Action Matters: the Goats and the Sheep

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Last Sunday, I spoke about the end of the Church year and the beginning of a new Church year. This is the last Sunday of the Church year, Christ the King Sunday, where we celebrate Jesus the Christ (God) and his reign over our world.

I warned you that we were not having warm and fuzzy texts for the next several weeks. It is a struggle to consider the ‘Separation of the Sheep and the Goats” ‘good news’ (or ‘gospel’). It is always challenging to hear texts that separate us.

It is also challenging for many to hear a text where God and Christ are referred has holding positions of authority and power using words like “king”. It might be unsettling, because we have and are bearing witness now to people in positions of authority and power who have abused it for bad, for wrong,  and for evil. 

These challenges make this text a struggle to preach, but it connects well with the text we had last week about the talents and how we are called to embrace our talent, gifts, time, and energy not for our own good but for the good of our neighbor.

The gospel according to Matthew has several passages of this judgment. We, as Lutherans, find ourselves in opposition resorting to the battle cray of the Protestant Reformation which was “Justification by Grace” not by our works and deeds. Matthew, however, is very clear that once you come into the community of faith, once you have come to know God and Jesus the Christ, you are called into a new way of being which is reflected in your actions.

This morning we had a couple baptisms. We are called to recall our own baptisms. When we, as individuals and the community, renounce the “Devil” and all the forces that defy God in this world we are re-claiming the promises that either our family or ourselves made in our baptismal waters. We are re-committing ourselves to proclaim Christ in word and deed. We are re-committing ourselves to care for those we love and the world that God has created for us. We are re-committing ourselves towards justice and peace. These promises are echoed within our gospel text today.

It is not always easy to act with justice and mercy, compassion and care. There are days when we are tried, worn down, and not exactly sure how to live out that commandment to love and to serve.

Our texts last week were vague offering no tangible examples of loving and serving, but was more at an ‘idea’ level. Our texts today, however, are specific on how to love and serve.

We are called to find the hungry and to cloth the naked.
We are called to visit and care for those who are sick, home bound, or in prison.
We are called to love and serve those Jesus called the “least of these”.

Unfortunately, we get caught up in wondering who is “worthy” and who is “not worthy” to receive this care and loving service. Jesus, however, is present within each and every single person. We are called to do more for those who cannot repay us, especially compared to those who can return the favor.

You will notice that I love to listen to the lyrics of music, because the lyrics speak to me. I will share them in my sermons and I have two songs to quote today. You will also notice if it is not Garth Brooks, it will be surprising. I admit that I have a Garth Brooks addiction.

First is Matt Kennon, who does “country rock”. He has a song entitled “That’s Love”, which talks about people in challenging positions making the decision to love and care for another at the cost of their own time, energy, and well-being. I will share the chorus and final verse. I think of it as the “ideal day” of living into our baptismal promises, when you are feeling strong, brave, courageous, and active.

When you sacrifice for someone else
and you put them before yourself
and you don’t think about what you are giving up.
That’s love.

A only son hanging from a cross,
you know he died for all of us .
That’s love.

That is a good day. It is when we are feeling strong with available talents and the energy to live into that baptismal promise. It is sacrificial love, the love that is reflected in being a servant to people and the community. But, let us face that there are days when we are not feeling that strong.

The second is Kid Rock, but don’t get too nervous because it is a song he did with Martha McBride. It is entitled “Care” and the chorus is:

Because I hear screamin’ on the left,
yelling on the right,
I’m sitting here in the middle trying to live my life
because I can’t stop the war,
shelter homeless,
feed the poor,
I can’t walk on water,
I can’t save your sons and daughters,
I can’t change the world and make things fair,
the least that I can do,
the least that I can do,
the least that I can do is care.

There are days when all we are able to do is care, because we are overwhelmed by the needs of our world.

It reminds me of Martin Luther’s explanation on the commandment to not kill. He argued that anything we do that brings harm or ill to our neighbors emotionally, mentally, or physically is “killing” them. Therefore, on day that all we can do is muster up care and compassion for those in need, let us be reminded to “do no harm”.

That is our text in a nutshell:
Some days we can take on the world through sacrificial love and service.

Some days we cannot, but the least we can do it care about the “least of these” because Christ is present there. Amen.

Focus Text – Matthew 25: 31-46
Originally Preached on Nov. 26, 2017 at Trinity LC (Union City, IN)

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