The Story of the Sheep, Goats and Jesus

THE KIRK OF KILDAIRE PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH

CARY, NC

www.kirkofkildaire.org

A sermon preached by Joseph Welker, Jr.

The Story of the Sheep, Goats and Jesus

Matthew 25:31-46

July 1, 2018

These notes are intended for distribution to members and friends of the Kirk of Kildaire Presbyterian Church family. While effort is made to give credit for work done by other, the notes may use material for which appropriate credit is not given. Also, the notes may differ from the actual sermon as it was delivered. Remember, sermons are meant to be preached and are therefore prepared with the emphasis on verbal presentation; the written accounts occasionally stray from proper grammar and punctuation.

 

Before reading:

If the prodigal son story is my favorite story of Jesus… chosen for my funeral… The story we are about to read is one of the most challenging and difficult stories of Jesus… that can create anxiety, guilt and fear… in our more vulnerable moments… or it can reveal to us what really matters to Jesus… please do not read this at my funeral!

 

The setting is the final judgement… to judge is to decide… Jesus, the King of King and Lord of Lords… the one who is the ultimate and final judge has gathered all the nations of the earth together to render his judgement… make his decision about who has lived up to his expectations and who has not.  He is about to divide us into two groups… one will be welcomed into the kingdom- and the other will not. And for Matthew the lines are clear… about who is in and who is out…

 

If you dare… if you have ears… listen… but first let us pray… we need prayer to hear a text like this:

 

The Scripture is Read

 

I wonder if you know that I have a dual citizenship. I wonder if you know you have dual citizenship… some of you have more than two.

 

This week I will join my fellow Americans in giving thanks for the fact that I was born in this country and am blessed indeed. I have a birth certificate and passport to prove it. We have freedoms and privileges that are the envy of the world.  We also have enormous responsibilities for ourselves and the whole human family.

 

I did not choose to be born here, but by God’s grace I was. I will enjoy the fireworks, the barbeque and the music with the rest of you. In the words of Lee Greenwood: I am proud to be an American.

 

But I am also a Christian which means I have full citizenship in the Kingdom of God. I have a record of my baptism to confirm I am a citizen of the Kingdom of God.  My fellow citizens in this Kingdom come from every nation on earth. We have tremendous blessings as Christians… and I was blessed to be born in a Christian family and we have enormous responsibilities as disciples of Jesus Christ for the whole human family.  I am proud to be a Christian and citizen of God’s kingdom.

 

 

You and I are dual citizens of two communities that are precious to us. The challenge sometimes is knowing how they may relate to one another.  When it comes to my national citizenship and I turn to the Bible, it gets tricky.

 

As my theology professor John Leith put it:

“Isaiah declares that the nations of the earth are like a drop in the bucket. They are as nothing before God. The prophets of Israel made the kings of the earth the particular objects of their indictment and yet anointed David as the Lord’s anointed to deliver Israel. The New Testament declares that all authority is ordained of God, that paying taxes is a Christian duty. “Honor the emperor” is a Christian exhortation. Yet the book of Revelations refers to the emperor as a satanic beast and Rome as the great harlot” [1]

 

How we are to live as citizens of these two communities is a challenge for anyone who calls themselves Christians.

 

I always admired my Dad who seemed to get it right. He taught me to respect our country and to love God. But the order in which we do it was important to him.

Before he died he told me his first loyalty was to God, his next was to his family and his third was to his country… he loved them all… but he knew who was the King of King and the Lord of Lords at the end of the day. It was Jesus Christ… the ultimate commander in Chief.

 

Today, Matthew makes it abundantly clear that at the end of the day, God will be the great judge of all nations. No nation stands above God.  And one day God will hold all nations to account.

 

So in the story today, I have this mental picture come to mind. At the final coming, Jesus gathers all the nations together… sort of like the nations gather in an Olympic stadium: all the nations that ever existed… there is Israel— the nation he chose to bless in order that they may be a blessing… there is the United States, Mexico, Canada, Russia, Germany, Syria, Iraq, Guatemala, Honduras… every nation of the world.  The time has come to decide (the word judge, literally means to decide) who will inherit or be welcomed into the kingdom of God.  And who will not be.

 

And the basis for the decision is fairly clear… Nations will be judged on these actions:

“I was hungry and you fed me

I was thirsty and you gave me drink

I was homeless and you gave me a room

I was shivering and you gave me clothes

I was sick and you stopped to visit

I was in prison and you came to me”

 

The interesting thing is that both the sheep and the goats are oblivious to when they did or did not do such things. To which Jesus makes it clear, “Whenever you did it to the least of these my brothers or sisters, you did it to me.”

 

But the challenge of the text for me is that I can identify with both the sheep and the goats. It is a hard text. At a personal level… I’ve been both involved in great ministries to help the poor: mission trips, soup kitchen, etc… and I’ve also passed by the poor begging on the sidewalk and at the exit ramp and at stoplights. I am a mixed bag!

 

Should we be surprised that our national history is mixed as well?

