January 24, 2021

Third Sunday after the Epiphany

READINGS FOR THE COMING WEEK

  • First reading
    • Jonah 3:1-5, 10
  • Psalm
    • Psalm 62:5-12
  • Second reading
    • 1 Corinthians 7:29-31
  • Gospel
    • Mark 1:14-20
Cross with Fish
BentonChapel,
exterior ironwork
Vanderbilt University
Nashville, TN
diglib.library.vanderbilt.ed

The gospel reading from Mark:
Now after John was arrested, Jesus came to Galilee, proclaiming the good news of God, and saying, “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God has come near; repent, and believe in the good news.”

As Jesus passed along the Sea of Galilee, he saw Simon and his brother Andrew casting a net into the sea–for they were fishermen. And Jesus said to them, “Follow me and I will make you fish for people.” And immediately they left their nets and followed him.

As he went a little farther, he saw James son of Zebedee and his brother John, who were in their boat mending the nets. Immediately he called them; and they left their father Zebedee in the boat with the hired men, and followed him.

Sermon
For this week and those following, our lectionaries have changed in substance, The gospel of John has been more abstract and philosophical. That from Mark will be more historical in nature and more directly relevant to our daily lives. In this week’s reading from Mark, Jesus calls fishermen to follow him and become fishers of men. He first calls Simon, who later will be known as Peter, and Simon’s brother Andrew. Jesus will eventually call twelve, the same number as there are tribes of Israel, to be his disciples to support his ministry. We are called too, to support His ministry, but there are lots of jobs, some abstract, some small, Pastor Stevensen tells us. He once received a letter from a National Guardsman who is studying at a seminary to become a military chaplain. This man has children, works hard, and is paid below the poverty level and cannot afford to buy insurance. A seminary board member accepts a call and pays the Guardsman’s insurance premiums. Our young people go home from school to a culture of television and homework which is seemingly opposed to bible reading and church worship. In this culture,, like the board member supporting a National ‘Guardsman who wants to be a military chaplain, we are called to important tasks.

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January 17, 2021

Second Sunday after Epiphany

READINGS FOR THE COMING WEEK
  • First reading
    • 1 Samuel 3:1-10, (11-20)
  • Psalm
    • Psalm 139:1-6, 13-18
  • Second reading
    • 1 Corinthians 6:12-20
  • Gospel
    • John 1:43-51

Gospel reading from John
Jesus decided to go to Galilee. He found Philip and said to him, “Follow me.” Now Philip was from Bethsaida, the city of Andrew and Peter.

Philip found Nathanael and said to him, “We have found him about whom Moses in the law and also the prophets wrote, Jesus son of Joseph from Nazareth.” Nathanael said to him, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?” Philip said to him, “Come and see.”

Nathanael Under the Fig Tree . Tissot, James, 1836-1902

When Jesus saw Nathanael coming toward him, he said of him, “Here is truly an Israelite in whom there is no deceit!”

Nathanael asked him, “Where did you get to know me?” Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.”

Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!” Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.”

And he said to him, “Very truly, I tell you, you will see heaven opened and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of Man.”

Divinity Library, Jean and Alexander Heard Library

Sermon
From three kinds of sources to select sermon material – lectionary, other writings and congregational needs, any of which could be used with the reading from John, Pastor Stevensen decided to talk on needs of the congregation.. We all suffer losses in our lives. And our nation is suffering in these tumultuous times. In the last verse in the reading from John, Jesus says to Nathanael” I tell you the truth. You shall see angels ascending and descending on the Son of Man.” This echoes Genesis 28 in which Jacob sees a ladder on which angels descend and ascend from heaven. So where do we go from here? The question really is from where do we come? To Nathanael Jesus said “You shall see heaven open.” Putting this all together we conclude that the place to see Jesus Christ is where heaven and earth meet. In the Jewish temple the closest place to God is in the holiest of holy inner chambers. The true meeting place is Jesus Christ himself. So Nathanael must have seen Heaven open. For the climatic events in Jesus’ life, the heaven must have opened. What does this all mean for us today? In Romans 6:5 the apostle Paul wrote “If we have been united with Christ in his death, we also will be united with Him into his resurrection.” When Jesus was baptized, God joined with him. So are we joined with the life of Jesus.

