Least of These
Baa. Baaaa. Baaaaaa. I am little rusty on my sheep calling. When I was in England I learned that I communicate with sheep. There are sheep everywhere over there and Alycia and I would stop off to over look the moors and there would be a flock of sheep running free. I would call out, baaaaa. And low and behold they would answer. I tried that all over England. I found out I could talk to sheep in the Manchester area, in South England, in Northern England and Wales. But for some reason I could not talk to Scottish sheep. Apparently I wasn’t getting the accent down quiet right.
Today I hope I can talk to some other sheep. In this parable Jesus gives us a look at the future. He says, “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his throne in heavenly glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.” He tells us that there is a judgment coming. There will be a time when those who are blessed will rejoice with the Son of Man, while the goats will go away into eternal punishment.
I am not a huge fan of preaching about judgment because it is used as such an evangelistic scare tactic these days. People think they can scare the heaven right into you. They think if they can make you so scared of hell then you will end up loving God. I don’t see that as a way of creating lifelong disciples. It is a great way to prey on the emotions of the young or easily manipulated but it is not the key to evangelism.
The main reason I have such a problem with it is because it places us as the judge. If we are telling people they are going to hell, that they are a goat, we are casting judgment on them. Jesus begins this parable by telling us who does the judging. Judgment will come from him, the Son of Man, when he sits on this throne of glory. We do not have that power. We do not have the ability to look at our neighbor and dictate whether they love God enough to spend eternity in heaven or hell. Please, get this crystal clear, THAT IS NOT OUR JOB. If you ever hear that we can do that then stop listening to that minister, tune him or her out or change the channel. Judgment of our fellow brothers and sisters is the job of the one who is perfect, just, and holy. It is the job of Jesus Christ.
Today is Christ the King Sunday, the last Sunday of the Christian year, the last Sunday before Advent. Today we remind ourselves who is the one in charge. Who is it that rules our lives here on earth and in the world to come. We are ruled by a generous, forgiving, loving, and grace filled king. That king is the King of Kings and the Lord of Lords. He is righteous and holy and we are not.
This parable starts on judgment but it then flows into compassion. The compassion comes when we learn what the sheep did to inherit the kingdom. Let’s be clear again, there is nothing we can do to earn our way to heaven but if you remember last week we need to live into our gift as well. In the parable of the talents, Jesus reminds the disciples that they will receive a tremendous gift, the gift of salvation. We are told that we need to share that gift with others and it will come back to us with a 100% return. We can’t do anything to earn salvation but we do need to do something once we have. To live a life with Christ means you have to go where Christ is and that is what the rest of the parable is about.
Each Sunday, when we gather here, we celebrate the resurrection. That is why in the season of Lent there are only 40 days and not 45 because each Sunday is a break to be still and enjoy the presence of God. We, as Christians, believe that Christ is all around us. We just need to have the eyes to see him. “Jim Wallis of Sojourners [magazine] tells of one morning when the volunteers who would feed the hungry gathered early to get things ready for the long line of homeless folk that stood outside waiting. Someone asked one of the workers to pray and she prayed, “Jesus, help me to see your face when you come through the line.” (Pulpit Resource, vol. 36, No. 4, p.36)
When we look at the people around us we need to be on the lookout for Jesus. When he is talking to the sheep he tells them that they were the ones who had compassion on the least of these around us. The hungry, they gave food. They thirsty, they gave them something to drink. The sick, they took care of. The naked, they clothed. The stranger, they welcomed them in. The prisoners, they visited. They took care of the members of our family, the other children of God.
A professor from Utah State University has reduced the world’s population proportionately from 6 billion to 100 people. If the entire world’s population was 100 people then:
57 would be Asian
21 would be Europeans
14 would be North and South Americans
8 would be Africans
70 would be non-white
50% of the world’s wealth would be in the hands of 6 US citizens.
70 would be unable to read
50 would be malnourished
80 would live in substandard housing
1 would have a college education (Pulpit Resource, p.36)
We have to constantly remind ourselves that the world is a lot bigger than what is in front of our eyes each day. There is life outside 609 Liberty Dr. Thomasville, NC. There are people going hungry in Africa and Asia but also right down the street. There are people who cannot heat their homes this winter and people who don’t even have a home. We will go eat lunch today but there will people who haven’t eaten since Friday. This is the last parable Jesus tells his disciples. These are the last words he conveys to them as a group. He looks at them and says that these people are our family and we need to be taking care of them.
We cannot forget that but we in order to do that we need to stop the judgment. We have a huge tendency to look at people in need around us, the least of these in our community, and pass judgment on them. Don’t they know they could go to McDonalds and get a job? We judge them as lazy or unwilling to get over their ego. Why won’t they realize they have the power to quit anytime they want? We judge them as weak and unintelligent. Don’t they know marriage is for a man and a woman? We judge them and believe they are incapable of love. Why won’t they just go back to the country they come from and leave us alone? We judge them by saying they aren’t worthy of having the life we have because they speak another language. We constantly pass judgment but Christ tells us to stop and have compassion.
I may have told you this before but one of my Field Education Placements while I was at Duke was to work with HIV/AIDS patients who came to Duke Hospital. I worked with the chaplaincy department and would go visit these patients when they came to the hospital. At first it was really hard to visit them because as my mentor and I talked I realized I was solely concerned with how they got this disease. I was passing judgment on them each time, wondering what sin they committed to receive this deadly disease. Was it sex or drugs? My gut wanted to know. But I learned that we all are sinners and the majority of us are lucky enough to escape paying for those sins for the rest of our lives. Instead of seeing the sin, I needed to learn how to see the person, the child of God. I needed to instead of imparting judgment to impart compassion.
When we start with compassion then we start to take care of those people’s needs. We feed the hungry, cloth the naked, make meals for school children, give gifts to make Christmas meaningful, give blood so others can live, send flood buckets so others can get their lives back. When we start with compassion we start to have a heart that looks like the King we serve.
Christ the King has the ability to see into our souls and understand every motivation behind every decision. He can tell if we are truly wanting to help or just going through the motions. Yet, thank God, he comes from a place of compassion first and then judgment. That means we need to mimic that example. We need to demonstrate that same compassion on others. “When I die and I meet Jesus I can see him upset that I judged too much but I cannot envision him telling me he is angry because I had too much compassion.” If God does get angry that we are too compassionate, then I don’t want to worship that God anymore.
Yet we don’t have to worry about that, our God is a compassionate God and we can rejoice in that fact. Today, as the journey of Advent is almost upon us, we can stand assured that we can be the servants our king wants us to be. We can be a people of compassion and leave the judgment to him. We can come in contact with the people around us and pray that we see the face of Jesus. We can make a world, which takes care of the majority who are unable to read, malnourished, and live in despair. We can do this because when we do we meet the risen Lord that we serve. We help others, for the sake of helping, but also for the chance to meet our King, Jesus Christ.
And all god’s people said…Amen.