the one about sheep and goats...
November 27, 2017, 12:00 AM

Sermon from November 26, 2017

Christ the King Sunday (Last Sunday in the church year)

Text: Matthew 25: 31-46

Grace and peace to you from God our Creator and our Lord and Savior Jesus who is the Christ – will y’all pray with me? May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable in your sight O Lord, our rock and our redeemer; amen!

So, this is an interesting text to hear from Matthew as we end this Church year. At the end of this cycle of texts (the ones we’ve been hearing these last few weeks) it can be kind of scary. We’ve heard about waiting, not knowing, being ready, fear, weeping and gnashing of teeth, being thrown into the outer darkness.

I don’t know about you, but those aren’t words and phrases that bring me comfort. Those are those moments where I think, “Am I doing enough? Goodness, what’s going to happen to me?”

It doesn’t help that in the gospel reading that we hear this morning; Jesus is separating the sheep from the goats – one to be given over to eternal life the other eternal punishment. Am I sure I’m with the ‘good?’ Am I one of the ones that needs to be a little worried?

Am I doing what I’m supposed to be doing in God’s eyes?

It’s those sorts of questions that we ask when things are ‘coming to an end.’ For today, this is an ending, today we celebrate Christ the King Sunday – the last Sunday in the church year. We hear this reading about the one who sits on the throne and judges the nations. We hear this vision from Jesus about helping those in need, for in helping those in need Christ is being literally attended to and served.

We hear about those who didn’t do those things, for they didn’t know they were in the messiah’s midst.

For us as followers of Christ who identify as Lutherans, this can be a text that makes us uneasy. Is Jesus here talking about how our works are what saves us. That we must do these good things in order to garner favor with the shepherd who sits on the throne and is doing all this separating?

In all of this, we hear and have heard very harsh words from Jesus in what he foretells what the kingdom of heaven will be like. In the end Jesus calls for his disciples and those to live into the faith that he has modeled for them and for us throughout his ministry.

We have to remember that Jesus says these words and tells these stories towards the end of his life and before the cross. He’s trying to get it across to those who follow him how serious he is about how they are to live in the world – the new world in which he is bringing and (for us) has brought into the life.

As he tells of the one who sits on the throne who separates, I think there is something that we at times misconstrue. We place upon our Lord the same reasonings and thoughts that any of us would be like. If Jesus is going to sit on that throne – if we are going to call and claim him as king – we think he’s going to act like the kings and rulers we know.

Yet, we are reminded again and again that Jesus is unlike any person we’ve ever encountered before.

Think about this.

Jesus has asked his disciples and us to see him in the faces and lives of those who are sick, hungry, tired, and imprisoned. It is in them that we see Christ and we are called to be with those and provide for them in their need. And sometimes that is difficult. We can acknowledge that.

We’ve talked about leading up to this day, that there will be moments and opportunities to help, yet we’ll walk by the poor on the street. We’ll demonize the ones who are oppressed. We’ll not ‘have the time’ to go and visit.

We’ll fall. We’ll fail. We’ll be goats.

Did you know that the disciples themselves were pretty big ‘goats’ too? As I said, this text comes just mere chapters away from Jesus on the cross. Where Jesus – as a colleague of mine put it – literally becomes the hungry, thirsty stranger and the naked, sick prisoner.

Jesus foreshadows what is literally going to happen to him. And even on that cross, even in that moment where his friends and followers leave him out to dry – literally hanging from a tree – what does he say? Does he offer condemnation and spew fire and brimstone upon those who desert him? Does he throw those who fallen from his side into the outer darkness? Does he condemn anyone to eternal punishment?

No, that’s what we would do in that situation. When someone abandons us – we turn inward and cold upon them.

Yet, Jesus does something marvelous in my mind. He looks out upon all those who seek to do him harm, those who have turned on him, those who have run from the scene to save their own skin – and he offers up forgiveness. Father, forgive them for the don’t know what they are doing.

After that he dies, and all seems lost, yet three days later he rises from the grave in resurrection. Vanquishing that which tried to destroy him and us. He wins the war. In that moment, the war over sin and death is won. God has staked claim in the light and life of the world. The victory is well at hand.

Yet, we still remember those harsh words from Jesus – the harshness of the world that still continues. The harsh reality that there are still those who are hungry, thirsty, sick, cold, tired, imprisoned.

In what God has done for the world, we get to live out that new life for others.

Our Lord has forgiven us – from the cross. We cannot deny that. In the new and forgiven and gifted life of grace that we have received from our Lord, we are called to be with those in need.

For though the war is won – which is indeed what we celebrate on this day of Christ the King – there is still a long road ahead.

This is a text that can be very scary for us to hear. We’ll ask those hard ‘end of time’ questions because of this text.

Did we help? Did we help enough? Are we good? What does God think?

Yet, as I ask those questions, I think of the one who is sitting on the throne. I think of the one who is doing all this separating. I think of what that one – our Lord – has modeled for us through his ministry. I think of the one who has made promises to all of creation.

Jesus is the one speaking. Everything rests at our Lord’s feet. We know who and whose he is, we know what kind of person – what kind of God – our Christ is.

We look to the cross and God’s action in the world and we see the kind of king we celebrate and worship. The one who forgives, and loves, and grants mercy.

For though I don’t believe that God needs our good works, our neighbors do. In this life that God has given and gifted to us, we get to be with and serve those in need. For in doing that – we continue to serve the one who sits on the throne. The one who even in our darkest moment forgives us from and through the cross. That is our king. That is the one who sits on the throne. That is the one in whom I trust. Amen.

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