Cheap Grace

Matthew 25:31-46

31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33 and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 34 Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 40 And the king will answer them, ‘Truly 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.’ 41 Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; 42 for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

Sermon Cheap Grace

Good morning. For the last couple weeks, I’ve started my sermons by saying something like, “this isn’t one of my favorite parables.” Not today. This is one of my absolute favorite Bible stories. It’s also one of the reasons I preach from the series of readings known as the Revised Common Lectionary. If I didn’t use the Lectionary, I’d be tempted to preach this text every Sunday.

It’s a summary of everything that Jesus has taught in Matthew’s Gospel. It’s the last public teaching that Jesus offers in the Gospel of Matthew, so it’s really important—so important, actually, that this story is set aside for the last Sunday on the liturgical calendar—the calendar that marks the seasons of the year for the Church. We call this day Christ the King Sunday.

Today, Christians everywhere celebrate the lordship of Jesus Christ over all earthly powers and principalities. According to the scholar Karoline Lewis, this day is a way to affirm God’s reign over empires that do not hunger and thirst for righteousness.[1] It’s a reminder to us to remain faithful; it’s a reminder that God is always in charge, no matter how bleak things look.

And let’s face it: things look bleak. The coronavirus is raging out of control. Sure, there’s a vaccine on the way, but it’s going to be a few months before any vaccine is widely available. In the meantime, we continue to set new records for the number of infections that are diagnosed in this country:

· Nearly 200,000 positive test results were recorded on Friday, alone.

· We will soon reach 12 million cases.

· Total deaths in the United States are over 250,000.[2]

That took less than a year. To put those numbers in perspective, the US lost over 58,000 troops during the Vietnam war, most of those between the years 1965 and 1971. That was about seven years. We lost a little over 400,000 military personnel during World War II. We were involved in World War II for about four years. COVID-19 has been present in this country for about a year.

Yet we argue amongst ourselves whether the pandemic is really all that bad. What we believe about the pandemic often aligns with our political beliefs and where we get our news. I point this out, not to attack one side or affirm the other, but to remind us what we already know: we live in a divided society.

So did Jesus.

And we’re called to be disciples in the midst of these divisions.

Today’s reading is a story about discipleship. It’s a story about people who are sure they’re doing the right thing. It’s a story about judgment. It’s an answer to all the people who ask Jesus, “What must I do to gain eternal life?”

Some of the people who ask these questions are trying to trick Jesus into saying the wrong thing, while others are trying to figure out just how much—or how little—they have to do to stay faithful to God. They want to know that God will let them off the hook for their sins. They want to know who’s in and who’s out. Just like us.

So, Jesus tells everyone that the king—meaning Jesus; remember, this is Christ the King Sunday—will separate the righteous, the sheep, from the unrighteous, the goats. The sheep are gathered at the king’s right hand, the goats at his left. The righteous are welcomed into the kingdom: