By: Bishop Eric Vawter Menees, Diocese of San Joaquin
Editor’s Note: This is the text of the sermon preached by The Rt. Rev. Eric V. Menees at the Anglican Prayer & Worship Service held Friday morning as part of the Life SUMMIT events prior to the March for Life. The Gospel reading was Matthew 25:31-46
There is no question that this year’s March for Life is historic, as it is the first national event since the Dobbs decision vacated the Roe v. Wade decision last summer.
Of course, that did not end abortions throughout the country, but it did make some headway! While some states restricted or ended access to abortion, others like California are actively recruiting across state lines to encourage women to travel to their state, to end their pregnancy. What the Dobbs decision did was put the question of legalized abortions back to the hands of the individual states. While I am thrilled with the decision, I have to say that I find abhorrent the idea that a state, any state could legalize the taking of an innocent life. I know it grieves the very heart of God, but it doesn’t surprise Him.
Over the past seventy years, my generation, the Boomer Generation, has moved from a Christian ethic which seeks the good of the other, to now focusing on the good of the self. We have accepted the lie and eaten the forbidden fruit in the false belief that we can be like God. It’s not simply a question of knowing good and evil, it is the false belief that “I am the master of my life and death, my identity, my happiness and my well-being.” It is the false idea that “I have no duty to God, a higher power, a greater good, or ultimately another person because that power and goodness lies within me.” Therefore, the only duty I have is to myself.
That is a LIE of the devil and on the Last Day when the trumpet sounds, we will stand before the Lord who will ask us, “What did you do for the least of these my brothers?”
Let’s do a little bible study shall we? I’ve chosen Matthew 25 as my text for this morning’s worship. This choice may seem a little counterintuitive, but I hope by the end it will make sense.
Allow me to set the scene for the reading of the Gospel.
Jesus has made his grand entrance into Jerusalem drawing the anger and jealousy of both the Romans who saw that he was received by the people as a victorious king, and the Jewish authorities who witnessed the crowds receiving Jesus like a Messiah. People laid down their palms and cried out “Hosanna to the Son of David! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord! Hosanna in the highest!” (Mt: 21:9) quoting and fulfilling Psalm 118.
Interestingly, Jesus doesn’t act in the expected manner of a Messiah or a King. He goes directly to the Temple and overturns the tables of the Money Changers, which angered a lot of people. And then, when challenged, Jesus tells the people that they need to pay their taxes saying, “Therefore render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and to God the things that are God’s.” (Mt. 22:21)
He then begins talking about the destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple saying, “You see all these, do you not? Truly, I say to you, there will not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” (Mt. 24:2)
And from there he begins to tell everyone who will listen not only what the signs of the end of the ages will be —- but upon what God’s judgment will be based upon. Spoiler alert — it’s not about how well you know Scripture, or how religious you are, or how good and nice you are. It’s not about earning your way into heaven! It’s about the attitude of your heart and the inclination of your mind.
Jesus makes this clear in what we now refer to as the Great Commandment. “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the great and ﬁrst commandment. And the second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Mt. 22:37-39)
Earlier in Matthew 25, Jesus gives us two parables. The ﬁrst parable is the Ten Virgins that teaches that we are to be attentive and watchful, the way that the wise Virgins waited for the coming of the bridegroom.
The second parable is that of the Talents which basically says, “God has given you all these things – how have you used them to HIS benefit and glory?”
The third parable which was featured in our reading is that of the Final Judgment. The Separation of the Sheep and Goats parable tells us that it’s about the inclination of our heart towards “the least of these my brothers,” the prisoner and immigrant, the sick and alone, the hungry, and the poor.
Jesus could have easily added the women who are pregnant and afraid, to his list of the “least of these.”
“How do we change a culture of death? One day at a time, one person at a time loving the least of these my brothers.“Bishop Eric Menees
Which leads to the question; how are we treating that mother and child? Could there be a more vulnerable, innocent, defenseless creature than a child in his mother’s womb? As individuals and the Church, what is the attitude of our heart and the inclination of our mind toward a pregnant woman and the child in her womb? Toward a mother who believes she has to choose between the child and her parents, or the father, or school, or a job or her own fears about being a parent. Believing falsely that she has no options.
