The Rev. Dr. Robert S. Langworthy, preaching
October 4, 2020 – World Communion Sunday
“Am I a real follower of Jesus, or just a fan of Jesus?” a preacher named Kyle Edleman once asked.
Jesus Himself once asked, “Why do you call me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ and do not do what I tell you?” He asked that question of those still deciding whether they would be merely His admirers – folks who revere and even marvel at Him – or become His disciples – folks who deny themselves, take up their cross and follow Him.
The God who so loved the world that He gave Jesus and enabled everyone to become a part of His family. But who ends up actually belonging to God’s family?
In Matthew 25 Jesus spoke of His coming in glory and sitting in judgment to separate people one from another as a shepherd separates sheep and goats. Many are surprised by which group He places them in.
Those who belong to His flock, Jesus commends for having fed Him when He was hungry or clothed Him when He was cold. At first, they’ve no idea what He’s talking about, but He invites them into His eternal home.
Those who failed to act as His own by failing to take care of “the least” of His family members are shocked when He sends them packing.
Some of these “goats” are righteous-looking, well-respected religious leaders aghast that going ahead of them are those they dismissed and denigrated, those they deemed unworthy of much concern or help.
Thus, in this judgment, those who appeared to be last in line will end up being first, and those who appeared to be first will end up last, a theme Jesus had repeated both before and after a recent parable He’d told about laborers hired at different points in a long day to work for a ridiculously gracious and generous landowner.
It turns out the true people of God are not those who make a show of their faith in verbal professions but make a practice of it in visible actions. God recognizes no faith that does not lead to obedience, and no obedience that does not spring from faith. Faith and obedience are two sides of the same gold coin of godliness.
Those who belong to God fulfill whatever commands God gives, even those that disrupt their status quo and fail to fit in with what they’re used to doing.
Jesus told this parable of the two sons immediately after the religious leaders had rejected His right to teach them anything, on the basis of their delusion that they already had God and His ways fully figured out. They repudiated Jesus’ teaching because what He said did not align with their already established opinions.
They got it that the true son is the one who does what his father says. What they didn’t get was that they were more like the other son, who said all the right things but did not do the right things. They didn’t get it that they were in danger of seeing tax collectors and prostitutes go ahead of them because these “sinners”, unlike them, were humbly submitting to and heeding God’s surprising ways.
To fulfill God’s will is to be open to God’s re-routing our lives and to obey His commands no matter how strange and disconcerting they may feel, something always resisted by those who think they already entirely grasp what God wants and how He operates.
God, however, was in Jesus doing something new and upsetting, especially to those opposed to changing. And God is still upsetting the complacent and self-satisfied like that. Will we be different and dare to follow His new plans for this unique point in history? Will we accept the new people with whom He wants us to team up? Will we belong to God by deferring to His supreme authority despite our fearing it will be the death of us – or at least of our old certainties and complacencies and comforts?
It is not what we say, or even intend, that defines who we are (or rather whose we are), but what we do. We belong to Jesus, not as we almost obey Him in whatever He asks, but as we actually do in faithfulness.
Some years ago, the Ad Council put out a public service announcement series called “Don’t Almost Give”. One ad showed a man with crutches struggling to climb a flight of stairs. The narrator said, “This is a man who almost learned to walk at a rehab center that almost got built by people who almost gave the money.” After a pause, the narrator continued, “Almost gave. How good is almost giving? About as good as almost walking.” Another ad showed a homeless man curled up on a pile of rags, with one ratty sheet shielding him from the cold. The narrator said, “This is Jack Thomas. Today someone almost gave Jack something to eat. Someone almost directed him to a shelter. And someone else almost brought him a warm blanket.” After a pause, the narrator continued, “And Jack Thomas? Well, he almost made it through the night.” A third ad showed an elderly woman sitting alone in a room, staring out a window. The narrator said, “This is Sarah Watkins. A lot of people almost reached out to her. One almost cooked a meal for her. Another almost arranged a ride to the doctor. Still another almost called just to say hi. They almost gave of themselves. But almost giving is the same as not giving at all.”
Let’s not almost give ourselves over to the life of discipleship, and thus almost belong to God. Let us, this World Communion Sunday, be true people of God who now gather at the family table with everyone, everywhere, who actually does what Jesus tells them!