Sheep and Goats – October 27, 2019
Psalm 84:5-12, Matthew 25:31-46
October 27, 2019
Why do goats always get a bad rap? There seems to have been a lot of negative things attached to goats over the years. When one person fails another for some reason, they say “I feel like the goat here!” Do you know what I mean?
Charlie Brown always wanted to be the “hero” when he played baseball. Do you remember? He was the pitcher. But just when he was on the verge of being a hero, some kid would hit a line drive right through the picture, and Charlie Brown would be knocked over and spun around with his glove and hat and even his shoes and socks all flying off! Do you remember? And, he wasn’t the hero. As he would say, he was the always the goat! So, what’s up with goats?
Oh Yom Kippur, the day of Atonement, the ancient Hebrew tradition was for the people to redirect their revulsion, their hatred, for their own sinfulness, elsewhere. And believe it or not, they would direct all of that onto a goat. The goat was “ritually burdened” with the sins of the people, and then it was driven off into the wilderness, carrying away their sins. That’s where we get our term “Scapegoat.” Ever since then, that word has come to mean someone who takes the blame for someone else.
But why goats? My son Paul lives on a goat farm, and he sometimes helps out with the goats. I saw them when I was out there, and they’re pretty cool animals! And the goats they had there were “show goats!” Did you even know there were “show goats?” And did you know that there were goat shows? Well, there are! And a number of those goats had won awards. So, they were champion goats! Who knew!
The thing is, goats are noble creatures! They’re beautiful animals! I don’t know why the bad rap. Yet here in our scripture for today, Jesus used as his example, sheep and goats. And guess which he used as his negative example? Right! The goats were the goats in this story!
This is also a great story as we’re talking today about “stewardship of our community.” Because this is the wonderful statement from Jesus talking about the importance of reaching out to and loving those who are hungry, and thirsty, and sick, and in prison, and all those things. And in his ministry, Jesus showed us that he had compassion for those people! In fact, that was one of the things Jesus was criticized for the most. He hung out with the “wrong people.”
We can’t forget that! It’s who Jesus was! And I think it’s interesting the way he framed this story. It’s also interesting the way it’s presented in my Bible. The heading of this paragraph says, “The Judgment of the Nations.” And that’s what Jesus was talking about here. He said, “When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. And before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.”
All the nations are being judged here! Not just God’s people. So, I’m thinking, shouldn’t we, as God’s people, maybe know this better than the “other nations!” And of course, what is the criteria upon which they are all being judged here? They are being judged, not on their religion or their beliefs, but on whether or not they ministered unto Jesus, by ministering unto others – even “the least of these!”
That is a great challenge for God’s people, and it always has been! Too often Churches become complacent, and they turn in on themselves, and they forget that stewardship is stewardship of the world around us. They forget that that means taking care of the world God has given us and the people God has given us. This is a huge challenge!
And as you think about that today, remember, this is the same Jesus who also said, in the Sermon on the Mount, “On that day, many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?’ And then will I declare to them, ‘I never knew you!’” (Matthew 7:22) What matters more to Jesus is the relationship we have with him. What matters more to Jesus is how we reach out to others.
Some people – and I mean some people who are not God’s people – do that better than us! At my mother-in-law’s funeral, I said that she might not have considered herself to be a “Godly” woman, but she did more of God’s work than many who do consider themselves to be “Godly.” She may not have considered herself a “Church person,” but she was in Churches more than many who are “Church people.” She may not have known a lot of “Church stuff,” but one thing she did know, was ministering unto “the least of these!”
I quoted this scripture that day, because these are her defining words – “the least of these.” And hear what Jesus said here! In this parable, the Master said to those at his right hand – the sheep!, “Come, O blessed of 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 drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me…” And notice what they said in response. They did not say, “We sure did, Lord.” No! They said, “We did?” “We ministered to you?” “When?” When we reach out to others, we are reaching out to people God loves, and we are reaching out to Jesus.
Tony Campolo says this in a challenging way. And by the way, Tony always challenges me! I don’t always agree with him, but he always makes me think! He said this. “You’re not a Christian until you have your heart broken by the things that break the heart of God.” Now, I hope you can get past the harsh sounding part of that statement, and understand what he meant. Because it is important. When you see people suffering, when you see them in need, when you see pictures of starving children, and your heart is filled with compassion, then you can be sure that you know the God whose heart is also filled with compassion!
Think about the Good Samaritan. Why did he help the man he found lying in the road? Did he do it because it was the “right thing to do?” No. That’s not what Jesus tells us. The Samaritan might not even have known what the right thing to do was! The priest and the Levite, they would have known “the right thing.” (And that’s a different kind of judgement on them, isn’t it?) But no, that wasn’t why the Samaritan helped the man. He helped the man because(?) he had compassion on him! Jesus is very careful to say it that way!
We live in a hurting world, a world where there is a lot of brokenness. As we think about that, and as we see people who are hurting, who are broken hearted, who lack joy, direction, and peace, think about this. When we set our hearts on the people God loves, when we show compassion to the people God loves, we show that we love God.
As God’s people, we are stewards of the world around us! And so, as God’s people, treat each person you meet each day with dignity, show them kindness, have compassion on them – even the goats! Offer the world the joy and peace you have.
You know the song, “They’ll know we are Christians by our love.” (Maybe we should have sung that today!) That’s a song about how we love one another. That’s how the world will know we are Christians. But it is also true that the world will know we are Christians by how we love the world. And we know how “God so loved the world!” don’t we? He so loved the world “that he gave his only son…”
Eternal God, give us hearts of compassion. Help us to see the world with your eyes. Help us to see each person in this world as one that you love. May the love you have for the world be seen by the world in us. It is a big challenge, Lord. But, by your spirit, may we have the strength to do that. For we pray in Jesus’ name, Amen.