Sermon 26 November the sheep and the goats

Matthew 25:(15-30),

The Parable of the Bags of Gold
To one he gave five bags of gold, to another two bags, and to another one bag, each according to his ability. Then he went on his journey. The man who had received five bags of gold went at once and put his money to work and gained five bags more. So also, the one with two bags of gold gained two more. But the man who had received one bag went off, dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money.
“After a long time the master of those servants returned and settled accounts with them. The man who had received five bags of gold brought the other five. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with five bags of gold. See, I have gained five more.’
“His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’
“The man with two bags of gold also came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘you entrusted me with two bags of gold; see, I have gained two more.’
“His master replied, ‘Well done, good and faithful servant! You have been faithful with a few things; I will put you in charge of many things. Come and share your master’s happiness!’
“Then the man who had received one bag of gold came. ‘Master,’ he said, ‘I knew that you are a hard man, harvesting where you have not sown and gathering where you have not scattered seed. So I was afraid and went out and hid your gold in the ground. See, here is what belongs to you.’
“His master replied, ‘You wicked, lazy servant! So you knew that I harvest where I have not sown and gather where I have not scattered seed? Well then, you should have put my money on deposit with the bankers, so that when I returned I would have received it back with interest.
“‘So take the bag of gold from him and give it to the one who has ten bags. For whoever has will be given more, and they will have an abundance. Whoever does not have, even what they have will be taken from them. And throw that worthless servant outside, into the darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’

Matthew 25 v 31-46

The Sheep and the Goats
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 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. He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
“Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
“The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
“They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
“He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’
“Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life. ”

The whole of chapter 25 of Matthew’s Gospel works together as it should, because each parable, in turn, supports the other; reminding us that we need to be prepared for when Jesus returns, we need to use our talents wisely, and we need to care for God’s people without favouritism, or exception but always for the benefit for our neighbour in the greatest need.
Today’s parable is the most vivid of all; this Parable of the sheep and the goats is an example of how the talent, the gift of hospitality, if it is used, can help people in need in a very valuable, but simple and effective way, and when we do so, we are serving God.
Jesus often taught about the importance of not just inviting your friends and family to dinner, but the stranger and the needy, the outcast and the sinner; those people who were on the outside of respectability, and the wrong side of the tracks, but whom God always wants to welcome in from the cold, and to His table.
At the heart of the Gospel and Jesus’ teaching about the Kingdom of God, is hospitality; caring and sharing the good things we have with all God’s children, and not just a select few.
I love Tom Gordon’s story called The Brown Coat, which he tells in his book, “A Blessing to Follow”. And in that story, he tells, how Jim an upwardly mobile professional, who wears his Dad’s old brown storeman’s coat to visit the workers on the factory floor and to have tea with them during their breaks on Friday. But what they did not know, was that Jim was one of the managers from the accounts office. They always just assumed that he was one of the storemen from the next building. And then one day, on his visit, he learned that one of the staff, had suffered a bereavement, and it was going to be a struggle to cover the cost of the funeral. So, come the following Monday, he popped down for a cup of tea, and passed on an envelope with some cash from a whip round to help with the cost of the funeral.
And come the day of the funeral, Jim was there at the back, in support of his fellow worker, but slipping away, quietly at the end, so as not to draw attention to himself.
Now there are many moving parts to this story that I found touching, but the most important for me is that Jim was taking the time to visit his colleagues and showing and interest in what mattered to them. He was spending time with them, and when there was a need, being able to share to meet that need in a simple, yet effective way.
He would never have known about a problem or someone’s suffering, if he had not got out from behind his desk and got alongside the people on the shop-floor.
And yet, simply spending time with people, sharing in their conversation and being able to respond to a situation in a time of need.
How we respond to people in need; whatever their plight tells the true story of how deep and real our faith in Jesus goes.
If Jesus asked us for a glass of water, or some food, or clothing, or to visit him in hospital or prison. Of course, we would go, but would we go only because it was Him?
In this parable, He is asking us to behave towards everyone in need, as if we were helping him. And if we see the face of Christ in the stranger, then we will do as he desires and serve Him.
Professor William Barclay tells two stories which amplify the message of our Gospel today:
St Francis of Assisi belonged to a wealthy merchant family. But, as a young man, he was not happy and felt life was incomplete. Then one day when out riding, he met a leper; disfigured from his disease. And, something moved Francis to get down from his horse, fling his arms around him and in his arms, the face of the leper changed to the face of Christ.
The second is a famous story about Martin of Tours, who was a Roman soldier, but also a Christian. On a cold winter day, he was stopped by a beggar. Martin had no money to give him, but the beggar was blue and shivering. And so, Martin took his cloak and worn though it was, cut it in half and gave half to the beggar.
That night in a dream, Martin saw the heavenly places and all the angels and Jesus among them; and Jesus was wearing half a Roman soldier’s cloak. One of the angels said to Jesus, “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.”
And Barclay concludes,
“When we learn the generosity, which without calculation helps others in the simplest things, we too will know the joy of helping Jesus Christ himself.”

For everyone born, a place at the table,
for everyone born, clean water and bread,
a shelter, a space, a safe place for growing,
for everyone born, a star overhead,
Refrain:
And God will delight
when we are creators of justice and joy,
yes, God will delight
when we are creators of justice,
justice and joy!
Amen.

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