“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.”
*This is an edited version of my sermon on Sunday. Some sermonic elements remain along with references to my specific church. Some explanation of the text has been removed to reduce length.
This one of the passages that makes you squirm in your chair. This is one of the passages that can easily send a shock of conviction from your hairline to your toes.
It is also a passage that forces us to think deeply in terms of theology and ethics.
I’ll be transparent with you this morning: There are countless ways in which people have interpreted this passage. After much prayer, study, and conversation I’ve come to the conviction that the best way to interpret this passage is to give it a plain reading without any attempt to explain it away or any attempt to soften it.
The passage calls us to serve our community and world by showing hospitality towards the hungry, thirsty, homeless, naked, sick, and imprisoned.
In the previous four weeks we have discussed the church’s need to submit to Jesus, connect to Christian community, grow together as disciples, and reach people with the gospel. Imagine if we were doing an excellent job at these four tasks but we were allowing people to go hungry and thirsty. Imagine we were not caring for those who are homeless, naked, sick, and imprisoned.
It would be a shame. It would call all of our previous words and actions into question. And according to our passage this morning, such behavior would come with severe consequences.
In our passage some receive the reward of eternal life because their devotion to Jesus drove them to care for the least of these. In our passage some receive eternal punishment because they’ve committed a sin of omission – they have refused to show hospitality to the least of these, which is the same as choosing to not care for Jesus himself.
That’s the plain reading of this text and I’m sticking to it.
What does that mean for us as a church?
- We have a free meal in the fellowship hall every Wednesday night
- Prior to that meal we box up meals and deliver them to members of our community
- We have a room in this building we call Kingdom Treasures which provides clothing to anyone in need
- Our church is a component of the community food pantry which delivers groceries to families in need each month
- StorySisters: A group of our women visit the prison in Gatesville, Texas each Sunday
- Break Behind the Fences: Our church will spend 2 days of Spring Break visiting the prison
- We’ve helped numerous families in our community in time of need
- We built a home for a family on the Texas/Mexico border
- We want to do more.
But here’s another thing that can’t be overlooked in this passage. The nations are gathered but people are judged on an individual basis. The sheep and goats are separated from one another.
What does this passage mean for you?
In this passage Jesus is described as Judge, King, and Shepherd. Those who trust the Judge, King, and Shepherd listen to his instructions to care for hungry, thirsty, homeless, naked, sick, and imprisoned.
You must allow God to create in you a heart that bends towards hospitality.
In my pastoral observation there are two major components that keep us from hearts that bend toward hospitality:
- Fear: We’re afraid of people who don’t look, think, sound like us.
- Judgment: We wonder, “Well, what did they do to get into this situation? What will they do after I help them?”
The Bible tells you time and time again not to fear and not to judge. The Bible tells you time and time again to step outside of your comfort zone and love your neighbor as yourself.
This passage should not drive you to fear or anxiety. It should drive you to obedience. Jesus is your Judge, King, and Shepherd. Trust him. Follow him.