Over the past week we have welcomed the snow, the wind and the cold. It’s not that we aren’t used to winter weather, we just prefer to wait a little longer. The last few years we didn’t see snow until January, so having the white stuff appear at the end of November can be a little unsettling.
One of the most popular conversations that have erupted because of the change in weather is whether you have your winter snow tires on or not. The conversation enfolds further as we then take about routine maintenance we do on our cars.
We do that routine maintenance because we want to keep our vehicles running smoothly. By taking care of the routine things we can avoid larger problems from creeping up on us that might be more costly.
That is also what is going on in our parable this morning. It is a reminder to stop and do routine maintenance on our own lives. To pause, reflect and ask ourselves if we are seeing the face of Jesus in the people that we meet.
Our parable is a cautionary tale about our behaviour and how we interact with the people we meet.
Be the Sheep – Audio Sermon
After we read this parable we need to look around and realize that Jesus died for each and every person that we meet.
Our parable describes two groups of people, identified as sheep and goats. The animal imagery would have made sense to the audience that Jesus was speaking to. For us today we need to stretch to understand the importance of sheep and goats. Sheep were a more valuable animal in ancient Israel. They could produce milk and therefore other dairy products. Additionally, their wool could be used to create clothing and other items. The sheep was also able to keep itself warm at night, while the goat was unable to do so due to it not having a warm coat.
Of course we also know that imagery of sheep’s and shepherds are dominant within scripture. So it is no surprise which category the sheep are placed in.
We have two groups then, the sheep and the goats. Now for the sake of argument I am going to divide the congregation into two groups. Yes, you guessed it sheep and goats. Over here will be the sheep and on the other side the goats. Now is everyone ok with the group I have put you in? Does anyone feel the compulsion to get up and change their seat? I know we all want to be sheep don’t we?
So we have our sheep and we have our goats and each group shares a glaring quality within the context of our parable this morning. Both groups did not see the face of Jesus in the people they met. The sheep say to Jesus, “When did we see you hungry and feed you…” and the goats also say “Lord, when did we see you hungry…”
Neither group was able to identify the face of Jesus in the people they met. However, one group fed, clothed and visited anyway. The other did not.
Who saw Jesus in the face of strangers?
No one saw the face of Jesus in the people that they met and that fact is staggering.
It makes me wonder what are we doing when we are walking around day to day? In the Bible study that just finished this past week we looked at the first eleven chapters of Genesis. In the first chapter when humanity is created we read: “So God created humankind in his image, in the image of God he created them; male and female he created them.”
Created in the image of God and yet in our parable today no one was able to see God, to see the face of Jesus in those that they met.
If this story were to be told by Jesus today what would it tell you about the culture we live in? That we do not see the face of Jesus in one another.
How insular and self-centered have we become? What do we need to break these bonds to allow ourselves to see others?
Friends, I think when we read this message we get hung up on the action and inaction of the sheep and goats. We get concerned about what category we are going to end up in and we don’t want to be goats do we? However, we get so hung up on the fact that we need to feed, clothe and visit everyone!
It’s overwhelming. Growing up in Toronto I would head down to Queen St as a teenager. I didn’t head down often, but when I did I would always have some change in my pocket. I would always run out long before the need did. So many people on the street looking for help, looking for assistance. Was my couple of quarters here and there helpful? The guilt I felt when I reached into my pocket and grabbed nothing but lint. The desire to help was there, but I was out of money. Was I suddenly a goat!
These are the type of thoughts that race through my head when I think of this parable. How can I possibly help them all? Jesus isn’t asking us to break the bank. He is asking us to see his face in the face of all people.
Friends, I think that when we focus in on this one part of our parable that we miss a big part of the point. No one was able to see Jesus. What would happen if we were able to see Jesus in the face of those that we serve, in the face of those that we meet, in the face of those who ask us for help?
Friends, this parable is a personal message to us. God wants not only a new world modeled on the values of Jesus. God wants each of us. God is not a social engineer, but a God of love. Yes, God wants us to fed, clothe and visit, but God also wants us to see the face of Jesus in all people. For we are all created in God’s image.
This parable does not speak of judgment as some far off event, but as a continual happening event in our lives? Kind of like routine maintenance on our cars. We need to keep putting gas in the tank, get the oil changed, rotate the tires. This parable reminds us to do that in our walk with Christ. It reminds us not to get too comfortable or cozy.
We might read this passage and think that we can earn our way into heaven. Feed enough people lunch and salvation is assured. That however, is not the message of this passage. Theologian Lindsay Armstrong writes that “… this Scripture testifies that salvation is something we discover, often when we least expect it.”
Friends, let’s remember that long ago in a garden God provided clothing for Adam and Eve (Genesis 3:21). Jesus taught the water he gave would become a spring of water giving eternal life (John 4:14). That Jesus declared that he was the bread of life. That whoever came to him would never go hungry and whoever believed in him would never go thirsty (John 6:35).
Long before we had the opportunity to care for others God cared for us. We are called to share freely without calculation or expectation.
If we are not sharing freely of ourselves with the world then this demonstrates that we are unhealthy. That our relationship with God and the world is not healthy. Jesus calls us to love the unloved, to see the stranger in our midst and to love that person.
Friends, if we take Matthew 25 seriously and more-or-less at face value, then we cannot help but be reminded of the famous line from St. Francis of Assisi: “Preach the gospel at all times and, if necessary, use words.” Amen.
Text: Matthew 25: 31-46