November 22, 2020

Pizza for Jesus


Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24
For thus says the Lord GOD: I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out. As shepherds seek out their flocks when they are among their scattered sheep, so I will seek out my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places to which they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land; and I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the watercourses, and in all the inhabited parts of the land.
I will feed them with good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel shall be their pasture; there they shall lie down in good grazing land, and they shall feed on rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord GOD.
I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with justice. Therefore, thus says the Lord GOD to them: I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep.
Because you pushed with flank and shoulder, and butted at all the weak animals with your horns until you scattered them far and wide, I will save my flock, and they shall no longer be ravaged; and I will judge between sheep and sheep. I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd.
And I, the LORD, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them; I, the LORD, have spoken.

Ephesians 1:15-23
I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love toward all the saints, and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. I pray that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation as you come to know him, so that, with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he has called you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance among the saints, and what is the immeasurable greatness of his power for us who believe, according to the working of his great power.
God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. And he has put all things under his feet and has made him the head over all things for the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all.

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. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the nations one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left.
Then 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; for 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, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’ Then the righteous nations will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ And 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.’
Then 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; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I 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.’ Then those nations 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?’ Then 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.’ And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

There was a story on the news the other day in Edmonton that caught my attention. A local boy, Graeson Borosiuk had a birthday wish. His wish was for his tenth birthday that he would help donate 100 pizzas, 10 for each year of his life to  Boyle Street Community services.
Boyle street Community Services is an Edmonton agency that supports those experiencing homelessness and poverty.
Graeson got the idea when there was hockey in Edmonton a few months ago and the Las Vegas Golden Knights bought pizza for Boyle Street community services five times.
So, he asked people instead of presents to donate a pizza to Boyle Street, for the poor and the homeless.
And I had been reading the scripture for this Sunday and I thought.
‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my human family, you did it to me.’
So, there you have it. I thought Graeson is not only giving pizza to the poor and homeless, he is giving pizza to Jesus.
Graeson wasn’t probably thinking that. In fact, if we were to commend him for giving pizza to Jesus, he would probably say, “when did I give pizza to Jesus?”
And that’s the point isn’t it? Jesus says that you give it to him, when you don’t think you are, and you think you are just helping somebody in need, or somebody forgotten or left out by society.
Out scripture lesson today, often called the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats, has inspired lots of people over the years in various ways.

One other interesting and current Canadian story is of the Canadian sculptor Timothy Schmalz who designed and cast a sculpture called Homeless Jesus based on this very parable, The Sheep and the Goats. It depicts a homeless person sleeping on a park bench. The homeless person’s face and hands are obscured, hidden by the blanket the homeless person is wrapped up in. The only way to tell this is Jesus is by the crucifixion wound on the two feet sticking out of the blanket.
While the first cast of this statue was offered to big cathedrals in Canada and the United States, they declined the statue and the first cast was put at Regis College, the Jesuit School of Theology at the university of Toronto. But more cast were made and now over 100 casts of this sculpture have appeared around the world.
The Pope’s reaction when he saw it was to touch it and get down on his knees and pray.
Not everyone has a positive reaction to it.
But the sculpture at the very least makes us think. Who is Jesus? Where is Jesus in this world? What kind of king is Jesus who eats pizza with the homeless and sleeps on a park bench?
What does it mean to be servants of this king? What does the rule of Jesus really mean?

