Summary: Do we understand our calling to be Christ to the needy & poor? Francis of Assisi & Mother Theresa are illustartions in this message that links the parable fo teh sheep & goats to the Easter Emmaus story.
This Emmaus scripture is a strange one isn’t it? Friends walking with not just a close friend but their leader; yet despite knowing him so well they fail to recognise Him. Yet it is not just a case of the risen Christ being so different to the Jesus they knew, for Luke says prevented from recognising.
Today I want us to think about where we might find Jesus, & if we could recognise Him for I believe that often we too fail to see God in the surprising ways too.
We have to start though by saying that often it is easy to recognise Christ. We see Him in the child at infant baptism or the care of a nurse in the hospital. Indeed we rarely have a problem seeing Him in those like us, yet God has a habit of being a God who reveals himself in the unusual, the different, the other.
Scripture tells us that He was Himself a very ordinary man - Isaiah 53: 1-3 – though drama’s like the BBC ‘Passion’ last week or ‘The Passion of the Christ’ or ‘Jesus of Nazareth’ seem to revel in showing us a charming good looking captivating charismatic Jesus. Yet there was nothing remarkable or good looking about Him, indeed at the end He is seen as truly the unacceptable face of God - God crucified, God in pain, God in death.
This image of Christ of God was so disturbing & unpalatable to many in the early Church that they couldn’t hold to the doctrine of the Trinity. Their reasoning went something like this - Jesus couldn’t be God because He died & suffered, so He must have been a man or an angel or had the God bit zapped in later.
Yet they were wrong. The hope of the gospel is surely that in Christ we see the acceptable face of God - God the suffering servant.
So are we looking in the right places for this unacceptable Christ?
St Francis of Assisi met this unacceptable face. It is said that Francis was a good man, supposed to be quite wealth but he was discontented with his lot. One day as he rode along a dusty road he had an encounter that changed his life & indeed the life of much of the world forever. He stops when he sees a leper in his path, & jumps down & takes pity on him. He embraces him, & gives him all cash he has on him & wishes him well.
Francis life was changed from this point on & he sought out the poor & oppressed & outcasts. Why because as he rode on it is said that he turned around to wave at the leper & found that there was no one on the road for as far as the eye could see. Francis became convinced he had encountered God in the form of the leper, so he took the love of Christ out & served humbly the rest of his days.
Generations of Christians have believed Francis was right.
Another such encounter comes form the testimony of Mother Teresa. It is said that as she ministered to the sick, washing wounds & like Francis embracing the unloved & un-embraceable, she saw in eyes of poor & wretched the eyes of Christ.
I wonder do we?
If not is it because we so rarely if ever strain to see into the eyes of the wretched & poor?
Jesus’ parable of the sheep & goats in Matthew 25:31-46 reminds us that we are expected as a basic part of our discipleship to serve others. We are to feed & water & clothe & visit & welcome the stranger & poor & outcast; in other words to emulate the ministry of Francis & Teresa. This is not just an optional extra for the super religious, it is basic Christianity.
Unless that is we see ourselves in the group of the goats?
This is our calling as Church, to Minister in Jesus name to the unacceptable.
This is what it means to be a Christian.
If we ignore the needs of the poor then we are no more than a social club.
So are we up to it?
Gerard Hughes wrote a really good book called ‘God of Surprises’ which is well worth reading, but that title as always struck me as a great description of the God we worship – She is a God of surprises! This is the God we worship. He is a God who is there to be encountered in the world around us; a God who in the unacceptable face of the cross meets a world & says I love you.
Will we dare to find this acceptable face of God in the unacceptable around us? For our communities, for Christ’s, & for our sake I pray we will. Amen.