Do you know Jesus?
Scripture Reading: Deuteronomy 15:1-11 & Matthew 25:31-46
Adapted from a sermon delivered Sunday, July 10, 2011 at Christ United Methodist Church (Lafayette, IN)
Do you know Jesus?
The question itself is simple. But, it can be for many Christians, including myself, a hard and complicated question to answer.
Do I know Jesus? Of course, I understand Jesus Christ to be a real person who walked this earth in present day Israel and Palestine some 2000 years ago. He gathered around himself 12 close companions who learned his teachings and then spent the rest of their lives spreading those teachings of Jesus around the world. By trade, Jesus was a carpenter. He began his ministry when he was around 30 years old after he was baptized in the river Jordan by his cousin John. Jesus was eventually charged and convicted by the government of his region for treason; he was mocked, beaten, and sentenced to capital punishment which in his time involved hanging on a cross. Three days after his death, Jesus rose from the dead and taught his disciples for forty more days at which time he ascended into heaven. BUT, do I really know Jesus? I can understand a lot about him through the reading of scripture and church history. But, do I really know Jesus? Do I personally know Jesus Christ? Do you personally—in the flesh—know Jesus Christ? The question before us today: ” Do we really know Jesus?”
Do you know Jesus?
We could begin to answer this question by looking through Scripture. We could look at a lot of different verses in a lot of different places. We could comb through the “I am” statements in the Gospel of John (6:35, 6:48, 8:12, 9:5, 10:7, 10:11-14, 11:25, 14:6, 15:1, 15:5). We could look at Jesus’ inquisition of his disciples in Matthew 16:13-20 where Jesus repeatedly asks them, “Who do people say that I am?” To which Peter faithfully replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God” (Matt 16:16, Common English Bible). We could look at the several direct and indirect claims by Jesus that he and God were one and the same (c.f. John 10:30).
After searching the Scriptures, we might then turn to the broader Christian tradition. We could look at the volumes and volumes of books and worship liturgies written about Jesus. We might start with the historic creeds of the Church: the Apostles’, Nicene or Athanasian Creeds. Looking at Protestant roots we might consider the Augsburg Confession or Luther’s Catechism. Staying within our own tradition we might research the sermons of John Wesley or consider the Articles of Religion and Confession of Faith, our United Methodist statements of faith, that reside in The United Methodist Book of Discipline.
These would all be great places to start—and, indeed, this is as far as many so-called Christians go—but, if we want an in-the-flesh-opportunity to meet and interact with Jesus Christ today then simply reading and trying to understand Scripture and tradition are not enough. Truly knowing Jesus goes beyond what we know in our head and feel in our heart to what we do with our hands. To truly know Jesus we must grow beyond a safe, theoretical understanding of who Jesus is to a practical, real-life relationship with him that transforms the world into the very Kingdom of God.
I think James said it best in the second chapter (v. 14-17, Common English Bible) of his letter:
14 My brothers and sisters, what good is it if people say they have faith but do nothing to show it? Claiming to have faith can’t save anyone, can it? 15 Imagine a brother or sister who is naked and never has enough food to eat. 16 What if one of you said, “Go in peace! Stay warm! Have a nice meal!”? What good is it if you don’t actually give them what their body needs? 17 In the same way, faith is dead when it doesn’t result in faithful activity.
In our Gospel lesson for today, Jesus gives us a glimpse of what faithful action might look like by describing, in a parable, the final judgment. At that time, Jesus (Matthew 25:31-45, The Message).
…will sort the people out, much as a shepherd sorts out sheep and goats, putting sheep to his right and goats to his left.
34-36“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Enter, you who are blessed by my Father! Take what’s coming to you in this kingdom. It’s been ready for you since the world’s foundation. And here’s why:
I was hungry and you fed me,
I was thirsty and you gave me a drink,
I was homeless and you gave me a room,
I was shivering and you gave me clothes,
I was sick and you stopped to visit,
I was in prison and you came to me.’
37-40“Then those ‘sheep’ are going to say, ‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry and feed you, thirsty and give you a drink? And when did we ever see you sick or in prison and come to you?’ Then the King will say, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you did one of these things to someone overlooked or ignored, that was me—you did it to me.’
