Bringing Matthew 25 into Focus, Part One

  “Bringing Matthew 25 into Focus” - Part One      June 11, 2023     Matthew 25:31-46, Micah 6:6-8

When I first started working here, I was charmed by the poster of sheep which Diane Wilson so lovingly created to represent our involvement in the Matthew 25 program. Visuals are powerful.
This slide came from an idea for a visual about the church which I believe God gave to me.

We are part of a Presbytery that considers the ideals of Matthew 25 to be our core set of values as we seek to do the will and work of God. You may have seen the article on the cover of the June Chimes Newsletter about this.
Starting today and for the next two Sundays, I’ll be preaching about the three focuses or goals of Matthew 25, which are 1) building congregational vitality, 2) dismantling structural racism, and 3) eradicating systemic poverty.
These three goals are based on Matthew 25:31-46, in which Jesus described coming back in his glory and separating the sheep from the goats, the obedient disciples from the slackers. While you might think sheep and goats would look different enough to make dividing them easy, they often grazed together and could be hard to tell apart from a distance. They were separated at night, because the goats needed a warmer place to rest. Maybe they’re a bit cold blooded, I don’t know.
To summarize what we just read, Jesus said to the sheep,
I was hungry, and you fed me.
I was thirsty, and you gave me something to drink.
I was a stranger and you welcomed me in.
I needed clothes and you dressed me.
I was sick, and you looked after me.
I was in prison, and you visited me.
Those who minister to Jesus by doing these things for others without ulterior motives demonstrate their obedience to God and are judged to be both blessed and heirs of the kingdom. Those who don’t, show they haven’t ever welcomed the Christian message. The work the righteous do isn’t earning our salvation; it is the fruit of being in right relationship with God, our grateful response for the grace and mercy we receive. This list of tasks is a starting point in understanding what kinds of things Jesus wants us to do out of love for him, ourselves, and our neighbors.
Back in Matthew 10, Jesus sent the disciples out on a mission, telling them to proclaim the good news that God’s divine realm had come near, to cure the sick, and to raise the dead. He also warned them that they would be persecuted and hated. We tend to forget that hostility toward the Gospel is inevitable, because we live in a land where we are free to worship as we please. Some people will react badly to our attempts to share our faith. That’s part of the package. They don’t want to admit that they have accountability to a higher power.
In Matthew 14 and again in chapter 15, Jesus fed the crowds who were hungry after they left their homes and gathered to listen to him all day, and by doing that he also welcomed many strangers.
Although we have no record of Jesus visiting anyone in prison, that doesn’t matter. Not everything Jesus did or said was recorded in the gospels. Jesus spoke with God’s authority, and the big picture is that we are to love our neighbors as ourselves by welcoming strangers, preaching the good news, visiting those in prison, and helping those who are ill or in need of food or clothing.
Presbyterians are committed to living in ways that are faithful to the guidance of Scripture. We make that clear in the “Foundations of Presbyterian Polity” section of our Book of Order: “Christ gives to the Church its faith and life, its unity and mission, its order and discipline. Scripture teaches us of Christ’s will for the Church, which is to be obeyed. In the worship and service of God and the government of the church, matters are to be ordered according to the Word by reason and sound judgment, under the guidance of the Holy Spirit.”*
What we seek in Scripture is guidance for knowing Christ’s will for the church, which is part of God’s good purpose for all Creation. The Matthew 25 Vision takes seriously the vital importance of reading Scripture in order to know and understand Christ’s will and God’s purposes. We are to apply discernment in identifying the deep human needs Jesus wants us to address.
The Presbyterian Church has distilled what Jesus commands in Matthew 25 into the three goals mentioned earlier. I’ll be talking about the first one today, which is Building Congregational Vitality. This means that we work on our spiritual strength and our purposeful mission in the community and around the world, and that we are powerfully focused on growing disciples in the way of Jesus Christ. In other words, we are preaching the good news to others while reminding ourselves of what Jesus did and said. I have a short video to share with you. Let’s take a look.
The PC(USA) has created seven indicators to use to measure our current level of congregational vitality. They also provide ways to self-assess and renew our commitment to habits that help us maintain energetic engagement with the Spirit’s work in the world.
The first indicator is a commitment to forming disciples during the entire course of every member’s life. This leads to personal transformation as people absorb the heart of Christ, then to a social and interactive change as people use what they’ve learned in church as they joyfully go out into the community and take on the challenges facing today’s culture.
The second indicator is embracing the call to evangelism. I understand that the word “evangelism” can feel uncomfortable, but sharing the reason for our faith so we can make new disciples is a vital part of continuing the life of the church. We show forth the love of Christ by our actions and our lives even more than by our words. Our relationships are genuine and caring. People know we are Christians by our love and kindness. This is an opening we can use to tell them about the reason for our joy.
Number three is an outward focus. Our church is not a place to just socialize and escape from the world, but rather our gateway into our community where we may be the hands, feet, heart and lips of Jesus Christ for people who are suffering, marginalized, or without faith.
Indicator four is empowering all members to discover their individual callings and gifts God has given them so they may go serve in their own unique ways.
The fifth is spirit-inspired worship that challenges, teaches, transforms, convicts and energizes us so when we are sent out, we have experienced the wonder of God and are changed for the better from when we arrived. The experience of the Word and Sacrament equips us for the journey of faith.
Number six is building caring relationships modeled on God’s love. We open our doors and hearts to all people, and we build relationships following God’s example, which leads to genuine reconciliation and peace.
The last indicator is building congregations with healthy systems. Our mission focuses are clear. There is fiscal responsibility and accountability. We have thoughtful decision-making structures. Our leaders and staff enjoy a sustainable balance between work and rest, and can expect the support and participation of the members in ministry activities.
What does Jesus expect from us?
We work for God following the teachings of Jesus because we’re grateful for the sacrifice He made for our sins, not because we fear God’s vengeance. God has given us so much, especially in this blessed country. But not everyone has what they need. Jesus wants us to work on that. As we work, we witness to the reason for our devotion and lead people to Christ.
Vital communities follow Jesus into places of injustice and struggle. They bear the light of hope, demonstrate love and mercy, and work faithfully for justice and peace. Their efforts will be sustained by personal and congregational patterns and practices of prayer and worship, learning and reflection. They will be stewards of God’s abundant gifts in service to God’s children here and everywhere. They will demonstrate to the world God’s promises and life-giving power in this age and the world to come.
Let us pray. Holy God, send your Spirit into this church to bring intelligence, imagination, love, strength, and vitality as we seek to do your will. And all God’s people said, Amen.
*(Subsection F-1.0203, which is titled “Christ Gives the Church Its Life.”)

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