Presented on The Lutheran Hour on November 26, 2017
By Rev. Dr. Ken Klaus, Speaker Emeritus of The Lutheran Hour
(Q&A Topic:Show Me)
Copyright 2018 Lutheran Hour Ministries
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Text: Matthew 25:31-46
And the King will answer them, 'Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.' "Then he will say to those on his left ... ''Truly, I say to you, 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."
Christ is risen! He is risen, indeed! That victory cry announces that Jesus' life and death has successfully given eternal life to all who believe. Now may we who are beneficiaries of His love, share that love with a lost and dying world. God grant it be so. Amen.
Some 40-odd years ago, I was pastor of a parish in the little farming community of Lakefield, MN. Truth be told, I never knew how fast the winds were blowing when the tornado hit our town. I do remember the sky turned a greenish-orange; the clouds bubbled like a frothing cauldron; hail in assorted sizes pelted cars and windows. Soon the warning sirens began to wail. Like most men, and over my wife's objections, I stepped outside to survey the sky. One look sent me into the basement where the family and I awaited the "All clear."
When we emerged from our shelter we were shocked and surprised at what we saw; and what we saw was... nothing. On our block the tornado had changed nothing. There were no leveled homes; no cars thrown through the air; no people scrambling through wreckage trying to recover some memorabilia or photographs. That tornado had plowed a path of minor destruction through town, but it had taken a completely unexpected jump over our neighborhood, our home, and our church. Other locations had not fared as well. Hopping in our van we went to survey the damage others had experienced. There was a century-old tree which had been ripped up by its roots. Giant branches were everywhere. We noted many things which hadn't been tied down had completely disappeared. Over there, a number of houses had lost their roofs. At the north of town there was a transformer sparking away like a giant Fourth of July Roman candle.
As we drove, we were surprised to see almost everyone out on the street. They were comparing notes of how they had fared, how many prayers they had said, and swapping stories on what they had lost. Looking at the giant mess, everyone agreed, "Somebody ought to do something to clean up the community." Me, I began to wonder if I ought to try and get my congregation organized so we could help our fellow townsfolk.
I was still considering the pros and cons of such an action, when on the highway which came into town from the north, a flotilla of unfamiliar pickup trucks was spotted. Was it looters trying to capitalize on the misfortune of others? Was it tradesmen trying to sign quick contracts for repairs? It was neither. These trucks were piloted by men and boys from the Mennonite congregation in Mountain Lake, another small town about 27 miles away. They operated with single-minded purpose. Was a large branch or a tree down in someone's yard? They knocked on the door of the house and asked, "Excuse me, sir, we see you have a small tree down in your yard, where would you like the firewood stacked?" Then their chainsaws and strong arms made short order of the tree. At another home they said, "Excuse me, Ma'am. We see the storm has knocked out a window. We don't have any glass to make repairs, but we sure can seal that window up and make it weatherproof in case it begins to rain again."
Up and down the streets they went. They didn't ask for payment. In fact, they turned down money offers more than once. They didn't wait around to be thanked. No, there was too much work that needed to be done for them to be bothered with such pleasantries. They worked all afternoon and into the night; and when it became too dark to work, they were gone. During the days which followed, I, a young pastor, ended up asking, "How had they come to our community within two hours after the tornadoes touch down? How did they get organized? How did they get their tools together? How had they contacted each other? The answer to these questions was simple: they acted with such speed and such organization because they were prepared for a tragedy. While most of us spend our lives hoping and praying misfortune will steer clear of our home and hearth, that congregation said, "This is a sinful world, and bad things will happen. If we are ready for those bad things, we can make a difference for the better." That was why, when the radio carried news of the tornado's touchdown, they all knew what to do and what was expected of them. Having heard the words of the Savior, they believed that even as they did something good for those in need, they were doing those good things for Jesus. In short, they became Christian good-deed doers. That day they touched me, and I spent the rest of my ministry trying to copy what they did for my people that day, 40 years ago.
Christian good-deed doers have always been found among the Savior's followers. It's easy to understand why. In the Gospel of Matthew, we hear Jesus share what is now known as the Golden Rule. He said: "So whatever you wish that others would do to you, do also to them, for this is the Law and the Prophets." On another occasion, the evangelist Mark recorded Jesus telling His listeners, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these."
The Gospel of Luke records Jesus' expectations concerning how His people are to act toward others. The Savior instructed: "Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. To one who strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also, and from one who takes away your cloak do not withhold your tunic either. Give to everyone who begs from you, and from one who takes away your goods do not demand them back." Even on the night He was going to be betrayed, as the sins of the whole world were being unfairly placed upon Him, Jesus did not forget to instruct His disciples on how they ought to live. Concisely, cleanly, and clearly, Jesus says, "This is My commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you."
