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Living Like Animals

November 20th 2011

By Vicar Aaron Chittick The Gospel lesson today is a continuation of last's weeks reading. In it, Jesus again gives a description of what it will be like when He, the Master returns. Jesus proclaims that there will be a judgment and makes it sound like good works are the basis for that judgment. But that would conflict with other parts of the Bible. So, what is going on here? On what basis will we be judged? Read to find out...

Pentecost 23A (Proper 29), “Living Like Animals” – Matthew 25:31-46 – November 20, 2011**

Today marks the final Sunday of our Church year. Next week we will begin anew with the Advent season as we prepare for the celebration of the birth of our Lord at Christmas. The focus of today, however, is a message that Jesus has for us about the Day of the Lord, the day when He returns in triumph and creation is again made perfect. In our Gospel lesson for today, Jesus continues a response to a question the disciples have asked in Chapter 24: When will the end come? Jesus’ answer is at the same time mysterious and specific. It contains prophecy of things we cannot comprehend, as well as instructions on how to be prepared for His return. Last week we heard the parable of the talents, and how a faithful servant trusts his master and makes the most of the gifts his master provides. This week, we hear more about what it will happen when the master returns. Now, this particular parable, if read too quickly, would be difficult for us to understand, considering everything the Bible teaches about God’s unconditional free gift of grace. Read too quickly, these verses might lead us to believe that we need to earn our place in heaven through good works. That is why we are going to slow down a bit, and look closely at what God’s Word is saying here in Matthew 25. In Verse 31, the master returns; Jesus is talking about the last day, when He returns in glory. He tells us that there will be a gathering, not just of Lutherans, or even just Christians, but of all the nations. He will gather everyone, and on that day they will be separated in eternal Judgment. He will put the righteous, the sheep, on His right saying “I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me” And to those on His left, the cursed, the unrighteous, the goats, He said just the opposite. The people who are saved actually are the people who did good works, and the ones not saved are the ones who neglected these works. But doing these good works is not what saves, not what makes us into sheep. Look closely at verse 34, we see the true criteria for separation; “Come, you who are blessed by My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world”. “Blessed by My Father.” That and that alone is what will get you into heaven. The rest of the paragraph is a “therefore,” a “because.” Not “you will go to heaven because you do good works” but because you will go to heaven, you will do good works.” It talks about salvation and then it also talks about how we should act as those who are saved. Jesus gets specific. You are saved, so you will feed the hungry, clothe the naked, and care for the sick. Not because it will save you, but because you are saved. In the story, you are the sheep. You are baptized into Christ. You are going to heaven, because you believe in Jesus Christ. That is true, and nothing on heaven or earth can change it. You are sheep, and because you are sheep you do sheep things. I have been here a little over 3 months, and I have been amazed at all the sheep things I have seen going on. When you were told there were people in need of clothes for the winter, you collected warm gloves and socks. When you heard there were young children going without Christmas presents, you bought them things to put under their trees. When you heard there were people who would be hungry on thanksgiving, you set yourselves a goal of providing for 125 families, and then you excelled in your generosity, collecting 128. You heard the response to these things last week, but you should hear it again “well done, good and faithful servants.” You are sheep, and you do sheep things. In this parable, Jesus is telling you that He knows for certain what you are. But he doesn’t want you to act like goats. He wants to encourage you to always act like you know you should, like sheep. Jesus says that it is what you have done for the least of these that you have done for Him. And it is easy for identify the least of these when they come in the package that Jesus describes here for us; The poor and the hungry, the cold and the sick. But this parable isn’t about the poor and the hungry, it is about you. It is about what you do. How you treat people. The “least of these” can be the ones who you make the least in your hearts. When you tell yourself that you can fudge you insurance claim a little because it is just some giant company that only wants to steal your money anyway, you make the insurance company the least of these. Sheep do not steal, it doesn’t matter who from. When you spend all of our energy and strength at you jobs and come home angry and irritable, telling your spouses and children that you need some time to relax before you can give them any of your time, you are making your families the least of these. Sheep love their families. When you tell yourself that you can sleep with someone who you aren’t married to, you steal from them what only belongs to married people, and withhold all of the other gifts that go along with being married. When you commit adultery, you make your partner the least of these. That isn’t what sheep do. When you talk about people behind their backs, when you gossip, when you stand there and listen to others gossip, you make all sorts of people the least of these. The person who you are demeaning with your words becomes the least of these, the people who have to listen to your insults become the least of these. Sheep uplift their brothers and sisters. Whenever you fail to love, to show patience, to be kind, you make others the least of these. Whenever you boast, or act arrogantly, or are rude, you make others the least of these. When you make others the least of these, you do not act like sheep. We sin when we don’t act like sheep. But the truly remarkable point of this text is that, through Jesus, we are the forgiven, redeemed children of God. We long for the day when Christ returns and sin and death are finally put in their pitiful place. But we also know that we have redemption right now, today. And so, being sheep, being able to do the good works God intended for us now in this life, is a foretaste of the perfect lives we will one day lead forever in paradise. On that day, we will not fail to love, we will not steal from our neighbors, we will not hurt other with our words. All these things through Christ. Christ Jesus bought this amazing gift with His life. He paid for our failure to live according to God’s will with His blood. The very same blood we receive together at the Lord’s Supper. He died to drown sin, and we die with Him, washed clean in Baptism, so that we can live as sheep, the redeemed children of God, doing good works in this world. He was raised from the dead, defeating death, so that we would know eternal life. The grace of God is free, how we act in this world has nothing to do with how much eternal life we get. But that does not mean that it does not matter to God. God wants us to live like sheep, it is His will for us. Be sheep, for no other reason than that is what you are. Amen.


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