Pastor Jim's past sermons:
A Sheep's Life
Sunday, November 26, 2017
Psalm 23: 1-6
Matthew 25: 31-46
Links to past sermons can be found at the bottom of this page.
Today, in the life of the church, is Christ the King Sunday. It is the last Sunday on the church calendar and the day where we recognize that it is Jesus who rules over all creation. So, in our passage from Matthew’s gospel, we are given a vision of Jesus as King, seated on his throne, judging the lives of his servants. And, while most pastors focus on the image of the goats, because it’s easier, I would like to direct our attention more to the sheep. With that in mind, I will read from the 25 chapter of Matthew’s gospel, beginning at the 31st verse. Listen now for the Word of the Lord…
I want to start off today by sharing a few statistics. According to some research that I have done, in other words, I asked “Goggle” and I learned that there are over 560,000 homeless people in our country. 1 in 6 Americans face issues of hunger, which equates to 53 million people. Over 2 million are currently serving time in prisons throughout the United States. And, this year alone, over 35 million people were admitted in our country’s hospitals. So, when Jesus talked about giving food to the hungry and drink to the thirsty, when he talked about visiting the sick and those in prison, he knew that the opportunities for us to do these things would be abundant. In some ways, the opportunities are so abundant that they become overwhelming. Of course, this is nothing new. This is how it has always been. Those who were listing to Jesus that day when he talked about the sheep and the goats already knew that people got sick and needed others to visit and take care of them. They already knew that some people did not have enough clothes to wear or food to eat and relied on others to help them. They could look around and spot the strangers in their midst, those who were kept at a distance. There were law breakers back then as well, those who were serving time to pay for their crimes. Though it may have been on a smaller scale than what we see today in our own country, the needs of people in the community were just as overwhelming for those living in the first century as they are for us today. So, when they heard Jesus’ words about the sheep and the goats, they too would have hung their heads in defeat. How can any one person fix all of these problems? With all of these problems still present in our community, we can’t help but think that there must not be a single sheep among us goats. Yet, if that is what we are hearing from Jesus, then we are not listening closely. It is easy to hear Jesus’ words and only hear the words of condemnation. Like I said, as pastors, we like nothing more than to use these words of condemnation to warn our congregations and whip them into greater service. “Be warned,” we say, “you don’t want to stand before the throne of Jesus and hear him say to you, ‘Depart from me because you didn’t feed me, or give me drink, or cloth me or visit me.’” “Look at the world, the evidence is abundantly clear. You’re just a bunch of goats.” That is the easy message, but the problem with using Jesus’ words like this is that by focusing on only half of Jesus’ message, we lay the entire burden of the world’s problems on the shoulders of just a few people. And, I don’t believe that was ever Jesus’ intention. Yes, in our world there are plenty of goats, but according to Jesus there are also plenty of sheep. So, what does it mean to be a sheep, to live a sheep’s life? According to Jesus, being a sheep is not a difficult task, nor is it some grand gesture. Living the sheep’s life is found in the little things that we do for others. The next time we think that we need to do something great for the Lord, let us remember that the greatest thing we can do for Jesus, the King, is to simply be compassionate towards another person. Give some food to a hungry person, a cup of cold water to the thirsty. Be kind to the stranger. Give a coat to someone who is cold. Go and visit someone who needs to know that they are not alone in this world. Several years ago in Sunday School, Hunter said something that I thought was kind of neat. He said, “All you need to do to be a hero is to change the world for the better.” Changing the world for the better is not complicated. One act of kindness can accomplish such a change. And don’t we like to talk about random acts of kindness. In the movie, Evan Almighty, God tells Evan Baxter, a modern day Noah, to build an ark. Only at the end, when all is said and done, does Evan understand that ARK is an acronym, ARK, Act of Random Kindness. But as someone else once said, “Why does kindness need to be random.” We can’t it be an everyday occurrence? We live in a country with 350 million people. Can you image 350 million people choosing to do one act of kindness every day? It staggers the imagination. Of course, we can’t make all the other people do this, but we do have control over our own actions. We can choose to be one in a million, or one in 350 million if that’s what it takes. We can decide to be a sheep. Of course, there is also the possibility that some of us are already being sheep and don’t really even know it. The last time we were together, I talked about casting aside the burden of our inflated ego and to walk with Jesus, to take on the yoke that he was carrying, the yoke of humble servant-hood. Yet, what is interesting is that in this passage, those who served the king the most are the ones who least recognized their humble servant-hood. “When,” they asked, “did we see you hungry and give you something to eat. When did we see you thirsty and give you something to drink. When did we welcome you in or go and visit you.” These are the questions asked by those who don’t see compassion and kindness as something unusual. It is simply how they live their lives. I bet if we take a moment and think about it, we can bring to mind such people, people that we know, or have known, who simply do for others without being asked, or without being told. If we are willing to look, it won’t be too hard to find the sheep among us. Their lives simply reflect what it means to live in the presence of the King. At this point it would be easy to ask, “What good are a few acts of kindness in a world where there is so much need?” As I said before, in a word where there is so much need, it is easy to be overwhelmed by it all, overwhelmed to the point where we are tempted to stop trying. “After all”, we could say, “an act of kindness might make things better for one person, but so what. It is nothing more than a drop in the bucket, or let’s be more realistically and say, a drop in the ocean. It certainly isn’t going to save the world. Yet, let us keep this truth in mind, “Jesus did not ask any of us to save the world.” All Jesus asked of us was to be faithful.
On the day of judgement, when we stand before King Jesus, he is not going to ask us if we saved the world. That was his job. Instead, he is going to ask us to tell him about some of the kind things we did for other people. Actually, if we take this passage seriously, Jesus isn’t going to ask us what we did. He is going to tell us what we did. I saw how you helped your neighbor, went over and cut his grass for him when his lawn mower broke down. That was nice. I saw you put that dollar in the cup of the homeless person that you pass at the stoplight every day. I know that you were unsure if that was the right thing to do, but in my eyes, that was compassionate. You really touched my heart when you went to visit your friend in the nursing home. That extra box of stuffing you put in the Thanksgiving offer for the food pantry. Good job. That blanket that you knitted for the little children, it warms my heart as well. Don’t think I didn’t notice all those hours you spent volunteering with the marching band when a lot of other parents wouldn’t help at all. That was a good thing to do. And, to those who sometimes wonder, “Does what I have done even matter?”, Jesus says, “Yes, it matters to me.”
The difference between the sheep and the goats is not the difference between saving the world or not saving the world. The difference is one of faithfulness. “Love one another as I have loved you”, Jesus said. “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.” Through the Apostle Paul, Jesus tells us to “Be patient and kind.” “Be gentle with each other.” “Be compassionate and forgiving.” “Be at peace with one another.” “Encourage one another, build each other up.” I could go on and on. But, all of this is to say that being a sheep, living the sheep’s life is not complicated. Such life is found in the little things that we do for others. For, the little things that we do for others are the big things that we do for our Lord.