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Sermon and Prayer for Ordinary 34 - Proper 29 - The Reign of Christ - Year A
Ezekiel 34:11-17,20-24 and Matthew 25:31-46
"The Sheep and The Goats""

READING:  Ezekiel 34:11-17,20-24 and Matthew 25:14-30
SERMON :  "The Sheep and The Goats"

Rev. Richard J. Fairchild
a-or34se 344000


CALL TO WORSHIP (from Colossians 1:15-18)
L   Christ is the image of the invisible God,
    the firstborn over all creation.
P   By him all things were created,
    things in heaven and on earth,
    visible and invisible,
    whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities.
L   All things were created by him and for him.
    He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
P   He is the head of the body, the church;
    he is the beginning and the first born from among the dead,
    so that in everything he might have supremacy.


PRAYER OF CONFESSION
L   Lord God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit hear our prayer.
P   We confess to you, and to all the company of heaven,
    and to one another, that we have sinned in thought, word,
    and deed, and by omission - through our fault, our own
    grievous fault.  Search our hearts, O Lord, and help us
    to truly repent.
	.............. (silent prayer) ...............
L   Lord Jesus, Father Almighty, before you we must stand
    in judgement.  Heal the blindness of our eyes and melt the
    coldness of our hearts so we may hear your cries and respond
    to your distress in our world.
P   Touch us and make us whole.  Amen


SERMON:  "The Sheep and The Goats"

Today is the Sunday of the year called Christ the King..
         Every year, just before Advent we consider Christ as a king,
          and as a king, we think of him as a shepherd to his people.

The image of Jesus as a shepherd king is a 
pleasing image for most people.

We think of Jesus being a bit like King David,
         we think of him as a great ruler
          dressed in royal robes watching over us from heaven,
             we think of him caring for us
                 like a shepherd cares for his sheep:
                    We think of his rod and staff comforting us, 
                        of his leading us to green pastures and quiet
                           waters - and we feel good.

Jesus the King, a shepherd king: it is a nice image, 
         a comforting image. a helpful image,
          an image that many of us hold as our chief image of Jesus.

Jesus is good is he not?  
Jesus loves us; He is a healer; He saves us from death everlasting.
                 
Jesus guides us and watches over us,
         He loves and accepts poor sinners like us,
          He seeks the lost.  He forgives us.
             He is a man of compassion, mercy, and everlasting love.

Is this not our view of our King?
         Do we not see Jesus as everything good?
          Do we not see him as the Prince of Peace,
             the Bread of Life, the Light of the World?

So - what then do we make of Jesus the King who judges his people?
         What do we make of Jesus the shepherd who decides between the
          fat sheep and the lean sheep?
             Of Jesus the King who divides his flock into those which
                 are sheep and those which are goats,
                    inviting the first into his eternal joy,
                        and sending the last into eternal punishment?

Given that Jesus said to his disciples
         I come with a sword, to divide one against another,
          - what then happens to our comfortable image of Jesus,
             what happens to gentle Jesus, meek and mild?

Most of us do not ever really deal with the fact that Jesus is a
         shepherd who holds a sword -
           that he is a shepherd who judges his flock, 
             that he is a king who judges his people
                 and in judging them sends some of them to hell.

Some will say: Our Jesus does not do that does he?
         Surely our Jesus does not punish people?
          Surely he does not reject some of his flock and send them
             to hell?
...................................... pause.....

My friends - the answer from scripture is that 
         Jesus is a good King, one who cares for his people,
          and that he is a good shepherd, one who cares for his flock.

So let me ask you - what kind of shepherd allows the wolf
         to go unpunished?
          What kind of shepherd would allow some sheep to get fat
             while other sheep starve?

What kind of King does not insist that his people
         love and serve him and obey all his laws?
          What kind of King tolerates evil and fails to reward good?

This is God's world,
         a world that he has given over to the care of his Son,
          a world that he loved so much,
             that he was prepared to die for it...

So why would not that love demand of us a response?
         A response that is geared to our time and place - yes!
          but still a response that is more than words,
             more than lip service,
                 more than going through the motions.

Our shepherd king, our Jesus, is our judge!
         He is our judge because he cares for his people,
          he is our judge because he cares for his flock.

If we love him, if we feed his sheep, then he rewards us,
         but if we do not love him,
          if we do not care for the people he sends to us,
             he punishes us.

That is what today's gospel lesson is all about -
         it is both about loving Jesus and being rewarded,
          and about failing to love him and being punished.

Christ is our King, Christ is our Shepherd,
and we must respond to him, or face the consequences.

I have told you this today so that as we look together at the
         parable of the sheep and goats we might have understanding,
          that we might know what is really going on,
             and take the lesson that Jesus is teaching to our hearts.

Who are the sheep of this parable?  
         Those who enter into eternal joy because they help Jesus?
And who are the goats?
         Those who are punished because they do not help Jesus?

Jesus says - the sheep are the ones who
         when I was hungry, gave me something to eat,
         when I was thirsty, gave me something to drink,
         when I was a stranger, you invited me in,
         when I was naked, you clothed me,
         when I was sick, you looked after me,
         and when I was in prison, you visited me.

