[Note: This sermon was preached today, November 13, 2015, in the chapel at the International Center by Rev. Steven Schave, LCMS Urban & Inner-City Mission (UICM) and director of LCMS Church Planting for Synod’s Office of National Mission. The occasion was the installation of Rev. John Albers as Director of Resource Development for Lutheran Housing Support, called by the LCMS National Housing Support Corporation. The text is Matthew 25:31-40. We offer it here for your devotional edification – Herb Mueller, LCMS First Vice President.]
31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the 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 foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’
It is easy for us who serve in mercy work in the church, to find much comfort in Christ’s words on the Final Judgment. For, surely, we will inherit the kingdom. We have fed the hungry, we have clothed the naked, we have given drink to the thirsty, we welcomed strangers into new homes in new communities, in places like College Hill, through organizations like Lutheran Housing Support. Of course we will say in utmost humility, “Lord, when did we see you?…” even though we have a whole scrapbook and a Facebook album to keep it on display for all to see. It is easy for us to consider ourselves the great ones in that we have served the least… but who are we really when it comes to the Kingdom of God?
What if I were to tell you, you are the prisoner, you are homeless, naked, sick, starving, dying of thirst? “What?” you say. “I’m doing just fine unlike those poor folks that we serve.” Nope. Everyone who sins is a prisoner to sin, sick with sin, naked and have nothing to offer, no eternal place to call home and a stranger to the Kingdom, starving and thirsting for mercy. Made our house of cards and now we have to live in it, made our beds and now we lie in them. Yes, a stubborn goat, who will swallow whatever they can, to get their fill, separated from the sheep in order to be cast out. Even with all the good in the world that we have done, in our sin, that is the scene when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, as He sits on His glorious throne. Leaving us to pray in His judgment, the only prayer that we can pray, “Lord, have mercy.”
So when we serve the broken, the lost, those who would be written off by the world, with their messed up lives, with all of their shameful baggage, the wretches of the city… when we serve them, we can say, I too know the prison cell… I’ve been behind the bars of holy justice. I know the nakedness of shame. I know what it is to hunger for God’s righteousness. I know the thirst that nothing on this earth could quench. I know what it is to sit outside the city gates of the kingdom as an outcast. I am but a pauper, a peasant, a lowly beggar. But my King… my King… what sort of King is this? Who would set aside the riches of His heavenly Kingdom to step into my poverty, who set aside His royal throne for a coarse manger filled with straw, who set aside his royal diadem for a crown of thorns, who hung naked from a tree to robe me in His righteousness, who shed His blood and poured Himself out that every drop would be a payment for my sins. What sort of King is this who would lay down His life, for a peasant like me? He is the king of mercy: who feeds me, clothes me, visits me, never leaves my side… even though I am least in the Kingdom… made righteousness not by my acts of charity, but by God’s grace alone.
So we remember also, that as we have done it for these the least of our brothers, we have done it to Christ our King. In the lowliest of low we see the honored guest at the table, even in their tattered rags we see royal garbs, even with their bloodshot eyes we see the apple of God’s eye… in the least we see the little lamb that the Shepherd would search for day and night to rescue and would give His life, just as He has done for us. So we say, here my fellow lamb, come and eat from the bounty that the King has given, not just food for the stomach, but the food that gives eternal life. Come and drink from the cup that not only quenches the thirst, but come and drink from the wells of salvation. Welcome home stranger to a dwelling place that will keep you warm to be filled with the love of a family, not just here and now, but a place where you can dwell forever in the love of your King in His Kingdom.
This is why we do what we do to serve others in mercy, this is why you have been called to serve Lutheran Housing Support, Pastor Albers. Not for any earthly glory or recognition, for in Christ, to care for others is as a heart that beats and lungs that breathe and veins that flow with mercy. We serve because it is who we are: the redeemed, the found, the loved, the welcomed. We serve to see the joy of a family who will step upon a welcome mat for the very first time. But more than that, more than that… it is for that scene, when the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the angels with Him, as He sits on His glorious throne, and He says “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world… Come. Welcome Home.”
In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen