Biblical Text: Matthew 25:31-46 (Matthew 10:40-42)
This was the last Sunday in the church year, so we say good bye to reading Matthew. (Hence the fading to blue in the colors above, the color of advent.) Most of my sermons tend to be serials. They are one offs on the text of the day. And there are reasons for that, but the gospel is a story, a narrative. And sometimes you need to understand the full narrative. And that is the case with the Last Judgement. This sermon attempts to understand the picture of the last judgement with: Jesus in all his glory, All Nations and The brothers in the context of the full story.
Usually this text is used in a very law based way. Do these “works of mercy” and you’ll be with the sheep. And it isn’t a terrible message, but it isn’t the gospel. And the last judgment really does have a gospel message. And that is what this sermon attempts to proclaim.
I hate to say it, but this is an example of decent sermon prep that lacked editing and carry-through. At least 1 point two many. About a page and a half too long. And missing a story element. Although I do have to add that I’m amazed I didn’t see more yawns. Probably because I didn’t have it down enough to deliver it and was looking down at my paper too much to see them.
Ok, done beating myself up. At an intellectual and a personal piety level this text is a grenade. What I will say is that the Last Judgment from Matthew confronts and contradicts so many of our doctrinal and de facto pieties that it would be tough not to lapse into homiletic underwear and lecture. On its face the judgment is based on ethical reasons. If all you had was the last judgement from Matthew you’d have to say that Pelagius was the saint and Augustine then heretic. I think I describe the web of texts to evaluate that, to put it into the larger story, but it would be much better to have the bible open in front with the possibility for questions and conversation. Putting that aside, our culture in general has moved beyond that debate of works and grace. The phrase translated eternal punishment just isn’t believed by most people. There are different scriptural ways of addressing it that give due pause to abyss we are staring into, but most of America just doesn’t lend credence to the concept of hell. The way I typically describe it for bible study folks is that my impression is most of America has accepted the gospel without hearing the law. They don’t know what they are doing in other words. They take the cheap grace without pausing to think if it is fool’s gold.
The last part which dominates the sermon and would have been the core point is that we modern Americans just don’t understand monarchy. What lands the goats in fire is not that they are evil to their core. They answer Lord. They wonder when they haven’t been good. Thinking of a human King – arguing from lesser to greater – you can immediately see the times when it is what you didn’t do that got you in trouble. It is what you don’t do that typically brings into question the kind. If the King says – “do the will of my Father” and then you proceed to ignore the law completely…
So, I’m glad we have a lectionary that forces these texts. I’m also glad it only comes up once every three years.