The goats are, of course, those who failed to do these things.

I leave it with you - for I am not your judge,
         are you a sheep or a goat?

As you consider the answer to this question 
         as you think about whether you feed or clothe
          or visit or welcome Jesus in your life,
             I am sure you will want to think of the following:

Where is Jesus to be found in our community today?
         Where does Jesus live in Corinth?
          Where is he in Springfield?
             Where is he at the place we work,
                 and in the cities in which we shop?

What does Jesus look like today?  
         And how can we reach him to help him?
          How can we do what he seems to want us to do when the 
             people who he is describing are so far away?
                 when the hungry are in India and Asia,
                    the prisoners are in South Africa,
                        the strangers in Vancouver,
                           and the naked in South America?
         
One of the problems with grabbing hold of the parable of the sheep
         and the goats is not that it is unclear - 
          nor is that we are unwilling to love Jesus in all these
             poor and unfortunate people,
                 rather it is that we do not have to face these issues
                    every day.

Crime and hunger and thirst and nakedness rarely touch us, 
         they are not a part of our ordinary lives.
          Who do we know in prison?
             Who do we know that is starving to death?
                 Who do we know that is naked?  
                    Who do we know that is a stranger?  

We are not in Toronto where the poor live on the streets; 
         We do not live in India where the hungry beg at the door; 
          We are not in Kingston where the great prisons are;

And on the rare occasions when we do meet situations of need we do
         something about it don't we?
          We took care of the victims of the Southwold Tornado 
             and the Springfield fire.

We visit those we know who are sick.
         And we send money to the Mission and Service Fund to look after
          those in other countries who are suffering don't we?

So what more can we do?  
         We look after those we know are in trouble don't we? 
          We try to care for our neighbours....

These are very good questions to raise and points to make.
         We are people who try to care.
          But the question remains - do we try to care enough?

Have we done any more than any person with a heart would do?
         Have we done any more than tend for our own and those 
          that others tell us about?

Friends, have we looked around carefully to see where Jesus is?
         And then finding him - have we loved him and cared for him?

What my friends have we done for the biker neighbour who moved
         in next door.  Is he a stranger?  Is he Jesus?
          Or is he only trouble?
             a man who brings down property values in the region?

What have we done for the widow on the farm two concessions over -
         the one who rarely gets out because she has very little money
          because she cannot collect a decent pension since
             she never drew a salary and paid into the plan while
                 she milked with her husband morning and night?
                    Is she Jesus?  Or is she only the poor old thing
                        that is doing OK because her relatives 
                           look after her?

And what about the teenager from up the road who is facing a few
         months in jail because of drug offenses?
          Is he Jesus?  Or is he simply a kid who has gone wrong,
             a no good who needs to learn a lesson before he destroys
                 himself and his family?

And what about the the young woman, the single mother who is
         hanging around the post-office at night with her baby.
          Is she Jesus?  Or is she the girl who should have known
             better?  The one who got herself into trouble
                 and who still hangs around with bad company?

What about the drunk who lives a few houses over?
         Or the divorced man who cannot seem to keep control of his
          children?
             Are they Jesus - or are they simply people who have
                 made their beds and now should lie in them?

Or what about the kids at school who dress in old jeans and have
         strange haircuts and who are dirty,
          the ones who seem to be uninterested in the work the
             teacher sets them?
                 The ones we suspect do not eat enough?
                    Are they Jesus?  Or are they ones whose parents
                        ought to be looking after them better?

My friends - I like to think that no one wants to be a goat,
         I like to think that we all want to do the right thing,
          But do we try hard enough to do so?
             Or do we allow our judgements about other people
                 to blind us to the fact that Jesus is here in our
                    villages right now,
                        that he is here, and that he is in need?

Jesus is here.  He lives near us,
         He lives in those whom we forget
          and in those whom we dismiss as unimportant,
             or as deserving of their fate.

Jesus our King,
         Jesus our Shepherd
          walks among us today, as he did 2000 years ago.

He walks among us as one who is rejected and despised by men,
         as one who reminds us of suffering and poverty,
          as one who seems to ignore what is good and Holy
             and to embrace what is sinful and wrong.

The parable of the sheep and goats is not a parable simply
         about caring for the suffering people of other lands as
          so many people want to make it -

It is a parable about caring for those no one else cares about,
         a parable of caring for the King who came to us,
          and who, because he was not one of our family,
             and who because he did not fit our expectations,
                 nor do what seemed to us to be right,
                    was rejected, condemned, and crucified with
                        narry a whimper of protest.

If you love Jesus the Shepherd King,
if you would be one of his people,
          one who does the right thing by him,
          if you really want to care,
             then you will look carefully for him,
                 you will look for him -- not in heaven,
                    rather you will look for him here on earth,
here in your midst.

Jesus our Shepherd King will not call us goats if we have not
         been perfect in our care,
          he will only judge us that way if we have not tried,
             if we have been content to deal with the obvious,
                 and failed to look past the obvious to see where he 
                    is living in our own villages and neighbourhoods.


copyright - Rev. Richard J. Fairchild - Spirit Networks, 1996 - 2005
             please acknowledge the appropriate author if citing these sermons.



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