls unto Himself, His lost whom He seeks, His hungry ones whom He feeds, He cares for them all through your hands and He mysteriously receives your service in their hands.

It is something of a paradox that Christ who works in you and through your also in our text says that He receives that same work in the least of these His brethren. If anyone ever doubts that the Christian faith and life are all about Jesus let him dwell on that mystery. This mystery by the way is why Brittany Maynard was wrong to end her life because she had terminal brain cancer. She robbed her husband, her parents, her friends, as well as the medical professionals of the opportunity for serving Christ in her suffering.

As much as I disagree with her decision, I am not surprised at her decision. For the the fact that Christ hides Himself both in our service and in our suffering is a great mystery. Let us dwell on that mystery today. For even when Jesus praises the saints for their labor we miss the point and go sorely astray if we think that now it has become about us and not about Jesus for us. The Gospel is nothing but Jesus for you, and in these gray and latter days as the awesome coming of Christ in Glory with all His angels draws ever nearer nothing must take our eyes from that.

So why does Jesus mention the good works of the saints when He calls them to glory. Well here we have a second paradox. Jesus tells us that the saints will be praised for their good works: 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, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’  But the saints don’t recognize these works in themselves. So the King tells us what those good works are and when you did them: ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers,[f] you did it to me.’

So on the one hand Jesus prophesies that the saints will not know their own good works on the last day, but on the other hand he tells us what those good works are. Does that mean that Jesus undoes His own prophecy. Will no one now ask on the last day, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink?” because now we know what He is talking about?

The tension remains, but if we take Jesus’ words as true and infallible, then we must say with certainty that we know what good works are for Christ has told us. Showing love to our neighbor is truly a good work. Yet even though we know that showing love to our neighbor is a good work, Jesus other words must also remain true, that is that the saints will not realize their own good works.

Consider the Sermon on the Mount, have you ever asked yourself, “How do I give alms without my right hand knowing what my left is doing?” That’s impossible, I can’t hide my own actions from myself. But Jesus says you can. Your love for your neighbor will surprise you when you are called before the throne of judgment. Even though you know what a good work is. That is why St. John records the heavenly voice which says, “Write this: Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord from now on.” “Blessed indeed,” says the Spirit, “that they may rest from their labors, for their deeds follow them!”[1] Your deeds do not go before you to prepare your way into the heavenly Sabbath rest of our Lord’s salvation, but they do follow you.

Last week we looked at the parable of the talents and I told you that this was about vocation, about serving your neighbor’s bodily and spiritual needs according to your baptismal calling in Christ. In our Gospel lesson today we learn that your service provided to your neighbor has an eschatological significance. Though the service may be completed, the deed follows you. You will be known by your love. Maybe the world will not know you, maybe you will not know yourself by your love, but Christ will.

Martin Luther said that the work of a parent who changes a diaper is included in the service to the least of these mentioned by Christ in our Gospel lesson. There are many sentimental songs, devotions and even greeting cards that mention the wonder that Mary must have had as she cared for the infant Christ child, and such meditation has its place, but let it not blind you to marvel of caring for one for whom Christ has died. You may not change the diapers of Christ, but you change diapers for Christ, when you wipe the smelly bottom of your own children.

The food you prepare for your family, for the hands on your farm, the snacks that you bring for the shut-in care packages all of this is given to Christ, not because you are thinking about Christ, but because Christ has freed you to think about your neighbor.

There remain two dangers that we must avoid. First, we must avoid the danger of thinking that our works go before us and not after us. We must never think that what we have done merits our salvation. For Christ does not say, come you have earned a place in the Father’s kingdom, but “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”

You are blessed because what you have not and indeed could not earn has been given to you. What you could not make for yourself, God has made, prepared for you from the foundation of the world. Who can claim that they have earned anything that was made for them before they existed?

Secondly, we must avoid despair that our deeds are not good enough. For it is true that your service offered to Christ through your neighbor is a deed that follows you with eschatological significance, but that is only because Christ ‘s service to you has eschatological significance.

It is amazingly difficult to examine Jesus’ words about the end times and clearly discern when He is talking about His own death and resurrection, when He is talking about the fall of Jerusalem to the Romans in A.D. 70, when He is talking about the trials to be faced first by the apostles and then by the apostolic church, and when He is talking about the very last day. We are living in the eschaton. We are living in the final days, even if they endure for a thousand more years. And everything the Church does has an enduring significance as she lives and moves and has her being in Christ who inaugurated the last days by fulfilling the Old Covenant when He offered Himself as the all atoning sacrifice for the sins of man.

You are His workmanship, you are His deeds that follow Him. He is recognized  by His Father as the one who is the Bread of Life that feeds the hungry, from whose side flows streams of living Water to quench the thirst of a cursed ground and a cursed race. Jesus is recognized as the one who clothes the poor in robes of His righteousness, who visits a sick and dying earth, who became sin for us so that the prison bars of our slavery to sin might be broken.

Do not boast of how much you have done, because Jesus has done it all. Do not fear that you have done enough, for He who works for your eternal benefit hides Himself in the Word of the Gospel, in the Water of Baptism and the bread and wine of His Feast of Love and He also hides Himself in you and in your neighbor so that no eyes but His own and His Father’s fully recognizes the good He still does through you.

So let us be encouraged all the more to love our neighbor knowing that Jesus is hidden in him, but let us not think that we will not still be surprise when Jesus reveals the ways in which He was active in our lives and we still did not perceive Him.

And since I know many of you are hungry, I will close with one final paradox and invite you to the eternal supper before we eat lunch.

So come, you who are blessed by the Father, and receive the foretaste of your inheritance prepared for you from the foundation of the World as you receive the Body and Blood of Christ who even today comes to feed the hungry.

The peace of God which passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus.

 

Soli Deo Gloria

 

[1] Revelation 14:13 ESV