This isn’t the sermon you think it is.
It isn’t the sermon I would have expected when I saw that title. When I saw it, I would’ve groaned and shaken my head. But this isn’t about praying to accept Jesus into your heart.
In Matthew 25, Jesus tells us a story about how the world ends. In Jesus’ story, The Son of Man comes in His glory, and He separates the peoples before Him. He congratulates those on His right, saying “Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.” This we know already. But we forget His explanation:
“For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”
The righteous are confused. They don’t remember any of this. “When did this happen?” they ask. Jesus replies:
“Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.”
So then, Jesus in this story is most definitely saying it’s important to invite Jesus into your heart, but not in the way we tend to think of it. He’s also talking about seeing through His disguises. Jesus comes disguised as a hungry person, a thirsty person. Jesus wants to be invited into your house: “I was a stranger, and you invited me in.” Jesus needs clothing. Jesus is sick and lonely. Jesus is in jail, and sorely wanting for visitors.
Jesus comes to all of us in His many disguises, dressed up like somebody in need of a handout or a friend. Many of us (myself all too frequently included) don’t as often explicitly reject Jesus as we do ignore Him. He passes us by hungry, and we do nothing. He is thirsty, and we do nothing. He’s not from around here, and we let Him sleep on the streets. He’s sick or in jail, and we can’t be bothered to stop by and visit Him.
Jesus says a word to people like us, who don’t accept Him into our hearts. His word is this:
“Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.”
Naturally confused, our excuse will be, “When did we see any of this happening to you?” And He replies,
“Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.
Jesus is out there.
A stranger who needs somewhere to stay.
What will you do with Jesus?
A final word, and then a blessing.
The word “punishment” comes from the greek word kolasis, whose root word means pruning. It’s about chastisement. It means God takes away from us that which makes us evil. And in this, I have hope that God will remove our selfishness and self-centeredness through this pruning, and then may perhaps welcome all of us into life, real life, His life. But perhaps we have missed it, in our Americanness. Perhaps this real and eternal life starts in this one, and ripples into eternity.
May God bless you with a restless discomfort about easy answers, half-truths and superficial relationships, so that you may seek truth boldly and love deep within your heart.
May God bless you with holy anger at injustice, oppression, and exploitation of people, so that you may tirelessly work for justice, freedom, and peace among all people.
May God bless you with the gift of tears to shed with those who suffer from pain, rejection, starvation, or the loss of all that they cherish, so that you may reach out your hand to comfort them and transform their pain into joy.
May God bless you with enough foolishness to believe that you really CAN make a difference in this world, so that you are able, with God’s grace, to do what others claim cannot be done.