All Saints Anglican Church, Prescott, AZ
Text: Matthew 25:31-46
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be always acceptable in thy sight, O Lord our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
Today is the last Sunday in Trinity. It is officially called “the Sunday Next before Advent,” but commonly called “stir-up Sunday,” because of our collect. The prayer for this Sunday asks the Lord to “stir-up the wills of thy faithful people; that they bring forth the fruits of good works.” As we wrap up this season of Trinity, I pray that this is in fact our prayer, that our wills would be stirred up, that we would be learning to see how to be a blessing to our community and the world for the sake of Christ.
It is a fitting shifting of view because we are wrapping up our season of learning in Trinitytide and turning our eyes to Advent which is a season of preparation. In a lot of ways Advent is similar to Lent, yet, where Lent we intentionally seek out our hearts for unrepented sin, looking for places that we need to repent, and prayerfully turn back to the Lord, in areas that we haven’t trusted in Him as faithfully as we ought to have. Advent is a season of preparing our hearts and minds to worship him eternally.
Advent is, therefore, in many ways, a double edged season, a season of already – but not yet. Already – in that we remember the coming of Christ, we remember the expectation that was held for years, that a good king would come, a king to justly rule over his people, a king that would set his people free from the tyranny of other rulers. That hope was fulfilled in Christ, Christ is the good king that justly rules over his people. It is this long held hope that we remember throughout the season of Advent.
It is also a season of not yet, for although the kingdom of heaven was established when Christ died on the cross, and rose again, and the seal was put on it when the Holy Spirit was given – the Church, as we discussed is the kingdom of heaven manifest in the here and now. Yet it is no fool that thinks that the world has yet to be perfected. So, the not yet is the fact that we are faithfully waiting, faithfully doing the will of Christ in the world around us, faithfully being reminded year in and out that we need the Holy Spirit, that we need the Lord to stir up his people to do his will, that we would be looking forward to the day in which the Lord returns.
This morning’s lesson picks up at the end of Christ’s teaching on the final days, and presents us with his final judgement. In order to understand this we need to first establish and firmly understand the order of salvation. We have talked about this before, but it was some time ago – and like all things that we are striving to learn, it is good to revisit because with our passage this morning, it would be easy to get things out of order. As with all things we need to be aware of the whole witness of scripture and not just a single passage.
Our salvation does not come through good works, but rather through faith in Christ. The rallying cry of the reformation is particularly helpful. This cry iss commonly called the five Solas. “Sola Gratia, Sola Fide, Solus Christus, Sola Scriptura, Soli Deo Gloria.” That is – By grace alone, by faith alone, Through Christ alone, the scriptures alone have authority, and all for the glory of God alone.
That is to say that we are saved by grace alone, through the faith that we have in Christ alone, that doctrine can only be set by the word of God, and we do all this not to our glory, or to the glory of any institution but to the glory of God. While, there were certainly some aberrant things that happened, at least in part because of the Reformation, these rallying cries are helpful for us to return to time and again. For it is often tempting, especially when we read a passage like the one this Sunday to think “well, I need to do this or that” in order to be saved,” or in order to receive the blessing I’d like.
Not so, we are saved because of Christ’s death and resurrection – we are saved to glorify God. We are saved to be Christ to the nations, saved to lay down our lives for others, saved that we might glorify Him in all we do.
It is out of this salvation that good works comes. We are not to be dead in our walk with Christ, rather, our walk with him is to be lively, it is to let his light shine before all men, that we might glorify Him always, in all things.
It is always tempting to think “ah – well I know Christ now, I can do as I please.” And there is a truth in this. It has been said that Augustine said “Love God and love man, and then do as you please,” though, I am not so certain he actually said this and leaving this saying that simply, can be dangerous, but it is also true. However, we must remember that to love God, means to do his will, and to love our fellow man, means to lay down our life. Suddenly, doing as we please isn’t so much an act of selfishness – but a loving act of laying down our life to the glory of God. Suddenly this pithy saying becomes a mighty task, even a difficult calling at times, yet a very good calling. For, when we love Christ – doing as we please, is the act of doing his will, for there is not greater thing.
Now, we come to New Testament lesson today – and the vision that Christ shares with his disciples is markedly similar to the vision that St. John shares in his apocalyptic revelation. The Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. We are reminded that Christ is the king of glory, rightly seated at the righthand of the Father, rightly seated in glory. It is from this throne of glory – that the Lord rules and judges justly. Furthermore, the angels and arch-angels and all the nations will bend a knee before him in rightful recognition of this glory.
