24th Sunday after Pentecost—Year A—Nov 23, 2014

24th Sunday after Pentecost—Year A—Nov 23, 2014

Preached at the Lutheran Church of Framingham

Let the words of mouth and the meditations of our hearts be acceptable in your sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer. Amen.

Have you ever thought about what is actually the difference between sheep and goats?

I do not just mean metaphorically—as Jesus refers to them. I mean the actually differences—which might suggest the reason that Jesus uses the two groups contrast two groups of humans.

They are of the same subfamily (Caprinae), but different species. There are a couple of visual differences, some of which you probably can list. Both are raised in ancient and modern Palestine, sometimes even together.

And it is in those mixed groups that observant shepherds can see the difference. I saw this first hand a year ago while in Nazareth. Although sheep are very food motivated as well…goats tend not to follow their shepherd as well as sheep, but instead wander away looking for food. And even worse…when they find something good they call out and lead those (sheep or goat) still following the shepherd astray as well. Goats tend to be more self-interested and less trusting or obedient. This might be why Jesus categories of sheep and goats are not arbitrary, but are important to making his point.

However, Ezekiel makes a similar point by comparing sheep to sheep instead of sheep to goats. Ezekiel talks about the lean sheep and the fat sheep. The lean are lean because they have been bullied out of their share of the food. The fat are fat because they have eaten more than their share…by bullying others out of their share.

Both dichotomies—Jesus’ & Ezekiel’s—point to the same thing though—the goats and the fat sheep take matters into your own hands, they look out for themselves, as if not fully trusting in God to provide for them and those around them.

So are you a sheep or a goat?

Just like the last few weeks with Matthews parables of dichotomies—none of us are wise bridesmaids and none of us are foolish, none of us are good and trustworthy slaves and none of us are foolish, none of us are sheep and none of us are goats. We are all wise AND foolish, good and trustworthy AND foolish, sheep AND goat.

We are simultaneously saint and sinner.   At times we trust in God to provide and participate in distributing that provision to all. At other times, we do not fully trust in God, and we bully, steal, scheme, and lead others astray as we inflate our egos that we are in charge, that we provide for ourselves, that we are the most important.

Thankfully though, as we exist as “geep”—that is the technical word for goat-sheep hybrids—we still are cared for and guided and ushered to the right, called righteous (not on our account, but on Jesus’) and giving eternal life. The weeping and gnashing of teeth is then actually a punishment, but an outcome/result/consequence. When we turn in on ourselves… When we are personally selfish… When a congregation functions out of a fear of scarcity… When a government acts like a “cultural psychopath”[1] (that is unable to empathize with others)…everyone loses out, including the main actor—the selfish one. But such remains our human nature—our evolutionary inclination—to look out for #1 above all, to be selfish, to strive for survival at any cost.

And that is why we need to be guided, to be shown another way, to be shown we can trust and work with others and thrive!

And that is why we call this festival “Christ the King Sunday” and others call it “Reign of Christ Sunday”…the two are connected.

Historically human kings have failed or at least had major limitations. Think of those well known of Israel…

  • Saul
  • David
  • Solomon

But all that changes with a new kind of king—Jesus!

Ezekiel’s prophecy comes after the time of the historical David, so it cannot possibly be about the man, but is instead about his line, of which Jesus belongs. [2]

But really it is not a new king, but the reestablishment of the original king. Through Jesus, God is re-throned as earth’s ruler…the reign of God enters a new stage.

When we talk about the Kingdom of God, many times we think of the kingdom of God as a place, but really it is more about a time period, which is why the phrase “reign of God” might be more helpful. But is also not just about some time in the future, but right here and right now.

It is when humanity acts like Jesus describes the sheep. It is when we consider others as much as ourselves because we all are equally beloved children of God. It is when the alien is welcomed, the hungry receive bountiful Thanksgiving Baskets, and when we worry less about who is on the right and who is on the left or where we will end up in the end, and live within the peace of God right now.

Even when we slip and act goat-ish, God still loves us, so I pray you hear this parable as less of a stern warning and more as an invitation to fully participate in the Kingdom of God, where there is always enough for all! Amen.

[1] Simon Anholt, “Which country does the most good for the world?” from TEDSalon Berlin 2014, http://www.ted.com/talks/simon_anholt_which_country_does_the_most_good_for_the_world/transcript?language=en

[2] This is why Jesus’ connection to David is highlighted. Jesus is born in Bethlehem, the city of David, so that he will immediately be connected with the shepherding legacy. However, we know that Jesus does a much better job of looking out for the whole flock than David did.

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