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Monday, November 27 2017

Vicar David Sivecz

Matthew 25:31-46 “Where Do You See God? - Part 3”

            Today we finish our mini-sermon series called, “Where Do You See God?”  Over the last two weeks, we’ve been looking for where we see God working as we wait for the Parousia.  Again, the Parousia is a big church word that in Greek means the second coming of Jesus Christ.  That's what we heard about in Matthew’s twenty-fifth chapter.  As we wait for Christ to return, to bring everything back into order, to end pain and suffering, to rid our lives of anxiety, to bring joy and peace, we are looking for where Christ is already working in the here and now.

            Two weeks ago we heard that Christ is working through each of us as we encourage one another to persevere during the difficult times in our lives.  We rely on each other through simple deeds such as giving someone a listening ear, providing food, or praying.

            We can also support each other through larger avenues such as having a career of service, being a parent, or being a mentor.  Regardless of how we strengthen each other, Christ can work through anyone to make a meaningful impact.

            Sometimes we have difficulty seeing it, which is what we heard about last week.  Christ works beyond what we perceive.  When we have grown accustomed to God in a specific area, we might not see where else God is working.  To see where else God is working, sometimes we have to look beyond what’s present.  Our sight can only go as far as our eyes can see.  In other words, as we wait with each other we should change our perceptions.

            So, everything we’ve been hearing in Matthew twenty-five, during the last two weeks, sets us up for today’s Gospel reading.  It's probably one of the more argued passages in all of Scripture.  I’ve had my fair share of debates with other pastors and professors about it.  It is one of those passages that most of us would prefer to forget when we walk out of here.

            What just listened to was Jesus telling the disciples that when the Son of Man comes in his glory, all the angels will be with him.  He will sit on his throne, and all the nations will be gathered.  Then he will separate people from one another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.  He will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left.

            These verses don't portray the grace-filled Jesus that we are so accustomed to hearing.  If anything this type of separation might cause a little fear and anxiety.  Some have used this passage as a way to feed off it to make us do what God says or else.  In other words, what we hear is that God will separate the good people from the bad.  If some of us want to continue to interpret this passage like this then we are free to do so.

            However, based on what we’ve read the last two weeks, there is more to it.    There’s more there than God separating good people from the bad.  There’s so much more there than an ultimatum to act correctly.  Again, there’s more there than what we can see.

            What Jesus said about the separation between the sheep and the goats was merely a set up to surprise us.  Ironically, that’s how both those who identified as sheep and goats react to what Jesus said.  As we heard when those on the right answered, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you something…”  This verse was followed by what those on his left said, “When was it… we did not take care of you…”  Both were shocked when Jesus commended or condemned their behavior.

            It’s not that they denied their behavior; they were fully aware of what they did.  Instead, what both couldn’t see was the Son of Man, or where Jesus was present.  I believe this is why it’s so difficult to see where God is working.  We have difficulty seeing where God is working; we get caught up in own expectations of God.

            Many of us expect to see God as an all-powerful ruler who has come to be in control of everything.  But think about what happens when God doesn’t follow our expectations.  What happens is that we get mad at God.  We become mad at God because we didn’t get a promotion.  We become mad at God when we become ill.  We become mad at God when a loved one has died.

            Let me be clear; it’s alright to be mad at God.  In Scripture, many people became mad at God for many reasons.  But, perhaps, we become mad at God because God didn’t fulfill our expectations.  What we expect is that God should be a God of control.  We expect God to prevent bad things from happening.  We expect God to make us happy.  We expect God to do what we want.

            But God doesn’t follow our expectations.  God is not a God of control; instead, God is a God of redemption.  God shows up in unexpected places, unexpected times, in unexpected ways to meet our needs.  We know this because of what follows in the twenty-fifth chapter of Matthew.  What follows is Christ being betrayed, beaten, crucified, and killed.  What follows ultimately leads to his resurrection.  This wasn’t the leader the disciples expected.

            It just so happens this weekend is also Christ the King weekend.  Jesus shows up not as a king we would expect, or as powerful leader who rules nations with force.  As we will see in a month, Jesus showed up as a vulnerable infant.  He didn’t show up in a castle, or house, or even a hotel, but was born in a dirty grungy animal stable.  Jesus went on to show up as one who ate with prostitutes, tax collectors, and Gentiles.

            Jesus continues to show up as a king who is unexpectedly present through our brokenness.  He unexpectedly shows up as one who understands and cries with us in our pain and suffering.  He unexpectedly shows up and resides with the disadvantaged, the marginalized, and the oppressed.

