Christ the King Sunday
"Are you a Sheep or a Goat?"
Today is Christ the King Sunday. It is the last Sunday of the church year. It is the Sunday we honor Jesus as the king of our lives and the king of the world.
This Kingship of Jesus is clearly seen in our gospel text as He says: "When the Son of man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 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, and he will place the sheep at his right hand, but the goats at the left."
Notice a few interesting facts. Jesus is sitting on his throne. Where is God?? Is judgment left up to Jesus??
Then notice, gathered before Him will be all the people of the world and he will separate them as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. Notice, each group is being separated for what they are, sheep or goats. Jesus doesn’t make them sheep or goats. He divides them as He sees them. Sheep on His right hand or his hand of mercy, and the goats on his left hand, his hand of judgment.
Then, Jesus goes on to say how the division was made, upon what basis. The criterion of this judgment is our response to the cries of human need around us. For when we hear that cry and respond out of love, we are hearing the cry of our Lord and responding out of love to Him, because He first loved us. Jesus is saying our response to the needs of others is a reflection of His in dwelling love in our hearts. We are sheep people, or Jesus people, as we reflect love. We are goat people, or people who do not love, as we hoard the love of Jesus selfishly in our hearts.
Listen to the following and decide if Heidi reflects the love of Jesus?
"A newcomer had come to school for the first time. The children all stared. His skin was a different color than their skin, he was small for his age, and he had a club foot. But one girl, Heidi, quickly and easily made friends with this newcomer.
"One day on the playground, some of the children began to tease and make fun of this newcomer. Heidi came to his rescue by saying she was still his friend. And she proved her loyalty by playing with him. Still the teasing and name-calling persisted. She told the others to stop, and eventually, the kids got to pushing and shoving, and finally, the teacher came to stop the fight. Heidi had stood alone in the fight defending her new found friend.
It was unlike Heidi to fight, and because her clothes were torn, her teacher called her mom to come to school with clean clothes and to have a talk with Heidi about the fight. After Heidi was all cleaned up, she met with her teacher and mother. Heidi was asked to describe what had happened and why she did what she did.
Her reply was simple. The newcomer, the little boy, was her friend. The others should not make fun of him. "Jesus love me, " said Heidi, "And Jesus loves all the little children. I wanted the others boys and girls to love my friend and be kind to him like I am. He can’t help it if his skin is a different color, and if he is small and has a funny way of walking."
Dr. Richard Hoefler says in his book, The Divine Trap, "In the Parable of the Sheep and the Goats, Christ issues a warning in love. It is not a prescription but a description. A prescription is something that we must do if we are to achieve a desired end. A description is a picture of the ways things are, or will be. Sheep and goats are not made sheep and goats by the judgment; they are only identified for what they are. Therefore, judgment reveals what has long been true. The deeds of mercy which the sheep performed were not works of merit, but examples and evidences of the fact they were sheep and not goats. Therefore, judgment is not a threat of something to be feared in the future, but a warning that one day all people will be revealed for what they are now.
The last day is not so much judgment day as it is VERDICT DAY. This is the surprising truth about judgment: it depends ultimately not on what we do, or fail to do, but on what we are -- sheep or goats."
The point Jesus is making in this parable is that our lives are lived each day in a certain style. One style which reflects, the love He has for us as we love our neighbor, and the second style hoards, or keeps Jesus’ love inside. It is not shared, or if it is shared, it is shared shrewdly, with only a thought of what can I gain.
Notice, those who have been declared to be sheep are surprised, because they don’t remember reaching out as they text says: "then the righteous will answer him, "Lord when did we see thee hungry and feed the, or thirsty and give thee drink? And when did we see thee a stranger and welcome thee, or naked and clothe thee? And when did we see thee sick or in prison and visit thee? " Jesus answers as they did it to the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.
As we let His love flow from us, we will not be conscious of the fact that we indeed respond to the cries of the human condition of sin and brokenness all around us. As we let his love flow from us, we will affect the lives of people, we will make a difference on this earth. We will bring a measure of love, compassion and caring into this world.
