Scripture Passage: Matthew 25:31-46 “Christ The King In Us”
One morning about four weeks ago, Melissa asked me to help Isabel, who was running behind to get to school, by getting down her backpack.
I walked over to the coat rack, which also doubles as a back pack rack for our family, and saw her backpack hanging there.
I reached for it, and lifted up, and to my surprise, it didn’t budge. I looked around and did not see anything hindering the straps, so I lifted a little bit harder, and finally it moved.
I quickly realized that the thing weighed more than the backpack I used for our backpacking trip back in the fall, where I carried most of the weight, tent, food and other things included, for Isabel, Cade and I to survive for three days.
After a brief discussion, mixed with disbelief that Isabel was carrying that backpack on her shoulders from class to class every day, I found out that she had no time to unload her backpack at her locker during the day. This backpack was a part of her life.
I watched her as she headed off to the bus stop, and watched her back bent over, and realized that it would not be long before this could do some real damage to her back.
So we made some quick plans to remedy the situation, and last week, she brought to school a pull behind backpack with rollers.
I thought about that backpack on her shoulders, and thought about the last few months in our church, and realized that this church has been walking around for quite some time with a heavy backpack on our backs.
Isabel’s pack was filled with notebooks and textbooks, and is the result of a schedule that does not give her time to unload at her locker. She told me that she had only been to her locker 3 times all year long. But still, she made a go of it. She has made it to the bus on time, to class on time, and she has gotten her work done on time, well, mostly.
Our church’s backpack has been filled over the last decade or so, as well, with intentional and unintentional comments that have hurt others, and their inevitable retaliations. Our backpack has been filled with distrust, mistrust, and their resulting grudges. It has been filled with miscommunication, rumors, little lies that have grown big, and misrepresentation and their natural counterattacks.
But just like Isabel has gotten along with her big heavy backpack, so has Central. In spite of our brokenness, God has still been good in our church. People continue to find life and light at Central, with new visitors and members participating in our faith community on a regular basis.
Good ministry has taken place here: youth and children’s camps; mission trips; the Jubilees and CBSers, our choir and our Sunday School classes that have tied us together and kept us together when our disintegration seemed imminant.
More recently, Griefshare and Divorcecare, as well as Lifetree Café, have brought life to us, as has our service at Halifax Urban Ministries and at the food pantry at United Brethren in Christ.
In other words, even with our backs bent over from our heavy load, we have still made it to the bus stop, through the grace of God.
The parable we just read today is the last parable, and the last public words that Jesus speaks before his death. They contain words that tell the actions that matter in the Kingdom, attending to the hunger and thirst of the world, clothing the naked, and visiting those that are in prison.
But perhaps even more important than the actions of Kingdom Life, this parable contains the words that point to the attitude, the fundamental understanding of the world and God’s Kingdom, that produces those actions.
That understanding is that in each of us is the light of Jesus. Jesus uses the words, “What you have done to the least of these, you have done also to me.” In other words when you have seen the light of Jesus in the least of these, you will want to clothe them, feed them, and visit them.
But just who is the least of these? Our natural response is to point to the poor and the downtrodden, but I want to say today that there are times that in our own eyes we ourselves and the people sitting in the same sanctuary with us are the least of these.
Jesus says, when you can see my light in others, you can see me, and that makes all the difference in the world.
I want to ask you to bear with me for a second as I read from a book by John Claypool, called, “Opening Blind Eyes.”
John Claypool was an up and coming minister in Louisville, and became one of the white faces of the Civil Rights movement, but at the beginning of his career, he saw himself on the church-ladder, stepping up the ladder based on his performance.
As the pressure of this kind of career approach began to sink in for him, and as dissatisfaction with the pastorate began to creep, he was asked to join a support group. Listen to this passage from that time in his book:
“My other surprise was that honesty evoked compassion. One assumption to my competitive mindset was that weakness would be exploited if ever revealed. I had always tried to put my best foot forward and hide the rest as much as possible. But an opposite law was at work in that setting. I am not naïve enough to think that all small sharing groups could be similarly mature and redemptive, but in our group of six, it never failed.
