September 27, 2020
Ezekiel 18.1-4;25-32; Matthew 21.23-32
+ Occasionally, in our scriptures readings on Sunday morning, we hear not the words of comfort that we would like to hear, especially in a time of pandemic.
Instead, we sometimes hear words that disturb us or shake us up.
Well, this morning is no exception.
In our Gospel reading for today, we hear some very uncomfortable words from Jesus:
He tells us, “Truly I tell you, the tax collectors and the prostitutes are going into the Kingdom of God ahead of you.”
What?!? That’s not what we want to hear!
Last week in my sermon I quoted the great Reginald Fuller, who said:
“[This] is what God is doing in Jesus’ ministry—giving the tax collectors and prostitutes an equal share with the righteous in the kingdom.”
That—and those words of Jesus we heard in this morning’s Gospel reading—are shocking statements for most of us.
And they should be.
It should shock us and shake us to our core.
It’s a huge statement for Jesus to make.
Partly it does because, things haven’t changed all that much.
OK. Yes, maybe we don’t view tax collectors and prostitutes in the same way people in Jesus’ day did.
Jesus uses these two examples as prime examples of the “unclean” in our midst—those who are ritually unclean according the Judaic law.
We, of course, have our own versions of “unclean” in our own society.
They are the ones in our society that we tend to forget about and purposely ignore.
But we really should give them concern.
And I don’t meant from a judgmental point of view.
I mean, we should actually look and see all those marginalized people we ourselves may consider “unclean” by our own standards our compassion.
We should be praying for them often.
Because to be viewed as “unclean” in any society—even now— is a death knell.
It is a life of isolation and rebuke.
It is a life of being ostracized.
The unclean are the ones who have lived on the fringes of society.
They are the ones who have lived in the shadows of our respectable societies.
The “unclean” of our own society often live desperate, secret lives.
And much of what they’ve have to go through in their lives is known only to God.
And they need us and our prayers.
They need our compassion.
They definitely don’t need our judgment.
As uncomfortable as it is for us to confront them and think about them—or to BE them—that is exactly what Jesus is telling us we must do.
Because by going there in our thoughts, in our prayers, in our ministries, we are going where Jesus went.
We are coming alongside people who need our presence, our prayers, our ministries.
And rather than shunning them, we need to see them as God sees them.
We see them as children of God, as fellow humans on this haphazard, uncertain journey we are all on together.
And, more importantly, we see in them ourselves.
Because some of them ARE us.
Some of us here have been shunned and excluded and turned away.
By us. By our Church. By our government. By our society.
The point of this morning’s Gospel is this: the Kingdom of God is not what we think it is.
It is not made up of just people like us.
It is not some exclusive country club in the sky.
(Give thanks to God that it is NOT some exclusive country club in the sky!)
And it is certainly not made up of a bunch of Christians who have done all the right things and condemned all the “correct” sins and sinners.
It is, in fact, going to be made up people who maybe never go to church.
It will be made up of those people we might not even notice.
It will be made up of those people who are invisible to us.
It will be made up of the people we don’t give a second thought to.
As I said, in our society today we have our own tax collectors, our own “unclean.”.
They are the welfare cases.
They are the homeless.
They are alcoholics and the drug or opioid addicts and the drug dealers.
They are the lost among us, they are the ones who are trapped in their own sadness and their own loneliness.
They are the ones we, good Christians that we are, have worked all our lives not to be.
This is what the Kingdom of heaven is going to be like.
It will filled with the people who look up at us from their marginalized place in this society.
It is the ones who today are peeking out at us from the curtains of their isolation and their loneliness.
They are the ones who, in their quiet agony, watch as we drive out of sight from them.
They are the ones who are on the outside looking in.
And it is they who are the inheritors of the kingdom of God and if we think they are not, then we are not listening to what Jesus is saying to us.
Jesus is wherever the inheritors of his kingdom are.
Of course, we too are the inheritors of the Kingdom, especially when we love fully and completely.
We too are the inheritors when we follow those words of Jesus and strive to live out and do what he commands.
We too are the inheritors when we open our eyes and our minds and our hearts to those around us, whom no one else sees or loves.
So, let us truly be inheritors of the Kingdom of God.
Let us love fully and completely as Jesus commands.
Let us love our God.
Let us love all those people who come into our lives.
Let us look around at those people who share this world with us.
And let us never cast a blind eye on anyone.
Let us do as God speaks to us this morning through the prophet Ezekiel: Let us “turn, then, and live.”
Let us pray.
Holy God, help us to not with the eyes of the world, but with the eyes of those who are destined for your Kingdom. In looking, may we truly see those whom you love and cherish. And let us reach out and save them as your Son, Jesus, has commanded us to do; it is in his Name that we pray. Amen.