TWELVE - Higher Things Vespers – July 11th, 2012
In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.You might be a Lutheran nerd if…You read Matthew 25 and a certain 90’s song plays in your head: “Sheep go to heaven, goats go to hell.”
… if you imagine Aslan standing at the stable door. On his right true Narnians go “further up and further in,” while those on his left march off into the shadow.… if you’ve ever thought: “I’m sure thankful Judgment Day isn’t like the Hunger Games. Last one standing is a sheep. And may the odds be ever in your favor!”
Crazy, outrageous even. But sometimes the true stories are far more outrageous than fiction. Take Jesus’ story of the sheep and the goats.
The Son of Man comes, enthroned in glory. All the nations are gathered before him and he’s separating people one from another. Sheep to the honorable right; goats to the dishonorable left.This is the eternal Sorting Hat. Notice, works are only mentioned after the separation. The sheep and goats are not separated on the basis of what they did or didn’t do but what they are.
The Sheep are the righteous. Jesus’ righteousness Reckoned; Declared; Imputed to them. Sin covered in the blood of the Lamb. Covered by the Shepherd-King’s perfect life, death and holiness.“Come, you who are blessed by Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you before the foundations of the world.” Pure gift. Jesus blesses you because He was cursed for you. Jesus’ inheritance is yours because He dies and leaves you with everything.
Then the first outrageous surprise is revealed. “I was hungry and you fed me; thirsty - you gave me drink; a stranger - you welcomed me; naked - clothed me; sick - you visited me; in prison - you came to me.”
The sheep are astonished: “Lord, when did we see you hungry, thirsty, naked or imprisoned?” “As you did these things for the least of these my brothers you did it to me.” A blessed befuddlement: Jesus is hidden in the lowly losers. Sheep aren’t busy counting good works. Sheep do righteous, sheepy things as easily as good trees produce good fruit.
The goats are surprised too, but for different reasons. “Lord, when did we see You hungry, thirsty, a stranger, naked, sick or in prison, and did not minister to You?” They’re as ignorant of their sin as the sheep were of their good works. They’re outraged. “If only we had known it was you, Jesus.” Goats are busy counting their works, keeping score on their iPad spreadsheet. That’s life by the Law. Working only when you know it counts. The goats are for the goats, self-serving to their own ruin.“Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.” Hell was not prepared for any human. Hell is for people who insist on their own way. This is why Jesus weeps over Jerusalem. Christ died for all – sheep and goats – and yet the goats reject Jesus. As C.S Lewis reminds us, there are those who say to God, “Thy will be done;” and those to whom God says, “thy will be done.”
So, what are you? Sheep or goat? Luther’s famous saying is helpful: simul Justus et peccator. Describes us to the hoof. In this life we’re simultaneously sheep and goat, saint and sinner always at war with ourselves over who’s our precious.In Adam, we’re all natural born goats. Naked, caught with our fig leaves down. Starving, thirsting, sick with sin and prisoners of death. The mirror of the Law only reveals a stinking, stubborn goat.
But in Christ Crucified you are a righteous Sheep, made woolly white by Jesus’ blood. Look into the Font; those still, deep waters reveal your true reflection: Jesus’ little Lamb. Baptized. Redeemed. Holy. Forgiven. Look to the Supper where Jesus fills your hungry bellies with His body and blood. Hear the Good Shepherd’s voice: “I forgive you all your sins.” You are the people of His pasture and the sheep of His pierced hands. His 12. His Israel. His flock.
And here’s the most outrageous part of this whole story: the King, the Judge, is the Lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world. For while we were yet goats this Shepherd-King is led like a Lamb to the slaughter. To call you his Sheep the Lamb became a goat. Christ became the naked, hungry, thirsting, imprisoned Stranger on the cross for you. Christ became the least of all to save you.Jesus volunteers as tribute in your place in a cosmic Hunger Games. He fights to the death. Lays down his life for you. He takes your punishment, sin and death on Himself and you go home and enter the stable as Victorious. Righteous. Sheep.
Real…or not real? Christ’s mercy is real…outrageous and crazy. And the best part is, it’s true and it’s all yours.
In the Name of + Jesus. Amen.