            The closest example I can think of an unexpected king comes from the movie “Lord of the Rings.”  Specifically, there was one scene at the end of the third movie that sticks with me.  It was right after Frodo and Samwise fought their way through the evil clutches of Mordor to discard the “One Ring to Rule Them All.” 

            The scene I’m referring to was when Aragorn the “leader of men” was officially crowned king.  You could see countless people lined up on the top of the castle watching as the wizard, Gandalf, anointed Aragorn as king when he placed the crown on his head.  You could see the joy and happiness on everyone’s face.  There wasn’t any death or war.  There was just peace.

            But that wasn’t the end.  Once Aragorn turned around and gave a small speech, he proceeded out to greet his elf and dwarf friends.  From there he continued, and people started to bow in honor of him being the king.  But then he came upon the hobbits.

            As they started to kneel, he looked at them and said, “You bow to no one.”  Then he bowed to them.  In a moment the camera backed away, and you could see the whole crowd gathered together also bowing.  This king, this lord, this ruler, didn’t do what the culture expected; he did the unexpected thing and went beyond it.

            So, where else do we see God unexpectedly showing up?  Where can we show others where God is present?  Where do we see God meeting the needs of those in our society, in our community, and in our homes?  Whether we realize it or not, all of us can see God working in unexpected places.  Better yet, all of us can point out God working to others.

            Think about that for a second.  It doesn’t have to be in some profound way through a long speech or debate.  We can do this by sharing a story.  All of us have told a story.  If we’ve ever had a conversation with someone else, we can share a story.  We’ve shared the facts of the event.  We’ve shared who was present.  Through the tone of your voice and facial cues, we’ve even shared the emotional side.  Sometimes sharing a story that involves the love of God can be difficult.  Maybe it’s because we don’t know where to begin.

            It wasn’t until a few years ago when I was in Atlanta, where I found a place to begin.  It occurred during a worship service.  It was a mix of all our worship services.  But what made it different came in the middle of the worship.  After sharing the peace and the announcements, but immediately before the sermon, they asked one question.  It’s the question we've been getting asked over these three weeks.  “Where have you seen God at work?”  It's so strange, but yet so simple.  Never did I think to ask that question on a daily, weekly, or even monthly basis.

            Well, when that question got asked every week people began to share their stories.  The stories we heard weren’t extravagant testimonies.  They weren’t mountaintop moments.  Instead, they were simple ordinary events that came from everyday experiences.  But, over time they added up.  It was powerful to hear that God is present right then and right there.  When we left worship, we went with the peace, the joy, and the hope of Jesus Christ.

            I believe we always look for God in the big overwhelming miracles, and we don’t look for where God is acting in the small unexpected places of our daily lives.  So, here’s what we are going to do right now.  We are to take a step out of our comfort zones.  I’m not Zion’s called pastor, so I’m going to do something different.

            We are going to talk during worship.  I want each of us to turn to the person next to us.  They can be a spouse, family member, or a stranger.  If you notice someone sitting by him or herself, go over and sit next to them.  Introduce yourself and ask them his or her name.  Each of us may decide between the two of you who goes first.

            But what I want for us to do is to share a simple story, in one minute or less, when you unexpectedly saw God work in your life.  After that, I’m going to ask you to switch.  If it feels awkward, weird, clunky, and uncomfortable, then we are doing it correctly.  So right now turn to your neighbor and begin.

(Each person took thirty seconds to share a story with their neighbor.)

(Afterwards, the congregation was asked if anyone wanted to quickly share one with everyone.)

            The stories you just heard are the stories that were unexpected places where people saw God’s grace working.  These were places where people were restored and renewed from brokenness.  Sometimes in the midst of our daily routines, in the midst of our grief, or even our joys, we forget that Christ is present.  We become so fixated on what’s next that we don’t see God working on our journey.  Sometimes we forget that Christ does impact our daily lives.

            Whether we realize it or not Christ is with us through all the fear and anxiety.  Christ is with us as we wait for him to make all things new.  Christ is with us in places we don’t expect.  Christ is with us through the love we share with others we know and don’t know.  That’s the promise we heard again this morning.

            In today’s society, people need to hear this.  They long for God’s unconditional love and favor.  So for this week, my friends, continue to look for where God is working.  Continue to share it with others, whether it’s your family, friends, or neighbors.  It will be awkward at first.  But you have the skills and ability to share a story.  Share God’s compassion.  Share God’s work.  Share that Christ, not just was or will be but is, with us from now until to the end of the age.

                                                                                                                         - Amen

Posted by: Vicar David Sivecz AT 12:39 pm   |  Permalink   |  Email

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Zion Lutheran Church
9535 Clarence Center Road

PO Box 235
Clarence Center, NY 14032
Phone: 716-741-2656

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