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Sheep and Goats
a sermon based on Mt. 25:31-46
by Rev. Thomas Hall

Judgment Day’s a comin’. That’s the spiritual that our choir could well have sung today. "There’s a great day a comin’ fare ye well, fare ye well." And can’t you just hear the basses chiming in with forty-four measures of "It’s 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 Day’s 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 it’s 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 who’s innocent and who’s guilty. That’s 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 God’s 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 we’ve done in this present life. Judgment begins. That’s what we’re 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 Day’s 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 didn’t 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 who’s going to make it and who’s not. The appeal goes out that if the gospel is not heard many people will perish in their sins. That’s 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 Israel’s 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 God’s 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 God’s grace has a lot to do with what will happen on Judgment Day to those who don’t 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 Matthew’s 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 vision.

ASS’T 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, who’s next on the list? What nation’s gonna get called now?"

ASST. ANGEL: "America. Now stop bothering me. I’ve 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: "That’s kind of a long name, coming from Pennsylvania, isn’t 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: "It’s GO-EEP, sir. That’s short for GARY Underwood Michael......."(Interrupted by ASST. ANGEL)

ASST. ANGEL: "Stop stalling, Mr. whatever you’re 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 it’s like this...."

ASST. ANGEL: "Cut the stammering and answer the question."

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? What’s ‘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! That’s 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: "That’s 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, I’m 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 the movies."

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! I’ve really gone and made too much trouble this time. Well, I’m not 100% sheep, but I’m not 100% goat either. I’m just a...a...GO-EEP!"


ASST. ANGEL: "Hmmm...I don’t recall Adam ever naming any animal a GO-EEP."

GARY: "Yes, that’s what I am--I’m a GO-EEP! You know--part goat and part sheep. GO-EEP."

ASST. ANGEL: "So what’s your point, Mr. GO-EEP?"

GARY: "I guess what I’m trying to be is theologically articulate, sir. What I mean, your highest, sir, is that I’m a... a... half-breed. I’m 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. I’m 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: "That’s, uh, GO-EEP, no, I mean, I’m--you’re 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 you?"

GARY: "Well, yes, but there were other times...."

ASST. ANGEL: "And you even startled yourself by reaching beyond yourself?"

GARY: "Yes. But..."

ASST. ANGEL: "And Mr. GREEP, wouldn’t you admit that you were acting out of a compassion and kindness that isn’t always your cup of tea?"

GARY: "Of course, but..."

ASST. ANGEL: "Well, I see you have met GRACE after all."

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 God’s grace touches a life, it has a rebound effect, you know. You just want to share a little of the kindness that you’ve received."

GARY: "Oh! That Grace!"

ASST. ANGEL: "Yes, yes, of course. God’s 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 I’m not a GO-EEP after all?"

ASST. ANGEL: "No. You’re definitely a sheep with a goat--complex I’d say, but definitely a sheep. Enter into the joy of your Lord, GARY."

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 doesn’t 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, I’m hoping that all us GO-EEPS, all us half-breeds, will bear fruit that just comes natural for the least of these. Judgment Day’s a comin’ fare ye well, fare ye well. Amen.