“Faith v Works”

November 22, 2020, Christ the King

The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, Pastor

Rush United Methodist Church

Matthew 25:31-46

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left.

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; 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, 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.’

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? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’

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, you did it to me.’

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; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 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.’

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?’

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.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.

Prayer.

Heaven is to grace

What Hell is to judgment.

As followers of Jesus,

Believing that Jesus

Assumed all our sins

On the cross,

We’ve become comfortably acculturated

With grace as the staple diet

Of organized Protestant Christian faith.

Believe in Jesus

And be saved.

Jesus says he is the way, the truth, and the life.

Follow him and be saved.

Boom!

Count me in.

Sprinkle me with water and

Teach me the secret handshake.

Case closed.

Go home and enjoy the other six and a half days of the week.

The great reformer, Martin Luther, proclaimed

We are judged by faith alone,

And on this article alone he wrote, “the Church stands or falls.”

(Martin Luther, 1537, Smalkald Articles)

John Wesley brought laser focus to God’s grace.

For Wesley, grace is prevenient:

Given by God before we knew we needed it.

Grace is justifying:

We are forgiven of our sins

Simply because we believe.

Grace is sanctifying:

Replacing our imperfections

With the perfect love of God.

The second chapter of Ephesians defines the Protestant, Methodist experience:

“For by grace you have been saved through faith, and this is not your own doing; it is the gift of God— not the result of works, so that no one may boast. For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life.” – Ephesians 2:8-10

Sola Fide, pronounced So-la Fee-day:

the Doctrine of Justification by Faith, and

Sola Gratia, pronounced So-la Grat-e-a,

The doctrine of Salvation by grace

Defines the chasm that

Separates us from our Roman Catholic sisters and brothers.

Through a uniquely Protestant world view 

We have come to know

A graceful God

That carefully considers a resume built on faith,

Without taking into consideration works, good or bad.

Our Protestant heritage teaches us that belief leads to reward:

Believe in Jesus Christ.

Your sins are forgiven, and off you go to heaven.

Zippidee do dah.

Yet,

The reality of sin

Is like the thin strata of smoke from a wood fire

Wisping through the neighborhood.

The smoke just hangs in the air on cold, quiet mornings.

Sin.

Without wind it seeps in everywhere,

Distorting sight and delivering a signature smell.

There are consequences for sinful behavior that are important to acknowledge,

And the Gospel of Matthew holds our feet to the fire.

Judgment is the consequence of sin.

We, Hushpuppy wearing, grace toting Protestants,

Find ourselves in an uneasy position wrestling with judgment

With the close of this liturgical year.

(Today is called Reign of Christ, or, Christ the King.

Next Sunday is the First Sunday of Advent,

The Gospel of Mark will take Matthew’s place,

And a new liturgical year will begin.)

Christ is our king! We joyfully proclaim.

Matthew reports the king holds each of us accountable for our behavior.

Jesus plays the judgment card in spades.

Today, Jesus and judgment are addressed with uncomfortable transparency.

This 25th chapter of Matthew is

A real slice of humble pie

To grace believing Protestants.

Two weeks ago we heard of the

Unfortunate, unprepared bridesmaids

Waiting for the delayed bridegroom to arrive.

They waited with insufficient lamp oil.

As a result of their behavior

They were shut out

– SHUT OUT –

Of the wedding reception,

With Divine judgment we’ve not heard before.

The Master’s voice snaps from behind the closed door:

“Truly I tell you, I do not know you.” (25:12)

What?

Wait! We respond.

“I do not know you”?

That is not the God I know, I protest.

Heaven is to grace

What Hell is to judgment.

Last Sunday,

Our distress mounted with the Parable of the Talents.

We squirmed anxiously in our seats

When the Master

Belittles and berates the servant who buried his talent

Instead of investing it like the other two.

“You wicked and lazy slave!”

“Take the talent from him and give it to the one with the ten.”

“As for this worthless slave,

throw him into the outer darkness,

where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.” (25:26, 28, 30)

What?