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January 10, 2021

Baptism of Jesus

THE READINGS FOR THIS COMING WEEK
  • First reading
    • Genesis 1:1-5
  • Psalm
    • Psalm 29
  • Second reading
    • Acts 19:1-7
  • Gospel
    • Mark 1:4-11

The gospel reading from Mark
John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.

Ethiopian Mural,
John Baptizing Jesus diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu

Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey. He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

In those days Jesus came from Nazareth of Galilee and was baptized by John in the Jordan. And just as he was coming up out of the water, he saw the heavens torn apart and the Spirit descending like a dove on him. And a voice came from heaven, “You are my Son, the Beloved; with you I am well pleased.”

Sermon
Events happen through the church year. At these times a sermon can be more personal. The bible is rich in history, including that of the life of Jesus. This Sunday such an event is the Baptism of Jesus by John the Baptist. But why was Jesus baptized? One of two answers is that baptism is related to sin and redemption. But why Jesus? Pastor Stevensen tells us in his sermon that the baptism of Jesus relates to the unity of God, the Son and the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit came in the form of a dove, John heard God speaking, and it was the Son who was baptized. The doctrine of the Trinity has been challenged. The concept of the Trinity can challenge us. One example of the three working is in the creation (God), redemption (Son) and sanctification (Holy Spirit), but this diminishes the idea of the three working together. The Holy Sprit was present at the Creation. The Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit have always worked together and always will, to our benefit,

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January 3, 2021

Second Sunday after Christmas

READINGS FOR THE COMING WEEK

  • First reading
    • Jeremiah 31:7-14 or Sirach 24:1-12
  • Psalm
    • Psalm 147:12-20 or Wisdom of Solomon 10:15-21
  • Second reading
    • Ephesians 1:3-14
  • Gospel
    • John 1:(1-9), 10-18

The gospel reading from John
In th e beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God.

All things came into being through him, and without him not one thing came into being. What has come into being in him was life, and the life was the light of all people. The light shines in the darkness, and the darkness did not overcome it.

There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light. The true light, which enlightens everyone, was coming into the world.

He was in the world, and the world came into being through him; yet the world did not know him. He came to what was his own, and his own people did not accept him.

Lauren Plummer
Advent Candle. 
February 2018,
Nashville, TN
diglib.library.vanderbilt.edu

But to all who received him, who believed in his name, he gave power to become children of God, who were born, not of blood or of the will of the flesh or of the will of man, but of God. And the Word became flesh and lived among us, and we have seen his glory, the glory as of a father’s only son, full of grace and truth.

John testified to him and cried out, “This was he of whom I said, ‘He who comes after me ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ From his fullness we have all received, grace upon grace. The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.

No one has ever seen God. It is God the only Son, who is close to the Father’s heart, who has made him known.

Sermon
According to John, in the beginning was Word and the Word was God. And the Word became flesh and lived among us. We believe God from God, Light from Light, in one being with the Father. This is our dogmatic claim.. Pastor Stevensen tells us that the Koran of Islam rejects any belief that God was made man. Why do we believe such dogma? Why fight the fight? Conventionally, the more we know about something, the more we trust it. Mark begins his gospel with the baptism of Jesus, Matthew begins with the birth of Jesus.. Neither mentions the Virgin Birth. But any thought that Jesus is an adopted Son of God has been labeled as heresy. That he was just a guy is not accepted. John dispels reason for disagreement and writes that Jesus has always been and will always be the Son.. The actual birth is not important. There is much more to it. John’s story is not historical anecdote.. It is the Word of God. It is powerful. It offers new life in the Son. It can transform life. Its truths bring forth life eternal.

