Recently, though, I've joined the ranks of a lot of other pastors who have had to burn the midnight oil on Saturday evenings into Sunday mornings, revising or even rewriting their Sunday message, given some of the things happening on the world stage. This is not fun, but it comes with the gig sometimes. As I shared with my pastor colleague at Trinity, I get the sense we pastors are going to need to exercise this muscle a little more regularly in the future.
This past Sunday I exercised that muscle until about 2:30am Sunday morning. It wasn't a total rewrite - I wanted to speak to part of our 2020 Vision as previously planned - but the latter part of the sermon was in direct response to the immigration ban. That's the part I'm sharing below (although you're more than welcome to read and listen to the sermon in its entirety HERE).
What are your thoughts on this? Most everybody has at least one. Feel free to share in the comments below - knowing that while all opinions are welcome, not all tones and language are; and I reserve the right to delete comments that do not contribute to a positive dialogue.
(This part of the sermon is based on Matthew 25: 31-46)
This other parable Jesus tells, the one about the sheep and goats, there’s a reason, I believe, that he saves it for last. It is that important. If those disciples remember anything, Jesus wants them to remember this. All the nations come before the King – all the nations, y’all – and they are subsequently placed into one of two categories: sheep or goats. And just as in the parable before, there’s some inheriting going on here as well – “inheriting the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world” – that’s what’s at stake. That’s no small inheritance. This is big-time, bigger than the five talents that first servant got. We’re talking one’s very soul here. Perhaps that’s why my Bible gives this parable the title “The Final Judgment.”
But let us be clear about what they are being judged upon: it is not about whether they believed or didn’t believe in a corporate profession of faith. It’s not about whether they had or did not have a personal relationship with their kingly savior. No – what ultimately matters, the king makes quite clear, is their relationship with each other, and specifically how they treat each other.
In fact, the king – and this is tremendous – the king draws a direct correlation between the others and him, saying unequivocally, “how you treat them is exactly how you treat me.” I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, you gave me drink. I was naked, and you clothed me. I was sick, and you cared for me.
I was a stranger, and you welcomed me in.
And lest we are tempted to take the easy way out and think he’s referring to just some stranger we pass on the street, the Greek word used here for “stranger”, xenos, means "foreigner" or "guest."
Friends, I don’t want to get into government policy or partisan politics – that’s not my job, and frankly, I’m terrible at it anyway. My job, the one you called me to, is to preach the gospel; and the gospel here tells us to welcome the stranger. And I cannot help but think that something has gone awry when we as followers of one who was himself a refugee fail to do that.
Can we at least agree that something’s gone awry when Hameed Jhalid Darweesh, an Iraqi refugee who had faithfully served as an interpreter for the US military for a decade, is not allowed for a time to return to the country he calls home? Can we agree that something’s gone awry when families desperately trying to flee the ever-present threat of terrorism in their own countries are being turned away from ours because they’re somehow perceived as a threat themselves? Can we agree that as a people, as a nation, we are broken, we are hurting, we are living in fear, we are not the best version of ourselves – can we at least agree on that?
Like you, I want our church to live into a vision that does more than simply transform how we see our facilities and finances; I want the whole church to live into a vision that transforms how we see each other. How we welcome each other. How we stand for and with each other, especially those who cannot stand on their own. I want us to welcome and be in relationship with the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the sick, and the stranger because I want us to be in relationship with Jesus – and he has made it quite clear that how we treat those folks is precisely how we treat him.
If this second sermon speaks to what is already on your heart, that’s great – but please don’t stop there, it is not enough to feel confirmed, please find ways that you can speak up and speak out yourself, because the truth now is that we all are preachers of a sort. And if this second sermon makes you uncomfortable or offends you, then let’s have a conversation about it. No one says we have to agree all the time to be part of the body of Christ; no one says we have to see everything eye-to-eye. The important thing, my friends, the most important thing is that we agree that our primary allegiance above all others is to Jesus Christ, and who he is for all of us, and who he calls us to be, and what he calls us to do with all we’ve been entrusted with. If we can at least agree on that, then we are already investing our talents and witnessing to the love and justice of Jesus Christ.
I think it’d be a great time to pray. Would you pray with me?
God in heaven, we hear you loud and clear: the master entrusts more to those he expects more from. And you’ve entrusted us with so much: you have given us this church and you have filled our hearts with endless love. May we invest those talents, faithfully and confidently, living into your vision through our words and our actions – not just for the sake of this church but for all the nations. So that one day, we too will hear that glorious response: well done, good and faithful servant, you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things, enter into the joy of your master!
In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, thanks be to God – and may all of God’s people say, AMEN!