Beyond recognizing that angels are often bearers of praise to our living Lord, it is odd that they are mentioned here, for they end up bearing no real roll in the narrative. However, they do echo other portions of scripture – including our portion from last week, where the angels gathered together the elect and elsewhere, where we see God’s visitation, it is often accompanied by angels. So we reminded, yet again of the divinity of Christ.
We then shift to a scene not of worship, but of judgement. I think it is often difficult to talk about judgement, for we like the loving, gracious, and merciful God that we know in Christ, but we often shy away from the judgement of God because it doesn’t seem nice. Yet, even the judgement of God should be of some comfort to us. For, although, it would be better that all people repent of their sin, though it would be better for them to come to know the same mercy and grace we enjoy – it is, I think, more comforting to know that judgement is personal, not some metaphysical force like karma. That judgement is perfectly just, just as God is perfectly just.
Verse 32 is probably an intentional echo of the Old Testament prophets Joel and Isaiah who use the same exact phrase as Matthew uses here, as they talk about God calling together the nations.
Yet, there’s something else interesting that happens here, it almost acts as a pivot if you look at the whole witness of St. Matthew’s gospel. For earlier it is the nations that despise Christ, and those who would follow him, and latter Christ will command his disciples to go into the nations to preach the gospel, and baptize. Yet, here is a turning point – the nations, all nations have a chance to come to Christ, to become his sheep, to not be separated away like the goats.
We have a chance to share the gospel which we enjoy with all people, share the good news that although we have sinned, although we have rebelled against the law of God, against the right ordering of the world – that Christ died for our sins, to redeem us, to set us back on the right path. Not only us, but all those who would harken to his voice and follow after Him. So it is, that even if the nations, even if our nation, even if people, even if friends, acquaintances, colleagues, or family persecute us for the sake of Christ – even then – we continue for the sake of the gospel, to do good works and glorify God, even then we pray that they would know the goodness of the Lord, that we enjoy. Even then our hope for those who have set themselves against us is not that they would receive judgement but the same mercy we enjoy. And so we pray for them and seek to bless them.
Yet, this judgement will separate Christ’s sheep from the goats, from those who did not harken to his voice, who when hearing his call hardened their hearts and turned away. Bishop Ryle makes an especially helpful note here:
All that are judged will be divided into two great classes. There will no longer be any distinction between kings and subjects, or masters and servants, or dissenters and churchmen. There will be no mention of ranks and denominations, for the former things will have passed away. Grace, or no grace, conversion or unconversion, faith or no faith, will be the only distinctions at the last day. All that are found in Christ will be placed among the sheep at His right hand. All that are not found in Christ will be placed among the goats at His left. 
We often want to find our salvation through anything but Christ – well I am Anglican, and my dad was Anglican, and his dad was Anglican… and so on and so forth. Or, I am American and America is God’s country, so I am one of God’s people. Or, I once prayed this prayer at summer camp that said I trusted in Jesus. Or, I am involved in all the church activities. All of these things are good, some even noble, or pleasant things – but on this day judgement when God gathers his sheep none of these things will matter – it will matter that we have heard his voice, and sought to do his will day in and day out regardless of our class, or worldly citizenship, denominational preference or life circumstances.
The Lord calls us to faithfulness, faithfully seeking to do his will, faithfully seeking to glorify him in all that we do, and when we look around on that last day – we will see that there will be kings, and noblemen, priests, and bankers, poor, and impoverished, rich, and affluent, sorrowful and hurt. That last day will be like that wonderful children’s hymn that lists off all the types of people who are saints, men and women from every profession will be counted as his sheep. Yet, there too will be those who never harkened to his voice, never sought to do his will, who ignored him every day and crossed to the other street to avoid being kind to those who are more needy than us and amongst the goats, will be the same – those from every class of society, and those from every walk of life and profession, even those we hold up as being spiritual people – like priests and pastors.
This is, I think, a sobering thought.
Yet, we learn this morning, as we are seeing, that it is not merely enough to acclaim a belief in Christ – but we are called to do good works. These works don’t save but they are the stamp of our faith, they are the fruit of living in the spirit. To care for the sick, the hurting, the lost, and lonely are the deeds of the church. Make no mistake, there are plenty of kindhearted people who do these good deeds as well, but at the center of our deeds is a desire to be Christ for those people whom we love well, to bring them from their place of suffering, into the comfort that we know in Christ.
Let us think for a moment about the woman at the well. She is a prime example. Christ loved her well, he gave her not the water that alleviates her parched physical thirst, but the living water that not only alleviates, but makes alive. Living water that frees from pain, and hurt and sin. However, it was not enough that she simply drank of the water – her life was changed – and Christ tells her this, when he tells her to go and sin no more.
