Transformed! Thoughts on seeing what you need to see.

Matthew 17: 1-9

17Six days later, Jesus took with him Peter and James and his brother John and led them up a high mountain, by themselves. 2And he was transfigured before them, and his face shone like the sun, and his clothes became dazzling white. 3Suddenly there appeared to them Moses and Elijah, talking with him. 4Then Peter said to Jesus, “Lord, it is good for us to be here; if you wish, I will make three dwellings here, one for you, one for Moses, and one for Elijah.” 5While he was still speaking, suddenly a bright cloud overshadowed them, and from the cloud a voice said, “This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!” 6When the disciples heard this, they fell to the ground and were overcome by fear. 7But Jesus came and touched them, saying, “Get up and do not be afraid.” 8And when they looked up, they saw no one except Jesus himself alone. 9As they were coming down the mountain, Jesus ordered them, “Tell no one about the vision until after the Son of Man has been raised from the dead.”

When I was in Law School I took a course on trial tactics.

One of his most important lessons we were taught was about persuading juries.

How to get them to draw the conclusions you wanted them to draw.

Just telling them what you wanted them to believe was not particularly effective.

You had to allow them come to that conclusion on their own.

So you told them your client’s story right up to the point where you wanted them to believe something and then you would stop.

Without saying anything, you would let them finish the story in their minds and draw their own conclusion.

Which was the conclusion you wanted them to come to.

You did not tell them what the truth was.

You let them decide for themselves.

And because they figured it out for themselves they would be totally convinced.

I think that teachers do much the same.

Just lecturing on a topic is never really effective.

Walk the student through an analysis of a subject while letting them use their own intellect.

Let them figure out what you want them to figure out on their own.

And they will understand.

And they will remember.

An epiphany.

Webster’s dictionary defines the word “epiphany” this way:

(1):  a usually sudden manifestation or perception of the essential nature or meaning of something (2):  an intuitive grasp of reality through something (as an event) usually simple and striking (3):  an illuminating discovery, realization, or disclosure.

Epiphanies do not just happen.

Louis Pasteur described epiphanies as the product of a prepared mind.

An educated mind.

A mind that is not just told something is true, but a mind that is led to the truth.

That is how an epiphany works.

The mind is prepared.

The mind expects.

The mind concludes.

The mind sees something it never saw before.

The mind believes.

Because of a trial lawyer.

Or a teacher.

Or maybe a pastor.

Or maybe even Jesus.

What does that have to do with Peter?

Peter has a problem.

He has been following Jesus since he was called from his fishing boat.

He has seen Jesus do amazing – miraculous – things.

He has heard Jesus teach with authority like no other.

Peter has come to the conclusion that Jesus is the Messiah.

The anointed one of God who has come to liberate God’s people from the tyranny of the world.

And here is Peter’s problem.

Six days ago, he told Jesus that he, Peter, believed Jesus was that Messiah.

Jesus was delighted.

Then Jesus tells Peter what happens next.

Jesus told his disciples that he must go to Jerusalem and undergo great suffering at the hands of the elders and chief priests and scribes, and be killed, and on the third day be raised.

And Peter says, “No way!”

“God forbid!”

“I will not allow it!”

“This is not what a Messiah does!”

Peter scolds Jesus.

Peter does not want a dead Messiah.

Peter likes it the way it is.

He has no desire for any kind of change.

I have this image of Jesus just lowering his head and saying, “If I am the Messiah, Peter, why do you challenge me?”

‘Why do you tempt me like Satan did in the wilderness to divert me from my mission – my purpose?”

Jesus then turns to the gathered crowd and tells them that their loyalty must be to Jesus.

His plan.

Not theirs.

They need to listen to him because his words bring life.

They must not follow their own desires and self-interests.

Those things lead to death.

Loyalty to Jesus brings liberation.

Just not the way they might think.

Which brings us to today’s text.

It is six days later.

I have an image of Peter kind of moping around; head down and hurt.

Then Jesus invites him to a mountain top!

To see something that might help Peter understand.

Illumination.

An epiphany.

Jesus was going to give Peter a glimpse of who Jesus really was.

The transfiguration.

Jesus transformed into his divine self.

Face shining like the sun.

Dazzling white.