41-43“Then he will turn to the ‘goats,’ the ones on his left, and say, ‘Get out, worthless goats! You’re good for nothing but the fires of hell. And why? Because—
I was hungry and you gave me no meal,
I was thirsty and you gave me no drink,
I was homeless and you gave me no bed,
I was shivering and you gave me no clothes,
Sick and in prison, and you never visited.’
44“Then those ‘goats’ are going to say, ‘Master, what are you talking about? When did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or homeless or shivering or sick or in prison and didn’t help?’
45“He will answer them, ‘I’m telling the solemn truth: Whenever you failed to do one of these things to someone who was being overlooked or ignored, that was me—you failed to do it to me.’
Jesus so identifies with the hungry, thirsty, stranger, naked, sick and imprisoned that to serve the hungry, thirsty, stranger, naked, sick and imprisoned is to serve Jesus himself, in-the-flesh. In order for us to know Jesus, we must serve him in the poor, outcast and forgotten peoples of the world.
So I ask again: how well do you know and serve Jesus? This goes beyond simply giving money. It goes beyond simply knowing where “those people” live. It starts with a simple hello and an offering of your time, talent, gifts, service and witness to the great love of God.
There has been a lot of talk in the global Church as of late about our decline in numbers and our seeming inability to engage and inspire a new generation of believers to follow the way of Christ. Perhaps it’s too simple and naïve, but I think the global Church’s problem—even our problem here—is that we do not always seek to serve and know Christ by serving and knowing the oppressed and impoverished in our communities. In fact, our “success” as Christians—and our “success” at the corner of 18th and Veteran’s Memorial Parkway—is not wrapped up in the number of people who walk in our doors, but in our ability to identify and serve Jesus Christ in the world today.
Do you know Jesus? Opportunities abound. The World Bank estimates that 2.6 billion people live in extreme poverty on less than $2 a day. In the U.S., according to the 2009 census, over 30.3 million people live in poverty. At the beginning of 2010 there were an estimated 1.4 million prisoners in the United States. There are millions of people in the world today within whom Christ is found if only we’d reach out to them.
In our Scripture lesson from Deuteronomy this morning we see a progression of pessimism about our ability to serve the poor. In verse 4 we find God proclaiming that if the people of Israel would just obey God, then there would be no poor among them. By the end of the reading it is simply assumed that the people of God will not follow God’s commands for “poor persons will never disappear from the earth.”
My friends, I think that if we took our relationship with Jesus Christ seriously, then we would begin to see a world where poverty is a thing of the past. If only we’d be open to seeing Christ and serving him in the hungry, thirsty, stranger, naked, sick, imprisoned, overlooked and oppressed.
Do you know Jesus? do you have a personal, real-life in-the-flesh relationship with him?
If you do not know Jesus, I’d urge you to talk to your local pastor and find ways in which you can serve the hungry, thirsty, stranger, naked, sick imprisoned, overlooked and oppressed people in your community. You will most definitely find Jesus there.
If you have a personal, in-the-flesh relationship with Jesus, where have you seen and served him? I’d love to hear your stories.
 “Poverty & Inequality Trends,” World Bank: Poverty Education & Equity <http://web.worldbank.org/WBSITE/EXTERNAL/TOPICS/EXTPOVERTY/0,,contentMDK:22569747~pagePK:148956~piPK:216618~theSitePK:336992,00.html> Accessed Saturday, July 09, 2011.
 “Annual Social and Economic Supplement (ASEC). Table 2 Percent of Persons in Poverty, by Definition of Income and Selected Characteristics: 2009,” U.S. Census Bureau <http://www.census.gov/hhes/www/cpstables/032010/rdcall/2_001.htm> Accessed Saturday, July 09, 2011.
“Prison Count 2010: State Population Declines for the Frist Time in 38 Years,” The Pew Center on the States < http://www.pewcenteronthestates.org/uploadedFiles/Prison_Count_2010.pdf> Accessed Saturday, July 09, 2011.