New Year’s Day

Ecclesiastes 3:1-13 • Psalm 8 • Revelation 21:1-6a • Matthew 25:31-46

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31 “But when the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit upon his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered in his presence, and he will separate the people as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will place the sheep at his right hand and the goats at his left.

34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. 36 I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’

37 “Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? 39 When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’

40 “And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’

41 “Then the King will turn to those on the left and say, ‘Away with you, you cursed ones, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his demons. 42 For I was hungry, and you didn’t feed me. I was thirsty, and you didn’t give me a drink. 43 I was a stranger, and you didn’t invite me into your home. I was naked, and you didn’t give me clothing. I was sick and in prison, and you didn’t visit me.’

44 “Then they will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and not help you?’

45 “And he will answer, ‘I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.’

46 “And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous will go into eternal life.”

Matthew 25:31-46 New Living Translation (NLT)

Happy 2020! Wait! What? We blinked and twenty years have passed. Perhaps that’s what makes this morning’s devotional so poignant – especially when we welcomed 2020 in with such revelry. Toward the end of Matthew’s gospel, Jesus gives us a lengthy discourse about how it will all end. Jesus gives warnings to the people to keep watch – to be ready. As we enter 2020 perhaps we should take time – to take inventory to see if we are watching as we should, to see if we are ready like we should be. In Matthew 25, we first get the Parable of the Ten Bridesmaids. Five who were wise and five who were foolish. The wise were ready for the coming of the bride and the foolish weren’t.

Then there is the Parable of the Three Servants. In this story the master gives the servants silver to take care of – to be stewards of – to invest. Two of the servants are wise stewards and the third just buries his silver in the ground. We learn the importance of being good stewards of what God has entrusted with us.

Finally, Jesus tells us of the Last Judgment in something we know as the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats. Again it’s a story of being ready – it’s a story of being a good steward. I really believe when Jesus was teaching – he was speaking to those who thought themselves religious – those who were following all the religious rules. Jesus reminds us once again of the importance of taking care of the least of these. Jesus is reminding us of the importance of begin good stewards of what he has entrusted to us – that is the Kingdom of God. The righteous ones were shocked to hear that they had taken care of Jesus by taking care of others. By saying this, some would say that I am advocating for works righteousness. That would be a long way from the truth.

In Jesus’ own words, we learn the greatest commandments:

37 Jesus replied, “‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, and all your mind.’ 38 This is the first and greatest commandment. 39 A second is equally important: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ 40 The entire law and all the demands of the prophets are based on these two commandments.”

Matthew 22:37-40

Jesus told us we must love God with everything we have and at the same time we must take care of our neighbor. You may remember that there was one who wanted to rationalize his behavior and he asked the question, “Who is my neighbor?” To which Jesus replied with the story of the Good Samaritan.

Jesus’ command is echoed in these words penned by James:

27 Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress and refusing to let the world corrupt you.

James 1:27

It’s not love God or love my neighbor. It’s love God AND my neighbor. Jesus said that our neighbor is everyone.

I know that was a long tangent, but it really shows how this Parable of the Sheep and Goats fits into the greater narrative of the Bible. Jesus places great importance in loving God with all of our heart, mind, and strength and obeying his commandments, but if we keep that love to ourselves, it means nothing. This also means, we don’t just take care of those we deem are worthy, but the least of these.

In this parable, the cursed ones loved God, but they didn’t take care of their neighbor – they made judgments. They asked, “Why should we take care of the sick? – Why should we take care of the hungry? – Why should we take care of the alien? – Why should we take care of those in prison? Why should we take care of those who are naked? Jesus replies that if you don’t do it for them, you’ve not done it to me. Wow! Those words hurt. Am I doing everything possible to help the least of these? Are you doing everything possible to help the least of these? Too many times we make excuses. Too many times we make it political.

So while we revel in the arrival of a new year – the year 2020 – Let’s remember to be about the Father’s business – Let’s be about building the Kingdom of God – not our own little fiefdoms, but God’s Kingdom. The time is short. We need to keep watch – we need to be ready – and yet we need to keep building!

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