Because – To Love Is To Live
Have you ever played this game: I spy with my little eye, something….
My kids enjoy playing this game in the car. And a lot of times it keeps them calm and focused…and so we welcome the game. Other times they beg me to play with them while driving and while I want to play, it can get down right distracting looking for what they want me to find rather than focusing on driving.
But isn’t that life? Sometimes we are so focused on driving safely through life that we get distracted by the things God asks us to look for. A lot of the time we do to God exactly what I do to my kids…which is to say, “play with your mother right now cause I’m driving.” And we let a spouse or a pastor or a small group leader or whoever else pay attention to God’s questions. Expecting them to just give us the spiritual answers while we do the real work of life.
Well, there is an answer for us today that we are going to discover together, and it’s not an easy one…though it’s an answer that we should all be thankful for.
Read with me about the “I spy” game that God is begging us to play everyday….
“Now when the Son of Man comes in his majesty and all his angels are with him, he will sit on his majestic throne. All the nations will be gathered in front of him. He will separate them from each other, just as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right side. But the goats he will put on his left.
“Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who will receive good things from my Father. Inherit the kingdom that was prepared for you before the world began. I was hungry and you gave me food to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger and you welcomed me. I was naked and you gave me clothes to wear. I was sick and you took care of me. I was in prison and you visited me.’
“Then those who are righteous will reply to him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you a drink? When did we see you as a stranger and welcome you, or naked and give you clothes to wear? When did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’
“Then the king will reply to them, ‘I assure you that when you have done it for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you have done it for me.’
“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Get away from me, you who will receive terrible things. Go into the unending fire that has been prepared for the devil and his angels. I was hungry and you didn’t give me food to eat. I was thirsty and you didn’t give me anything to drink. I was a stranger and you didn’t welcome me. I was naked and you didn’t give me clothes to wear. I was sick and in prison, and you didn’t visit me.’
“Then they will reply, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison and didn’t do anything to help you?’ Then he will answer, ‘I assure you that when you haven’t done it for one of the least of these, you haven’t done it for me.’ And they will go away into eternal punishment. But the righteous ones will go into eternal life.” (Matthew 25:31)
So imagine for a minute with me that this passage today is like that I spy game. That God has said, “I spy my son.” And some folks are out there pointing to everything and everyone, just guessing really, having no idea whether they really see Christ, but all the time seeing people in need and loving them!
And there’s other folks out there looking and looking – maybe studying scripture for the answers, maybe praying for the right answers, maybe looking everywhere they can possibly find – but when it comes time to give an answer, some of them are like I don’t know and others are giving a long sermon or writing a book or offering an apologetically dissertation on the right answer.
Well, as you know, the first group (the sheep)…every time they saw someone and loved them, they were right. And the second group (the goats)…. If they see people, they surely don’t love them. They are too focused on their study and prayer and apologetics, and so they’re wrong
They never look at someone, talk to them, empathize with them, love them and help them. And so they never offer an answer through their actions that says, “There, right there is Christ.”
The fundamental difference between these sheep and goats is love. The sheep do it and they live. But the goats just walk on by.
You and I have a choice about how we play this game (which is really not just a game, it’s life and it’s faith!) God calls to us, “I spy…!” And those who live in God’s kingdom respond through words and action, “I see you. I love you.” Because to love others is to live in God’s kingdom. And that’s the parable in a nutshell.
Now, it’s more complicated in practice, right? It’s easy to love some people, and harder to love others. It’s easy to see God in some people and harder to see God in other people.
Think about this way: we sit here in worship and I think about those times when our kids are leading us. They are singing or reading scripture and, if you are like me, you just can’t help but thinking to yourself. “There’s God, right there in that child…glorious, beautiful, inspiring.”
But when we are out and about and we see someone altogether different…someone who is hungry, poorly clothed, not well groomed, maybe with a criminal past, perhaps locked up, jobless, homeless, addicted, poor….whatever. We don’t think the same way. We don’t tend to look and say to ourselves, “There’s God, right there, in that beautiful, glorious, inspiring human being.”
So what’s the difference? It’s not that one is a child and the other is not. Because both are children of God. It’s not that one is more deserving of love. Because the truth is none of us are deserving
The only real difference is that one fulfills our expectations and the other doesn’t. One we judge to be worthy and the other we judge to be unworthy. So the only real difference between these two people is the way you or I see them. That is, it’s a matter of judgement.
And this parable has something to say about our judgement. Basically, it tells us that Christ is our only criteria for judgement. And Christ is in every person we meet, most especially the least.
So love every person as though he or she is Christ. And if you do, you will discover life in God’s Kingdom. (To love is to live)
And if we did this, it might just change the world. If we really acted as though Christ were in the person who made us uncomfortable, as if Christ were in the folks we deem undeserving of our help, as if Christ were in folks we disagree with…even in our enemies! I tell you, if we truly did this, it would change the world! We would be more kind, more welcoming, more considerate, less quick to judge, more forgiving, more graceful, more loving….because acting any other way would mean that we are treating Christ poorly. If we did this, we might just find an answer to our prayer: Thy kingdom come…
Remember what we’ve talked about the last two weeks. This whole section of Matthew’s gospel in chapter 25 is Jesus describing to us what the kingdom of God is like.
These past two weeks I have shared with you how the first two parables – the bridesmaids and talents – they set the stage of the world; they describe the world – what it’s like and how it works; they give us characters that we can relate to and see ourselves within.
(I hope you have done some of that self-reflective work over the past two weeks. What struggles in your life connect to the struggles in these parables, struggles about relationships and finances, struggles about acceptance, who is let in and who is left out, struggles about having enough and sharing, struggles about how we treat one another.)
When we arrive at the parable of the sheep and goats, we arrive at the third parable in this series. And it begins with an important little word: BUT. The word but always indicates something different. And that is what we see here in this story.
Jesus says, “I’m gonna tell you about the kingdom of heaven.”
Let’s start with the world. In the world, to take care of yourself is to live because people can be harsh and selfish, like bridal parties who worry about who is in and who is out, like fearful slaves and masters who reap where they do not sow.
BUT God’s kingdom is filled with people who serve one another because they know that to love others is to live.
And so there is a tension because the world and God’s kingdom. The world is filled with people who are more concerned with themselves, their own resources, their own time, their own safety, their own well-being, people who are afraid for themselves, so worried that they concern themselves with what they can or should get rather than what they can or should give, so full of fear that they shut others out rather than gracefully welcome them in.
And because we have this tension between our world and God’s kingdom, Jesus stories here can be really helpful. Let me explain:
If you are like me you go to the doctor about once a year for a checkup right? A wellness exam where the doctor gives you a once over, checks out your basic health, all your vitals and what not to ensure you are living in a healthy way. And if some not so good things show up, the doctor will prescribe some changes for you…,maybe in your diet, your lifestyle, maybe even give you some medicine to correct some problems.
Well, think of Jesus teaching in Matthew chapter 25 as a wellness exam. Jesus tells us three stories that give us the diagnostic tools we need to examine our lives. Each of the characters in these stories gives us a question to ask ourselves:
- Are you like either of the groups of bridesmaids?
- Are you like the bridegroom?
- Are you like the master or any of the three servants?
Now whatever you have discovered through these questions, here’s the prescription:
Be a sheep. Healthy folks act like sheep. The kingdom of heaven is filled with sheep who see someone in need and act out of love. Because they know that to love is to live.