It was all new and intriguing and relevant to my need that I soon did what I had suspected I might do. I took off my mask – for the first time in my life – and went all the way back and all the way down to those earliest reality-conclusions that had shaped my life so powerfully. I acknowledged the bottomless feeling of nobodiness, the desperate need to acquire a sense of worth by my own strenuous effort, the never-ending desire to become famous and be somebody in the eyes of others…
“When I was finished – literally spent, like on who has vomited out the last undigested particle – something happened that I shall never forget. The man in the group for whom I had the least affinity, spoke up. He was an Episcopal priest, socially prominent and much more liberal theologically than I. But here is what he said:
“’ Do you know what we need [I noticed that he did not use the isolating, condemning “what you need,” but the inclusive we.] We need to hear the gospel down in our guts. Do you remember the Sermon on the Mount, when Jesus said “You are the light of the world”? He did not say that you have to earn light or become number one in order to get light. He said simply, “You are light.” If you and I could ever hear that down in our guts – really experience what it means, then we could do what Jesus goes on to say: We could let our light shine, and other people could see the good thing God has created and give glory to the Father in heaven.’”
“As he spoke those words, I felt something akin to a fire flow from the top of my head to the depths of my heart, and for the first time in my life I experienced grace – it was not thought about or understood conceptually, but happened to me in the way events do sometimes happen to one. It was like being drenched to the skin by a rain shower and knowing that it has made one genuinely and vastly different.
“It suddenly dawned on me that I had been mistaken all along in my conclusions about reality. Instead of being an emptiness that must be filled from without by strenuous effort, I was, in fact, a fullness by the creative act of God.”
And so I want to say to you: because we can see Jesus in others, and because we can see Jesus in us.
Because we are the light, and all others are the light.
Because God created us in our fullness, and not in our emptiness,
We now have permission.
We have permission to, like Isabel, take off the weight, the burden that we have been carrying on our back, and let it go.
We have permission, in our own lives, to let go of our anger at those who have hurt and harmed us, and to grab on to the freedom we have to love them, to see the light of Jesus in them.
We have permission to let go of the guilty feelings we have about those that we have wronged, and grab on to the notion that our past mistakes do not have to define us, God’s love and God’s light are greater than all of our sin.
We have permission as a church to let go of the negativity, the thoughts of resistance to change, and the thoughts of change at all costs, and to choose to let the light of the Spirit guide us.
We have permission to forget the past of our divisions and our splits, and the words and conversations, the accusations and the persistent thoughts that have lingered in our hearts and spirits. All of them have been rocks in our individual backpacks, and rocks in our church’s backpack, and it is time to let them go.
It is time to let go of the darkness that has hung over us, and it is time to let go of the sense of doom and the premature predictions of our church’s demise. God is alive at work in Central Baptist Church. Can I get an Amen?
“Why should we let go?” you might ask. Because this parable tells us that in each one of us is the light of Jesus. In Central Baptist Church is the light. In you is the light. In me is the light. In the least of these and in the least parts of you and me, is the light.
And now the words of Jesus in Luke 4, that the Spirit of the Lord would be upon him, to proclaim the day of the Lord’s favor, to proclaim release to the captives, to clothe the naked, to feed the hungry, and give water to the thirsty, are true for us.
Jesus proclaims freedom to our captivity of regret, hatred, prejudice and anger. Let them go! For in you is light!
Jesus proclaims the clothing of love to the nakedness of words that have exposed our hatred. Let them go! For in you is light!
Jesus gives the water of life to the instruments of death that we have been holding on to: despair, disappointments, forsakenness, and loneliness. Let them go! For in you is light!
And Jesus proclaims the broken bread of sacrifice and service which overcomes the empty hunger of selfishness and laziness. Let it go! For in you is the light!
I have it in my mind’s eye a church that decides right now to let go and let Jesus reign over us.
In you, in us, is the light! And the darkness shall not overcome the light! Let us pray.