This past Sunday I was invited to preach in my home church, Chumuckla Community Church. It’s a real privilege to speak on the last Sunday of the year, hopefully rounding up where we have been and presenting a challenge for the future.
I was offered the epiphany scriptures, and used Matthew 2:1-12. I’m not going to summarize the sermon. My message was simple: We need to learn to see Jesus in people and respond accordingly. I contrasted the “god made manifest” of an Antiochus Ephiphanes, as opposed to the baby in Bethlehem. Where is it that you see Jesus?
Even further, how to you pursue the mission of Jesus? Is it according to the power-seeking ways of human politics, or is it in the giving ways of the Bethlehem story? Do you see God working when the powerful make power plays, or when servants serve?
I referred to Matthew 25:31-46. There are many debates about this passage. Years ago I read it as a performance based righteousness, and as identifying the specific type of righteous performance required. (I still think it identifies righteousness for a follower of Jesus.) I later realized that nobody who thought they were going to heaven actually were doing so, and those who were, didn’t realize it. (I understand the varying views of just what is involved in this judgment. I’m not concerned with that difference at the moment. The good guys don’t realize they’re good; the bad guys think they’re good.)
In the last couple of weeks, however, I became aware of a tragedy in the story. I’m not in any way presenting this as an interpretation of the parable. The blessing of a story, however, is that it can convey many things. The tragedy I see is that nobody at all was aware of the fact that they were seeing Jesus as they looked into the faces of people they either helped or didn’t. Not one recognized what they were seeing. This isn’t a question of salvation, but rather of the joy of living this life.
We can argue that we should help the homeless, as an example, on the basis that we ought to do good things. We ought to help those less fortunate. Unfortunately, this can result in condescension. We look at the person as a way to punch our “good person” ticket. Or, perhaps, we perform whatever act we do out of a sense of duty. “It sure is annoying, but I suppose Jesus wants me to help this person.” This leads, for example (and I’m guilty!) to looking the other way when we don’t have cash, or don’t intend to give to a particular person.
I’m not arguing that we need to give money to each and every person who asks. There is stewardship. There is the need to actually help. But what we do need to do is treat every person first as a human being, as one Jesus came to save, as bearing God’s image, and as a way in which we can see the face of Jesus. Hopefully, the other person will have the opportunity to see Jesus in us at the same time.
This is not a New Year’s resolution. I expect to fail at it many times. But my challenge to myself, and to you, is to see Jesus much more frequently, and not turn away from the faces in which he is trying to show himself to me.
And yes, you may see Jesus in the face of someone in need, someone that society might consider less than you. But you also might see Jesus in the face of one of the world’s elites. They also have a need to be treated as people.
As I asked the congregation of Chumuckla Community Church: Did you see Him? Will you?