(Matthew 25: 31-46)
Teresa and I used to get a chuckle out of her Mamaw. She would routinely go to the post office to get money. Not that the post office gives out money but that it seemed as if there was always a check waiting for her. You see, her husband Mr. Jim, as he was known by many, invested in the future to make sure his wife would be taken care of after he passed, which he did at an early age, and she outlived him by a couple of decades. Mr. Jim had purchased several little pieces of property and was wise enough to retain the mineral rights. Oil and gas companies would lease his land for the purpose of drilling for oil and gas and he would be paid dividends or royalties for his interest in the mineral rights. As the pumps continued to operate the checks kept coming and depending upon the current price of oil or natural gas the size of the checks varied. Mamaw lived modestly in the same little wood-framed house on the courthouse square that Teresa and I would eventually raise our family in, and drove her 1961 mint green Chevrolet Belair until it was no longer safe for her to drive, although she would dispute that belief and never let us forget it should we not have time to drive her somewhere. The point was that her husband had invested wisely so that she would never want for the basic necessities until she would reunite with him in eternity.
And investing in the future is what the Apostle Matthew is talking about in our scripture reading for this morning. This is Jesus’ last parable before he announces to his disciples that he will be handed over to be crucified on the Passover coming in two days. It was the climax of all he had been teaching. He says: Now when the Human One comes in his majesty and all his angels are with him, he will sit on his majestic throne. All the nations will be gathered in front of him. He will separate them from each other, just as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right side. But the goats he will put on his left. Those listening would have understood this analogy as sheep and goats were allowed by the shepherd to graze together but were separated when the time came to shear the sheep. So now they know that the nations will be separated into two groups and they are wondering which group they would be in. Jesus tells them that the king will say to those on his right, “Come, you who will receive good things from my Father. Inherit the kingdom that was prepared for you before the world began. I was hungry and you gave me food to eat. I was thirsty and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger and you welcomed me. I was naked and you gave me clothes to wear. I was sick and you took care of me. I was in prison and you visited me.” Then those who are righteous, the sheep separated on the right, will reply to him, “Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you a drink? When did we see you as a stranger and welcome you, or naked and give you clothes to wear? When did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?” Then the king will reply to them, “I assure you that when you have done it for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you have done it for me.”
Then he will say to those on his left, the goats, “Get away from me, you who will receive terrible things. Go into the unending fire that has been prepared for the devil and his angels. I was hungry and you didn’t give me food to eat. I was thirsty and you didn’t give me anything to drink. I was a stranger and you didn’t welcome me. I was naked and you didn’t give me clothes to wear. I was sick and in prison, and you didn’t visit me. Then they will reply, “Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison and didn’t do anything to help you? “ Then he will answer, I assure you that when you haven’t done it for one of the least of these, you haven’t done it for me. Jesus concludes by saying that these people will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous ones will go into eternal life.
Yeah, I know what you’re thinking. I’ve been banging this “mission” drum for the last five years and you get it. You do get it and, not that it’s a competition, but I don’t think there is a church within a 25-mile radius that can hold a candle to what we do in the mission field. Our District Superintendent mentioned it at least twice during our recent Charge Conference and how amazing all we have accomplished especially during the last three years of COVID, and he told me that he holds us up as an example to other churches regarding our Saturday morning outreach as we minister to the least of God’s children. Missions is in the DNA of this church, and it has been for decades, long before I got here over six years ago. In my meeting with the Staff-Parish Relations Committee I was asked what my mission focus would be for the church. I told them that as their former Prosecuting Attorney and Drug Court prosecutor that I knew that the Tri-Area was ground zero for addiction, unemployment, homelessness, and domestic violence and that the area was underserved by the County Commissioners Court. It was my plan to address those livability issues, and we have and we are.
However, we cannot continue to do that unless we make sure we can keep our doors open, open on Sunday morning for worship and open to those who have come to rely on us to meet their needs. Now don’t go into panic mode. I’m not saying we are in difficult financial straits. We’re not and are actually doing quite well considering. Considering the impact of a three-year COVID challenge to how we do church. We were fortunate as we only experienced a temporary drop of around 10% in giving which was a blessing compared to what other churches experienced. The giving, the devotion to meeting your pledges as best you could, continued because you believed in what we were doing and wanted to keep our doors open even if it meant watching our Sunday morning services from home. Your Administrative Council was very supportive and saw this as a way of investing in the future that would, hopefully, pay dividends.
And it has paid dividends. We are emerging out of COVID stronger than ever and have firmly reestablished our footprint in the community as “that” church, that church that gives drink to the thirsty, food to the hungry, clothes to the naked, shelter to the unsheltered, and welcomes the stranger, those who hold a special place in Christ’s heart. And because of this, I told the Staff-Parish Relations Committee during the District Superintendent’s visit that my position was no longer a half-time position. Getting what needs to be done three days a week has become challenging at best, and I fear that some areas of ministry may be being neglected or not receiving the full attention they should. I made the pitch that I need to work four days a week, i.e., 32 hours which includes Sunday morning making me a three-quarter time pastor rather than half time. So here is where you come in. If you haven’t figured it out by now, this is our annual Stewardship Campaign when we send out the pledge cards for the coming year. Funding the church is just as important as funding missions, and we can’t have one without the other. As we continue to grow and get busier it does take more money to keep the doors open as we experience higher heating and electricity bills, especially during the winter months. What we’re asking is that you give your annual pledge serious consideration after spending time in prayer reflecting upon how you can make an investment in not only the future of our church, but an investment in the future that pays dividends through our continued service to Jesus Christ, our king, as the righteous ones who will one day enter into eternal life when we are called home and take our well-deserved rest.
Let us pray.
We are God’s people, the chosen of the Lord, born of the Spirit, established by the Word. Our cornerstone is Christ alone, and strong in Christ we stand. Gracious and loving Father, move us by thy Spirit to be your church here in this community and as far as our reach may extend. Keep us strong in mind, body, and spirit as we endeavor to do your will as we seek to bring the warmth of your love to those who so desperately need feel that warmth as they struggle to get by in a cold and uncaring world. Keep our church healthy, vibrant and strong so that we may serve you to the fullest of our capacity. In your service let us live transparently and walk heart to heart and hand in hand. In Jesus’ name, we pray, Amen.