In the presence of Elijah and Moses.

Chatting.

About what we do not know.

So what conclusion is Jesus suggesting to Peter?

That Jesus is himself transcendent.

That he surpasses time, space, life and death.

It was Jesus trying to teach Peter something that would help him understand what Jesus was telling his disciples about who he really was.

Emmanuel – God with us!

Jesus seems to be saying:

Here Peter.

You are worried that I am going to die.

But as you can see, I cannot die.

I am more powerful than death.

This body can be killed, but I cannot.

And neither can anyone else who I choose to bring to me.

Here is a peek into the Kingdom.

Everything is brighter than the sun.

Everything is pure.

Just as God intended it to be.

And look again.

Moses is there.

Elijah is there.

I will be there.

You will be there.

This is where all people of God will be as well.

Why does Jesus do this?

Why show this to Peter?

Because this is what Peter needed in order to persist in his discipleship.

It is exactly what Peter needed.

But Peter is still Peter.

And Peter, being Peter, does not want it to end.

Can you imagine?

And there Peter is, watching the glorified Jesus!

Talking to Moses!

And Elijah!

And he interrupts their conversation.

“Hey, guys! Let’s build some dwellings and stay here!

What do you say, boys?”

Peter still is not getting it.

Peter is too impetuous.

He does not stop to reflect.

He needs a bit more to get him to the truth.

So God interrupts Peter.

Hey, Peter!

“This is my Son, the Beloved; with him I am well pleased; listen to him!”

Like a scolded child, Peter drops onto his face.

Then Jesus comforts him.

Jesus tells Peter just what Peter needs to hear.

There is nothing to be afraid of.

Based on what Peter just saw, there is nothing to be afraid of!

“But don’t tell anyone about this until after my return from the dead.”

Why would Jesus tell him that?

Because what Peter saw was just for him.

The transfiguration was not for everyone.

No one would believe it who did not see it.

Peter needed to see it so that he could persist against his impetuous fear.

Others would learn the lesson later.

The resurrection!

Because that was a much larger event.

Paul describes that this way in 1 Corinthians 15:

[Jesus] was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, 5and … he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. 6Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters* at one time … 7Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. 8Last of all, as to someone untimely born, he appeared also to me.

Each of these people experienced an epiphany as well.

And they understood then what Peter should have understood on the mountain!

This is what Jesus said would happen.

He is stronger than death itself.

His liberation of his people was not of this world.

The liberation of God’s people transcends time.

It transcends death itself.

There is nothing to be afraid of.

So what does all this mean for us?

Scripture does not describe anyone seeing the risen Jesus after Paul.

Does this mean we cannot have the same type of epiphany?

I don’t think so.

I think people have them all the time.

But like Pasteur says, we need to have a prepared mind.

We need to expect them.

We need to be able to recognize them when they occur.

And when we do, they are ours.

They are what we need.

They are hard to explain.

We cannot expect others to understand.

Here is an example.

Last week I had the opportunity to talk to the Bethel Park Upper S. Clair Rotary Club about our mission trip to Chiapas last July.

I was told to take about 20 minutes.

I took 40.

But even then I could not really give the folks even a shallow, superficial, understanding of how wonderful the experience was.

That is kind of what I am talking about.

It was hard to describe in any truly meaningful way.

Like the old saying, “You really had to be there to understand!”

That is what it is like to be a disciple of Jesus.

Jesus is not easy to understand all the time.

He’s hard to explain.

He’s hard to follow.

He’s not necessarily what we would like him to be.

But then there are moments.

Moments when maybe we think God has communicated to us in a particular way.

A “mountain top” moment.

A moment of wonder and sensory overload.

No words can describe it.

Ecstasy and a strong desire that the experience be unending.

An epiphany.

A moment of intense connection with God.

A moment of just knowing.

Knowing that Jesus was telling the truth.

About God and about himself.

A conclusion we come to on our own.

Like Peter, we want to stay there.

But we can’t.

We have to go back down the mountain.

Back to the world.

Back to life.

And then sometimes that feeling fades.

When that happens we are in good company.

Look at Peter.

Even after the transfiguration, he goes on to deny even knowing Jesus three times.

In some small way, it is kind of like what many experience in church.

