I am moving within 8 days. And my wife has contracted the cold of the century. The clear mission of getting things boxed has stalled. The vision of a home ready to be vacated, cleaned, and available for sale/rent by a certain deadline is unlikely to be met. Such is the nature of life….the best laid plans….yada, yada, yada.
Mission and Vision are important. And churches are expending tons of energy trying to figure out their mission and visions. Denominations encourage parishes to develop mission plans and congregations perform self-studies, some even hire an outside consultant. And all of these are grand efforts, but is it all really necessary? I am not so sure.
Let’s shift to the Matthew 25 text which is read on Christ the King Sunday in year A of the RCL. It continues in the series of readings that are generally called “judgment parables.” Last week we heard about a bridegroom whose visit ended in a party where some didn’t make the cut. Now we hear about sheep and goats. And in none of this do we hear anything about “accepting Jesus,” “finding Jesus,” or “making Jesus personal Lord, Savior, and Divine Do-boy.” What we hear instead is Vision and Mission.
The Vision is a world being restored by people (not by some supernatural event). Jesus outlines it in this way:
- 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.
There it is outlined from v. 35 and 36. Jesus is the one in need. People are the ones meeting the need—a specific group of people. That group is referred to as “the righteous” in v. 37. And what becomes apparent in this text is that the “culling/receiving” criteria being used by “the Son of Man” is the business of who is living into the vision by way of mission. And in an odd irony, Jesus indicates that “the righteous” may not realize that in their mission to live into the vision that they are actually meeting the needs of Jesus.
“The righteous,” who are Mission partners say to Jesus in vv. 37-39:
- ‘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 responds in turn, saying, “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 vision the king apparently has is one that employs sharing to “the least of these who are…my family.” The king claims kinship with the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the prisoner, the naked, the sick, and the imprisoned. These ones in want/need are the family of the king. The righteous are being met by Jesus as they go about need meeting in the king’s family.
I make an indictment here. If your parish has a Vision that does not make “serving the least of these” top priority, and as result, your parish’s Mission is about something other than meeting the needs of the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the prisoner, the naked, the sick, and the imprisoned, then you may most certainly know that both your parish’s Vision and Mission are not that of the Jesus found in Matthew 25.
The ones to whom this Jesus says, “‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world,” (v.34) are out there in the world doing the mission outlined by Matthew’s Jesus’ vision.
If your parish has made the focus on “soul-winning,” or “building expansion,” or “capital campaigns,” then check these activities against the list offered by Jesus in this text. If there is no correlation, then know your project is most likely self-serving and highly likely not to be a priority of Jesus. And, in the words of Granddaddy—might even be “goat-headed.”
Goatheaded projects do not belong to the righteous ones—those doing the business of Jesus. Goatheaded projects make people feel good about themselves or their parish, but quench the thirst of no one. It’s no small wonder that Matthew 25’s Jesus says to the goats, “just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” (v. 45) No wonder this goatheaded path ends in a deadend—it’s self-centered. It is not centered on the meeting of the needs of Jesus who meets us in others.
Spare Holy Mother Church the pain of hell, fire, brimstone and self-centrism this Sunday. The only space for “turn-or-burn” preaching in this text is something like, “turn to others—the hungering, thirsting, estranged, naked, imprisoned others, and as you serve them, Jesus meets you in them” for that’s God’s vision. When the “Son of Man” returns be about the business of the kingdom—don’t be goatheaded—be about the mission.
Thanks for continuing to preach this. We all need to hear it over and over and over.