What is the attitude of our heart toward an elderly man or woman with dementia, or someone dying of heart disease, or cancer who is now given the “option” of physician assisted suicide which in many states is a euphemism for “a dignified death.”
Friends, somehow as a society we have forgotten that all people are “created in the image of God.” (Genesis 1:26-27) And therefore are due every right, protection and dignity from the moment of conception to the moment of natural death. We have forgotten that each and every human being is “fearfully and wonderfully made” just as we prayed in Psalm 139.
We have mistakenly placed ourselves, our desires, our comforts ﬁrst, even telling ourselves that I am the least, so I deserve these things. We rationalize away any kernel of doubt or guilt — defiantly saying, “It’s my body, my choice.” Or, “what kind of quality of life would they have anyway?’ Because, of course, we see ourselves, and not God, as the determiners of what “quality of life” means.
Now, lest you be discouraged by what I’ve just shared, take heart. I’m not being cynical — just honest. And as Christians, we are never without HOPE.
Remember that our hope is not in the political processes as important as that is. And as important as our participation in it is, our hope is not in the Republican or the Democratic Party or the Libertarians, nor is our hope in any elected official. Trust me, they will disappoint you. They are made up of fallen and sinful creatures in need of a savior just like you and me.
Friends, our hope is in Jesus Christ, in Him alone, He is the King of kings and Lord of lords. As we hear in Revelation, chapter 22, He is the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.
He is the one who said, “Let there be light, and there was light.” (Genesis 1:3) He is the one who breathed life into Adam’s lifeless lungs. He is the one who gave you and me life. And He is the one who offered himself as the “perfect sacrifice for our sins.” He remains sovereign and WILL have the last word!
Now, please don’t think that I am advocating some sort of Christian passivity. Just the opposite, I am arguing for active engagement in this battle on two fronts.
First, the Spiritual front — remembering that ﬁrst and foremost this is a battle of “against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly places,” as St. Paul tells us in Ephesians 6:12
So, we begin with prayer and fasting, individually and corporately as the Church, as both have a powerful effect in this battle. We begin with worship, here in this church before we go out there to confront, to proclaim, to rejoice, to care, to show compassion and to pray.
But this is also an earthly battle! And we as the Church have been commissioned by none other than Jesus Christ himself!
Remember in Matthew 28 when the resurrected Jesus gathered with the disciples and said, “All authority in heaven and earth have been given me.” What’s the very next thing He says? “Go therefore.” (Mt. 28:18) “Go therefore” means that we have been given that same Godly authority to act in the Name of God for the protection, aid and comfort of the “least of these,” as disciples of Jesus Christ.
Friends, the question is, how are we using the authority that God has given us? There are two types of abuse of authority. One is the overextension of authority, but the other is the lack of use of authority. When God has given us the authority in His name to protect unborn children, and we do not act, that is an abuse of the authority that He has given us.
So what do we do? Well, the obstacles are many in this culture of death, and it gets so easy to be overwhelmed and to feel paralyzed. We think, well, I’m just a simple Christian. I’m not in a position of power or authority. What can I do? The answer is very simple. Live out your Christian life. Seek to fulfill the great commandment of Christ that I just mentioned. Say it with me. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and you shall love your neighbor as yourself. It’s so simple, right? How is it that the most simple commandment of Christ is the most difficult to fulfill?
But we keep that as our goal. That’s what we set before us to love God with all of our being and to love our neighbor as ourself. Now, thankfully, Scripture gives us a straightforward formula of how to move forward. Listen to the words of St. Paul in the opening verses of his letter to the Romans, “Paul, a servant of Christ Jesus called to be an apostle set apart for the gospel of God.” Did you catch the formula? Servant, called, sent like Paul. We are all called to be servants, but not just any kind of servant. The term that Paul uses here is dulos, which is a bond servant. Another term would be an indentured servant. A bond or indentured servant is one whose debt is so great that they cannot pay it. So, they are in the service of another until they either pay off their debt or receive forgiveness for their debt. What is the debt that St. Paul owes Jesus? The same debt that you and I owe Jesus! Everything. He paid the price for us on the cross. He saved us from what we deserve, the wrath of God. You want to be counter-cultural, talk about your debt to Christ in a room full of strangers. You’ll see how fast conversation stops.