We feel good about worship.

We hear a word about, and hopefully from, God.

We see the children.

We greet other believers.

We hear about and participate in mission and ministry.

Then it’s Monday.

And the world is still a hard place to live.

A hard place to live the Jesus way.

That is the way of faith.

Moments of comfort and conviction followed by times of questions and confusion.

Moments of inspiration followed by times of wandering in the wilderness.

This is why church is so important.

It brings us back to our epiphanies.

It reminds us of the conclusions we have drawn.

It encourages us to persist.

It holds us accountable.

I think that is the reason we come back to church as often as we can.

Not just out of obligation.

We come back for that reminder of what brought us here in the first place.

To be with people who understand like we do though that understanding might have come from a different route.

The thing we know but need to be reminded about repeatedly.

That Jesus lives.

And because he does, so will we.



Produce to People April 15, 2017

April 15th is our next opportunity to serve at Produce to People, a program of the Pittsburgh Food Bank, where we serve approximately 500 people on the North Side of Pittsburgh.  We meet at the church at 8:00 Am on April 15th and travel together.  Volunteers are done by noon. This is an excellent opportunity to positively touch the lives of people in the city of Pittsburgh.  Won’t you join us? A sign-up sheet is in the Narthex.



Disciple of Jesus-the First 100 Years

All of the month of March and on April 2 Pastor Jeff Tindall will present his Lenten series First 100 Years.  What was it like to be a disciple of Jesus in the first 100 years? 

Jesus was crucified in 30 (some say 33) AD.  Pentecost followed shortly and the “church” was born.  What did disciples do as a community of faith after that?  What sources of information were available?  Was anyone writing anything down? Was a “New Testament” something people were even considering? We have few sources outside of the The Acts of the Apostles and the letters of Paul.  What can we know?  Want to learn about it? Come to the Discovery Class Sundays at 9:30 room 16-18 during Lent and find out.



Daily Lenten Devotional Email

Do decide to do a daily devotion during Lent and then time slips away and you feel guilty?   No more forgetting, let electronics do the remembering. Have a Lenten devotion sent to you every day by using this link. http://www.pts.edu/email



Food Distribution Helpers Needed!!

Our partner church, First Presbyterian of Duquesne, distributes food boxes to those in need in the Duquesne community once a month.  They could use some men/women to help with loading, unloading and distributing the boxes one day a month, usually for about 4 hours.  This is an excellent opportunity to engage in the partnership and help feed hungry people.  Contact Cheryl Davies or Dan Zearley.



Where Does It Hurt? Thoughts on asking, listening, understanding and peacemaking.

Matthew 5: 38-48; 7: 1-5

38 ‘You have heard that it was said, “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth.” 39But I say to you, Do not resist an evildoer. But if anyone strikes you on the right cheek, turn the other also; 40and if anyone wants to sue you and take your coat, give your cloak as well; 41and if anyone forces you to go one mile, go also the second mile. 42Give to everyone who begs from you, and do not refuse anyone who wants to borrow from you.

43 ‘You have heard that it was said, “You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.” 44But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45so that you may be children of your Father in heaven; for he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the righteous and on the unrighteous. 46For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax-collectors do the same? 47And if you greet only your brothers and sisters, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? 48Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.

7‘Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. 2For with the judgement you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. 3Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? 4Or how can you say to your neighbor, “Let me take the speck out of your eye”, while the log is in your own eye? 5You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye.

Last week I listened to Krista Tippett interview Ruby Sales.

Sales is one of 50 African Americans to be spotlighted in the new Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.

She was asked about the polarization we are experiencing in our country – and the world, really.

Sales believes that the principal problem is that we don’t really try to understand each other.

And to start this off, she told this story:

[A]defining moment for me happened when I was getting my locks washed, and my locker’s daughter came in one morning, and she had been hustling all night. And she had sores on her body, and she was just in a state, drugs. So something said to me, “Ask her, ‘Where does it hurt?’” And I said, “Shelly, where does it hurt?” And just that simple question unleashed territory in her that she had never shared with her mother.

…  She talked about all of the things that had happened to her as a child, and she literally shared the source of her pain. And I realized, in that moment, listening to her and talking with her, that I needed a larger way to do this work …

What I took from that little story is that it is easy to punish, demean and condemn a person because they think or live a way that you find offensive.