Just as when we come to Christ a change is demanded of us, too when we help the sick, the hurting, the poor, the lost, the imprisoned, our goal is not to give them a temporary pat on the back that makes them feel better for a moment or acts as a band aid to their problem. Our goal is always to leave them better off than we found them, to leave them not with the gift of temporary relief, but to bring them into the relief of eternal life found in Christ, and it is Christ that can permanently and powerfully change lives.
Even in Church discipline, our goal is not to exact revenge, but it is first to protect those whom the person has hurt – and secondly, to bring those who have caused the pain back into a place walking with the Lord. The business of the church is not good works, it is not kind deeds, it is not to be another social safety net – the business of the church is to tend to the hurting souls, it is to patch up those who come in broke by the world, crying out in pain because of their own sin, and the sin that has been caused against them and to proclaim with boldness that Christ has died, and Christ is risen, and in His death and resurrection is the greatest hope that we can know, in his death and resurrection is healing for your pain, and forgiveness for you sins.
It is out of this posture that we seek to bear the fruits that He talks about today, for yes, it is an imperative that we would care for those who are less fortunate than us, that we would seek to bless those that are hurting, seek to be kind to those who have never known kindness.
I want to make mention of one more thing – and then I want to return to a challenge that I made last week – and reiterate it again this week, and I will probably continue to reiterate it throughout the season of Advent. I want to make note about what the prompting of the Holy Spirit looks like – it is a rare gift to have some major charismatic moment, and if you do have such a charismatic moment, Christ coming to you calling you to him, Christ telling you to go and bless this person or that person, Christ coming to you and telling you to go to this place or that place, if you have experienced such a thing you will want to check it against scripture, and with your brothers and sisters in Christ. It may be legitimate, or it may not be, but this is far more rare than how the Spirit normally works.
What is more likely – is you have an idea one morning while showering or while you’re praying – perhaps All Saints could do this to bless our town and the nations, perhaps we could start that ministry and it is just an idea, and you forget about it, until a few days later and you are eating your cereal, and you remember it again. It is the same for calls to repentance, rarely will Christ come to you and say “REPENT OF THIS YE SINNER!” Rather, you will get this nagging sensation in your heart and mind that something is wrong and that you need to turn away from some action that is not good for your soul.
The spirit, generally, works quietly, sometimes through friends who point out something, or who share with you a good idea, or you hear something in a sermon that prods you into a deeper reading of the word, or you just notice something in scripture that you hadn’t noticed before. Only a few will have a charismatic experience, and then we must be on guard to not make it into a god – seeking the next experience, but rather giving thanks to the Lord for the clarity He has given us and then set to the task that he has called us to, expecting that our daily call will be a quieter, simpler one.
Now, I want to return to that challenge I gave earlier – I want to challenge each and every one of us – to take the prayer for today to heart – let us be praying that the Lord would “stir-up the wills of thy faithful people, to stir up our wills; that we would bring forth the fruits of good works.” Pray that he would make clear to us as a body – how we continue to bless the Prescott, Prescott Valley, Chino Valley, Dewey, and beyond for the sake of the kingdom.
We have lovely things in place that are already blessing the world and our community for Christ – but this season, let us be given to the task of asking the Lord what there is that we as a community can be given to blessing those around us more deeply. Perhaps there will be things that we see that we can do individually, and perhaps there will be things that we can be doing as a community. Perhaps three or four of you will want to take on a specific task, perhaps the Lord will call us to do something as one body, in unity.
So, be in prayer – and then if you have a good idea call me, we will talk and pray, and look and see if it is something we can do, if it is something that is gospel centered, and see how it would play out in our little Christian community.
As we enter into the Advent season, let our hearts be attuned to the voice of our good shepherd, Jesus Christ our Lord. Let us be attuned and attentive to what he is calling us to. Let us be aware of those in our community that are sick, hurting, impoverished, who are wounded by loss and sin, let us be given to the task of caring for them, so that in the love of Christ that we know and enjoy, Christ would be glorified.
And so, let us pray –
Stir up, we beseech thee, O Lord, the wills of thy faithful people; that they, plenteously bringing forth the fruit of good works, may by thee be plenteously rewarded; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen
And so the King shall answer and say unto them, Varily, I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.
The offertory hymn is hymn number
 Ryle, J. C. (1860). Expository Thoughts on Matthew (p. 342). New York: Robert Carter & Brothers.