Matthew 25:31-46 – presented by the Children’s Ministries Skit Team:
31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33 and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 34 Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 40 And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ 41 Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; 42 for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

In the Middle East, even until today, sheep and goats often graze together.
At the end of the day, they must be separated one from another because the goats,
being less hardy, need to be kept warm at night.
At first glance, because they can be of similar size and coloring,
it can be difficult to tell a sheep from a goat.
Do you know how the shepherds tell them apart?
One obvious difference is that the tails of sheep most often lay down,
whereas the tails of goats stick up. (George Buttrick, The Gospel of Matthew)

It is not so simple with human beings.
None of us are 100% sheep when it comes to loving our neighbor, nor are we 100% goat.
Most people reveal some concern for neighbor;
no person, not even Mother Theresa, is saved due to their righteous acts.
As we have said before, we cannot take one parable or saying from Jesus
and extrapolate an entire systematic theology.
We interpret scripture by scripture, that is, we read this particular scripture text in the context of the whole.
We explore the meaning of this text and seek nuggets of truth that hold consistent with other scripture.

One nugget of truth is that, here and elsewhere, Jesus expresses solidarity with the poor.
Jesus claims that when we serve “one of the least of these, my brethren”, we serve Jesus himself.
Have you heard the story of Martin of Tours.
Martin was a Roman soldier, and also a Christian.
One cold winter day, as Martin and the other soldiers were entering a city,
a beggar stopped him and asked him for alms.
Martin had no money, but the beggar was blue and shivering with cold,
so Martin gave what he had.
He took off his soldier’s coat, worn and frayed as it was;
he cut it in tow and gave half of it to the beggar.
That night he had a dream.
In the dream he saw the heavenly places and all the angels and Jesus in the midst of them.
In his dream, Jesus was wearing half the 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?”
And Jesus answered softly, “My servant Martin gave it to me.”
(William Barclay, The Gospel of Matthew, Vol. 2)

Pope Francis has lifted up the importance of Christians doing something about poverty.
He recently stated: “Poverty is precisely at the heart of the Gospel.
If we were to remove poverty from the Gospel, people would understand nothing about Jesus’ message.”
(Glatz, Carol, “Pope Francis: Concern for poor is sign of Gospel, not red flag of communism”,
Catholic News Service, Jun. 16, 2015)

It’s very simply really –
There are people who are hungry – Feed them.
There are people who thirsty – You give them something to drink.
There are strangers in our midst – welcome them and do what Christian hospitality requires.
There are those with inadequate clothing – clothe them.
There are many who are ill – take care of them.
The prisons are full – visit them.

While many of us enjoy plenty – plenty of food in the pantry or the refrigerator,
plenty of ability to buy what we need at the store and even go out to eat on occasion,
even in Decatur, there are hundreds of children who qualify for free and reduced lunches.
Their families are at risk of having no food in the home at the end of the month,
and many show up on Monday mornings in the cafeteria hungry, looking for the next meal.
Even in our well-developed nation, a surprising number of children are at risk of hunger every month.
Did you know that the state of Georgia ranks 44th out of 50 in child poverty?
In our beloved state, more than 1 in 4 (26.3 percent in 2014) of Georgia’s children are poor,
living at or below the poverty level – nearly 650,000 children.
1 in 9 children in Georgia are extremely poor, living at less than half the poverty level.
(Children’s Defense Fund)
All is not well in the economics of our state, our nation or our world. One look at the tragic news from Charlottesville, Virginia from yesterday, and it is certainly clear to everyone that all is not well…

It is a hopeful sign that, in world statistics, we have come a long way in the last twenty five years.
The work of our church in the Agalta Valley of Honduras is a good example.
Thanks to our partner HOI and many Christian people, literacy rates are way up in the valley,
child mortality rates are way down, the general health and longevity of the people is up,
and the number of those living in extreme poverty is going down.
Even so, our youth and advisors who were there just last month
can tell you that the people of the Agalta Valley still have a long way to go.
Like nearly 1/2 of the world’s population — more than 3 billion people worldwide —
many in the Agalta Valley live on less than $2.50 a day.
A good number of them are among the more than 1.3 billion throughout the world
who live in extreme poverty — less than $1.25 a day.
Did you know that, according to UNICEF, some 22,000 children die every single day due to poverty?

These are complex issues, and there are many reasons for poverty.
There are many reasons for the disparity of wealth between persons and nations,
including warfare, systems that promote greed, moral failure, natural disasters…
The complexity is part of what can make well-fed Americans apathetic.
It is not difficult to become apathetic when issues can be so overwhelming.
But it is true that some are apathetic because, admittedly,
they are comfortable with the way things are.
In a world of scarcity, “I’ve got mine”, some say. And “so sorry for you,
but I’m holding on tight to what I’ve got and no one had better try to take it away from me.”
No more taxes, no more non-profits sending me flyers in the mail,
and please, no church people knocking on my door looking for a tithe!

But this is not the attitude of those who follow Jesus.
As people who seek to live the faith we express, we are concerned and unsettled with the way things are.
We want to do something for the sake of hungry people around the corner and across the globe.
We remember that neglecting those in need is the same as ignoring Jesus Christ himself.