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December 27, 2020

First Sunday after Christmas Day

READINGS FOR THE COMING WEEK
  • First reading
    • Isaiah 61:10-62:3
  • Psalm
    • Psalm 148
  • Second reading
    • Galatians 4:4-7
  • Gospel
    • Luke 2:22-40

First reading from Isaiah
I will greatly rejoice in the LORD, my whole being shall exult in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation, he has covered me with the robe of righteousness, as a bridegroom decks himself with a garland, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels.

For as the earth brings forth its shoots, and as a garden causes what is sown in it to spring up, so the Lord GOD will cause righteousness and praise to spring up before all the nations.

For Zion’s sake I will not keep silent, and for Jerusalem’s sake I will not rest, until her vindication shines out like the dawn, and her salvation like a burning torch.

The nations shall see your vindication, and all the kings your glory; and you shall be called by a new name that the mouth of the LORD will give.

You shall be a crown of beauty in the hand of the LORD, and a royal diadem in the hand of your God.

Gospel reading from Luke:
When the time came for their purification according to the law of Moses, Mary and Joseph brought Jesus up to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male shall be designated as holy to the Lord”),and they offered a sacrifice according to what is stated in the law of the Lord, “a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”

Now there was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon; this man was righteous and devout, looking forward to the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit rested on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah.

Guided by the Spirit, Simeon came into the temple; and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him what was customary under the law, Simeon took him in his arms and praised God, saying, “Master, now you are dismissing your servant in peace, according to your word; for my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, a light for revelation to the Gentiles and for glory to your people Israel.” And the child’s father and mother were amazed at what was being said about him.

Presentation in the Temple
Angelico, fra, 1400-1455
Jean and Alexander Heard Libraries

Then Simeon blessed them and said to his mother Mary, “This child is destined for the falling and the rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be opposed so that the inner thoughts of many will be revealed–and a sword will pierce your own soul too.”

There was also a prophet, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day. At that moment she came, and began to praise God and to speak about the child to all who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.When they had finished everything required by the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The child grew and became strong, filled with wisdom; and the favor of God was upon him.

Sermon
Why did Luke put this week’s gospel reading into his book? Pastor Stevensen points out that this is history – an event in the life of Jesus. Besides being factual, a bible passage can also explain the purpose of an event. But what is Luke’s reason for telling it? The answer may be in the presence of two witnesses – Simeon and Anna. They say who Jesus is. They are credible witnesses. It had been revealed to righteous and devout Simeon by the Holy Spirit that before he died he would see the Christ. He took Jesus in his arms and praised God saying that He may dismiss his servant Simeon in peace for he had seen His salvation. The 84-year-old widow Anna who worshiped night and day at the temple spoke about Jesus to all looking for the redemption of Jerusalem. In our reading from Isaiah 61, the author in verse 10 says he has been clothed with garments of salvation and arrayed in a robe of righteousness. Who is talking? Is it Jesus Christ who would bring salvation? They must all be songs of God singing of the coming of Christ.

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December 20, 2020

Fourth Sunday in Advent

READINGS FOR THE COMING WEEK

  • First reading
    • 2 Samuel 7:1-11, 16
  • Psalm
    • Luke 1:46b-55 or Psalm 89:1-4, 19-26
  • Second reading
    • Romans 16:25-27
  • Gospel
    • Luke 1:26-38

Gospel reading from Luke
In the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent by God to a town in Galilee called Nazareth, to a virgin engaged to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David. The virgin’s name was Mary. And he came to her and said, “Greetings, favored one! The Lord is with you.” But she was much perplexed by his words and pondered what sort of greeting this might be.

The angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary, for you have found favor with God. And now, you will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you will name him Jesus. He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High, and the Lord God will give to him the throne of his ancestor David. He will reign over the house of Jacob forever, and of his kingdom there will be no end.”

The Annunciation 1950
Our Lady of Pity, Stained glass
Swaffham, UK

Mary said to the angel, “How can this be, since I am a virgin?” The angel said to her, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be holy; he will be called Son of God.

And now, your relative Elizabeth in her old age has also conceived a son; and this is the sixth month for her who was said to be barren. For nothing will be impossible with God.”

Then Mary said, “Here am I, the servant of the Lord; let it be with me according to your word.” Then the angel departed from her.