If you want to proclaim the gospel, talk about how God has forgiven you, your debt. Again, this servitude is not belittling or forced slavery. It is an attitude of the heart and an inclination of the mind. With a debt so big that I already know is forgiven, how can I do anything else but love him who loved me first?
I tell you —it is earth shattering and life changing when we realize the depth of our debt to Jesus and the height of His Grace poured out for us. The hymn Amazing Grace just barely touches the surface. We are servants who are CALLED by God!
Think about that for a second – the God of the universe, the creator of the world, the creator of you and me has called and equipped us for His service. God reaches out to us in Word and Sacrament. He reaches out to us through an audible voice, through visions, or a dream, often it is through the word of a friend or someone in authority in our lives.
The best advice I received when I became a bishop came from Bp. Bill Atwood who encouraged me to pray earnestly to the Lord whenever I have a baptism, confirmation or ordination, asking the Lord to give me a word or image to share with the individual to help guide them.
I have taken that advice to heart and it amazes me how often people come back and say that the word or image that the Lord gave me for them was right on target.
During COVID I received a call one day from the Philippines. It was from a woman who told me that years before I had her and shared with her an image that God had given me of her working with the poor in a foreign land.
When she told me that she laughed when I told her that, I immediately knew who she was as it was early on in my ministry and I wasn’t all that conﬁdent that what I was sharing with people was a Word from the Lord or the Kung Pao Chicken I ate the night before!
In fact, I still tell everyone — I’m going to share this but you need to test it and the Lord will let you know if it’s from Him or my indigestion.
When she called me, she said, “I’m calling to apologize” and that she had been “convicted by the Holy Spirit.” It turns out that she was a nurse. And a couple years after she was confirmed, she met and fell in love with a wonderful man who is a physician. He felt a call to serve with Doctors without Borders, and that she was calling from the Philippines because they were ministering to covid patients in the slums outside of Manila. She apologized for laughing at me, but I give thanks to God that she listened and that she heard.
St. Paul tells us that he was “a servant of Christ Jesus, called to be an apostle,” (Romans 1:1) That title Apostle means “One who is sent.” Now for Paul it was also a special title of authority equal to Peter, Andrew, James and the other Apostles whom Jesus had commissioned.
But friends we too are given an Apostolic Mission — “Sent out by God” not only to proclaim the Good News of Jesus Christ but to embody the Good News of Him! Not simply to serve others, especially the least and the lost, but to love them. To love them means going beyond service. To love them means that you are willing to stand beside them, to suffer with them, and desire more for the other than you desire for yourself.
Years ago I was sent into the mission ﬁeld by my bishop who needed Spanish speaking clergy. I went into missions with this “noble” (I told myself) desire to serve. Once there I was overcome with a sense of being lonely and afraid – in a way that I never felt before. But the very people I came to serve, loved me with a Christ-like love. In doing so, I was convicted and converted. And I loved them in a way I had never loved another. That love changed my life and shaped my ministry more than three years of seminary ever could.
Brothers and sisters, God is calling us to do the same for the Least of These, who are right around you.
How do we change a culture of death? By being the Christians that Jesus has called us to be. By heeding the call of Christ and serving Him as his beloved disciples.
Open up your home and your heart to receive a child from a mother who made the courageous decision to give birth to her child and who loved him or her enough to place them for adoption. Be that adoptive family or support a family who adopts. Volunteer at a pregnancy care center to stand with those women who are feeling so frightened and alone. Walk with those men who are seeking to support the child they have fathered and the mother who bore their child. Advocate for the life of an unborn child in the public square and in a private home. Lovingly share with women who have had an abortion that God can forgive them and because he can forgive them, they can forgive themselves. Sit at the bedside of a dementia patient or cancer patient reminding them that they are not alone and that their life has value.
How do we change a culture of death? One day at a time, one person at a time loving the least of these my brothers.
And to that I say…AMEN.