In this case it was prostitution and drugs.

But if we ask that one question that allows us into their lives, even just for a moment, it might a moment, or more, of peace.

And it might provide an opportunity to heal.

What is the question?

“Where does it hurt?”

This is not a superficial question.

It is a powerful question that seeks insight into the deep recesses of a person’s identity, anxiety, fear and anger.

The resulting conversation can be difficult.

It can result in as complex a conversation as can be imagined.

But today I want to bring it down to a more personal level.

So here is a conversation that I daresay happens between parents and children from time to time.

Mother: Tommy, can’t you wear something different to school?

Tommy: What is wrong with what I’m wearing?

Mother: It is inappropriate.

Tommy: What is wrong with it?

Mother: It’s all black like everything you wear, every day.

Tommy: You can’t tell me what to wear!

Mother: As long as you live in this house I can!

Tommy: No you can’t!

Mother: Yes I can!

Tommy: I hate you!

Mother: Don’t be such a brat!

Tommy: Feet stomping to the door which is then slammed.

Mother: Feet stomping to the door which is wrenched open and then slammed again.

OK maybe a bit dramatic, but it makes my point.

Three things have happened here.

There were retaliatory verbal blows.

There was a failure of love.

There was judgment.

In the words of Cool Hand Luke:

What we have here is a failure of communication!

Which led to a momentary, and perhaps long term, destruction of the relationship between mother and son.

And it all started with a simple question.

Can’t you wear something different?

The exchange escalated to what are called ad hominem attacks.

Attacking the character, motive, or intellect of another person with whom you disagree rather than debating the substance of the disagreement.

We stop listening.

The point is now to use words that hurt.

It escalates to the point where whatever commonality of purpose or goal that might exist cannot be found.

Cooperation becomes impossible.

We see it in world affairs.

We see it in politics.

We see it in communities.

We see it in church.

We see it in families.

We see it everywhere.

Look at social media shaming on Twitter or Facebook.

I ask that you listen to Jon Ronson’s TED Talk “When On-line Shaming Goes Too Far.”

It has always been that way.

Jesus today gives us three thoughts on how to stop it.

Turn the other cheek.

Love your enemy.

Do not judge.

Let’s take them in order.

First we need to understand what Jesus means by “turn the other cheek”.

When Jesus initially refers to an eye for an eye and tooth for tooth, he is referring to the Levitical law that gave the government the power to maintain order and protect the people.

There was a penalty for every particular forbidden act that, once administered, ended the dispute.

There was no need for revenge or violence.

There was no escalation.

The peace was maintained.

Kind of like our courts today.

Once the result is in, whether you like it or not, the dispute is over.

Time to move on and live in peace.

But turning the other cheek is different.

A slap on the cheek was less a physical assault than it was an insult.

To turn the other cheek was to indicate that the one insulted was not going to stoop to the level of the offender.

Jesus says to do something beyond that.

Respond with grace.

Don’t go all ad hominem.

Ask Ruby’s question.

Where does it hurt?

What is the source of your pain that is motivating you?

Are you cold?

Is that why you want my coat?

Do you need help?

Is that why you want me to walk that mile?

Do you need the necessities of life?

Is that why you are begging?

Let me help.

That is grace.

That saves the community.

But you have to ask where it hurts.

So what does Jesus next mean by loving our enemy?

Jesus is talking about reflecting the love God showers on us.

He loves those who love him and those who don’t.

God loves those who don’t deserve to be loved and those who don’t want to be loved.

We are talking about agape love.

Love that defeats hate.

Love that preserves the community.

It is hard!

Jesus admits as much.

So we need to seek to try to understand why these people are our enemies.

And then seek to make peace.

That is grace.

That saves the community.

But you have to ask where it hurts.

And lastly, what does it mean that we are not to judge?

It means that we must refrain from condemning the opinions or actions of another, or condemning the other personally for those opinions or actions, just because we do not agree with or like them.

Why?

Two reasons.

You will be treated the same way and so we go back to the issue of retaliation.

But more importantly, it makes you a hypocrite.

You expect that what you believe is correct and good and perfect and condemn those who disagree.