Pastor’s sermon
A dominant theme of this week’s gospel reading is the entry of God into the world as a character, Pastor Stevensen tells us, God as an intermediary in the birth of the Son. An angel appears saying “Greetings, favored one, the Lord is with you.” Mary was much perplexed. The angel comforts her, saying “Do not be afraid, for you have found favor with God, and then announces “You will receive in your womb and bear a son.” Our situation is much like Mary’s. His gifts to us too have been “out of the blue.” Mary did not have to do anything. The receiving of a son was not conditional. She was chosen. We can draw a parallel. We are chosen. That’s it, an announcement. We only have to accept, but do we accept enough? It is an unconditional offer. God alone is capable of opening our minds. His miracle breaks through and It is new everyday, By faith alone, we receive God’s gift of His Son. God alone is capable of opening our minds. His miracle breaks through. It is new everyday, By faith alone, we receive God’s gift of His Son.

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December 13, 2020

Third Sunday in Advent

READINGS FOR THE COMING WEEK
  • First reading
    • Isaiah 61:1-4, 8-11
  • Psalm
    • Psalm 126 or Luke 1:46b-55
  • Second reading
    • 1 Thessalonians 5:16-24
  • Gospel
    • John 1:6-8, 19-28

Last week’s gospel reading from Mark
The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,’”

John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.

Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey.

He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

This week’s gospel reading from John
There was a man sent from God, whose name was John. He came as a witness to testify to the light, so that all might believe through him. He himself was not the light, but he came to testify to the light.

The Macklin Bible* — John Preaching in the Wilderness: Stothard, Thomas, 1755-1834 ; Skelton, William, 1763-1848

This is the testimony given by John when the Jews sent priests and Levites from Jerusalem to ask him, “Who are you?” He confessed and did not deny it, but confessed, “I am not the Messiah.”

And they asked him, “What then? Are you Elijah?” He said, “I am not.” “Are you the prophet?” He answered, “No.” Then they said to him, “Who are you? Let us have an answer for those who sent us. What do you say about yourself?” He said, “I am the voice of one crying out in the wilderness, ‘Make straight the way of the Lord,'” as the prophet Isaiah said.

Now they had been sent from the Pharisees. They asked him, “Why then are you baptizing if you are neither the Messiah, nor Elijah, nor the prophet?” John answered them, “I baptize with water. Among you stands one whom you do not know, the one who is coming after me; I am not worthy to untie the thong of his sandal.”

This took place in Bethany across the Jordan where John was baptizing.

Sermon
For last Sunday, the second Sunday in Advent, and this Sunday, the third, the gospel readings are from Mark and from John, respectivly, but both involve John the Baptistl. They are similar but different. This Sunday Pastor Stevensen in his sermon spoke on the two together. He reminds us that both are important. John begins with the light, by which he means Jesus Christ. Mark’s reading is the beginning of the Good News. In both Jesus Christ is the central subject. Both are about belief in a Son of God. Mark opens with the Good News. The Greek words from which the words “news” or “gospel” are interpreted mean message. God’s message is spread around the world and the News is Jesus Christ. The message began 500 years before the appearance of John the Baptist. The Good News is that the Son of God came, went to Jerusalem, died and rose from the dead, in victory over sin and death. This is God’s Good News.

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*Note: The Macklin Bible is an enormous physical specimen of book art, comprising seven volumes two feet in height and over 130 pounds in weight. It represents the apogee of the art of British copper-plate engraving, involving both painters and engravers. These renowned artists often selected scripture texts that featured women, who were the nurturers of religious education for the family in late 18th century England.

December 6, 2020

Second Sunday of Advent

READINGS FOR THE COMING WEEK
  • First reading
    • Isaiah 40:1-11
  • Psalm
    • Psalm 85:1-2, 8-13
  • Second reading
    • 2 Peter 3:8-15a
  • Gospel
    • Mark 1:1-8

Gospel reading from Mark
The beginning of the good news of Jesus Christ, the Son of God.

