Howdy! With every disruption or surprise, we have a chance to return to what we know. What do you hope to remember in this time? I was asked to be a part of First Methodist Pensacola's Lenten Sermon Series. With churches not meeting right now, I thought the least I could do was record a devotional. Text of it is below.
In this video, I hope to encourage you in this Lenten season. Lent is the season before Easter where Christians fast, pray, and turn their hearts towards God so that when Easter does come, we see our need for it and appreciate, as best we can, the full weight of resurrection. Overcoming sin and death means a bit more when you are aware of your wrestling with sin and death.
I think, in light of this coronavirus crisis, you and I will have a lot to celebrate come Easter. In fact, it doesn’t really even matter what the date is on the calendar - once this season ends and we can share joy and sing praises to God, hug and feel alive again, that’s when resurrection will be real. That’s when it’ll be Easter. When we are together again.
Well, how are we going to get there? First, go ahead and turn your Bible to Matthew 25. And as you do, I have a few questions for you.
Simple yes and no questions. Can you remember the first time you rode a bike? Can you remember your favorite food as a child? Can you remember the last time you washed your hands? Did you remember to unplug the iron? You remember to feed the dog? Brush your teeth? Today, I want to talk today about what we remember.
Believe it or not, Matthew 25 has a story about what we remember.
In this passage Jesus is in Jerusalem. He’s been teaching his followers, challenging his detractors, and healing people left in need by the religious establishment. He’s getting so feisty that the religious leaders are plotting how to kill him.
I bet you’ve heard this story before. It is typically used as a warning. You don’t want to be a goat! As if being a sheep sounds like a good thing haha. Goats bad, sheep good! Evil on one side and the righteous on the other! Yay! This is perfect. The story is Christianity 101, right? The real reason this is Christianity 101 is because it is a story about what we should remember because it is a story about what Jesus remembers. To point, let me read verses 34-40.
In tumultuous times, when the world is shifting under our feet, we often, subconsciously, lean into what we remember. We revert back to stories about what the world is like and test those truths inside our new normal.
So much of what Christians and the church have been doing suddenly doesn’t make sense anymore. I’ve seen a lot of people on twitter say they weren’t planning on giving up this much for Lent.
While we may not have chosen it, God will use it.
In a lot of ways, Christians don’t stop doing what we’ve always done. Following Jesus, we find ways to share new life, to offer forgiveness, to meet people’s needs.
Simply put, Christians DO what Jesus DID and DOES.
That hasn’t changed, even as our circumstances have. I hope you’ll give yourself a little grace in figuring out how to do this, in light of our current circumstances.
In the Bible, Jesus was able to forgive so readily because he constantly remembered God. He consistently remembered who he was. And whether in deed or statement, Jesus remembered those who were important to his heavenly Father.
This is why Matthew 25 is so important.
Indeed, Jesus will soon - very soon - face his betrayal, his death, and embrace resurrection. Both in Matthew 25 and in this lenten season, we are at an important crossroads.
What will we remember from this season? Or better yet, while we are here, what will we remember is important to us?
Jesus tells story after story and uses metaphor after metaphor to try to get the point across: Remember who God is. Remember who you are. Remember who is important to God.
Jesus had his work cut out for him. Over time, God had gotten a reputation associated less with the actions of the living God and more associated with the actions of the followers of Yahweh. Israel believed, despite what the Scriptures said, that God blessed the clean people and cursed the unclean people. Even as the law of Israel honors the orphan and the widow, Israel chose to honor those who could maintain a strict adherence to the law, and reject those who could not, or would not, maintain the letter of it all.
When Christians point to the God of the Old Testament versus the God of the New Testament, we are usually pointing out what people remember about God. Jesus, however, corrected this perspective so both of the Testaments - which is just a reminder of God’s will - realign into the saving work of a person who is both God and human.
Jesus is God’s answer to a bad reputation. Which is why we have this story in Matthew 25. This is who God is. What is Jesus trying to tell us about who God is? Well, Jesus tells this story primarily to point out what matters to God. The King. The shepherd that would keep goats and sheep together and value both.
Jesus wants us to remember that the King identifies with the needy. Hungry? Thirsty? Naked? A stranger? Imprisoned or sick? The King doesn’t just claim these people. In Jesus’ parable, they ARE the king, as far as the King is concerned. The King is with them.
Just because we have isolated ourselves, because we have quarantined, because you can’t go into work, because we can’t do what we once did… it doesn’t mean these people cease to exist or that we should lose heart.
God is always for us, never against them.
We must remember that God is for them as well. We were once a “they” at some point. Perhaps someone has blamed you for their circumstances. Maybe you’ve done some horrible things or been touched by some horrible things others have done. God is still for you. Even if you’d like to forget it, God wants good for them as well.
And this is what the sheep in Jesus’ story seem to remember. The sheep care for the needy. Not because they see, or remember the King, but because they remember that the needy are people too or at least were once needy.
The connection is so drastic, that when pressed, The King responds in verse 35 in personal terms - the needy fade into the background.
We spend so much time remembering things that are not as important to God as they are to us.
We can, we can, we can remember what is important because God has remembered what is important. If you hear nothing else today, hear this: "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.’"
YOU have not been forgotten. You have not been abandoned. You are remembered by Jesus Christ. You are important to Jesus.
What are we remembering in our lives? What are we holding on to? What stories are we telling and what motivations do we harbor? The sheep and the goats is a story about what God remembers. And God remembers you.
The challenge for us in this Lenten season is to become hyper-local. Take every necessary precaution to avoid spreading infection. “Social Distancing” is important, but we can’t stop being human. I encourage you to talk with your family, talk with your neighbors. Talk with you church small groups about ways that y’all can do what the sheep do in this story.
It’ll be a challenge, but you were made for this! This is why we are Easter people, even when it isn’t Easter.
Y’all, Jesus is waiting out there somewhere behind closed doors. We all know someone who has lost their job. Someone who is anxious about their parents. Someone who is anxious about themselves. Someone who suddenly is having a hard time remembering who they are and what they should be doing. We all know someone who is sick and in need of some resurrection.
May we recognize how Jesus meets our needs and in turn, join the Holy Spirit in remembering the same creativity that made our traditions what they are.
This has to happen in conversation, not in a devotional. Go to the church website, go to my blog. Go onto social media. Find places to have this conversation, and I hope you’ll invite me too!