 

Last summer in Israel, I remember visiting the Holocaust museum and sadly seeing the political cartoon where a ship of Jewish refugees were being turned away from our shores… only to be sent back to their deaths in the concentration camps. Not our finest moment.

 

Franklin Roosevelt, who helped so many during the depression, also interred Japanese Americans, incarcerated them is the better word… as a response to our fears and lack of faith and vision.  Not our best moment. We never seem to be at our best moments when we are afraid.

 

Our nation has been struggling with what to do with families who cross our borders. Who has not been moved the stories of children being separated from families and put in detention facilities…

 

And this is not only an American problem… all nations will be held to account for how they treated the least in our world.

 

Just a few weeks ago hundreds of migrants on rubber dinghies were adrift in the Mediterranean Sea… they had been turned away by Italy and Malta… they came from 26 countries… they left their own countries in desperation… as one person said,

 

“You do not take your family from dry ground and put them  in the water for an unknown future unless you are desperate.” Finally, Spain came through.

 

When the nations gather before the Lord at the end of history, this will be remembered.

 

When I was thinking about how our nation handles immigration issues, my sister rightly reminded me that we should hope nations of the world would be the kind of nations where people don’t have to run in fear of persecution and gangs… that each nation will create a nation where there is justice and mercy for those who need it most within their countries.

 

That is the dream indeed. It’s the Lord’s dream for every nation. Including our own.

 

When the nations gather before the Lord, no doubt they will be held in account for how they treated their own citizens who were poor or suffering or treated unjustly.

 

 

One of the things I love about our nation is that in our best moments, we remember this is who we were called to be as a nation.

 

Ronald Reagan reached into our history to speak several times of a vision of America being a Shining City on a Hill.  He said in his election eve speech:

“I know I have told before of the moment in 1630 when the tiny ship Arabella… lay off the Massachusetts coast. To the little bank of settlers gathered on the deck John Winthrop said: “we shall be a city upon a hill. The eyes of all people are upon us, so that if we shall deal falsely with our God in this work we have undertaken and so cause him to withdraw his present help from us, we shall be made a story and a byword through the world.”

(I trust you know that the “Shining City” reference comes from Matthew’s sermon on the mount.” )

 

Reagan went on to lift up a vision of America that “is still united, still strong, still compassionate, still clinging fast to the dream of peace and freedom, still willing to stand by those who are persecuted or alone….A country who would speak for those who suffer from social or religious discrimination, victims of police states, the persecuted, for those countries who seek harmony and peace…”

 

At his farewell address Reagan said this:   ‘I’ve spoken of the Shining City all my political life. …In my mind it was a tall, proud city built on rocks stronger than oceans, windswept, God-blessed, and teeming with people of all kinds living in harmony and peace; a city with free ports that hummed with commerce and creativity. And if there had to be city walls, the walls had doors and the doors were open to anyone with the will and the heart to get here. That’s how I saw it, and see it still.’

 

 

 

He was speaking of the kind of country that shines like for those who are the least among us and in the world is one that aligns with Matthew 25.

 

Another vision for America came to us years ago with FDR and Norman Rockwell.

In 1941 FDR gave his famous “Four Freedoms Speech” in a time when our values were under attack. 75 years ago Norman Rockwell  brought these four freedoms to life in those famous paintings: Freedom of Speech, Freedom of Worship, Freedom from Want, Freedom from Fear.

 

Every now and then we are blessed to remember what makes our nation special and unique among all the nations of the earth.

 

As a dual citizen, I see this as a high and holy calling that should be a high and holy calling of every nation… as it was for Israel… that as we are blessed, we will be a blessing… that we will make it our first priority, to find a way to care for those who are hungry, thirsty, homeless, cold, sick and even in prison…

 

We may argue about how to do that—which we should… but as dual citizens, let us know that his is our highest calling as a nation.

 

Presbyterians should know this of all people. We were instrumental at the founding of our nation and for good reason. Calvin taught us that faith is more than about our personal salvation but is concerned for the welfare of all.

 

Again, as John Leith put it,

“Calvin… understood that the Christian calling is to embody the purposes of God in the achievements of human history… Calvin believed that God had called him not simply to the ultimate destinies of heaven or hell, but to work out the divine purposes in Geneva, in Western Europe, in the world.

 

Wherever the Calvinists went, they carried with them the vision of the holy commonwealth… they found the meaning and deepest joy of their lives in the conviction that at least in a broken and fragmentary way they embodied the purposes of God-  in their homes, in their work, in their society….”[i]

 

Our task as dual citizens is to do the best we can, to commit ourselves personally and as a community to the Christ has called us to do… to care for the most vulnerable among us…  so that when that final judgment comes, we too may hear the King of Kings and Lord of Lords say to us, “ Come on in you who are blessed by God, inherit the kingdom of the world prepared for you. “ Come on in to my kingdom. I’m proud of you!

 

Amen.

[1] P 89, Pilgrimage of a Presbyterian

[i] Ibid, Pilgrimage of a Presbyterian

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