Sunday, November 22, 2020

Reign of Christ Sunday

"Hide Self View"

Pastor Scott Landis

Matthew 25:31-46

Today, we come to the third of three parables in Matthew 25 – and this one may be the most interesting and challenging one of them all. Often erroneously referred to as the “Judgment of the Gentiles” or more accurately the “Separation of the Sheep and the Goats,” it is an important story which almost puts an exclamation point on all three.

The first – the parable of the smart and foolish bridesmaids offered a teaching on preparation, the second – the parable of the talents was a story that described the importance of the relationship between the servants and their master. And this one – much broader in scope – offers an important differentiation – a distinction between compassionate and cautious living, that is, whether our faith is put into action or is it mere words? [Pause]

The parable of the sheep and the goats forces us to look at how we live our lives with respect to those whose situation is probably very different from our own – those who desperately need our love, support, and care. And it reminds us of just how convenient it is not to notice – but instead to look the other way when coming face-to-face with human need. [Pause]

This parable has always haunted me because it forces me to look at my own life in a deeply personal way – and then invites me to look into the face of those who struggle to find food, shelter, clothing, or are imprisoned. And then it goes the next step - forcing me to ask the question, “Am I making a difference in this world?” Does my faith have hands and feet or is it mere words? [Pause]

A group of us gather every Wednesday for what I call the KCC Zoom Room. Typically, I allow some time for check in as my “Zoomers” log onto the meeting, making sure their cameras and audio are all properly oriented. I then continue the meeting by introducing the passage that I am working with for my Sunday sermon. After that, I relinquish all control of the room and the discussion can go in any number of directions. This past week was special. As the discussion unfolded, I knew I was with a true `ohana – a group who loved, cared for, and respected one another. Here’s what happened.

Strong opinions were offered. Different understandings were expressed. Frustration was evident as well as pain and remorse – all focused on this parable. I was struck, yet again, by the honesty and vulnerability of the group and the willingness of each one to listen as a variety of perspectives were shared.

At one point, the discussion centered on our direct interaction with those in need - folks we encounter on the streets as we make our way from store to store. One person reminded us of the deeper call of this parable and a practice that she tries to do – though not always successfully.

As I listened, I reflected on the fact that there are many ways to overlook human need. The simple way is to ignore it altogether – to pretend like you don’t even see the person without shoes – the one who looks like she hasn’t had food for days – or the one who obviously needs medical attention.

Another way is to quickly slap a dollar bill in their hand or toss a power bar their way – acts that might make us feel better, but what have we done, really?

My Zoom Room participant reminded us of something very important: the gift of looking the struggling one in the eye – of acknowledging their humanity. [Pause] It can be a scary but important first step. If we follow the logic of the parable – when we look into the eyes of another – whether in deep human need or not – we see the face of God.

It’s kind of easy to do that when you’re chatting with folks in Aloha Hour – or even participating in a Zoom Room with trusted church friends – but may be a challenge when someone on the street is asking you for some money or a bite to eat. [Pause]

The sheep and the goats in the parable faced this same dilemma, “When did we see you – Jesus – hungry or thirsty, homeless or shivering, sick or imprisoned?”

“I tell you the truth,” he replied. “Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored – that was me – you did it to me!”

Can we see the needs of another or are we too busy worrying about our own? [Pause]

These days I seem to spend half of my life on Zoom clicking from meeting to meeting and from person to person in one-on-one sessions. I only half-jokingly said recently that I’m going to write a book entitled, “From Zoom to Tomb” for that’s the way it feels like my life will end. One last Zoom call and the – plunk! It’ll all be over. -- Just kidding.

On a recent Zoom call the person with whom I was meeting enlightened me to a feature I never knew existed on the platform. It’s called “Hide Self View.” It’s very easy to access, but I won’t go into that now. In “Hide Self View” one can click on a tab and all of the sudden your image disappears. You no longer see yourself. You only see the other and it feels very much like that person is sitting right across from you engaged in a personal conversation. It’s really cool.

In “Hide Self View” I can have much better eye contact with the person I am talking to. No longer am I ‘checking myself out’ to make sure that my hair is right nor do I evaluate what I am wearing – none of that because I’m off the screen and all I can see is the one I am conversing with.

You get where I am going with this? In a weird way, Zoom is giving me some practice at precisely what is being called for in this ancient story. As people of faith, our acts of service are not about us. Rather, they are about being solely focused on the one or ones in need who are right in front of us. I need to see them – to look into their eyes – in order to BEGIN to appreciate their current need. [Pause]

In this story, judgment is not the primary theme. It is certainly an important element but not the central focus. Nor were the goats particularly bad people. They weren’t being criticized for egregious sin. Rather, they just didn’t do anything. They turned away. Pretended not to notice. They focused on themselves rather than the other. I guess they hadn’t yet heard about “Hide Self View.” [Pause]

The hallmark of Jesus’ life and ministry was that he noticed people in their need and did something about it. He never looked away. Instead, he walked toward the problem – the pain – and offered compassion. [Pause]

We can’t possibly solve all the problems with which we are confronted. Simply join us for an Outreach Committee meeting of our church sometime and you’ll see all too quickly how the needs far outweigh the resources we have to offer – and the anguish that causes each one of us as we determine whether or not we can help. And all of that is done without even looking at the person in the eyes.

But we CAN do SOMETHING. We can be Jesus and we can see Jesus as we do our small part in offering hope and healing – even if it’s simply a matter of looking into the eyes of the person in need and acknowledging that they exist.

Sixteenth century Spanish mystic, St. Teresa of Avila, is remembered for her deeply spiritual writing and quotes that uniquely married her deep devotion to God and the practical acts of mercy that arose from that devotion. I will close today with one of my very favorite quotes that describes this union:

“Christ has no body now but yours. No hands, no feet on earth but yours. Yours are the eyes through which he looks with compassion on this world. Yours are the feet with which he walks to do good. Yours are the hands through which he blesses all the world. Yours are the hands, yours are the feet, yours are the eyes, you are his body. Christ has no body now on earth but yours.

It takes some effort, but when we hide our self view – the world can see the Christ in me even as I see the Christ in you.


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