Upside Down Glory

Matthew 25:31-46

I imagine you might hear this as I do today, hearing about Jesus coming into his ‘glory,’ knowing which of Jesus’ hands I hope I will end up on.

Oh yes, I have heard these words for decades by now and with that hearing comes the undeniable understanding of who and what I am called to be and to do.

Indeed, it seem entirely straightforward: it is ours to see the face of Jesus in the most unlikely ones and then to tend them as we would Christ himself. Else our final designation will be more goat than sheep, it’s as simple as that.

Only is it really all that simple?

For here is where I am stuck this time.  I am entirely caught by the unselfconsciousness of those Jesus welcomes into eternal life.  And I suspect I am not among them. For it is normally only by intentional effort that I “feed the hungry, sate the thirsty, welcome the stranger, clothe the naked, take care of the sick, and visit those in prison.” I know what I am doing as I do it. I hope it is an outward expression of what I hold closest to my heart. And yet, I am afraid I cannot imagine that at the end of my living I would be as innocent as those who said, “When, Lord?” At least not yet.

For this must be so. Those described in this way today have been apparently practicing their care for the neediest among us for so long and so deeply that they don’t even regard it as extraordinary. Or at least not in any way connected to Jesus. Indeed, they do not seem to see it as expression of their faith. It is just who they are.

  • And maybe it does just takes a lifetime of being and doing to get there.
  • And maybe it all starts by recognizing that the upside down glory we hear about every year as we celebrate the Reign of Christ has been the story we have been hearing about all along.
  • Indeed, maybe it begins by immersing ourselves in this way of seeing and experiencing the and living in the world again and again and again and again until we begin to become ‘one with it.’

At least that is what I have found myself doing in these last days.

For what we hear described in Matthew 25 is not so different than what has come across to us in Matthew’s telling from the start.  Things are never as they first appear. No, in fact, things are continually turned upside down. And maybe this last Sunday of the church year is a good time to step back and walk through the whole story once again:

For this is so, isn’t it?  Right at the very beginning we hear of Jesus’ lineage and among the names we do not recognize are several that we do including:

  • Rahab the prostitute;
  • Ruth, the foreigner;
  • Uriah, the husband of Bathsheba, who met a tragic and unjust death;
  • Not to mention Joseph, the husband of Mary!

Right from the start we hear that we should be prepared for the unexpected!

  • In the next breath we are told that foreign dignitaries travel to kneel at the foot of the Christ Child.
  • Before long we hear Jesus preaching in such a way that reverses all we have ever come to expect in the beatitudes.
  • And pretty soon, he is welcoming children.
  • Indeed, what kind of royalty comes into town on a donkey and is crucified among thieves?
  • And in what respectable story in that time and place would it have been women who were the first to see and tell the news that even death had been reversed?

Take a walk through Matthew’s Gospel one last time before setting it aside and turning to Mark. I expect you will see what I have realized again this week.  This is not the first time the face of Christ is seen in unexpected places. And I cannot help but wonder if you and I who are given life and breath by the Holy One whose way of being and doing is captured in these ancient words and images… I can’t help but wonder if as we continue to immerse ourselves in them, they may just become so much a part of us that we actually find ourselves living into that ‘upside down’ glory until we realize that what first appears upside down as actually right side up after all!

And  yet, It is not all head work, of course it cannot be only that. There has to be some sort of practicing which repeated again and again and again makes the ‘righteous doing’ described today more ‘muscle memory’ than not. I mean, there is no mention of ‘knowing’ here at all. It is just simply a matter of ‘doing’ until it is fully a part of the one who is living in this way. Even so, I cannot help but wonder if as we truly immerse ourselves in these ancient images and stories somehow strengthens and shapes us for exactly this. And I cannot help but wonder if they open our eyes, our hearts for examples of exactly this ‘upside down glory’ already in the world around us and if these, too, don’t move us further along the way to being and doing all that we are called to be and do.

Especially in a time like this when such ‘unselfconscious givers’ are so needed now more than ever:

I got a glimpse of this just this week when I set up a zoom call to pray with and for a member who had moved far away.  She had made the decision to not seek treatment for her advanced cancer and to enter into hospice care instead. Her nearby children were doing what they could to keep her comfortable. They tell me that for as long as she could speak, she did not stop thanking them. I could see the gratitude on her face as she smiled at me through the computer’s camera as I spoke words of blessing and hope…

And I heard a bit of this in these last days as I listened to a couple of our nurses speak of their ongoing commitment to her patients even as our local hospital fills up with COVID-19 patients. Staff is wearing thin and yet they continue to do what they have always done, giving their best for the sake of the most vulnerable in our community. I see it, too, in public health workers who work behind the scenes partnering with community leaders to try to keep us all a bit safer and calling and calling and calling to try to trace and stem the spread of the disease…

And I witness this day after day, week after week, as our teachers keep sitting in front of computer screens teaching in a way most have not been equipped to teach, all the while missing their students and worrying about those who are falling behind…

Every single one of these and so many more in their families, their communities, and in their daily work is living out the ‘upside down’ glory Jesus calls us to now. And yes, in many cases by now from all I can tell, the good they are doing simply flows from who they are.

This is who and what we are all called to be and do. How we get there may be as individual as each of us, to be sure. And yet, through it all, we are given images and stories to press our hearts against. And we are given examples and stories all around us to listen to and follow.

I, for one, cannot imagine a more critical time than the one we are in to go deeper in listening to and living out the call Jesus offers now. Can you?

  • I do wonder at how we can become the unselfconscious givers Jesus describes now. What do you make of this?
  • I do believe we are all shaped by ‘story.’ Which particular examples of ‘upside down glory’ in Matthew’s Gospel speak to you in this time, for this time?
  • What examples of this kind of unselfconscious giving are you witnessing in your life now?  How are they examples of ‘upside down glory?’ How do these examples strengthen you for your own call to be and do the same?



  1. Yvonne johnson says:

    You made me remember my parents who always fed whomever came to our door. Who took in long men to help and raised them as their kids who remembered them when grown up. Share share share
    This is what I try to do in many ways. It’s a good feeling as I remember Joyce Davidson and how much she helped me with my Aunt who had ms. Do what you can is a good motto.

  2. Rev Sue MacTavish, St. Paul UMC, Elkton, VA says:

    Janet, As always you message hits home this week. when you spoke of the lady with terminal cancer, saying thanks to all. A member on the club I am president of in June’s Journey on-line game has terminal cancer. The team members of course have never met face to face. But we a sent Suzie prayers as she tried to get accepted in trial program after trial program. But how all options are exhausted and she has accepted that she is dying. Last week she started sending message to various team members telling them how much she loves them and that she knows that God loves them. I can tell that it is making some of our members that I suspect are not Christian or Jewish very uncomfortable. I have described it as ” Suzie is so full of faith and hope that she is spewing out love to us all. And love her we do.

  3. Mike Wilson says:

    I always read your meditation on Saturday night, as part of my night-time devotions, in preparation for Sunday’s worship. I am writing this after watching the Service of Lamentations this morning. (Always amazed at the wonderful job the synod does on these special services) Got a lot from your “tag-team” message with Bishop Jeff…but I couldn’t help but notice how outdated your picture is on this page! Then I reminded myself that that is the way I remember you, from that Spring which will be 10 years in 2021 that I came to worship at Salem, after losing my wife of 40 years, and how you and everyone at Salem welcomed me, and assisted in my healing. We aren’t getting older, we’re getting better, God’s peace!

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