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Plymouth United Church of Christ
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Eau Claire, WI 54703
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“Who Will Jesus Look Like?”
Sermon, Year A, Proper 27, November 9, 2014
Plymouth United Church of Christ, Eau Claire, WI
© Rev. David J. Huber
Focus Scripture: Joshua 24:1-3a, 14-25 and Matthew 25:1-13


Pay attention. Keep the lamps going. Pay attention while you’re waiting. Be wise about your waiting. Be prepared for when the Lord returns, which could be at any time! “You know neither the day nor the hour.” It really seems in some ways more of an Advent lesson. Advent being that time before Christmas when we are waiting for Jesus to be born, waiting for God to break into our world. But in a sense, all time is Advent time. All time is waiting time. As we wait and we wait for Jesus may ask ourselves, “I wonder when Jesus is going to show up?” Or, “I wonder when Jesus is going to show up.”

Because you never know. You just never know you will come to face to face with Jesus. We don’t know the hour or the time. We just never know when we will come face to face with Jesus. And when we do, will we be ready? Will we know that it is Jesus? Perhaps if you have to ask that question, then maybe the answer is self evident. Will you have brought enough oil, so to speak? Will the lamps be trimmed and burning when it happens? Will we be ready?

Which I kind of take to mean, “Have you been preparing? Have we been preparing ourselves for the return to come face to face with Jesus? Have we been practicing what that might involve, or what we might do if it happened?”

Much as soldiers will drill, and drill, and drill; and police and firefighters run scenarios and practice and run drills; and astronauts train on simulators to try to practice every possible emergency scenario. Practice and practice and practice so that when something unusual happens, they are ready and prepared. It’s not so new when it happens. It might be a surprise, but they know how to handle it. “This is a surprise, but thankfully I have the tools to deal with it!” They are ready for it> They have the mental memory and the physical memory, and they can go on a kind of autopilot because they have rehearsed it, practiced it, they’ve been through it.

For the follower of Jesus, we can practice as well. Practice to prepare to greet Jesus if he returns. We could just sit back and say, “Well, if it’s Jesus, of course – of course! – I will greet him and say hello and treat him well” and do whatever we might think that we ought to do. “Of course, if it’s Jesus, I’ll greet him. I don’t need to practice that.”

But how will you know if it’s Jesus?

But how will you know if it’s Jesus unless we’ve practiced?

Unless we’ve practiced by greeting others as though they were Jesus. By greeting others as though they were Jesus. Because we may think that we will know Jesus. I mean, we’ve seen the pictures, right? The paintings, the drawings of Jesus. We know what he’s going to look like. He has long brown hair, white robe, sandals, maybe or maybe not a beard. If it’s November I’d like to think that Jesus would at least have a beard in solidarity with no-shave November for men’s health.

We’ve seen the pictures of Jesus, right?

But I don’t know. I don’t think Jesus is going to look like that. I don’t think we’re waiting for a guy with long hair, a white robe, and sandals. That would be too obvious. It’s also the dress of a first century Palestinian Jew, not someone of today. That’s a very idealized situation to think that Jesus will look like the pictures. To think that Jesus will conform to our idealized expectations, to assume that there is only one way he might manifest, is to not be prepared.

It’s equivalent to telling a police officer, “You don’t need to train. You will know who the bad guys are. They’ll be obvious. And when you say ‘stop’ they will stop.” Or to tell the firefighter they don’t need to practice because it’s just throwing water on a fire. How hard is that? Nothing unusual. It’ll be okay.

We need practice. To rehearse it. Jesus is not going to show up as a first century Palestinian Jew in a white robe, long hair, and sandals. Jesus is going to show up however he wants to. Jesus will show up as the smelly homeless man asking for a meal. Jesus will show up as the mother at Shopko or Randy’s who has the three out of control kids, who isn’t a bad mom wanting our judgment but is a single mom trying to keep things together after her husband died or got shipped off to Iraq or Afghanistan. Or Jesus will show up as the immigrant who wants a better place to live and a better life for his children. Or the person who comes into our sanctuary for the first time and doesn’t know the prayers, or the proper way to be a Christian in worship, and perhaps does some things not like we do, or makes noise, or does whatever it is that might make us uncomfortable. But we’re the hosts – we don’t get to be uncomfortable. Jesus can look like anyone. Jesus will look like the people downtown who go to Sojourners. The people that you work with. The people eating at Community Table. Jesus looks like our shut-ins, and people in the hospital, and children who are in war, and soldiers who are in war. And Jesus looks like you. Like us. Like all of us.

That’s what Jesus looks like, because we are all the face of Jesus. Whatever we do to the least of these, we do to Jesus. We are all the face of Jesus as are those around us. Jesus looks like us. Especially Jesus looks like an opportunity to serve or to show hospitality, to be invitational, to be gracious. To follow Jesus is to follow this call to hospitality and to be invitational. To be ready, therefore, for when Jesus appears by greeting all and treating all as though they really are Jesus.

Because they are.

To fail at greeting the least, or even to fail at greeting the greatest, is to be the bridesmaid that has no oil and is not ready, as we serve God and we serve Jesus.

There is that choice that Joshua offers the people. He offers a choice: serve whatever gods you want, or serve the LORD, the God who rescued you, the God of Abraham, the God of creation.

I will tell you a story. When I was a teenager, I was 13 or 14, maybe 8th or 9th grade. But I was in junior high. I was at school one day, just a regular normal day. Nothing unusual that day, except for what happened to me. At some point during the day, and I don’t remember how this happened – perhaps I saw it written down somewhere, but I think it was the Holy Spirit whispering in my ear – but as I sat in a class that day I heard something whisper in my ear, and it said, “Joshua 24:15”. Joshua 24:15. Joshua 24:15. Over and over, all day.

When I got home, I rushed to find a Bible and I pulled it out to look this up. It took a while because I wasn’t particularly biblically literate. I wasn’t sure where Joshua was to be found. I wasn’t even sure if Joshua was a Bible thing, but it seemed like something that ought to be in the Bible with that name and a number and a colon and a number. So I went to the Bible, and opened it up, and lo and behold, there it was!

And it was one of the verses we read today. Right there in front of me.

It says, “Now if you are unwilling to serve the LORD, choose this day whom you will serve. Whether the gods your ancestors served in the region beyond the river, or the gods of the Amorites in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.”

BAM! There it was. All laid out for me. It hit me: That was it! I had no idea what an Amorite was, or even who Joshua was, or what the context was, but I understood that line: As for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.

And so began a lifetime of trying to live by that idea of serving the LORD, however imperfectly I do it. That has been one of those verses that has been in my head fore a long, long time. This idea of serving the LORD. We serve the LORD by serving one another. We serve the LORD by greeting people. We serve the LORD by being ready, by greeting people as though they might be Jesus. Not to be stingy with our lamp oil, but to keep it flowing and keep it burning because that’s a lamp oil we will never run out of. God will always give us more/ We can stop the flow. We have control of that. We can choose to be stingy, or not do what we’re called to do. But that lamp oil will always be there.

So we practice, and to be ready to greet Jesus himself and if we’re lucky, or keep our hearts open, hopefully at some point we will realize and see that Jesus has always been with us. He has always been around us. He has been here in the people who surround us. Jesus has always been there, all along, just hoping that we would notice and say hello, offer an invitation, be gracious, show hospitality.

And so may we all notice and see Jesus more as we serve the Lord through our hospitality, and through our invitations, and through our greetings, and keep our lamps trimmed and burning all the time.


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Plymouth United Church of Christ
2010 Moholt Drive
Eau Claire, Wisconsin, 54703

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