In truth, I don't know anyone who can love as the Savior did. Now don't get me wrong, I have known some super-sized Christians. There was Rudy and Arlene Krein who fed, burped, and changed their physically and mentally challenged daughter for 26 years. They may have had moments of upset and days when they complained, but I never heard those words. There was the couple who came into my office and anonymously paid eight years of school tuition for a destitute family. There was the mother who, after I had told her that her young son had been killed in an accident, made a statement of faith that makes me stand in awe. She said, "That is one child I will never have to worry about again for I am sure I will see him in heaven." There was elderly Margaret who hobbled to church the Sunday after the doctors had removed her leg. When I said, "Darling, what are you doing here?" she replied, "Pastor, where else would I be?"
Should I continue? Should I talk about the member who kept walking to church even though his deafness prevented him from hearing a note of music or a word of the sermon? Finally, I wrote on a pad: "Bill, why do you keep coming to church; you get nothing out of it? He replied, "Pastor, I want my neighbors to know whose side I am on." Yes, I have seen some powerful faiths and some first-class good-deed doers, but none comes close to the Savior.
Jesus was born into a world which didn't want Him, and a nation whose monarch tried to murder Him when He was an infant. His hometown tried to assassinate Him, and the religious rulers plotted against Him. He was betrayed by a man whom He had picked to be a close friend, and His own church trumped up charges against Him. The respected pillars of society tried to trip Him up, so they could bring Him down. He was sent to die on a cross by a man who knew He was innocent of any wrongdoing. From His birth and beginnings in a Bethlehem stable, to His death on a rough-hewn Roman cross, Jesus continued to love. He was spat upon, struck, mocked, beaten, and crowned with thorns, but He kept on loving. As He was dying on His cross, He forgave those who put Him there, and He promised salvation to a thief who confessed Him as Savior and Lord. Yes, even on His cross, Jesus kept on loving. It was Jesus' love which carried our sins and His love which saw Him give up the ghost and die. And when, three days later, in power and majesty He defeated death, it was love which had Him show Himself to His disciples and bring back those who had grown ashamed of and denied Him.
No, I've never met, I never will meet, anyone who can love as Jesus did. The best we can do is try; we can try to be as caring and giving as He was. We can try to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, give water to the thirsty, and shelter to the homeless. We can try to become good-deed doers as Jesus has asked, and as the world expects. Yes, the world expects Jesus' followers to show what we're made of. In 1913, George Bernard Shaw wrote a stage play called Pygmalion. Later, Lerner and Loewe made the play into a stage musical, and in 1964, Warner Brothers came out with the movie musical, My Fair Lady.
One of the lesser songs in the movie has the heroine expressing her discontent with a suitor who is long in talk and short on action. In part, those lyrics read: "Don't talk of stars burning above; If you're in love, show me! Tell me not dreams filled with desire. If you're on fire, show me! ... Sing me no song! Read me no rhyme! Don't waste my time, show me! Please don't implore, beg on the seats, don't make all the speech, show me!"
The world understands very well what the Savior meant when He promised to severely judge those who declined to feed the sick, clothe the naked, give shelter to those who needed it. The world takes the Christ seriously when He says, "Not everyone who says to Me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but the one who does the will of My Father who is in heaven." Truly, the world expects Christians to be good-deed doers. The only problem with the world's expectation is this: they think good deed doing is the beginning, middle, and end of a believer's life.
Paraphrasing the words of Eliza Doolittle from My Fair Lady, the world confronts us by saying: "Don't talk of Christ, ruling above, just do good deeds, show me; Don't speak of doctrines, filled with God's plan, just do good deeds, show me... Read me no texts of heaven or hell, don't waste my time, show me; Don't talk of the cross or Christ's empty tomb, just do good works, show me." If there is a crisis or catastrophe, the world expects every Christian to report for duty and do good deeds. If there is disaster or destruction, they rely on Christians showing up to do their good deeds. If there are problems or pains or plague or pestilence, the legions of Jesus' followers are supposed to be present and accounted for.
But, and this is important, the rest of the time, the world expects us to sit down and shut up. We are to have no opinions on social issues or society's injustice, or morality or ethics, or anything else. We are to keep our mouths zipped tight lest we bring up the Bible and attempt to apply it to modern issues. And heaven help the Christian who speaks strongly of the Savior and His blood- bought forgiveness and salvation. The world does this because, while it is good at quoting Bible passages on how we are to be good-deed doers, they almost always ignore the passage that explains the motive behind all our good deeds.
That passage, found in the fourth chapter of 1 John, says this: "We love because He first loved us. ... And this commandment we have from Him: whoever loves God must also love His brother. Christian good deed doing doesn't begin with good people wishing to do good things. It begins with people who are serious sinners, folks who have committed some terrible transgressions. We are taken from a cross-section of everything which is wrong with humanity. And then something, something wonderful happened to us.
Somewhere along the way, God's Holy Spirit said, "You are a sinner, and after you die, you will end up in a place you don't want to be. You are lost and wandering in darkness and, on your own, will never find your way into the light of life. Actually, that was not the wonderful thing. The wonderful thing was what came next. The Holy Spirit said, "You can't change things on your own, but I can. And then He introduced us to Jesus. He showed us the Savior who, against all logic, came into this world to take our place. Jesus took our place and perfectly did all which was asked of Him. Where we had failed to keep God's Laws, He succeeded. Where we had fallen victim to temptation, God's perfect Son consistently stood tall. For His entire life, that is every second of every day of every week and year, Jesus lived and loved us.
