Sheep or Goats: Being Christ in the World

Sermon by the Rev. Lisa Smith Fry
Christ the King: Sunday, November 26, 2017

Today we celebrate Christ the King Sunday. It’s the final day of the church year. Next week we begin a whole new church year which begins with Advent, but for now—the readings are about what happens at the end of times.

First, in Ezekiel, God sends a shepherd to find all the sheep—both the ones that come quickly, and the ones who have scattered. Next, Paul talks about the importance of wisdom and revelation, and having the eyes of our heart enlightened.

And then there’s Matthew. In it, Jesus talks about sheep and goats.

When we read about shepherds in the bible we think “sheep,” right?  Shepherds = sheep. But in Jesus’ day, the sheep and goats were almost always herded together. Both were important to the life of the people. Both had to be guarded from predators—both four legged and two legged. and it’s easy to tell sheep from goats in a flock, right?

I put a picture of a sheep and of a goat on the front of the bulletin this week, just for you.

Now we all know what sheep are like—docile, sweet, gentle, fluffy, and we know what goats are like: mischievous, friendly, fast, prone to butting. The sheep is on which side? And the goat?

Are you sure? Sometimes the truth isn’t always as clear as we would like.

It is a human failing that in the past we tended to equate beauty with goodness, and conversely odd or ugly with evil people. Remember Wizard of Oz? Glinda tells Dorothy that only bad witches are ugly. She’s beautiful, therefore she’s good.  We all can see that though perhaps she is beautiful, Glinda is not very modest—but she is only parroting the truth of the time.

Of course we don’t do that at all today. We don’t judge people by the way they look, do we?

And since people say all manner of things today and are believed, obviously what comes out of people’s mouths is probably not going to say much about what is inside them, either.

Jesus – in this passage from Matthew–doesn’t really care what a person looks like, or even sounds like—it seems to be what they actually DO that matters.

Since this is Christ the King Sunday, one might expect that what Jesus wants is what all kings want: absolute loyalty, unwavering fealty, and obedience. After all the king is up here—– and the subjects are not.

But Jesus is not concerned with hierarchy, or worship, or societal norms that separate us. He tells the sheep:

 “I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” 

But still, the sheep are confused.

‘Um, Jesus. I don’t remember seeing you. Really, I think I would have remembered…kings are pretty memorable.’

And Jesus responds: “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these…you did it to me.’

The LEAST OF THESE.  Last summer I preached on this very passage when I did the Eucharist for kids 8-18 at Bishopswood. I asked them what the phrase “the least of these” meant. They looked confused. I wouldn’t let the adults answer—but I had kids there from 8-18! One boy about 10 hesitantly raised his hand, “Does it mean the group with the least amount of people?”

Another older kid asked, “Does it mean the ones in the towns that don’t have many people in them?”  They were mistaking least for fewer.

It’s interesting that “the least of these” is not in their lexicon. Is it any wonder that this passage meant nothing to them?

I had to explain that “the least of these” meant those that society didn’t think mattered. That it meant those people who didn’t have a voice in their family or their town, or in their religion or their country. It was those who were bullied by bigger and stronger and louder people. Their eyes lit up.  Bullying—they got.

So we’ll say that the “least of these” are people that some think don’t matter. These are the people Jesus tells us we need to treat as if they were as important as he is. Because they are.

We all do that, right?

I hear a lot of people today who claim to be Christians, claim to follow Christ, and yet they denigrate the poor.

I hear people today not exactly treating aliens as if they are Christ himself.

And we’re putting more people in prisons of all sorts than ever before.

“For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, I was a stranger and you didn’t welcome me, I was naked and you gave me no clothing, I was sick and you didn’t take care of me, I was in prison and you never visited me.” 

OK—let’s go back to the sheep and goat on the front of the bulletin.  The one on the right is a goat. And the one on the left is a sheep. Sometimes things are not what they seem.

We might look like a sheep, but we are actually a goat. We may look like a goat—but actually be a sheep.

It’s easy to appear to be following Christ, or to sound like we follow Christ. But what do our actions say?

Jesus seems to want us to recognize him in every person without a voice, every person who is marginalized, every stranger and alien, in the unwanted, the bullied, and those in a prison of bars– or of their own making.  The least of these.

Jesus chooses us to be Christ in the world. Not to say we believe in Christ: but to BE Christ.  And that’s how he will recognize us as his. Amen