Pass It On

By Rev. Heidi L. Barham |  November 26, 2017

Read Matthew 25:31 - 46
Depending on which version of the Bible you may read, there are several different headings that appear before this passage of scripture. 
In some Bibles, this passage is labeled “The Judgement of the Nations,” “The Son of Man Will Judge the Nations,” or “The Judgment,” or “The Final Judgment,” while in others it is simply labeled, “The Sheep and the Goats.”
Regardless of the heading, the text contains Jesus’ illustration of what that day will be like when we must face judgment for how we have lived our lives and what we have done with the blessings that God has given to us.
Have we simply taken the gifts of time, talent and treasure that God has provided to us and kept them for ourselves?  Or have we done what Jesus would do and made the decision to PASS IT ON so that we can be a blessing to someone else?
In this parable in our text for the morning, Jesus uses the images of sheep and goats as symbols to represent believers and non-believers.  The two groups of animals are typically found grazing together in the same fields, just as believers and non-believers are often found living, working and socializing together in the same places.
And just as sheep and goats are separated when it is time for them to be sheared -- Jesus teaches in this passage that believers and non-believers will be separated at the day of judgment.
Now one can usually look and see the difference between a sheep and a goat, but what differentiates the life of a believer from that of a non-believer? 
Let me suggest that it becomes evident by the fruit that they produce.  
The Apostle Paul wrote in Galatians 5 (19 – 23):
“The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God. 
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.”
Let me suggest that when we surrender our lives to Christ, those obvious acts of the flesh and the things of this world begin to lose their attractiveness.  Instead, our hearts and minds become energized and our lives become enriched by focusing on what brings glory to God.
And what brings more glory to God than producing fruit that results in the giving of ourselves through caring for God’s people?
In our text, Jesus highlights actions that we can and should take to extend mercy towards others.  These are things that can be done regardless of one’s socioeconomic status or the level of education one may have completed. 
The acts of kindness and compassion that Jesus describes in this passage are within the means for all of us to give.  It is really a matter of giving of our time and attention to help meet the needs of someone who may be less fortunate than us.
Today is Stewardship Commitment Sunday, the time when we pledge our financial support to the ongoing work and ministry of the church.  But let me just say that it is also a time for us to recommit ourselves to giving of our time and our talents as well, so that we can be a blessing to someone else who may find themselves in need.
In the text, Jesus calls our attention to those who are hungry and thirsty, the homeless and naked, the sick and imprisoned; the ones who society would classify as the last, the least and the lost.
And yet, Jesus’ teaching in this parable reminds us that whatever we do (or don’t do) for those persons who have been overlooked, cast off and marginalized, in essence we do it (or don’t do it) to Him.
As I read over this passage this past week, something struck me --
When people are hurting and struggling, society often jumps to a quick (and might I add faulty conclusion) that it must be because of something that this person has done, some sin that they have committed that has led them to find themselves in less than desirable circumstances.
We are often quick to point fingers and lay the blame at the feet of the person in need rather than accept that we may have even the slightest accountability in the situation.
But even if that were the case -- and I am absolutely NOT saying that it is -- but even if all of a person’s circumstances could simply be blamed on sin; the scriptures tell us that Jesus, who had no sin, became sin for us so that we might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:21).
That means that Jesus has taken on not only all of our sins, but the sins of each and every one of those people who are in need.  And so, when we reach out to them, we really are reaching out to Christ -- the One knew no sin and became sin and who lives inside of each and every one of them, just as He lives inside each and every one of us.
And so, let me encourage you, the next time you see someone in need of food, clothing or shelter, or someone who just needs a hand to hold or a friendly face to gaze upon -- realize that who you are really looking at and reaching out to is Jesus. 
It’s like a story that I think I shared with you a while ago, but it is one that bears repeating.
A woman found a note in her mailbox with no stamp and no postmark that read, “Dear Ruth, I’m going to be in your neighborhood Saturday afternoon and I’d like to stop by for a visit.  Love Always, Jesus”
Her hands were shaking as she placed the letter on the table. “Why would the Lord want to visit me? I’m nobody special. I don’t have anything to offer.”
With that thought, Ruth remembered her empty kitchen cabinets. “Oh my goodness, I really don’t have anything to offer. I’ll have to run down to the store and buy something for dinner.”  She reached for her purse and counted out its contents. Seven dollars and forty cents. “Well, I can get some bread and cold cuts, at least.” She threw on her coat and hurried out the door.
She came out of the store with a loaf of French bread, a half-pound of sliced turkey, and a carton of milk and a grand total of twelve cents to last her until Monday. Nonetheless, she felt satisfied as she headed home, her meager offerings tucked under her arm. 
