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Sermon for January 1, 2023 – New Year’s Day

Speaking of Life 5006 | The Least of These

While our hearts ache when we encounter a need that we aren’t able to meet, we trust that Jesus knows and will ultimately meet all of our needs. We get the joy of participating in Jesus’ ministry by faithfully caring for one another as we are able and led.

Program Transcript

Speaking of Life 5006 | The Least of These
Greg Williams

In my travels locally and around the world, it is devastating to see the different forms of poverty that I encounter. On a recent trip to South Africa, a young boy came knocking on the window asking for money while we were stuck in traffic. I wanted to help but I didn’t have any local money. One of the people inside the car gave me a few coins to pass on to the young boy. As soon as I gave the money, a crowd started to form surrounding our car. If you helped one, everyone else came and asked for help. As we drove away, it broke my heart that I couldn’t help them all.

In his humanity, Jesus experienced this too. In his earthly ministry, Jesus healed people that he encountered but he couldn’t heal them all. Healing them was only a short-term solution. Jesus couldn’t devote all of his time to healing people rather he was devoted to preaching the good news about our loving Father who invites us into a relationship and Kingdom where one day every need will be met and all will be made well.

Every day we are confronted with the reality that there is a world full of endless needs. It can get overwhelming just thinking about all the problems that exist in our own tiny part of the planet. We know we cannot solve the world’s problems nor meet all the needs that we constantly see around us, but we can do our part to participate in the work that God is doing in the environs where we inhabit.

In Matthew 25, Jesus lists a group of people who are in dire situations. After mentioning their circumstances, He equates our service to them with meeting his own needs.

For I was hungry, and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty, and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick, and you looked after me, I was in prison, and you came to visit me.’

Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’

The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
Matthew 25:35-40

The situations that Jesus mentions in this passage of Matthew’s gospel are practical needs, which, if we are honest with ourselves, rarely present themselves to us when it is most convenient. Further, these needs may involve sacrifice on our part. And that’s his point.

Participating in Jesus’ kingdom will often involve sacrificially doing something practical for someone else. This list Jesus presents in Matthew 25 was not meant to be comprehensive. He wants us to look around and see the needs of those around us.

Who are the “least of these” in your own life? Who is God placing on your heart? Have you asked him? I find that the Holy Spirit is oftentimes nudging me, and I am growing to respond more readily.

Here are a few basic ideas to consider. What if you called that friend who is struggling emotionally? How about providing meals to the person in your neighborhood who just went through surgery? What if we walked across the street and took a plate of homemade cookies to a new neighbor? One of our churches in the Philippines has an active program called “Good in the Neighborhood.” I think this is what Jesus had in mind.

Notice that some of the people on Jesus’ list were probably responsible for the predicament that they found themselves in. Does it matter? Let’s remember, it is not our job to weed out the least of these by those we deem as worthy of our help. God’s grace is extended to all.

The idea of a God who is distant and unable to empathize with his creation disappears when we understand that God feels what we feel. That when one of the least of these is cared for, he feels cared for. When one of the least of these feels relief, he is relieved. Caring for others is caring for Christ.

We cannot meet every need we can encounter – and it can be heartbreaking. But we know the One in whom every need is met and we can make a difference when we follow the prompting of the Holy Spirit to see and meet the needs of others around us. We can’t help everyone, but we can be a blessing to those to whom God directs us to. And that’s making a world of difference.

I’m Greg Williams, Speaking of Life.

Psalm 8:1-9 • Ecclesiastes 3:1-13 • Revelations 21:1-6a • Matthew 25:31-46

This week’s theme is God is our glorious and benevolent king. In our call to worship Psalm, we are reminded of God’s majesty and how he has crowned us with honor and glory. The writer of Ecclesiastes acknowledges that God has done everything for us from beginning to end. In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus talks about coming in his glory, reigning over the nations. And in the book of Revelation, we see God making all things new as he dwells with us, taking his rightful place on the throne.

All Things Made New

Revelations 21:1-6a NRSVUE

Did you know that there are people who will go to a bookstore, pick up a book that looks interesting, and proceed to read the last chapter? If they like the ending, only then will they purchase the book. To some of us, that would ruin the tension; if you give away the ending, there is no reason to read the book.

When it comes to our fate as believers, though, knowing the end of our story is of utmost importance. As characters in this grand saga, we begin our journey of faith knowing the end of the book. Some things in life are too important to just be left in tension.

Near the end of the book of Revelation, John is describing for us a vision of what is to come in the next age – a scene revealed by Jesus Christ that holds amazing beauty and hope. John does three things regarding this vision. He is first seeing, then he is hearing and finally, he is writing. We are going to look at how these three actions involve us today regarding this vision.

Read Revelation 21:1-6a NRSVUE

At the outset, it must be said that the Book of Revelation is what is considered apocalyptic literature. Without going to great lengths to explain what that means, we need to know that John did not possess a holy crystal ball that allowed him to predict the future. Rather, John is revealing what a future where God has restored everything from destruction and evil will look like. We don’t know if God gave John a specific vision or dream, or just inspired the words he wrote. Regardless, it gives us a vision of a restored creation.

John, the Revelator, starts by giving us a glorious picture of a time in which the old things have passed away. These former things were outside of God’s design for mankind. Evil, death, mourning, etc. The things of the old order that we were plagued with are gone.

Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth, for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and the sea was no more. And I saw the holy city, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride adorned for her husband. (Revelation 21:1-2 NRSVUE)

John’s initial intended readers were still living in the former times. A time in which trauma and conflict were their reality, as it is for us. But he is showing that after all the human drama, after death and hades has come to an end, then all will be made new.

You may have noticed that the sea is mentioned as being no more. The sea is the only physical feature of the “old earth.”  The sea was viewed by the Israelites as an ominous and threatening force (Psalms 69:1-3, Isaiah 27:1, 51:9-10, Jeremiah 49:23). This passage is not talking about the literal sea. This was symbolic for the seat of evil. The place where the Beast and evil comes from. With the seat of evil being removed, sin and destruction goes with it.

Some feel that the stewardship of our planet isn’t necessary since God will recreate a new world after we have “blown this one to bits.” John is not describing a world “blown to bits;” he is describing a creation that is no longer under decay. Remember, Paul told the believers in Rome that “the creation itself will be set free from its enslavement to decay and will obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God” (Romans 8:21 NRSVUE).

Someone may well bring up the fact that Paul mentioned that our citizenship is in heaven. But he was not referring to a location. Roman citizens were citizens wherever they went. In fact, retired Roman soldiers were encouraged to live well outside of Rome. But they were to bring their Roman citizenship with them wherever they happened to be.

John is seeing that heaven and earth are not in competition with each other, but are made for each other. He is showing us that all things in heaven and earth are summed up in Christ. All of creation is caught up in Jesus’ resurrection. He is not saying everything is being replaced. Rather, it is being made new. God has not and will not abandon what he has created.

And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “See, the home of God is among mortals. He will dwell with them; they will be his peoples, and God himself will be with them and be their God; he will wipe every tear from their eyes. Death will be no more; mourning and crying and pain will be no more, for the first things have passed away.” (Revelation 21:3-4 NRSVUE)

Notice the difference in inspiration here? John is now hearing something. And what John hears is just how intimate God is with his creation.

Just as Jesus came to earth and lived among us, so too all of heaven now comes down to us. Christ ascended to the Father, but in the fullness of time he will finally make his dwelling with us once again, but this time it will be forever.

There will only exist the rulership of Christ at that time.  He will reign over us with love and mercy. We will know his ways and live in harmony one towards another. All of heaven will come with him. All will be made right.

We will make our abode with Christ, not back in Eden, but in a city whose maker is God. A place that is teeming with life and relationship. We become a holy thriving community with Christ as our loving, just king.

Verse 4 indicates that every tear we have shed will be healed by God. All that has ever caused us pain will be redeemed. Imagine never having to grieve again — to never feel pain again, to never be hurt or to suffer. It is beyond our human comprehension, but this is what John is hearing from the voice of God.

John is hearing about a world where there is no more war or economic systems of oppression. Where tyrants and evil rulers will no longer have their way. God’s economy is the only system that can be sustained for eternity. John wants us to hear that there is a world coming that will finally be made right.

And the one who was seated on the throne said, “See, I am making all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.” Then he said to me, “It is done! I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End.” (Revelation 21:5-6a NRSVUE)

Up until now John has been passive. He has been seeing. He has been hearing, but now he is asked to do something. He is asked to take action. He is asked to testify, to write down all that has been shown to him, all that he has heard from God.

This new creation of God is happening now in a world that has little understanding of its reality. We are called to act upon what we see and what we hear. We are called to carry forth the working of the new creation

All that we do through Christ, and by his Spirit, is in concert with the new creation. Every work of reconciliation, of healing others, of sharing God’s love, is participating with heaven coming to earth. Of removing the old and ushering in the new.

In the midst of our mourning, of seeing all the pain and death, what gives you hope? Though we are still going through all these things, we have a God who says that he is wiping away all our tears. That it is a done deal! Even now, his healing, redeeming power is breaking through.

Are you able to see the old things of your past being shed from you? In its place, are you seeing the newness that God is bringing into your life? Have you been listening to the voice of God that tells you about his intimate love for you? That he makes his dwelling with you?

We can take courage knowing that what we are currently going through is not the end of our story. Far from it. We may not be exempt from the suffering in this life, but we can walk through it knowing that Jesus dwells with us and knowing that the world is being made new and right despite what we might currently see and hear.

Know this, that the former things that have damaged us are being healed. We have his great promise that he will dwell with us and that we will be his people. He will be faithful to do all that he has said. Even now, he is preparing his church as a bride that he might receive us with joy. From beginning to end, all of this is being accomplished through Christ. Behold, he is making all things new!

Not Today, Satan w/ Dishon Mills W1

February 5 – Fifth Sunday after Epiphany
Matthew 5:13-20, “Salty”

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Small Group Discussion Questions

From Speaking of Life

  • What are some practical needs you can help others with?
  • How do you discern if you are being called to meet a need?
  • How do you feel when someone who created their own problem asks for your help?
  • How is your church currently helping the least of these?

From the sermon

  • How does knowing our ultimate end encourage you?
  • What are you looking forward to God making new?
  • How does this passage of scripture influence your desire to share the good news with others?
  • Were you challenged to consider the afterlife in a different way after hearing this sermon? If so, how?

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