Disastrous ends

Nov. 23, 2014

Ez. 34.11-16, 20-24; Eph. 1.15-23; Mt. 25.31-46

There's a room in Oklahoma City where the FAA (or Federal Aviation Administration) trains flight attendants. It looks exactly like the interior of any airplane. And when the trainees sit down in their seats, they often mock out the bossy passengers they often meet in their daily flights. They plop down in a seat and say things like, "Hey, you! I need a drink over here and make it snappy, I'm paying a lot of good money for this seat." All is very jovial until there's a bump and the cabin lights go out and within seconds the cabin fills with a thick black (non-toxic) smoke so nobody can see any thing except the guiding lights on the floor of the aisle for an evacuation. They all have to exit the plane just like a real emergency and they slide down the escape shoot to safety. All these simulations they go through are training to react intelligently if a real emergency or disaster occurs.

Such a disaster, according to Time magazine's senior writer Amanda Ripley in her book The Unthinkable, is a manmade or natural event in which there's great loss of life and/or property...like Katrina, or the Oklahoma City bombing, or the attack on the World Trade Centers in NYC--in each case there was much destruction and lives lost. The subtitle of Ripley's book, is: Who survives when disaster strikes--and why. It's important because in the end it comes down to doing the right thing at the right time in the right way...for survival. Most often when people die, it's because they didn't believe it was real. Why don't people listen to the warnings and just DO SOMETHING! Death happens...it could happen to anybody at any time, BUT (we think) NOT TO ME! Each of us thinks that we are going to be that one person in all of human history who is immortal...in the flesh!

We deceive ourselves, don't we, because we convince ourselves that the important stuff isn't and the inconsequential stuff is important. Consider the fact that 90% of us think we're better drivers than the average driver. And most of us think we are less likely to get divorced, or have heart disease, or get fired than other people. And three-quarters of all "baby boomers" think that we've aged better and look younger than the OTHER people that they went to high school with--except the school mascot--who seems not to change--ever! It's called the "Lake Wobegon Effect" after the fictitious Minnesota town where Garrison Keillor says, "all the women are strong, all the men are good looking, and all the children are above average."

Matthew's gospel today gives us a picture of the "last (or end) times" when the Shepherd King will separate the sheep from the goats. I know that a lot of people say that the defining element of faith is what's in your heart, but according to this gospel that isn't the case. It says, it's what you do that makes the difference. But let's not deceive ourselves, according to this gospel...a walk in the garden alone with Jesus at a time that's convenient for you or me doesn't seem to be the defining element of salvation. But rather, as the King in this allegory says, it's what you've done for the "least of these," the poor and the needy, that makes the difference that makes a difference. It's these despised and rejected that we encounter and generally avoid, that we are to help and care for. What we do, especially for those who can't pay us back, is apparently the thing that makes a difference to God. Now, this is a very troubling teaching because there are so many times that I have done my best to avoid the folks we're talking about in this gospel today.

We'd like to think we woulda', or coulda' and, no doubt, shoulda' helped, but it's what we actually do that's the key difference. The "concrete" acts of compassion toward those in need, that is apparently a great deal MORE important than what we intended to do. But here's the really scary thing, without these acts of generosity and service, we could be separated from God's graces and excluded from the Godly fellowship, according to Matthew's story. That's a disaster--especially for the goats! And we know that when the smoke begins to fill the cabin, it's a little late to be thinking about an alternative plan. As with the flight attendants' training, now would be a good time for us to develop a plan that puts us on God's right side.

Does this mean that you and I can never say "NO" to a panhandler? Does it mean that we have to say "Yes" to every dysfunctional soul who tries to manipulate us to get their way? I certainly hope not.

But here's my take on it. If we have a prepared heart, kind, and good heart...then we will be able to listen and look for and hear the voice of Jesus in the genuine cry for help. The hungry, thirsty, naked, sick, stranger or the prisoner--deserve justice, fairness, and a chance. If we can hold to that, I don't think we'll overlook Jesus in the process. That's the great danger, to be so routinized and so blinded by expectations that we don't see Jesus or the whole Kingdom of God right before us. Making those choices is what makes for a very bumpy ride. I suggest that we buckle up and listen to the captain's instructions. It begins with this: have a plan. I challenge you this week, to do something for someone in need who cannot pay you back. A random act of kindness.

It's said that the way to hell is paved with good intentions, that is, not doing anything. I can't do everything, but I can do something. Doing something instead of nothing is what feeds, quenches, welcomes, clothes, heals and comforts the needy in our world and brings us into the joyful pleasure of our God and King. Looking to serve and care for Christ in each other will bring us closer to hearing the words, "Come ye blessed of my Father and inherit the Kingdom prepared for you since the beginning of the world." This is not a simulation...it's the real deal and Christ is counting on us. Amen.

The Reverend W A Ray St Thomas Church Diamondhead, MS 11/23/14