Our second reading this morning is from Matthew, chapter 25, verses 34 – 46:
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,[g] 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.”
Let us pray.
May the words that I speak and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight O God, our rock, and our redeemer. Amen.
A few months ago, when Brad asked me to lead our worship service today, I found that the lectionary was talking about the Ten Commandments. I had been spending a lot of time thinking about today’s scripture because of things that were occurring at my now-former employer, and so I chose this instead of the lectionary passage. Little did I know then the significance that this reading would have taken on by today. So, the sermon that I had been preparing or all those weeks was summarily crumpled up and sent to the recycling center. In fact, this is now the fifth or sixth version of my sermon. I won’t tell you when I finished writing it!
We spend a lot of time here talking about faith and repentance as the way to God, to salvation. Jesus died on the cross so that our sins would be forgiven. As long as we have faith in God and Jesus, we are told, our sins will be forgiven and we will have life eternal when Jesus returns. Our faith – and not our works – are what is important. But, James 2:26 holds that “For just as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is also dead.”
In the Judgement of Nations, Matthew changes that focus. Matthew tells us that when Jesus returns, he will, in fact, Judge us on our works. He says that we will be judged favorably for our favorable acts, and negatively for a failure to act. But, what about the third option? How will we be judged if we act badly?
Last week, Mary talked about the Ten Commandments. Earlier in the book of Matthew, he tells us that the greatest Commandment is to love God with all our hearts. Next, Matthew explains that the second Commandment…to love our neighbors…is almost as important as the first. The Ten Commandments, Mary explained, “are not about me, but about us.” While there are a lot of “do nots,” the Ten as a whole teach us to be good neighbors. The Judgement of Nations tells us the benefits of honoring those commandments, and the consequences of not honoring them.
In the passage from Deuteronomy that Palmer read for us, we are told “do not be hard-hearted or tight-fisted toward your needy neighbor. Give liberally, and be ungrudging when you do so, for on this account the Lord your God will bless you in all your work.
Neither a profession of faith nor good actions can stand on their own before Christ. In fact, our actions should be the result of our faith…the evidence of it. Jesus spent His life caring for the poor, the oppressed, the “others.” His teachings were all about doing right. He was a living example of the second Commandment to love our neighbors as we love ourselves. The New Testament is filled with stories of Jesus reaching out, of loving and ministering to those people who were seen by the political and religious leaders as not worthy.
So, here we are today. A plaque inside the Statue of Liberty proclaims,
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”
And yet, many Americans have become hard-hearted toward those from other nations who are seeking a better life for themselves…for their children. First is the mantra of “merit-based immigration,” where we want those from other nations who can provide the most benefit to our country. We only want the best, smartest, and brightest. All others need not apply. Juxtapose that with the poem from Lady Liberty and with the words from Deuteronomy. A nation that would deny entry to the ordinary, who are seeking a better way of life or to escape indescribable crime in their own homeland is not living up to the demands of either. That nation is not loving their neighbor as they love themselves.
That nation must heed the words of Matthew: “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.” For, when we are turning away those who could benefit most from citizenship in our country, when we are denying them the opportunity to escape the harshness of their own land, we are also turning away Jesus. When we pluck their children from their arms with no thought of how to reunite them down the road, we are plucking Jesus from the arms of Mary and Joseph, with no care about the harm we are doing to either. Our Deeds and our actions belie our proclamation of being a nation based on Christian principles. To the contrary, we are acting more like the Roman Empire than we are Jesus Christ! There can be little doubt that current policies of “zero tolerance” and of separating the children from the parents on our southern border will earn our nation Jesus’ scorn. If Jesus would begin His reign on earth today, we would be sent “away into eternal punishment.”
We know – and I can speak from personal experience – that the traumas experienced by children cause permanent emotional and psychological scars. The scars lead to problems such as drug and alcohol abuse, depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, and criminal activity, to name a few. Some might argue that those are not our children and not our problem. Some might argue that the parents are responsible for those harms for trying to enter our country even through a lawful asylum application. They might throw their fiscal conservatism out the window, instead opting to spend 2-3 billion dollars to build detention facilities on our military bases! That’s 2-3 billion dollars that is not in our budget, all just to continue to impose unthinkable psychological trauma on those families.
With a backlog today of over 700,000 cases, we need to spend more billions on additional facilities, prosecutors, and judges for our immigration courts. The zero tolerance policy only adds to the urgency!
Some will state that we’re only enforcing the law. The zero tolerance policy is imposed upon them by congressional law. Again, I can tell you from personal example that this is not the case. All law enforcement officers act with discretion. Police officers have the discretion to pull someone over for exceeding the legal speed limit by two miles per hour. They have the discretion to issue a verbal or written warning, to issue a civil citation, or to make a criminal arrest. And, once an arrest has been made, the District Attorney has the discretion to prosecute or not. In a county such as Dane, the DA declines to prosecute many lesser offenses simply because the office doesn’t have the resources. Those cases are returned to the arresting officer with the determination “LPM” or “Lacks prosecutorial merit.” They’re not bad cases, but the DA hasn’t the staffing or other resources to prosecute the case.
This discretion exists in the federal system, as well. An immigration violation may be handled as a civil violation or a criminal violation, at the discretion of the immigration officer. In civil cases, there is no detention, and no separation of the children from their families. It is only when a violation is handled as a criminal matter that the detentions and separations occur. Yet, our administration has imposed a policy of zero tolerance, taking away the discretion of the enforcement officers and the prosecuting attorneys. Under this policy, civil cases are not an option. Every single case must be processed as a criminal matter. Period. No discretion. No compassion. Do we really think these are the acts of a nation that will see favor in Jesus’ eyes? “just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family,[g] you did it to me.’”
But, it doesn’t have to be this way. You and I, and every other Christian who truly has faith in Jesus must act according to that faith. We must demand of our elected leaders that these practices be stopped. “faith without works is dead,” according to James. We should – and in fact must – demand that ours is a nation that is judged with favor by Jesus.
“I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” When? “Just as you did it for one of the least of these, you did it for me.” Remember, what we do or do not do for those running to us for help, we also do or do not do for Jesus, himself. When we deny our neighbor, we deny Jesus. But when we welcome our neighbor, we welcome Jesus. When we love our neighbor as we love ourselves, we also love God with all our heart. We cannot have God’s blessing unless we help our neighbor. Faith without works is dead.
on summer hiatus