We might contrast that kingship of Jesus to that of other Royals in our day and age. About two and a half years almost 2 billion people tuned in to watch the Royal Wedding of Prince Harry and Meghan Markle.
In Britain and around the world watching and following the British Royals is a huge industry.
And while the British Royal Family is very wealthy and the Royal women especially are noted for new outfits every week, and while many of these Royals are adored,  being a Royal is no picnic. It is hard work and little privacy. Harry and Meghan have opted out of Royal Life and its demands.
But the Royals of whom we know are a far cry from the homeless eating pizza at Boyle street, or the homeless sleeping on a park bench, or by the door of First Presbyterian Church.
But every time our caretaker Norm takes a cup of coffee to one of the homeless who sleep outside our church, and often mess it up, and sometime even vandalize our church, we must remember.
That inasmuch as he gives a cup of coffee to the least of the members of the human family he is giving a cup of coffee to Jesus.
The parable again is a demanding and difficult parable. The shift in the parable is actually one I like, but there is a part of the parable that on the surface I don’t like at all.
The shift in the parable is the criteria for making the separation.
For many of us who were brought up in Christianity, it was mostly said that the important part of Christianity is belief.
That we had to believe in Jesus. That we had to believe certain things about Jesus. Like possibly we had to believe that he rose from death, that he was born of a virgin, that he performed miracles.
All of these things have been questioned at times by science, or by modern scholarship, or by liberal theologians in some ways.  Maybe you have questioned them.
And sometimes the answer was given that even though such things are hard to believe, that is what faith is. It is believing things that are hard to believe.
And yet along comes this parable about separating people into two sides, the sheep and the goats and the parable makes the distinction that the sheep are the good ones and the goats are the bad ones.
And the criteria for the separation??? How you treat the poor, the refugees, the sick and the prisoners?
Now some people, some theologians,  have said this is about the actual end of the world and it is what will literally happen in the future, that God, or Jesus the king will actually separate all the people into those who go to heaven and those who go to hell. In fact, some have said this is not a parable. It is not a story about what the reign of God is like, what the kingdom of Jesus is about…
…but that is just the literal truth of what will happen…
If that were so… then Muslims, Jews, atheists, Hindus, Sikhs and the other people of all kinds of religion or noter in the world, would be judged not by believing in Jesus, but on the basis of whether they helped the poor, the refugee, the sick and the prisoner…
And for some like myself, I kind of like the fact that the emphasis here is on love and kindness and compassion and reaching out to the needy.
What I don’t like is the whole separating thing. I have been saying for weeks that in Matthew’s gospel that Matthew has had this whole conflict between Jesus and the Leaders of the Jews. And the Leaders of the Jews have very strict understandings of whom God will bless and reward and Jesus is point to a very different vision and a very different Kingdom where grace goes out to all, even the undeserving, and face of it, most of us fit into that category.
Frankly it might be scary to think how many of us Christians would be on the side of the goats if Jesus were to separate us into sheep and goats, and I include myself as one who talks the talk of caring for the least of these, but like many others has trouble in the actual doing of it.
How much do we have to share and give to actually make it to the sheep side.
Help a poor person once, visit a prisoner twice, help three refugees, care for four sick people.
Do we have to give a certain percent of our income to make it to the sheep side?
Nobody knows, and if you are like me, you wonder how much would be enough, and you wonder, maybe I haven’t done enough to make it to the sheep side.
But I think this is a parable. I think it is not a literal representation of what actual will happen at the last day.
I think God’s grace is bigger than this story and our sin is also pretty big too, and it is hard to say who could really stand before the scrutiny of God and not end up on the goat side, except for the grace and mercy of God.
But one interpretative note I think we should make is the fact that newer translations actually translate the scriptures wrongly.
Listen to how the New Revised Standard Version has the second line.
All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left.
The word I am referring to is “people.”
The New International Version is: he will separate the people.
The Good News: the people of all the nations will be gathered before him.
In the original Greek, the word is autos meaning “them”
The King James and the Revised Standard Version translate it more literally, and so listen when it is translated more literally:
Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.
Who is gathered before the King? The Nations. And he will separate them. Who is them? The Nations.
So, I read: 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. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the nations one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left.