And yes, it costs us – not only time but money as well.
When we feed local person who are hungry through Threshold or DEAM or DCM, that costs money.
When our missionary, Jim McGill, works with Rotarians and others to help bring clean water wells
to people who are thirsty, that’s becomes quite an involved process.
When we welcome the stranger, like the refugee girl of the Global Village Project,
a whole spectrum of costly needs arise.
When we offer clothes to the naked….that shouldn’t cost too much –
most of us have far too much in our closets anyways!
But when we organize ourselves to take care of the sick, well, we know how much that can cost.
And when we visit the prisons or provide for the visitation of prisoners, that requires significant resources.

When you read the Bible regularly, you notice God’s consistent concern for the poor.
There are countless passages in both Testaments regarding the needs of the poor,
the orphaned, and the widows.
Just as it is with our human families, our Divine Parent shows an unequal concern for those in need.
As a parent, you love all of your children, but when one of them is sick or hurting,
that is the one who receives your immediate and direct attention.
The preschool child who falls down on the playground and scrapes their knee
is the one that the teacher will attend to.
The high schooler who becomes ill on a mission trip will be the one
who gets the most attention from the advisers.
To fail to do so would be beyond reason and responsibility and yes, even subject to God’s judgment.
We focus our love and our action on the one who is in greatest need at the moment;
and we have learned that behavior from God in Holy Scripture.
In Exodus 3, Moses was going about his own business, tending the flock.
He had a beautiful young wife and few young children, then he happens upon this burning bush
in the wilderness. Then he hears a word from the Lord,
“I have observed the misery of my people in Egypt;
I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings,
and I have come down to deliver them from the Egyptians,
and to bring them up out of that land to a good and broad land, a land flowing with milk and honey.”
And Moses, you are the one I am calling to lead them.
Five times Moses gave excuses and tried to get out of it. Five times God responded to him
and gave him what he would need to fulfill the task.

Recognition of God’s preferential concern for the poor is one of the nuggets of truth in this parable.
A related and uncomfortable truth is that those who fail to express this concern through action
will be judged.
Whereas many will talk about the sins of commission – all the bad things people do –
this parable clearly outlines the sins of omission – what we fail to do on behalf of those in need.
Jesus teaching is crystal clear in this regard –
we will be judged based on our reaction to human need.

We are not to give money or help others based on the hope for some reward or return –
the poor and vulnerable can offer nothing in return.
We are not to help others based on some sense of guilt –
notice that those who helped in the parable had no idea that they were doing so for the sake of Jesus.
We are not to give or help because we will get a tax benefit
or because it looks good on a resume or college application.
We give and we help simply because the need is there.

The problem with world hunger is not lack of food.
I have read that the world produces enough food to feed every man, woman, and child in the world.
So, the problem is one of distribution, you say. The food is there, but we cannot get it to everyone.
Not true, experts say.
There are adequate resources available in the world to accomplish the distribution.
The problem is one of priorities; the problem is one of will –
our priorities and our wills as individuals, as churches, as states and as a nation.

Did you notice that every act mentioned by Jesus in the parable
is one which could be done by any one of us this week?
This week, you could purchase an extra bag of groceries and,
if you don’t happen to know someone who is hungry,
you can give it to our Threshold Ministry or to DEAM.
This week, you can welcome some stranger in need.
You can sign up to offer Christian hospitality and a meal to the families at Hagar’s House.
The information is in your bulletin.
Or you can simply reach out and welcome the person on your pew whom you do not know.
This week, you can offer loving care to someone who is sick.
You can visit or write a letter to someone who is in prison.

I have become aware that there is another malady in the world that is even more prevalent than hunger,
another illness that is far more common than poverty – loneliness.
I would venture to guess that there are more lonely people in the United States than there are hungry people.
Loneliness affects young and old, rich and poor, both genders, of every race and nation.
Ironically, nations like ours that tend to be most well-fed are also the ones that tend to be the loneliest.
I propose that if the lonely person were to reach out to the hungry person,
both would be fed.
If the lonely person were to reach out to the thirsty person, both would drink from the well of life.
If the lonely person were to visit the sick or the imprisoned, both would discover a blessing.

We certainly experience the blessing that comes from service in our mission trips.
When we travel to some of the poorest villages in the western hemisphere,
we bring back far more than we are able to give.
We experience this in our local mission efforts.
When you serve a meal at Hagar’s House or help build a Habitat house,
you will be blessed by your service. Typically, you will receive far more than you have given.
Your other pastors and I, and the mission or congregational care council,
will be glad to connect you to an opportunity to give or to serve.

Issues of hunger and homelessness and healthcare – just in Dekalb County – are difficult and complex,
far too complex for us to solve as individuals.
But each of us can bite off one small, digestible piece of the problem
and make a credible difference in one person’s life.
And imagine if we had the will to come together as a people,
as a broader church, as an engaged community, even as a nation,
then we could accomplish far more together than we can on our own.

Let us not forget that this is a parable of judgment…
As I have said before, our nation will be judged by God, not by its per capita income,
nor by its gross domestic product, nor by its vast natural resources or its military strength,
but our nation, and its people and its leaders,
will be judged by God according to the condition of the least of these my brethren.

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him,
he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him,
and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats…
And the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come…take your inheritance…
for whatever you did unto the least of these my brothers and sisters, you did unto me.”

Rev. Dr. Todd Speed
Decatur Presbyterian Church
Decatur, Georgia
August 13, 2017