Monday, March 5, 2012

Hang with the Sheep, Not the Goats!

Matthew chapters 23-25 runs quite an interesting gauntlet.  It starts off with Jesus denouncing the Scribes and Pharisees, proceeds on to discussion about signs of the end of the age, and moves on into Parables about bridesmaids and servants and talents, and wraps up with Judgment.  Now I have heard dozens of sermons preached on individual parts, particularly talents (usually around the time that the Stewardship drive comes around), but I have never seen anyone connect the dots between these three chapters.  And yes, there is a connecting thread that weaves through the three chapters!

Let’s start at the beginning.  In chapter 23, Jesus blasts the Pharisees and Scribes!  Specifically, he sums up his point in verse 23:
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites!  For you tithe mint, dill, and cumin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law; justice and mercy and faith.  It is these you ought to have practiced without neglecting the others.”
In other words, they know the law.  They can tell you all about the “matters of law”.  But knowing and doing are two totally different things!  They practice and carry out the things that can be seen-the “look at me, I’m giving my tithe of rare and precious spices” but they don’t carry out the things that require an investment that is not always seen-justice, mercy and faith.  Jesus at the very beginning of the chapter tells the listeners to do what the Scribes and Pharisees say, just don’t do what they do!

We then move on to chapter 24-the signs of the end of the age.  A lot of people get hung up on the signs and miss the entire point, which is emphasized at the end-always be watchful!  Keep doing what you are called to do and do it well, because you never know when the end is coming!  Take the talents and multiply them!  Which brings us into chapter 25 and the judgment of the nations.

In chapter 25, what is the standard that differentiates the sheep from the goats?  Jesus sums it up in verses 35 and 36:
“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, 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.”
Justice, mercy, faith-live and in action, are summed up in those two verses!

Which brings me back around to the point of the talents that we hear so much about!  A talent can be money.  It can be your special gift and grace.  But to truly “invest” your talents means that you invest in people and relationships-the one on one daily, nitty gritty of living day to day!  It is not merely about investing in a building or a program!  It’s about investing in life!  It is the stuff that we do, day in and day out, that seems insignificant because, well, it’s simply the right thing to do!

Shall we put it in modern day parlance?  I had a flat tire and you stopped to help me change it in the freezing cold, on the side of the interstate.  My house was blown away by a tornado and you came to help me clean up and save what I could, even though you didn‘t know me.  I was with my children at the grocery store in the check out line and I came up $1.98 short and you pulled out two dollars from your pocket so I wouldn’t have to face the embarrassment of trying to pick what I needed to put back.  I did something stupid as a youth and had to serve jail time, but you didn’t forget me!  You wrote letters and came to visit when you could.  I was new in town and had no family and friends and you invited me over for lasagna dinner.  I could go on, I could list more and more examples, but I think I’ve made my point!

Tell me, what on that list involved some big mission program or involved a building???  Not one!  And only one on that list involved money!

Now, before some of you out there have a coronary and think that I am saying to not support your local church or some special mission program, take a deep breath and relax!  There are certain things that only a church or an organization can do really well and it is important to support those programs!  The Pharisees, even they did that!  My point is, it is only half of the story.  And if you go back and read what Jesus said, that was his point as well!  Do what they tell you, just don’t stop there.  Don’t do what they do, focusing only on those visible things.  If you only do what they do, then you miss this whole other realm of possibility!

Look around you.  There is a mission field right in front of your face!  There are countless possibilities and endless ways that you can help others!  Some may involve money but the vast majority involve hand holding and tear wiping and good old fashioned sweat!  It’s about people and relationships.  It involves sharing yourself with others.  It involves giving your time, not just your money.

In some weird and twisted way, we equate mission with some far off place.  Mission is what “the church” or “the organization” does.  We can give our money but we certainly can’t “do mission” because we are not equipped to do that sort of work.  Jesus, however, reminded us that mission is all around us!

Be ready, Jesus said, because you never know!  Be the servant always on the look out for the little opportunities.  Mission is all around you, if you will just open your eyes and look.  Tithe and support the big stuff, but continually be on the lookout for those justice, faith and mercy moments.  They are more abundant than you might think!  Hang with the sheep, not the goats!

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