Wait! We respond.

I don’t know that god.

This visual is more like a Soviet gulag

Then a sermon from Jesus.

Heaven is to grace

What Hell is to judgment.

….

500 years ago we parted ways

with the Roman Catholic preoccupation with Works Righteousness.

Fear, intimidation, and inquisition were used to oppress the faithful.

Like their Pharisaic forefathers fifteen hundred years earlier,

Sacred texts had been codified into

Onerous and inflexible Church doctrines

Frightening the masses into submission

In the shadow of the sword or guillotine.

The laundry list justifying Works Righteousness

– the central belief that the guilty are judged

and the guiltless are deemed righteous –

has been long cited by scripture:

Hebrew scripture, New Testament Epistles, even directly from the lips of Jesus in the Gospels.

For example,

Matthew 5:20 Jesus says,

“For I tell you that unless your righteousness

surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law,

you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.”

The list justifying Works Righteousness equals

The list justifying Sola Fide and Sola Gratia.

Are we forgiven and saved by

what we do, or,

Are we forgiven and saved by

what we believe?

What are we to believe?

Like many things in life

Faith v works are not mutually exclusive.

I’d suggest faith v works are mutually dependent.

Looking back over my history of preaching on this passage,

I’ve noticed a personal, evolving belief.

Early in my pastoral ministry,

I hammered home Sola fide and Sola Gratia

Like every good Protestant preacher is expected to do.

I employed every Lutheran and Wesleyan doctrine I could lay my hands on;

Sadly, I must admit,

To the neglect of Works Righteousness.

“What we believe leads to good works,

But good works do not lead to belief,”

I was often quoted to say.

Yet, as I’ve aged

The more I believe in

The value of a carefully balanced, mutually dependent approach:

We can no more neglect scripture because it doesn’t meet our needs

Then we can elevate selected scripture to support our position.

Belief in Jesus is essential.

What is also essential is

Doing the work of Jesus.

One leads to the other;

Does it really matter which comes first?

Personal behavior is important, Jesus tells us in Matthew 25.

It is our Christian obligation to feed hungry people,

To give water to those who thirst,

And to welcome strangers with hospitality.

Failure to do so is equivalent to choosing our own promised judgment.

It is our Christian responsibility to cloth those who need clothing,

To take care of the sick,

To visit the condemned in prison.

Failure to do so will result in our King casting us out into eternal fire.

Be forewarned.

It is our obligation,

Not because we fear judgment,

But because Jesus engaged in good works, outreach, and ministry.

And we should follow his example.

It is our obligation,

Because our good works points the world straight to Jesus.

Our good works bring attention to God.

Our good works bring praise and glory to God.

God loves the last, the least, the lost, the poor, the disposed, the widow, and the orphaned.

And so, too, should we.

Doing so, is God’s greatest glory.

And places the Lord front and center

In the spotlight of the world’s stage.

This is a week of Thanksgiving.

Let us safely gather around

Our pandemically subdued Thanksgiving tables.

Mourn not what is lost this holiday.

Give thanks for what has been found.

Close your eyes and

With every ounce of your imagination

Taste and see the abundance of our gracious and loving God.

Remember to give thanks over the food and the hands that prepared it.

It is appropriate to thank God for the abundant grace and love

That has flooded our lives.

Giving thanks is a sign of our faith and belief.

Give thanks to God for planting a mustard seed size faith in us before we were born.

Thank God for nurturing our faith,

Justifying our faith, and

Sanctifying our faith.

Our Gospel lesson for today suggests that we boldly take one additional step:

Transform the blessing of your table

Into works of righteousness in the streets.

Don’t expect the government to feed the hungry;

It is our responsibility to make certain our neighbors are fed.

Charities can only do so much.

It is our Christian obligation to care for the sick and visit people in jail.

Let us make it our Thanksgiving vow

To go one step further,

In charitable works of ministry.

Go one step further

In the name of Jesus Christ

Then we have ever gone before.

Then, and only then,

Our Thanksgiving tables will be complete.

Amen.

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