Ruth had been so absorbed in her dinner plans, she hadn’t even noticed two figures huddled in the alleyway until one of them said, “Excuse me, can you help us, ma’am?” It was a man and a woman, both of them dressed in little more than rags.
“Look lady, I don’t have a job, and my wife and I have been living out here on the street, and, now it’s getting cold and we’re getting hungry.  If you could help us, we’d really appreciate it.”  Ruth looked at them both. They were dirty, they smelled bad and, frankly, she was certain that they could get some kind of work if they really wanted to. “Sir, I’d like to help you, but I’m a poor woman myself. All I have is a few cold cuts and some bread, and I’m having an important guest for dinner tonight and I was planning on serving that to Him.”  “Okay, I understand. Thanks anyway.”
The man put his arm around the woman’s shoulders, turned and headed back into the alley. As she watched them leave, Ruth felt a familiar twinge in her heart. “Sir, wait!” The couple stopped and turned as she ran down the alley after them. “Look, why don’t you take this food. I’ll figure out something else to serve my guest.” She handed the man her grocery bag.
“Thank you, lady. Thank you very much!” “Yes, thank you!” It was the man’s wife, and Ruth could see now that she was shivering.
“You know, I’ve got another coat at home. Here, why don’t you take this one.” Ruth unbuttoned her jacket and slipped it over the woman’s shoulders. Then smiling, she turned and walked back to the street . . . without her coat and with nothing to serve her guest. “Thank you, lady! Thank you very much!”
Ruth was chilled by the time she reached her front door, and worried too. The Lord was coming to visit and she didn’t have anything to offer Him. She fumbled through her purse for the door key. But as she did, she noticed another envelope in her mailbox. “That’s odd. The mailman doesn’t usually come twice in one day.” She took the envelope out of the box and opened it.  It said, “Dear Ruth, It was so good to see you again. Thank you for the lovely meal. And thank you too, for the beautiful coat.
Love Always, Jesus”
It is like we read in Hebrews 13:2, “Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by so doing some people have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.”
The charge to us is not to judge the person, but to help meet the need, whenever we can.  Unfortunately, there is often a lot of heated debate over just who we should and should not help; but we should not forget the story of the Good Samaritan that Jesus told when the legal scholar asked who his “neighbor” was.  This question arose after the legal scholar asked Jesus about what it took to inherit eternal life.  When Jesus asked the man what was written in God’s law and how he interpreted it, the man replied correctly, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind’; and, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself’” (Luke 10:27).
But in his attempt to find a loophole, he asked Jesus to define who his neighbor was.  By telling the parable of the Good Samaritan, Jesus was taking the focus off of the “who’ and placing it on the “what” – serving when service is needed.
And that is the same focus that we see in our text for today.  The time will come when people will have to give an account and explain to the Lord why they did not serve when service was needed; why they did not show love when the opportunity was right there in front of them.  And let me just say, the eternal punishment that awaits them will not be pretty.
But the good news for those who continually strive to answer the call of Christ to show love and compassion, who feed the hungry, give drink to the thirsty, clothe the naked, give shelter to the homeless, and visit the sick and imprisoned -- they have the promise that they will receive their inheritance in the kingdom of heaven.
Now this is the point where I need to make something abundantly clear: our salvation does NOT come as a result of our works!  It is NOT something we earn as a result of our giving and serving others.  In fact, Ephesians 2 (8 – 10) makes it quite clear:
For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God— not by works, so that no one can boast.  For we are God’s handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.
We are not saved BY our works -- but we are saved to DO good works.
Our salvation does not come as a result of us doing good things to help other people.  But once we have received the gift of salvation, we find a desire in our hearts that makes us want to do good things to help others – to spread God’s love – to PASS IT ON, whenever and wherever we can.
It is because God has been so faithful to us and given us His Son, Jesus, to be our Savior, that our response to God’s love and faithfulness will be borne out in our faithfulness to loving and serving God and the people of God.
And we ought to have a sense of urgency in our spirit when it comes to God’s love and faithfulness to PASS IT ON to someone else -- to give of our time, talent and treasure to show kindness and compassion to those who are in need.
And in that sharing, our hope and prayer ought to be that those who do not know Christ will want to know Him; that they will want to know what it is that causes perfect strangers to show such kindness and compassion to them.
So, if you are grateful for God’s love and faithfulness to us and have a desire to PASS IT ON to others, then won’t you stand and join in singing our Hymn of Discipleship Great Is Thy Faithfulness #86.