By Pastor Krista Givens
September 17, 2017
As we continue our series on Hope, it is fitting that we mark this day with the baptism of Alana, and the welcoming of 4 new members into our church! Here we have before us – in a very real way – our hope in the future in one small girl. And each time we celebrate the birth of a new baby, each time we welcome a new family into our congregation, each time we confirm a new group of youth, or welcome a new members class into our community here in Walnut, we see a visible sign of hope for our future. Here, in this one person – Here, in this one group of people – is hope.
But baptism is different. It is one of the two sacraments we have in the United Methodist Church! Baptism is a special ACTIVE response to God’s love and grace and mercy, an act that Jesus himself sought from John, and act that we repeat as a way to indicate that we are embarking on a new way of life, and act that connects us to one another and an act that connects us in a special relationship with God.
In an article entitled “By Water and the Spirit” baptism is explained as a doorway to a sanctified life. “The sacrament teaches us,” it says, “to live in the expectation of further gifts of God’s grace. It initiates us into a community of faith that prays for holiness; it calls us to life lived in faithfulness to God’s gift. Baptized believers and the community of faith are obligated to manifest to the world the new redeemed humanity which lives in loving relationship with God and strives to put an end to all human estrangements” (1)
What does all that church-talk mean? Baptism is an act that brings us into community with God and God’s people and it demands further ACTION from us. If we are truly “saved” we can no longer ACT as if we are not, we are required to act as Jesus would act. And thus we get to our sermon topic for the day: Hope in Action”
Our scripture lesson today is an interesting parable told by Jesus to help illustrate the life we are instructed to lead after baptism…. Not as an obligation, but as a way of being. Let’s look at our scripture from the gospel of Matthew, chapter 25.
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. 32All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left.
So, we begin the parable with a description of the end times – the final judgement – in which the nations are gathered together and separated into those who will “inherit the kingdom” and those who will perish…
What is the criteria for their separation? (verse 35)
34Then 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; 35for 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, 36I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.”
Their actions made the decision – either they helped or didn’t help the needy, they fed or didn’t feed the hungry; they provided shelter, clothing and compassion to those in need… or they didn’t…
But I want to point out an occasionally overlooked element of this story: The righteous were surprised! They don’t know their deeds. They haven’t kept score. They didn’t know their own righteousness. They lived lives of compassion and mercy, but didn’t tally up each good deed to be counted and rewarded.
37Then 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? 38And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” 40And 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.”
Jesus calls us to live a life of compassion, a life of Christian action, a life of good works, without keeping score. We are called to a life of service to our friends and neighbors, to strangers and enemies without seeking credit, or acknowledgement, or prize. “Loving our neighbor is not the problem,” author Brian Stoffregen says. “Keeping score of our good deeds of neighbor-love is the problem.” (3)
COMPASSIONATE, LOVING ACTION is not a requirement for Christian life, it is a sign that we are living a Christian life. ACTION – REACHING OUT TO OTHERS – is a way to demonstrate to others which God we follow and is done because it is who we are… not out of a sense of obligation, or coercion or guilt, and not for extra points on our heavenly scorecard. We love because we are loved. We give because we have been given so much. We are merciful because we have been shown mercy. We act because we have been the recipients of the great love of God through Jesus Christ.
In 1964, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. accepted the Nobel Peace Prize in the midst of the Civil Rights struggle. And in our time, his words provide HOPE for our future. He said,
“Here and there an individual or group dares to love, and rises to the majestic heights of moral maturity. So in a real sense this is a great time to be alive. Therefore, I am not yet discouraged about the future. Granted that the easygoing optimism of yesterday is impossible…Granted that we face a world crisis which leaves us standing so often amid the surging murmur of life’s restless sea. But every crisis has both its dangers and its opportunities. It can spell either salvation or doom. In a dark confused world the kingdom of God may yet reign in the hearts of men. (4)
May we, who have been so loved by our Great God, show that love in our actions. May we, who are a part of God’s diverse family, reach out to others to be included. May we who are clothed in new life by water and the Spirit, demonstrate the love of God in our deeds, in our words and in our actions.
- “By Water and the Spirit: a United Methodist Understanding of Baptism” found on http://wesleyumcsd.org/articles/by-water-and-the-spirit-a-united-methodist-understanding-of-baptism/pages/4/
- Jeannene Heinrich
- Brian Stoffregen, found on http://www.crossmarks.com/brian/matt25x31.htm
- Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., found on http://www.nobelprize.org/nobel_prizes/peace/laureates/1964/king-lecture.html The Reception Into Membership