And then, at the end of His earthly time among us, He suffered and died for us. You see, after humankind had fallen into sin, we were condemned to temporal and eternal death. But Jesus shouldered our wrongdoings, and in the most unjust set of trials in history, was railroaded to the cross. There He died, but He did so forgiving the very people who had murdered Him. His glorious resurrection from the dead on the third day was visible tangible proof that His sacrifice had been accepted, and all who believed on Him had been rescued from hell, from eternal death, from everlasting damnation. A verse from the Gospel of John sums all this up in just a few words. "For God so loved the world, that He gave His only Son, that whoever believes in Him should not perish but have eternal life." Undeservedly, unexpectedly, and at a great cost we have been loved by the Lord. Now He asks that we respond to that love we have received by reflecting it to others. In other words, we love because He first loved us.
Centuries ago, the forces of Islam laid siege to the capital of Spain. The city was defended skillfully and bravely by King Alfonso, but by some circumstance, the enemy captured the king's son. Knowing the king's love for the young man, the attackers built gallows in full view of the king in the castle. The Muslim leader ordered the prince to stand on the gallows under a sign which read, "Alfonso, either the city or your son!"
What a heart-rending decision for a father to make! Anxiously, his advisers and officers watched the face of the king. Would he give up the city and allow the enemy to enslave the people? Would he be willing to give up his own son? They did not have long to wait. Alfonso sent this message back to the Sultan: "Let my son die, that my people may live." Let me ask, if you were one of Alfonso's people, what would you have felt toward him? Loyalty? Gratitude? Love? Well, that is what we feel toward our Heavenly Father who said, "Let My Son die, so My people may live."
Every time we think of the cross, we remember what Jesus endured for our forgiveness and salvation. Every time we look, we know the Lord has the right to ask us anything, including caring for those who most need it. Which is why, when you see us good-deed doers working in a community after a tornado, a hurricane, or an earthquake, we are there out of thanks to the Christ. If you see our food shelves, our clothing closets, our shelters, hospitals, they all begin with the Savior's love. Any time you see us good-deed doers doing something for anybody, it is part of our undying love for our living Lord who first loved us.
If this living Lord seems to be someone whom you would like to meet, we will be happy to make the introduction. All you need do is call us at The Lutheran Hour.
Reflections for NOVEMBER 26, 2017
Speaker: DALE MEYER
MARK EISCHER: You're listening to The Lutheran Hour and Dr. Dale Meyer joins us right now. And Dr. Meyer, you've got a big smile on your face. Why is that?
DALE MEYER: I do, Mark. Pastor Klaus' sermon brought back some pleasant memories. He talked about Eliza Doolittle's song, "Show Me." Well, My Fair Lady was our high school play my senior year. Henry Higgins was using Eliza as a social experiment. Freddy Eynsford-Hill loved Eliza with gushing words. Poor Eliza, she just wanted someone to show her love in action. Great illustration!
MARK EISCHER: Hasn't it always been the case that God's people do good works?
DALE MEYER: Yes, indeed. In Matthew 25 Jesus compliments Christians who do good works. "As you did it to one of the least of these My brothers, you did it to Me." Interestingly, Jesus' followers didn't realize they had done all these good works. When did we see You in various needs, they asked. Helping others becomes part of the DNA of people who follow Jesus. In our day and age, that's as important as ever.
MARK EISCHER: Why is that the case?
DALE MEYER: Decades ago people believed that there was objective truth, absolute truth. So, when a Christian gave witness to the truth of God in Jesus, people at least agreed there was a standard of truth. Whether they believed it or not, that was another issue. Today most people don't believe there is an objective standard of truth and conduct. So how do we who believe the Bible is truly God's Word to us, how do we get God's message and the Good News of Jesus into their consciousness, into their awareness? How do we get them to listen to us? The answer is by our good works: by selflessly serving those in need. Then people will ask us about the hope that is in us. And I think Christians are doing that.
MARK EISCHER: Do you have examples?
DALE MEYER: Pastor Klaus had some fine examples from his ministry. Right now we have seminary students who are volunteering to go to Texas and Florida and other places to give their time and muscle-their muscle is a lot younger than ours-they do this as their schedules permit. I think of my congregation and other congregations. People are active in many community organizations. Surveys show that the first area of volunteer activity for Christians is in their congregation, but next comes community involvement. That's so encouraging. Jesus said there are two great commandments: to love God with our whole being and to love our neighbor as ourselves. It may not make the Broadway stage or be the stuff of a high school play, but Jesus tells us to let people to see our good works so that they will glorify the Father who is in heaven.
Music Selections for this program:
"A Mighty Fortress" arranged by Chris Bergmann. Used by permission.
"The Head That Once Was Crowned with Thorns" arr. Henry Gerike. From Hope by the Concordia Seminary Chorus (© 2003 Concordia Seminary) Used by permission.
"The Head That Once Was Crowned with Thorns" From The Concordia Organist (© 2009 Concordia Publishing House)