Dr. Hoefler says again: "So Jesus is pointing out in this parable of judgment that the final test is not doing good deeds, but being a good person --- being a sheep and not a goat. That is, being the type of person for whom service to those in need is the natural expression of his/her life style. Spontaneous service becomes a holy habit."
The key phrase for me is the last one, Spontaneous service becomes a holy habit. Spontaneous means acting by internal impulse, unpremeditated, unguarded. We are to act without fore thought, without conniving, manipulating, calculating, thinking about our gain, or control. This spontaneous action will then become a holy habit, or a way of life. This action of love will become a way of life for us. Jesus is saying it is not enough to love him, but our love for Him is to be reflected in love for our neighbor.
James says in his letter, "My brothers what good is it for someone to say he has faith if his actions do not prove it? Can that faith save him? Suppose there are brothers and sisters who need clothes and don’t have enough to wear? What good is there in your saying ’ God bless you!! Keep warm and eat well!!’ If you don’t give them the necessities of life?? So it is with faith: if it is alone, and includes no actions, then it is dead."
The following is a great example of what James is saying:
"A poor man who had a broken leg because of an accident was unable to work on his farm for a long time, and having a large family to care for, he was in a despair situation. Someone decided it would be great to have a prayer meeting to pray for the family. A large number of people turned out to pray. They asked God to help the family by feeding them and providing other necessities.
Suddenly a knock was heard at the church door. Opening it, they found a young farm boy who said, " My pa couldn’t attend this meeting tonight, so he just sent his prayers in a wagon."
They looked outside and saw the boy’s wagon loaded with potatoes, meat, apples, pumpkins and many other produce from his farms."
’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, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me."
Spontaneous service is our response to the love of Christ. Spontaneous service is the lifestyle of one who is in Christ and in whom Christ’s love dwells. Being declared a sheep on judgment day confirms a lifestyle one has been living.
In his book The Wounded Healer, Henri Nouwen says, "A legend in Talmud "Rabbi Yoshua ben Levi came upon Elijah the prophet while he was standing at the entrance of Rabbi Simeron ben Yohai’s cave....he asked Elijah, "When will the Messiah come?" Elijah replied, "Go ask him yourself"..."Where is he?" "Sitting at the gates of the city"..."How shall I know him?"...."He is sitting among the poor covered with sores. The others unbind all their wounds at the same time and then bind them up again. But he unbinds one at a time and binds it up again, saying to himself, "Perhaps I shall be needed; if so I must always be ready so as not to delay for a moment."
A wounded healer is one who has experienced the brokenness of life, but as he/she is healing their own wounds, are reaching out to others and helping them heal their wounds. Healing comes from one broken person to another broken person. As people who are sheep we are being healed by Christ and as He heals our wounds, we reach out and heal the wounds of others.
A closing story puts this altogether.
"Once upon a time there was a king who owned a beautiful orchard which contained fine fig trees. He hired two watchmen; one blind and one lame to care for this orchard while he went away on a trip.
One day while they were in the orchard, beggars, blind men, lame men, poor widows and hungry children came to the wall surrounding the orchard. They cried out to the watchmen, "Have mercy on us, members of your own race, for we are poor and need to eat just a morsel of the fruit of the fig tree."
Hearing their plea, the lame man said to the blind man, "Come and take me upon your shoulder, so that we may gather figs and give them to the members of our own race at the gate. " So the lame man climbed onto the blind man, reached the fruit, picked it and both gave it to their kinsmen at the the gate. The next day, and each day afterwards, the same request was made. And each day the watchmen picked fruit for their fellowmen.
Sometime afterwards, the owner of the orchard came back and asked, "Where are my figs?? How did you pick the fruit since one of you is blind and the other lame??? Why did you pick it???"
The watchmen then related the past events: The owner then replied; "Blessed be God, for the blind and the lame have shown me that regardless of position, ’you must love your fellow human being as one of your own.’ Blessed be the name of the Lord, in his law I will delight."
"Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me."