Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24
Dear fellow ministers of the gospel of Jesus Christ,
grace and peace to you from the one who is among the least of these. Amen
Today we are at the end of the church calendar,
instead of ringing in the new year
with late night parties and champagne,
new year’s resolutions and year end retrospectives,
we take time to consider who God is,
what kind of God we have
and what the world will be like
when the time of God comes to fullness,
when God’s kingdom comes and it is on earth as it is in heaven,
something we pray for each time we say the Lord’s prayer.
We do this using the image of Christ as a King,
one who has the power to make all the decisions for his people.
In this system of government
who the king is
makes all the difference for how life will be.
And to help us in this task today
we are given the parable of the sheep and the goats
The Son of Man returns in glory surrounded by angels
and he gathers all the nations to him
and begins to sort them as a shepherd sorts the sheep from the goats.
because we also confess
that Jesus will come to judge the living and the dead
The sheep go to the right hand- the place of honor
while the goats go to the left hand.
The sheep he invites into the kingdom
and the goats he sends away from himself.
The sheep, are confused
when they are welcomed into the kingdom
because they fed the king when he was hungry
and gave him something to drink when he was thirsty,
put clothes on him,
visited him, took care of him, welcomed him.
When did we ever do this for you? They ask.
The king responds,
Just as you did it to one of the least of these
who are members of my family, you did it to me.
the king calls the least
members of his family,
he has gathered all the nations around the throne
and calls all the people members of his family,
Jesus is an inclusive
rather than an exclusive king.
In this sentence he affirms that we are all children of God,
everyone, all the nations.
Now the goats,
they are surprised too
at where they ended up in the sorting.
“Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty
or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?”
And the answer comes
“just as you did not do it to one of the least of these you did not do it to me.”
The goats, the unrighteous
I think are like the fat sheep from Ezekiel,
where we have another sorting scene.
In Ezekiel the Lord is envisioned as a shepherd
caring for the whole flock,
not just the sheep that are doing well,
in fact the fat sheep are the ones that are judged and separated out
because they pushed with flank and shoulder,
and butted at all the weak animals with their horns
until the weak sheep were scattered.
The fat sheep got fat at the expense of the others in their flock
and this is not acceptable to God our shepherd.
The unrighteous were so focused on getting ahead,
that they did so at the expense of others.
They are surprised
when the King says that they didn’t feed him,
focused on power and getting ahead
would have noticed if the most powerful needed something.
And that is where they fall short,
where they miss the most powerful one
who surrenders that power for the powerless.
That is the kind of God we have
One who becomes one of us
One of the least of us
We have a God that is like a King
who considers all his subjects family,
who is concerned about every last one,
especially the weak and lowly subjects who,
are traditionally not paid attention to by a ruler.
We have a God that is like a shepherd
concerned with the health of the whole flock,
where all the sheep must be healthy not just a few.
We have a God
that has promised to come in the fullness of time
and make the vision a reality,
to sort out those
who stand in the way of justice, mercy and abundant life for all
We believe this
We proclaim it as good news
But sometimes we wonder
Are we sheep or are we really goats?
And here we have an advantage,
unlike the sheep and the goats
who were unaware of who would judge them,
we know who will judge us
as well as the standards to be used,
we know that our king, our God
identifies with the last and the least,
those who are hungry, weak, and outcast,
the sick and imprisoned,
looking back through the empty tomb
we know that Christ is found at the cross,
the times of intense suffering
whether in our lives or the lives of others.
As one commentator I read (Karoline Lewis) said,
“If you have to ask Jesus, when was it? You are not paying attention.”
We know where Christ is found
We know what Christ expects of us.
Not noticing is no longer an excuse
actually it was never an excuse that we could use.
It seems like all around us things in the world are being uncovered
and people are being asked to account for their past actions,
some are responding with the equivalent to the question when was it?
And the answer is always,
God was with the powerless,
the least of these.
That is the kind of God we have.
In the end we don’t need to try to figure out whether we are sheep or goats,
or whether the person sitting next to us is a sheep or a goat
because what we really are,
are children of God.
What happens to us matters to God.
Our neighbors are children of God,
what happens to them matters to God.
Our enemies are children of God,
what happens to them matters to God.
The world is Gods,
what happens to the earth matters to God.
Our God is one
for whom the health and well being of all
are of great concern,
and when God reigns as king
all will have everything they need.
And until God returns,
God expects us who know this
to begin to live this way,
the begin to bring about the reign of God,
to look for and see God in all things
so that in the end,
when we come before God
we will not have to ask ‘when was it?’
because we will have seen the Lord. Amen