a sermon based on Mt. 25:31-46
by Rev. Thomas Hall
Judgment Days a comin. Thats the
spiritual that our choir could well have sung today. "Theres a great day a
comin fare ye well, fare ye well." And cant you just hear the basses
chiming in with forty-four measures of "Its gonna be a gettin up
morning?" The song reminds us that for those who have made some sort of preparation
for the next life, Judgment Day will be a fine, gettin up morning. But for others,
it could be our worst nightmare. All depends. Judgment Days a comin and we
pray "fare ye well, fare ye well."
Somewhere in the back of our minds is this sense of justice. Judgment entails
division--the good from the bad, the wrong from the right, the insiders from the
outsiders. We hold as an inalienable right that all wrongs must be judged. That those who
do the wrong thing, the mean thing, must pay. That all rip-offs must be brought to
justice. So its not a far cry to believe that even God reserves a special day on his
calendar to do the very same thing as we do on planet earth. God goes to court to
determine whos innocent and whos guilty. Thats where we are this morning
-- our gospel lesson leads us into a courtroom. We hear the gavel pounding. "Order in
the court," the doors open and the Judge of all the earth enters the courtroom. And
then all humanity--like a flock of animals are herded into Gods huge Hall of
Justice. There all humanity is separated into two camps based not on race, color, national
origin, sex, disability, or age, but on the basis of what weve done in this present
life. Judgment begins. Thats what were faced with in Matthew 25-- a powerful,
uncomfortable vision about the sheep and the goats and the end of the world. So our
personal sense of judgment and justice is even reflected in our Creator God. Judgment Days
a comin, fare ye well, fare ye well.
Theologians go balistic when they comment about our gospel lesson. "Faith plays no
role in this vision," says one theologian, so "Matthew certainly does not wish
to suggest that Christians have no other obligation than to help the needy." he
concludes. Another theologian sees this vision as a missionary text--with the
non-Christians being judged on how well they treated early Christian evangelists and
preachers. Yet a third theologian says of this vision in Matthew 25 that all the nations
--the ethnoi, refers not to Jews or Christians but to pagans. That does make sense. It
didnt take long for devout Jews to discover that there some were genuinely good
people among the gentiles. Or for Christians to discover some genuinely good folk among
non-Christians who, though not converting to Christianity, but offered Christians a warm
meal, the shirt off their back and visited them in prison.
So what does God do with these non-Christian types? Will God damn genuinely good
people? Sometimes I hear that discussion on Christian radio- about whos going to
make it and whos not. The appeal goes out that if the gospel is not heard many
people will perish in their sins. Thats a euphemism for "go to hell."
Conservative Christians are not the only ones who struggle with this issue. It bugged the
daylights out of Paul the Apostle. He knew just too many good people who were not
Christians. In one of his writings (Romans 2:14-16) he suggests that Gentiles who have no
connection to God through the Law can still fulfill its ethical requirements and be
excused. Interesting that during the holocaust, those non-Jewish types--like Corrie
TenBoom--were called "Righteous Gentiles" by the Jews because they were the
ethnoi who protected Israels little ones in the time of trial.
Catholic theologian, Karl Rahner calls such people "anonymous Christians" --
people whose actions are more faithful than baptized, proclaiming Christians. GARY Wesley
once said of this vision in Matthew 25 that "many are blessed through Christ, though
they know Christ not." The prophets spoke of those who do the right thing because the
law of God is written on their hearts. They do what is right not because they learned it
in Sunday School or read it somewhere in the Bible, but because it is so much a part of
their very being.
The Apostle Peter seems to have discovered this truth. He gets an email from
Cornelius--a pagan--to come over to his house and hold a revival. Peter reluctantly agrees
to bring his best hell and damnation sermons for the gentile crowd only to bump into Gods
grace! He suddenly realizes a new truth: Here, this Cornelius guy, this non-Christian,
this pagan has given house and money to help those of the Jewish faith. One day, during
his morning devotions, God speaks to him and as a result, Peter the insider, Peter the
Christian, Peter the racist, finally has to admit that "in every nation, God loves
those who fear him and who live according to his will." Cornelius does become a
Christian--but fact is, Peter discovers that God accepts those who do the right
thing--Christian or not. So it seems that Gods grace has a lot to do with what will
happen on Judgment Day to those who dont sit in our pews.
But however we approach this vision, please place yourself back into the vision for a
final time. Let me conclude this homily with a sketch of what might be the overall message
of Matthews gospel on Judgment Day. The humor is strained and the script is not
broadway, but I wanted to convey the message of the entire gospel of Matthew through this
ASST ANGEL: (reading off names from one of the nations of
the world) "...Winiski, Yazeroski, Zaburski, over here please." (these three
move over to other side of stage)
ONLOOKER: "Another law firm, huh?"
ASST. ANGEL: "Of course not. Just finished with Eastern
Europe. I always hate going through their names;"
ONLOOKER "Oh, I see. Well, whos next on the list? What
nations gonna get called now?"
ASST. ANGEL: "America. Now stop bothering me. Ive got
to finish up here." (Looks with coke glass lenses and runs finger down list) "Oh
yes. Now calling Mr. GARY Oliver Edward Elliott Peterson, the 3rd."