But you neglect the incorrect and bad and imperfect things in your own life.

We need to do a bit of self-examination first.

Where do we hurt?

What do we need?

What is it that makes us so judgmental?

Maybe we need to undertake some self-love.

That is grace.

That saves the community.

But you have to ask where it hurts.

Here is what this looks like:

Back in 2005 or so, I took a 10-week course on mediation.

Alternative dispute resolution.

After that, I became a mediator as part of my law practice.

I have mediated dozens of disputes since then.

Around that same time I read something I believe was written by Leonard Sweet, Professor of Evangelism at Drew University.

He said that we should never tell someone they are wrong until we can tell them what they believe, and why, in such a way that they agree with how we repeat what they said.

I added this little nugget to my mediation process.

Whenever I was mediating a dispute, I would let one of the parties to the conflict tell the other what the conflict was about and what they needed from the other to resolve the dispute.

I made the other person listen, without responding, until the speaker was done.

Then, before any response, I told the listener to tell the speaker what the speaker had just said, starting out with the phrase:

“This is what you believe, why you think you are right and what do you want from me.”

I would then ask the first person if they got it right.

Usually, it was pretty close.

Then the roles would be reversed.

What I discovered was that almost always, when both heard the other repeat accurately what was said, even though they still disagreed, they stopped fighting, and started talking.

They found a middle ground.

A common interest and goal they had previously been unaware of because they had been too busy yelling at each other.

They found some peace.

It wasn’t until I listened to Ruby sales that I realized what is happening.

They are telling each other where it hurts.

That is the beginning of effective communication.

Love.

Tolerance.

Grace.

Where does it hurt?

This is a conversation that goes beyond, “Why do you think that?”

It’s a deeper question.

You ask what is the source of your pain?

You tell them that you have pain, too.

You listen to and try to understand their pain.

You seek common ground.

And when you find it, you have some peace.

So let’s check back in with our mother and son back home.

Mom is worried about Tommy.

He is wearing black every day.

She had a friend whose daughter started doing that and ended up all pierced and tattooed and started doing drugs.

Then the girl died.

Mom is afraid.

She loves her son.

She wants to protect him.

She is his mother and she has the right and duty to do it!

But he rejects her.

He hates her.

It makes her so angry!

She is in so much pain.

Tommy has been sort of on the margins at school.

It is hard for him to make friends.

Now he has made some friends and this is what they all wear.

It’s kind of like a uniform.

He feels like he belongs.

But Mom does not support him.

She does not support him.

She disapproves of what he wears and so disapproves of him.

She does not like him.

It makes him so angry.

He is in so much pain.

And so they yell, hate and condemn each other.

So what if they asked the question?

Where does it hurt?

Tommy hears his mother’s pain.

Mom hears Tommy’s pain.

They listen to each other and find the commonality they did not know about because they were too busy yelling at each other..

That is the beginning of effective communication.

Love.

Tolerance.

Grace.

That is what Jesus asks of us.

Because God acts that way toward us.

This Monday I am participating in a book discussion at the Islamic Community Center.

The book is The Saint and the Sultan: The Crusades, Islam, and Francis of Assisi’s Mission of Peace.

The goal of the discussion, beyond the book, will be how Muslims and Christians can live in peace.

The book gives an illustration of how it might work, though I am not sure it was intended that way.

It tells the story of how Muhamad told the Christian community in his growing empire that they would either have to convert to Islam or pay a tax.

The response of the Christian representatives was this:

To be a Muslim meant to have submitted to God.

So they were already Muslims!

It did not work, but it struck me as a response to a conflict that sought middle ground.

The gray area where we might be able to live together.

So Monday, as we talk and pray with each other, I might ask my Muslim friends Ruby’s question.

Where does it hurt?

And maybe they will ask us that same question.

And we can talk.

And maybe we can understand the pain.

Then maybe we can explore an end to an eye for an eye.

Maybe we can learn how to love.

Maybe we can stop the condemnation.

Maybe we can find a middle ground.

Maybe we can live in peace, if just for a moment.

Will we stop the escalation of our conflict worldwide or in our country?

Of course not.

But it might be a start.

Where does it hurt?

Can we stop the pain?

Maybe.



