Pastor's Sermons

Sermon for Christ the King ~ November 23, 2014

 

Matthew 25:31-46

Once upon a time an entire group of birds had forgotten how to fly.  They walked everywhere, generation after generation. They complained about sore feet and how long it took to go anywhere.  Finally, someone made a suggestion that they get an expert in for a week-long conference on flying.  Arrangements were made at a beautiful hotel on a mountaintop.  The expert arrived and they all joined in singing such lovely songs as “We can fly, we can fly.” 

 

They sat and were instructed by the expert to flap their wings.  At the end of the conference they were led to the terrace and encouraged by the expert as he jumped of and flew around and around.  First the bravest one followed and then soon they all took the leap of faith.  For an hour they rode the thermals and glided through the air.  Some even sang with delight the songs they had learned. 

 

Finally, one by one they landed on the terrace and took their seats for the closing ceremony.  Awards were handed out and praise was heaped on the expert. After he left, all the birds then walked home. 

 

I wonder why they didn’t fly.  Maybe the expert should have stayed around. It`s just a story.  But somehow it’s a mirror.  Are like the birds?

 

Jesus tells a story today and it too is like a mirror. Maybe we see ourselves there.  Are we goats? Sheep?

 

A story of stories…

 

Theatres are full of disaster movies.  For the last few years, zombies have been featured, but also dramas about epidemics, climate change and exhausted resources.  They carry themes of greed, violence, and how we treat each other.  And again mirrors are held up to us.  Like legends and myths from any culture, stories are passed down to try and explain how life works and what will happen at the end of it all.

 

The Bible speaks of the beginning and the end.  The story of the flood tells us that God almost destroyed everything once before because there was so much evil in the world.  Noah made the difference because he trusted God - but even he had room for improvement.  Prophets like Amos, Isaiah, Joel, Zephaniah, Malachi, Jeremiah, Obadiah, Daniel and St. Paul hold up the Day of the Lord, the final judgment, the end of all things.  And as we have heard: Jesus had his own story.

 

Before and after the time of Jesus a kind of writing was given birth called: Apocalyptic literature.  Many stories were created and attached to famous names: the Apocalypse of Abraham, of Adam, of Elijah, of Moses, of James, of Peter and so on.  We are most familiar with the Book of Revelation.   These accounts were mysterious, with hidden messages, often grim and grisly, matching the terror of zombies in today’s movies.  They were reflections of a world gone wrong, the wicked in control, the poor suffering and God who finally unleashes built up fury.

 

Jesus tells his story – mild by comparison to some that I have mentioned, but still a story of good and bad, wicked and blessed, and God’s punishment.  It’s enough to make us shiver.

 

Not “who are the goats?” but, “will there even be any sheep?”

 

It is very easy to ask the question, “I wonder who the goats are?”  We can quickly brainstorm the monsters of history: empires of disaster, dictators, mass murderers, leaders of genocide, authors of violence and heartache and grief:  the Goats.

 

If we try thinking of the sheep we come up with holy people; like the disciples, but they had their own problems. We name people called saints or heroes of faith even though they had their own brokenness on the journey: Augustine, Francis, Mother Theresa, Martin Luther King Jr, Gandhi and the list goes on. I can’t think of anyone who isn’t flawed or broken in some way.  Can you?  One of the prophets cried out, “All we, like sheep, have gone astray…” (Isaiah 53:6)

 

Maybe the real question isn’t “Who are the goats?” in Jesus’ story, but, “Will there even be any sheep?” 

 

If welcoming, self-denying, risky care of anyone in need is the measure of sheep.  Who will measure up?  Like the birds at the bird conference, what we could do… we just don’t seem to do as a way of life. They forgot to fly.  Sometimes we forget to help.

 

Jesus, will there even be any sheep at the end of your story?

 

We can point at goats, but when it comes to sheep, all are found wanting… and we don’t know what to do with ourselves.  We hear the words: accursed, eternal fire, eternal punishment. I don’t want to be a goat.  I wish I was a sheep.  But I’m only aware of my own brokenness and sin.

 

Luther said that we are “saint and sinner” at the same time and that this runs directly through our hearts, including everything we do and are.  Looks like we need help, not judgment.

 

Postlude:  Matthew 26:2 “I must be crucified.”

 

This story has been told for thousands of years.  It shows the necessity of mercy and wonderful acts of love for the most vulnerable in society.  “Who cares?” Jesus is asking.

 

Rather than our failure, we need to see the storyteller.  Two verses later, Jesus turns to his disciples and says, “… I must be crucified” (Mt. 26:2).  He answers his own story. 

 

“All we like sheep have gone astray” but now Jesus steps into the drama, “and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.”  Jesus presents himself as the Lamb of God mysteriously taking our place at Bethlehem and at the cross.  He’s like the scapegoat, carrying all the sin away, he becomes King on a wooden throne under the hush of heaven and says “forgive them… the price is paid…” he rises and says “I’m with you always… to the end of the age.”

 

There’s the mystery.  God is present in bread and wine, in the poor and rejected, in our reach to others.  God keeps our hearts beating.  God gives us songs of hope at the death of a loved one. God is here. God is now. God tells us that we are more than we think.  In Christ – God has never left us.  We need not stand looking up at the sky, but crouch down and look into the eyes of a child.  We need not fear punishment for our own sins, but live with forgiveness and walk alongside of someone who feels lost. 

 

The fire was not meant for us – even the story says that.  In the end, God sorts things all out – However the story goes is God’s business. What is meant for us is the cross.  Love that does not quit even if it seems to fail.  The same cross we carry for others.

 

We live with grace, the ongoing, love and mercy of God. The Kingdom of God is among us.  Like the birds that really were birds and really could fly; look around, we are God’s people.  We are the sheep of his pasture. 

 

Amen.

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