What about His Friends?

What About His Friends?

A sermon preached by Rev. David M. Crawford at Rundle Memorial United Church, Banff,  Nov. 20/11 (Christ the King).  Based on Matthew 25:31-46.

P.T. Forsyth claimed that “the first duty of the soul is not to find its freedom, but rather to find its master.”   Bob Dylan made the astute
observation that “everybody serves somebody.”   Jesus takes it a step further – “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you
food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink?  And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked, and gave
you clothing?  And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?  And the KING will answer them, ʻTruly 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.ʼ”

If it is just a set of rules we are to follow in this life, the Old Testament would have sufficed,  we could have stopped there.   What Jesus desires is
more  –  a recognition of his intimate presence within the human condition, so much so that we are to identify him with all of “the least among us”;  and so much so that we are to identify ourselves with him!   Because what weʼre talking about here,  what Jesus seems most often to be talking about, when he uses his apparently triumphalist, exclusive language, is the inbreaking of a different way of existing;  the arrival, through him, of a radical, transformational formula for life, necessarily requiring words like allegiance, trust, loyalty, sacrifice and faithfulness, not just with regard to a set of principles, but to a person who was also much more than a person!   A Son, a Messiah,  a King?

Perhaps one of the most loyal Christians of the 20th century was Dietrich Bonhoeffer, German anti-Nazi, hanged by the Nazis on the final
day of the war, at age 39. In his classic book, The Cost of Discipleship,  he wrote this:  “To be conformed to the image of Jesus Christ is not an ideal of realizing some kind of similarity with Christ which we are asked to attain… Rather, it is the very image of God, the form of Christ, which
seeks to take shape within us.  It is Christ’s own form which seeks to manifest itself in us.”    And so, once manifested within, what next?  Our Gospel text is quite clear.

Hereʼs another approach.  In a powerful sermon Peter Story, former bishop of The Methodist Church in South Africa, made the following
observation: “Who is the focus of the Church?   Who is the person we are concerned about?   The person we exist to serve?  For Jesus there was no question.  In the Kingdom, the humble are lifted high and the most vulnerable have pride of place.  That is why you cannot ask Jesus into your heart alone.  He will ask, ‘Can I bring my friends?’  You will look at his friends and they will consist of the poor and marginalized and oppressed, and you will hesitate.  But Jesus is clear: ‘Only if I can bring my friends.’
“Ask yourself which Christian has most powerfully impacted the imagination and conscience of the modern world.  A satin-suited, prosperous televangelist (who offers you your best life now)?  Or a wizened old Albanian nun, who made herself the servant of the poorest of the poor, the dying people of Calcutta?”

We finish with a story from Anne Lamott.  In Travelling Mercies she tells of one of the things that has helped to open her eyes and turn her inside
out, turn her toward the Kingdom.   She writes that one of the newest members of their church was a man named Ken Nelson who was dying of
AIDS.  Shortly after he started coming to church Kenʼs partner died of the disease.  But Ken kept coming, week after week.  The people in the church could see that he, like his late partner, was slowly dying.

Anne writes that there was a large and jovial African-American woman in the choir named Ranola who was as devout as you could be.  She kept looking at Ken out of the corners of her eyes and was more than a little standoffish.  She had been raised in the south by Baptists who had taught her that Kenʼs way of life was an abomination.  And so it was hard for her toreally see Ken as he was.  Anne said she thought that Ranola and several other members were afraid they might catch what Ken had.  So they stood at a distance.  But Ken kept coming and won over most of the members of the church.  During prayer time he would share that even in his decline he had felt the grace and redemption of God.

“On one particular morning the congregation began singing, ʻHis Eye is on the Sparrowʼ.  The whole church stood, except for Ken who was too
weak to stand.  And the church began to sing: ʻWhy should I feel discouraged? Why do the shadows fall?ʼ  And Ranola, from the choir kept watching Ken and then suddenly her face began to contort and tears came to her eyes and she left the choir, moved toward Ken, bent down and
picked him up, lifting him like a rag doll.  Anne says Ranola held him next to her, as if he were a child. as they all sang together: ʻHis eye is on the
sparrow and I know he cares for me.ʼ

“Once in a while we all have a chance to meet Jesus as if it were the first time.  Often this is how these encounters seem.  Out there where there are no stained glass windows and no hymns and no quiet and only sometimes tears and pain and injustice – if we open our eyes, who knows, we might just meet Jesus face to face.”

And the KING will answer them, ʻTruly 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.ʼ

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