Monday, November 21, 2011

Counted Sheep

+ Last Sunday of the Church Year  - November 20, 2011 +
Ezekiel 34:11-24, 1 Corinthians 15:20-28, Matthew 25:31-46
In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.

            In The Great Divorce, C.S. Lewis’s famous book about a bus-ride from hell to heaven, Lewis observes that, “there are only two kinds of people in the end: those who say to God, ‘Thy will be done,’ and those to whom God says in the end, ‘Thy will be done.’”
            Or as Jesus says in Matthew 25, there are sheep and there are goats. Sheep, who are counted righteous, blessed by the Father before the foundation of the world. And goats, who attempt to count their own righteousness only to come up short.
            Which one are you? We want to know. We need to know. For according to Matthew 25 it’s judgment day. The Last Sunday of the Church Year. Jesus comes to judge the living and the dead. When? Soon. Today is one day closer to the Last Day. And yet, even now, Christ is at the very gates; the bridegroom is advancing, his advent is upon us.
            So, who are you? That’s the question of the day. You see, this sorting and separation of sheep and goats - it’s not done on the basis of what they do, but who they are.
            The sheep are called “the righteous.” Counted. Reckoned. Declared. Covered in the righteousness blood of Christ the Passover Lamb. They’re placed on Jesus’ right, the place of honor. And their works are judged, it’s true. But they’re not judged by their works – but by Jesus’ works - his perfect life, his perfect death. The talk about works comes after the separation. First, Jesus does what he does best: he blesses. “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” And this inheritance can only be received one way: the one who makes the will and testament must die and give it to you.

            Then comes the shocker. Jesus reveals the mystery of their works. “I was hungry and you fed me; thirsty and you gave me drink; a stranger and you welcomed me; naked and clothed me; sick and you visited me; in prison and you came to me.” The sheep are astonished. “When Lord? When did we see you hungry, thirsty, naked or in prison?” They had no idea that Jesus was hidden in the hungry, the thirsty, the stranger, the naked, the sick, and the prisoner. “As you did these things for the least of these my brothers you did it to me.” It’s not about what they do but who they are. They simply did what needed to be done. Sheep don’t count. They don’t need to. Jesus has already counted them righteous, blessed.
            And then there are the goats. Those on Jesus’ left. No inheritance. No blessing. Only dismissal. “Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” Notice that hell isn’t made for you or any human being; it’s for the devil and his minions. God’s will is that all would be saved in Jesus, that goats become sheep through the Lamb. If anyone is cursed, if anyone ends up in eternal fire, it will be entirely against God’s good and gracious will to save.
            And you thought the sheep were surprised. Well, so are the goats. But for a different reason. They were keeping track of all their good deeds. For it’s who they are that leads to what they do. “I was hungry and you gave me no food; thirsty and you gave me no drink, a stranger and no welcome; naked and you did not clothe me; sick and in prison and you did not visit me.” The King was there in the losers all along but they refused him.

            “When did we see you hungry, thirsty, naked, a stranger, and did not help you? If we had only known we could have kept a record.”  They are as ignorant of their sin as the sheep were of their good works.  When confronted with their sin they do the faithless thing - try to justify themselves.  “We didn’t know it was you. ” Exactly.
            In rejecting the least and the lost, they reject their hidden Lord.  Their refusal to be numbered with the losers reveals their rejection of their Shepherd.  And in the end, their rejection becomes their own condemnation.  They don’t get what they deserve, they get what they desire.  They wanted nothing to do with their Shepherd, and now their will is done; they will live without Him forever. 
            So, have you figured it out yet? That is – who you are? Sheep or goat?
            If you look at yourself in the mirror, all you will see is the face of a goat staring back at you, horns and all. You will see your denial and rejection of the least - the hungry, the thirsty, the naked, the unwelcomed stranger, the sick or imprisoned - the least of these your brothers that you did not visit and comfort. You’ll see nothing but a stinky, stubborn goat.
            Oh, you can try to get in by bookkeeping and counting. But that will only count you out. Christ died for all your not doing. But if you don’t want that. If You insist on trusting in what you have done on the Last Day that’s all you’ll have. But there’s no comfort in having it all your way. Starving for life. Thirsting. Naked and a stranger in a prison locked from the inside. That’s who you are apart from Christ. Dismissed. Cursed. Sinners. All natural born goats. 
            But there is another way to see yourself. Although in Adam all are goats, in Christ all are made sheep. Dead in Adam. Alive in Christ. Goats in sheep’s clothing, covered by the blood of the Lamb. After all, sheep don’t follow themselves; they look to their Shepherd. In Christ you are the people of his pasture and the sheep of his loving, pierced hands.
            This King. This Judge. He is also your Good Shepherd. “Behold I, I myself will search for my flock and seek them out. As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so I will seek out my sheep and I will rescue them…”
This is the kind of shepherd that others think a fool. For what kind of shepherd thinks that the life of his sheep is more important than his own? What kind of shepherd, to save his sheep from being devoured, would throw his body between the sheep and the wolf? What kind of shepherd loves the least of his brothers so much that he would hang hungry, starved and naked as a prisoner in our sin and death? There is only one sheep. The rest are all goats. One innocent. One perfect Lamb. He stands alone and prays to the Father: “Thy Will be done.” For the goats, the Lamb is led to the slaughter. For this Shepherd is dead set on giving sinners what they don’t deserve.
            “I am your Good Shepherd,” Jesus says “I know my sheep by name and I lead them out. For you who are hungry, I will feed you with my own body; take, eat. For you who are thirsty, I have thirsted on the cross; take drink, this is my blood poured out with forgiveness on your sin parched lips. Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you before the foundation of the world. You are no longer strangers here. You are no longer a goat. You have been set free from that pen. Your naked guilt is covered by pure Lamb’s wool, dipped in blood. And all that was once was scarlet is now white as snow.”

            Christ knows his sheep better than you know yourselves. Look to Jesus.  He will tell you who you are. Soak yourself in Baptism.  That’s your identity in Christ.  In Adam, you’re 100% goat on the left.  But in Christ, you are 100% sheep on the right.  Embraced in the death of the Lamb, goats become sheep in the eyes of the Shepherd.

There’s no need to panic in these Last Days as we await Christ's return. You see, Christians know the future better than they know the present. For Jesus has already faced your judgment on the cross. Cleansed from sin. United with Christ forever. You are fed. You are clothed. You are healed. You are free. That’s who you are. You are in Christ.
            And Christ is in the neighbor hidden for you to serve. To show mercy. To feed. Give drink. Clothe. Welcome. Visit. “As you did it to the least of these my brothers you did it for me.” You don’t do it to become a sheep – you already are one. It’s not about what you do – that’s goats work. No, it’s about who you are. You are a Sheep. And Christ is your Shepherd. Your King. Your Savior. Even so, come quickly Lord Jesus.

In the Name of + Jesus. Amen

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