Hospitality: Thoughts on meeting the needs of the least of these.

Hospitable

Matthew 25: 31-46

31“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. 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.’ 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.’ 41Then 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; 42for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43I 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.’ 44Then 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?’ 45Then 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.’ 46And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

When someone wants to be ordained in the PCUSA that person must go through a particular process.

I did.

So did Matt.

I finished the process in September of 2007.

Matt this past December.

The process takes at least three years.

We attend and graduate from seminary.

We get the sponsorship from an church.

We become an inquirer.

We are raised to candidate.

We take ordination exams.

We are finally certified ready to receive a call.

Then we go to the last step.

Our oral trial before our presbytery.

We stand up and answer any and all questions posed to us by any presbytery commissioner present.

It is the moment of truth.

Based on your answer, the body of presbytery commissioners votes on whether you are to be ordained.

My only question came from Dr. Randy Bush of the East Liberty Presbyterian Church.

It was this: “Do you believe that only those who have professed faith in Jesus Christ are welcomed into the Kingdom of God?”

Being a lawyer, I tried to think of how this might go badly.

I also know that Randy was ready to challenge me.

I paused and then gave this answer:

“Who gets into the Kingdom of God is not my decision. It is God’s, thank God. I also believe that God want’s everyone to be with him in his Kingdom. But … I also believe Jesus when he says he is the way, the truth and the life and no one comes to the father except through him. So, I believe that everyone at some point gets the chance to “go through” Jesus. I don’t know when that happens and I don’t know how it happens and I don’t know what it looks like when it happens. But I believe it does. And happily it is not up to me.”

Randy nodded his head, smiled and returned to his seat.

I was ordained a month later.

So, Jeff, you ask, where did you come up with that?

I got it from today’s scripture.

This is my favorite scripture in the Bible.

Why?

Because it gives us an understanding of how God wants us to live.

And it tells us that we can live that way, even if we don’t know its’s God’s way.

Which is one of the interesting things about what Jesus says here.

Jesus is describing “judgment day”.

We are all there.

All of us.

Not just Christians.

Every human being who has ever been.

Jesus is the judge and begins to divide us.

Sheep to his right.

Goats to the left.

Sheep into the Kingdom.

Goats to … well … it says: into the eternal fire; … eternal punishment.

What I find fascinating is this:

Both those identified as sheep and those identified as goats are – surprised!

I can understand why the goats are surprised.

No one wants to go – there!

But the sheep are surprised, too!

“What makes us sheep?”

“What got us into the kingdom?”

I can see someone who had never heard of Jesus or believed in his divinity wondering why Jesus would put him on the sheep side.

And I can really see why someone who proclaimed Jesus as savior wonders why she is sent by Jesus over to the goats.

And so they all ask the same question:

Why?

Jesus answers:

“You sheep are defined as those who did these things:

The hungry were given food.

The thirsty were given water.

The strangers were welcomed.

The naked were clothed.

The sick were cared for.

The prisoners were visited.

This is the way I lived.

And when you did these things you were reflecting my love for you onto those in need and reflecting my love for you back on me.

You treated them the way I treat you.

You gave them hospitality.

That is what I do.

 [As] I [said] to you, Ask, and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened.

That is what you did when I came to you.

Listen! I am standing at the door, knocking; if you hear my voice and open the door, I will come in to you and eat with you, and you with me.

The goats did none of these things.

They did not live the my way.

And so they did not reflect my love and did not love me.”

God provides us hospitality in his kingdom.

If we want in, we are called to do the same.

That is what makes us disciples of Jesus.

Whether we know it or not.

If we don’t do them we are not disciples of Jesus even if we think we are.

It’s not a “Christian” thing.

It’s not a political thing.

It is not a socio-economic thing.

It is an ancient thing.

God has always provided it and has always demanded it.

In Jesus time it was customary to receive strangers into one’s home as honored guests and to provide food, shelter and protection.

This was not considered just good manners, but a sacred duty.

The Holman Bible Dictionary says this:

“Only the depraved would violate this obligation. … The Pentateuch contains several commands for the Israelites to love strangers as themselves and to look after their welfare. … Breaches of hospitality were condemned and punished.”

And it was not only strangers who were owed this duty of providing for the needs of life.

