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Series: What Did He Say?
Today: Keep Calm and Carry On
Text: Matthew 25:31-46
Rev. Laura Brewster
If you’ve ever wondered when Christ will come again … and how that world changing event will unfold, you aren’t alone.
Jesus’ first disciples wanted to know as well.
So one day, after the crowds had melted away, and Jesus and his disciples had made the trek up the Mount of Olives, Jesus disciples seized the opportunity to ask Jesus about that momentous day.
They said, “Tell us, when will these things happen? What will be the sign of your coming and the end of the age?” (Matthew 24:3) ,
In response, Jesus offered what we consider to be his fifth and final sermon — one which scholars oft refer to as Olivet Discourse or the Discourse on the End Times.
This sermon or discourse, begins in Matthew 24: 1 and continues through 25:46.
The start of the sermon could not have been at all comforting to the disciples.
Jesus said, before I come again, some pretty dramatic things will take place.
There will be wars, famine and earthquakes.
Believers will experience intense suffering.
In fact, some of you will be tortured and killed.
Along with being attacked by outsiders… the church itself will be plagued by disputes, betrayals, and some folks falling away from the faith.
Oh, and there will be false prophets around to cause trouble too.
Jesus said … after all this unfolds, I’ll come again.
Then he says, “Truly tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place.”
Because of Jesus’ words, the first generation of Christians believed that Jesus would be returning any day.
That point of view intensified after Roman troops destroyed the Temple in 70 A.D. and unleashed a wave of persecution.
But God obviously chose to extend the period of waiting.
Many a believer in this era is just as certain that Jesus will be returning in our era.
Christians have been waiting nearly two thousand years.
And God only knows how much longer the wait will be.
That doesn’t stop some folks from poring over the Bible to try and pinpoint a date and time.
But understand this: the scriptures are not meant to help us calculate a date of return.
Instead, they are meant to guide us regarding how we are to live as we wait.
One author puts it this way: “People who. pore over the books of Daniel and Revelation, attempting to crack their code, are fooling themselves. We are called to be agnostics about the time of Jesus’ return. We simply do not know. What we do know, however, is what we are supposed to be doing in the meantime … we are always to be ready … that means doing the deeds of mercy, forgiveness, and peace that characterize the kingdom people.
In other words, don’t panic, but don’t fall into indifference either.
Stay vigilant and attentive … as you carry on with life.
Way back in 1939, the British government created an advertising campaign designed to encourage the British people to stay calm and keep on working even as they prepared for an attack by the Germans.
A key slogan in that ad campaign as “Keep calm and carry on.”
We could use that slogan too with regard to our understanding that one day Christ will come again.
We don’t know when he’ll come… we don t know exactly what we’ll face until then … but until then … keep calm and carry on.
But what does it mean to carry on as a Christian?
What does that look like?
In his final sermon, Jesus offered his disciples a series of parables to help them understand what it looks like to carry on in his absence.
He began with a parable about 10 bridesmaids who were waiting for a bridegroom to arrive to begin a celebration.
In this parable, by the way, the bridegroom represents Jesus and the bridesmaids represent Jesus’ followers who are waiting for Jesus’ return. From the beginning, Jesus tells us that five of the waiting bridesmaids were foolish, and five wise.
He tells us this because we would not know this fact if we just looked at them.
They all looked the same.
Presumably, they all were wearing their gowns and they all had the same expectation.
What sets them apart, says Jesus, is not how they look on the outside … but rather whether they are ready … whenever the bridegroom comes … even if he is late.
Readiness in Matthew, of course, is living the life of the kingdom.
This parable tells us that lots of folks can do it for a little while… but not everyone stays faithful over the long term.
The wise engage live in ways that allow them to be prepared whenever Jesus returns whether it is tomorrow or in another millennium.
The foolish do not.
The wise seek to live according to Jesus’ instructions day after day after day.
The foolish give it a try for a while — then stop giving heed to Jesus’ counsel and commands.
Exactly what does faithful living look like?
Friends, it means more than simply saying that Jesus is our savior and Lord.
Jesus made that clear with the final parable in his final sermon.
He said, “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.
“Then 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 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, ‘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.’ And they will go away into eternal punishment. But the righteous ones will go into eternal life.”
When you look at photos of sheep and goats grazing together, you can see that there are similarities.
But a shepherd has no trouble separating the two species.
Though this parable, Jesus tells us that when he does return … he will sort humankind into two groups – sheep-people on the right and goat-people on the left.
The ones on the right are welcomed into the kingdom of God. The ones on the left are told to depart from Christ’s presence forever.
And the criteria for the sorting?
The criteria will be whether folks have been merciful and helpful to those in need.
There are several takeaways from this judgment story.
First, our sins of omission can be just as serious as our sins of commission.
So many times when we reflect on our sins, we reflect on the things we have done wrong.
We think about the hurtful words we have said to someone or the hurtful way we have treated someone.
But this parable tells us that sometimes sin involves refusing to do what God asks us to do.
Sometimes our sins are sins of omission – the sin of refusing to show compassion and mercy to those who are in need.
A second takeaway is that when we refuse to help people in terrible need, Jesus takes it personally.
He says that when we refuse to help the hurting, the needy, the marginalized … it is as if we are refusing to help him.
I want us all to take a moment now to try and visualize how personally Jesus takes our labor.
Think back to a time during the past few weeks or month when you actually paused to help someone.
Perhaps you visited someone in the hospital; perhaps you cooked a meal for someone who is ill; perhaps you tutored a child who is struggling in school; perhaps you gave clothing to someone who is homeless; perhaps you sent a generous check to UMCOR or Doctors Without Borders or UNICEF.
This past week I saw a little boy – about ten years old – mowing the lawn for one of our elderly church members.
He didn’t realize it, but he was also mowing the lawn for Christ.
Right now … picture the face of Jesus on that person or persons you aided.
Because … when you helped that person or persons … you were essentially helping the Lord.
Isn’t that an awesome feeling?
But now, friends, think about a time when someone asked you for help, but you didn’t do anything at all.
Maybe it was a beggar on the street, or a neighbor who needed a hand, or images of desperate refugees at the border.
From whom have you turned away?
Now see the face of Christ on those persons.
I don’t know about you, but when I do that, it’s sobering and painful.
A final takeaway from this parable, we don’t do good deeds to earn our way into heaven.
However, they are an essential part of being a follower of Jesus Christ.
Having compassion for the marginalized is a part of living faithfully until that day when we see Christ face to face.
Showing mercy to the “least of these” is the way we remain calm and carry on until Christ comes again.
In summary, Christians throughout the ages have wondered when Jesus will return and usher in a new age.
For example, some thought it would happen in the year 1000.
In anticipation of his return, some Christians disposed of their belongings, left their jobs, and abandoned their homes.
Turns out … they were wrong.
In reality, no one knows the day or the hour.
But we do know this … Jesus expects us to use our time wisely until that day.
He expects us to keep the faith, share the faith, live out our faith.
In other words, don’t worry about the day to come.
Instead, stay calm … and carry on.
Let us pray.
Lord, as we reflect on eternity, our deepest hopes and longings are stirred. We’ve wept so many tears that we can’t imagine a day when they’ll be no more. We’ve known mourning and sorrow and pain for so long we can scarcely believe they’ll be wiped away. And so we pray for faith, hope and love. Faith to believe you’ll do what you’ve said you’ll do. Hope to keep heart as we wait. And love to care well for those around us as we live out the priorities of your coming kingdom in the here and now. Amen.