This sermon was preached on Sunday, November 26 at Trinity Church in Menlo Park by senior Aaron Klinefelter. The readings for this sermon are: Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24, Psalm 100, Ephesians 1:15-23,, and Matthew 25:31-46.
I love street art.
It reveals and uncovers something true about the world around us. Which is a paradox, right? Street art and graffiti is often accused of defacing and defaming public space. And admittedly, sometimes it does. But sometimes, sometimes, street art does what all good art and all good liturgy does – it shines a light on the cracks and crevices of life. It is precisely in these cracks and crevices, these chinks in the armor of order and uniformity, that beauty, grace, truth and the glory of God flow in.
Shepard Fairey, the street artist behind the OBEY and Andre the Giant sticker campaigns and Obama’s iconic 2008 poster, talks about how street art helps uncover what is right before our eyes, but somehow is obscured. Too often we move through our world with mindless repetition… not really noticing the world around us.
Street art wakes us up from the predictable pattern of sameness and conformity. Too often we, all of us – myself included, march to the relentless beat of consume, consume, consume. Or fear, fear, fear. Or shame, shame, shame.
Shepard Fairey grew up skateboarding and as a skateboarder he had to learn to read the urban environment. What ledge was good, what rail would work, what parking lot or pool would they not get kick out of. And street art too is an essentially urban art form. The artist has to see – really see – the urban landscape. And then the artist can up-end and subvert that landscape with something novel, fresh and new.
Visual art does this. When I’m riding the train to and from Berkeley I see amazing examples of street art along otherwise nondescript stretches of track. It makes me notice. It makes me think… what story is this telling? Who was the artist behind this and why did they choose to paint this?
Yarn bombing does this too. How many trees or lampposts or bike racks have you walked by and completely ignored? But if someone, in the middle of the night, yarn bombed that particular location you suddenly notice and pay attention anew.
But visual art isn’t the only medium for this up-ending, uncovering, re-awakening work. Street theatre can do this as well. The Embarcadero would be just any re-purposed industrial area turned shopping mall…. but the street performers make it a magical place.
This morning gospel reading from Matthew is a kind of street theatre.
Retell the story as street theatre….
At the end of all things. When all is said and done of all that can be done or said. When Jesus, the Son of Man, is on the throne. He will gather everybody from everywhere. All the nations and people and tribes and communities and cities and families. Everybody. And he’ll separate the sheep from the goats.
The sheep he’ll put on his right. And the goats he’ll put on his left.
Then he’ll say to the sheep on the right: “Welcome! You are inheriting my kingdom. You are IN! Everything that is mine is yours!”
“Because I was …
hungry and you fed me
thirst and you gave me a drink
stranger and you welcomed me
naked and you gave me some clothes
sick and in
prison and you visited me.”
But the sheep will be confused. They’ll look at the King and say, “um. what? when …
Likewise the goats…. but…
This story disrupts and disturbs. It messes with our categories and our tally systems.
Where do we find God at the end of all things, when all is said and done of all that could be done or said? We find God in the least the last and the lost and the lonely.
This is true in the largest corporate, cosmic sense but it is also true in the deeply personal and spiritual sense.
God shows up in the cracks and crevices of life.
God is in the messy middle. Hiding amongst the dirty laundry and at the bottom of the junk drawer.
We are invited to notice God there. But more. We are invited to go there. To be there with God as God is with us …. revealing and uncovering the truest things about us.
In the end, this passage is less about a job description or a way to induce guilt – or self-righteousness. This is not a litmus test.
Jesus didn’t tell his disciples the story so they could feel guilty about not visiting more prisoners or feeding more hungry people.
He told the story so that his disciples would know that even at the end Jesus was still there with them. And if we want to find him, if we want to be with him, it is as we identify and live life with the least, the last, the lost, and the lonely.
Where do we find Jesus? He’s with the kid who doesn’t fit in at the party. He’s with the mom who is at her wits end. He’s with the folks in the nursing home who didn’t get a visit this past week and those who did.
And he’s with you. He’s there when Life goes sideways, he’s there when you choose to do the hard, costly thing instead of taking the easy way out. He’s there when your marriage or relationship is on the rocks or ends. He’s there whenever we realize we too are the least the last and the lost and the lonely.
Yes. If you are looking for a job description as a Christian then Matthew 25 is a fine place to pick up some tips. Yes, if you want to know what it means to actually follow Jesus you should do these things: make sure people have clothes to wear, feed the hungry, tend the wounded, visit those in prison, and make sure every has clean, safe, abundant water to drink.
And yes, there are political and social implications for all of those. Our public life would look a lot more like the kingdom of heaven if more folks did those things.
But, here’s the rub, we’re not going to do any of these things unless we experience Jesus in our least moments. Until we know, deeply know, that we are all broken, messy humans who need each other. Until we know that we too are the least and the last and the lost and the lonely.
Then we’ll extend the cup of cold water to the thirsty soul – not because we’ve got the best water, not because we are sitting on our white horse of privilege – ready to swoop in and save the day. We’ll do it because we know that we are thirsty too. And there – right there – is where we will find Jesus.
This is the radical uncovering that we need. This is the apocalyptic reveal that our souls and our society is longing for – to discover the divine when human truly touches human. When we meet one another without pretense or pomp. When our souls commune in the mystery that is life. This is where to kingdom of heaven is made manifest.
You are God’s street art. And the glory of God oozes out of every crack and crevice in your life. And you, You are invited to meet God there… on earth as it is in heaven.