It was also the “widows and orphans”.

When we hear about the widows and orphans in scripture we are hearing about the “least of these”.

The most helpless and powerless members of society.

Old Testament scripture required that the material needs of such people were to be provided for by the community.

In the New Testament, James defined acceptable worship as meeting the needs of the widows and orphans.

Put all this together and Jesus is saying that if we are to be his disciples, we are to provide hospitality to people who are hungry and thirsty and naked and strangers and sick and imprisoned.

To the helpless and powerless.

Miroslav Volf is the Henry B. Wright Professor of Systematic Theology, and Founding Director, Yale Center for Faith & Culture and he describes it this way:

Inscribed on the very heart of God’s grace is the rule that we can be its recipients only if we do not resist being made into its agents; what happens to us must be done by us. Having been embraced by God, we must make space for others and invite them in – even our enemies.

And when we do these things we reflect the love of Jesus onto those we serve and reflect the love of Jesus back onto Jesus.

And in doing so we satisfy the great commandments.

We love God.

We love each other.

Whether we know it or not.

Is that fair?

I think so.

It is the image of God in each of us.

And all of us – all of us – can agree that these things are inherently good.

And that we must do these things,

It’s what allows our human community to thrive and survive.

And anyone who doesn’t?

Explain that to Jesus.

Do we all miss the mark sometimes?

You bet.

But Jesus calls us to try.

So what does that mean for us in 2017?

Christine Pohl is a professor of Christian social ethics at Asbury theological Seminary and the author of “Making Room: Recovering Hospitality as a Christian Tradition”.

She says this:

The central importance of hospitality is … being recovered in congregations. We see fresh expressions of welcome when congregations make a place for unchurched children, international students and isolated older people. Congregations are building bridges to … larger communities as they offer … meals [and shelter] and find ways to come along side troubled families.

So we can use Jesus words as a personal quiz.

We can ask ourselves what makes us sheep?

Why would Jesus put us in that group?

That should be our guide to the way we live our lives.

But Jeff, you say, how can we do it?

This is an overwhelming task!

Your right.

When I think about all the things I think are wrong with the world, I am overwhelmed.

What can I do?

What can we do?

Listen to Leonard Sweet, dean of Drake Theological Seminary.

Sweet compares this all-connectedness Jesus talks about with quantum physics.

According to quantum physics, everything is connected.

What happens to one thing happens to everything.

Sweet says this:

Jesus taught that we live in a world where what goes on in one corner affects every corner, where what happens to one child in Turkey affects every [person in] Manhattan. How can this be? One of the greatest discoveries of the soul, Jesus said, is the awareness that there is no separation between anything. Touch one thing and you touch everything. Touch earth and you touch heaven. Help one life and you help every life. Show one person love and you show love to the universe. Inasmuch as you did it to the least of these, you did it to Jesus.

Jesus says we can do these things to the person in our presence.

The person right there.

The person we come across in our daily lives.

The person in our community.

The person in the community next to us.

The person in the country next to us.

And that is what we try to do here at JMPC.

Do we provide for the material needs of the least of these wherever we find them?

Yes.

When we go Produce to People, World Vision.

When we garden for the SHIM food bank.

When we feed and shelter those who come for Family Promise.

When we provide building materials and labor for our neighbors in Chiapas, South Carolina, Oklahoma and New Orleans.

When we send bags of corn to the hungry in Malawi.

We help fund the care of orphans in Malawi.

When we mentor young people in Duquesne.

We fund shelters for abused women.

We fund rehabilitation for addicted mothers so they can live with their children during the process.

We help fund SHIM which assists refugees in the Pittsburgh area.

When we educate inner city women on prenatal care.

When we sit with the elderly and listen to their stories.

That is what people at JMPC do every day.

And when we touch one of these people in need, we touch everyone else.

And we touch Jesus.

Is there more to do?

Of course.

There always is.

But rather than throw up your hands and shake your head, find someone who needs hospitality and provide some.

Then, when you stand in front of Jesus, you won’t have to ask why you are a sheep.

You will know.

You gave food, water, clothing, welcome, care and company to those who needed it.

You gave them what Jesus gave you.

Hospitality.

That is living the Jesus way.