It makes a big difference. If we use the word people it sounds as if the King is separating individual people one from the other based on the criteria of how they helped the least.
But if you use the pronoun, them, then the separation is about the nations being separated.
And why is this so important? Because while it does matter what you do individually, when Jesus speaks truth to power, he often is critical of the institutions. Jesus is wrestling against the principalities and powers, not individual flesh and blood humans, but the institutions like the Roman Political System and the Jewish Religious and Political System which as institutions were biased against the poor, the foreigner, the sick and the ones who had done wrong.
This parable can be interpreted as a criticism of all institutions that fail the weak, the vulnerable and the least in our cultures and societies.
And for a case in point, we only have to look at what has happened in Nursing Homes and Care Homes in our country since the pandemic. Is not Jesus lying in hundreds of hospital beds all over Canada, not being visited, not necessarily receiving adequate care, a victim of systems ill-prepared for Covid, and at times unwilling to invest the money into the proper care of the sick and elderly in our society.
Is not Jesus lying in the streets homeless in the City of Edmonton and indeed all over out country?
Is not Jesus languishing in prison, under conditions that against popular belief are nothing like Club Med, but often are dehumanizing and dangerous, more so since the Coronavirus seems to have the ability to rip through institutions like prisons.]?
Is not Jesus at great risk in our immigrant or newcomer populations who often have low-paying jobs service jobs where they have to go to work, and can’t stay home and work from home, and so are at greater risk of getting the virus?
So, we can read this parable as a lesson for us as individuals to help the poor, the weak, the lonely and the forgotten.
And we can read this parable as a criticism of our financial, political, health, educational, social, military and religious systems that often favour the weak and have prejudice against minorities and the poor and the vulnerable and the criminal.
And yet, I will remind you that it is a parable. And sometimes a parable says less about us and more about God or Jesus or Spirit.
May I remind you that this parable says a lot about who Jesus is…
Jesus is alive and not so well on planet earth. On Easter I talk about Jesus being alive, that Jesus is risen and lives in those who follow his way of love and acceptance. That the resurrection is not just a doctrine, but an event where Jesus is born anew in us and we begin to live like him.
But this parable point out that Jesus is not just in the ones who love, but in the ones who need love.
And the ones who need love and not always nice and wonderful people.
We sometimes fail to realize that the ones Jesus mentioned, the Sick, the foreigners, the poor and the prisoner, were all considered worthless, or cursed by God, or unclean, or bad.
They were not just poor unfortunates in the eyes of people in Jesus’ day. They were basically bad people who deserved it.
And so, when we read the parable we must not forget that Jesus is not just talking about innocent sick people and refugees and poor people…
But that Jesus is found in the people who don’t deserve him as well. The crabby, the criminal, the poor person who is poor because of evil and bad choices, the drug user, abuser and dealer, the people who are in prison because they jolly well earned it by doing horrible things to other people.
Think of the worst people you can think of, and if they need help, then Jesus is there too.
I don’t like it. But in other words, in a parable about separating nations or people into sheep or goats, the criteria seems to be, that the sheep are the ones who help the goats.
So, there is yet another way to read this parable. It is a tongue in cheek parable about the way we humans love to separate people into sheep and goats.
The sheep are the good people and the goats are the bad people.  We all know who they are…
But Jesus takes the common understanding of the good and bad people and then says the good people are the ones who help the bad people and the bad people are not bad, just in need of grace.
Jesus turns the whole system on its head. The ones everybody thought were the bad ones, cursed by God are God’s children.
Jesus even calls them his family.
‘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.’
The truth may just be this. That everyone of us are in need of grace. All of us are sick. All of us at times are strangers, or different, or have foreign ways to other. All of us have our own kind of poverty, emotional, spiritual and sometimes financial and economic, and all of us have done wrong and are prisoners of sin and greed and selfishness. All of us stand in need of grace.
And the truth is this too. That every one of us has the opportunity to give grace, to share grace, to offer hospitality, to include the different, to forgive the sinner, to reconcile with the enemy, to bind up the wounds of the hurting, to share with the needy, whether that is emotional, spiritual, financial or material support. All of us can offer grace.
For Christ is not in a couple of people. Christ is in every person and every person is family on this earth and every person is part of Christ’s family.Amen.