GARY: "Here sir, your Highness."
ASST. ANGEL: "Thats kind of a long name, coming from
Pennsylvania, isnt it Gary Oliver Edward...?" (Voice trails off).
GARY: (Picking up where ASST. ANGEL left off) "Gary, sir.
But you can call me by my initials if you please, your Highness."
ASST. ANGEL: "Okay. Fine. Now calling Mr. GO-EEP to state
your case. So, Mr. GARY O-EEP, did you feed the hungry and clothe the naked and so on and
so forth etc.?"
GARY: "Its GO-EEP, sir. Thats short for GARY
Underwood Michael......."(Interrupted by ASST. ANGEL)
ASST. ANGEL: "Stop stalling, Mr. whatever youre
called. Did you feed the hungry and clothe the naked and visit those in prison?"
GARY: "Yes, well, of course I did -- well you see its
ASST. ANGEL: "Cut the stammering and answer the
GARY: "Yes, well of course I fed the hungry."
ASST. ANGEL: "Fine. Fine. I knew you were all sheep. Bleat,
bleat, right Mr. Sheep?"
GARY: "GO-EEP, sir, your Greatness. Sometimes..."
ASST. ANGEL: "Sometimes? Whats sometimes?
GARY: "Well, your highness, what I mean to say is--there are
days when I did clothe the shabbily dressed and all, and there surely were days when I
visited the prisons to visit a friend who messed up."
ASST. ANGEL: "Yes. Fine. Excellent work! Thats what I
like to hear! I knew you were a decent sheep; come and stand here on my right side. Grab
that comfy pillow over there, Mr. You Owe Me."
GARY: "Thats GO-EEP, sir. But before I get too
comfortable, I need to finish, Mr. Kingly type."
ASST. ANGEL: "Oh, I thought you were done."
GARY: "Yes. Well, I have to get this off my chest. You see
there were other days --too many to count, Im afraid--when I stuffed myself with
food while others went hungry. And there were other times when I kept myself warm by the
fire while others slept in a cold car. And I even remember when someone once asked me for
some pocket change to buy a bagel, but I turned away so I would have enough for popcorn at
ASST. ANGEL: "Hmmm....yes, I see. That does have the
character of a goat (Exasperation). Now what am I going to do with you? Do I put you on my
right or do I take your comfy pillow away and banish you to my left?"
GARY: "Sorry to cause all of this confusion! Ive
really gone and made too much trouble this time. Well, Im not 100% sheep, but Im
not 100% goat either. Im just a...a...GO-EEP!"
ASST. ANGEL: "Hmmm...I dont recall Adam ever naming
any animal a GO-EEP."
GARY: "Yes, thats what I am--Im a GO-EEP! You
know--part goat and part sheep. GO-EEP."
ASST. ANGEL: "So whats your point, Mr. GO-EEP?"
GARY: "I guess what Im trying to be is theologically
articulate, sir. What I mean, your highest, sir, is that Im a... a... half-breed. Im
both a goat and a sheep. On one hand, I am quite selfish, but on the other hand and so
forth, I have this passion for those who are hurting. Im just a jigsaw
puzzle--self-centered, yet receptive and generous."
ASST. ANGEL: "Sounds like your puzzle has only two
pieces--goat and sheep. Yes, we do have a problem, Mr. CREEP."
GARY: "Thats, uh, GO-EEP, no, I mean, Im--youre
right; I have a problem. Woe is me."
ASST. ANGEL: (King scratches beard) "So you say there were
moments when you felt compassion and started just doing what your heart was telling
GARY: "Well, yes, but there were other times...."
ASST. ANGEL: "And you even startled yourself by reaching
GARY: "Yes. But..."
ASST. ANGEL: "And Mr. GREEP, wouldnt you admit that
you were acting out of a compassion and kindness that isnt always your cup of
GARY: "Of course, but..."
ASST. ANGEL: "Well, I see you have met GRACE after
GARY: "Grace? Did she graduate last year? Blonde hair? Went
to Penn State...."
ASST. ANGEL: "Uh, no. Grace; you know, Amazing Grace?"
GARY: "Oh! That Grace!"
ASST. ANGEL: "You see, when Gods grace touches a life,
it has a rebound effect, you know. You just want to share a little of the kindness that
GARY: "Oh! That Grace!"
ASST. ANGEL: "Yes, yes, of course. Gods grace has
opened your eyes just a tad to the suffering of folks that could only be helped through
folks like you. You just needed to respond."
GARY: "You mean Im not a GO-EEP after all?"
ASST. ANGEL: "No. Youre definitely a sheep with a
goat--complex Id say, but definitely a sheep. Enter into the joy of your Lord,
Maybe the vision of Matthew is that God will judge us as we have done to others. Will
we then be found to have treated others as Christ treated us? Jesus doesnt ask too
much here, just a natural kindness and compassion shown to others in need. No beg deal;
but one day it will be a big deal when we stand there in astonishment asking, "When
Lord did we serve you?" Until then though, Im hoping that all us GO-EEPS, all
us half-breeds, will bear fruit that just comes natural for the least of these. Judgment
Days a comin fare ye well, fare ye well. Amen.