As it is written in the prophet Isaiah, “See, I am sending my messenger ahead of you, who will prepare your way; the voice of one crying out in the wilderness: ‘Prepare the way of the Lord, make his paths straight,'”

John the baptizer appeared in the wilderness, proclaiming a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. And people from the whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem were going out to him, and were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins.

Now John was clothed with camel’s hair, with a leather belt around his waist, and he ate locusts and wild honey.

He proclaimed, “The one who is more powerful than I is coming after me; I am not worthy to stoop down and untie the thong of his sandals. I have baptized you with water; but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.”

November 29, 2020

First Sunday of Advent

READINGS FOR THE COMING WEEK

  • First reading
    • Isaiah 64:1-9
  • Psalm
    • Psalm 80:1-7, 17-19
  • Second reading
    • 1 Corinthians 1:3-9
  • Gospel
    • Mark 13:24-37

First reading from Isaiah
O that you would tear open the heavens and come down, so that the mountains would quake at your presence–as when fire kindles brushwood and the fire causes water to boil– to make your name known to your adversaries, so that the nations might tremble at your presence!

When you did awesome deeds that we did not expect, you came down, the mountains quaked at your presence.

From ages past no one has heard, no ear has perceived, no eye has seen any God besides you, who works for those who wait for him.

You meet those who gladly do right, those who remember you in your ways. But you were angry, and we sinned; because you hid yourself we transgressed.

We have all become like one who is unclean, and all our righteous deeds are like a filthy cloth.

We all fade like a leaf, and our iniquities, like the wind, take us away.

There is no one who calls on your name, or attempts to take hold of you; for you have hidden your face from us, and have delivered us into the hand of our iniquity.

Yet, O LORD, you are our Father; we are the clay, and you are our potter; we are all the work of your hand.

Do not be exceedingly angry, O LORD, and do not remember iniquity forever. Now consider, we are all your people.

Spirit of Detroit, detail
Jean and Alexander Heard Libraries,
Vanderbilt University

Gospel reading from Mark
O Lord God of Hosts, how long will you be angry with your people’s prayers? You have fed them with the bread of tears, and given them tears to drink in full measure. You make us the scorn of our neighbors; our enemies laugh among themselves. Restore us, O God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved.

But let your hand be upon the one at your right hand, the one whom you made strong for yourself. Then we will never turn back from you; give us life, and we will call on your name. Restore us, O LORD God of hosts; let your face shine, that we may be saved.

Gospel reading from Mark
“But in those days, after that suffering, the sun will be darkened, and the moon will not give its light, and the stars will be falling from heaven, and the powers in the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in clouds’ with great power and glory. Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.

“From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he is near, at the very gates. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

“But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Beware, keep alert; for you do not know when the time will come. It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch.

Therefore, keep awake–for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly. And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake.”

Sermon
Pastor Stevensen in his sermon this week considers the Gospel reading as an historic document which has little to do with Christmas. It calls for repentance, but repentance from what and why was it selected for an Advent reading? For a better interpretation we can refer to the First Reading from Isaiah, the book that is an account of the Exodus from Egypt and the formation of a nation and its destruction. God had made a covenant with his people. Was he angry and hid from them as Isaiah wrote. Did they go astray? Isaiah is pleading for God to come back, they need him. Our gospel reading is about the return of the Son of Man. Advent is about recognizing the gift of the Christ child. The meaning of the name of the Christmas carol Emanuel is God is with us. The birth of Jesus answers our prayers. God answers our prayers.

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November 22, 2020

Twenty Fifth Sunday after Pentecost

READINGS FOR THE COMING WEEK
  • First reading and Psalm
    • Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24
    • Psalm 100
  • Alternate First reading and Psalm
    • Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24
    • Psalm 95:1-7a
  • Second reading
    • Ephesians 1:15-23
  • Gospel
    • Matthew 25:31-46

Gospel reading from Matthew
Jesus said “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left.

Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’

Food for the Hungry, Drink
for the Thirsty
Divinity Library
Jean and Alexander Heard Library
Vanderbilt University

Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’

And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’ Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’

Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’

And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”