Am I a goat or a sheep?

given on Sunday, September 15, 2013

         Have you seen the TV ad with the ‘Quadricorn’ or the unicorn with four horns rather than one?  Well, what about the one where the centaur is trying to get into the club, but the gatekeeper lets in the Quadricorn and a goat?  This may seem like an odd opening, but consider that ad for a few moments.

What if that ad was representative of the process to get into Heaven?  The images and the process seem funny to us while watching tv, but put that into the context of the scripture from Matthew 25.

Just close your eyes and re-watch that commercial for a few moments.  The ‘Quadricorn’ is presented with an aura of perfection, ready for heaven, no pretense, just a calm sense that all is good.  No one questions him, he has fulfilled his earthly years according to God’s plan and is being rewarded.

Then comes the Centaur.  He is just standing there at the gate, prancing around in all his personal glory.  He is a show off, flexing his ‘pects’, jutting out his chest and questioning the gatekeeper’s decisions.  He thinks his handsome looks will get him in.  And, then as though it was the final ‘slap in the face’ the gatekeeper lets in a goat.

Less than 60 seconds of video plays out the proverb quite nicely.  Too bad it is an ad for a casino rather than a mini-God message to the viewers.

Trying to keep continuity with last week’s question of why should we, as Christians, emphasize the concept of serving, I found the next question in the evening devotions from The Message’s Solo.  The text this week went into the book of Daniel.  I was trying to keep my focus on the connection to today’s service, when Friday night’s devotion, day #163, came from Daniel 12:1-3.

1-2 “‘That’s when Michael, the great angel-prince, champion of your people, will step in. It will be a time of trouble, the worst trouble the world has ever seen. But your people will be saved from the trouble, every last one found written in the Book. Many who have been long dead and buried will wake up, some to eternal life, others to eternal shame.  (the MSG)

“‘Men and women who have lived wisely and well will shine brilliantly, like the cloudless, star-strewn night skies. And those who put others on the right path to life will glow like stars forever.

Those words triggered the parable from Matthew answering the concerns as to how will one know whether they have “earned” a spot in heaven.

Sometimes it seems like we have become a society so focused on “earning” our worth, establishing value on the tangible, and reaching measurable goals that we miss God’s message.  Jesus uses a metaphor that is familiar to a rural community of his times—the goats and the sheep.  When reading the supporting analysis, one discovers another cultural piece that adds more to the understanding of the parable.

Since I have never been around sheep and certainly was never an ancient shepherd, I did not know that goats and sheep were herded together in the open fields.  The reference to separating the goats from the sheep was not a reference to good and to bad, but actually a reference from separating the two breeds in order to sheer the sheep.  For years I have thought that the goats were the “scum” of the two while the sheep were the “good” animals.

With that little hint into understanding the context of Jesus’ story, I find myself taking an even more generous view of being selected or not into heaven.  Then I look at those few lines that are repeated twice—once in a positive manner, and the second in a negative twist.

34-36 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Enter, you who are blessed by my Father! Take what’s coming to you in this kingdom. It’s been ready for you since the world’s foundation. And here’s why:

I was hungry and you fed me,
I was thirsty and you gave me a drink,
I was homeless and you gave me a room,
I was shivering and you gave me clothes,
I was sick and you stopped to visit,
I was in prison and you came to me.’

Such simple acts of mercy, in fact so simple we may not even realize we are doing them, especially if we do look at the world through God’s eyes.  With this filter, I see that the gate to Heaven is standing wide open for so many more than I might have imagined before.

But repetition in story telling is good.  The same verses are used to turn the story around and look at it through a more negative filter:

41-43 “Then he will turn to the ‘goats,’ the ones on his left, and say, ‘Get out, worthless goats! You’re good for nothing but the fires of hell. And why? Because—

Because.  And he repeats the same criteria only this time he wants the listeners to think about when they did NOT provide for a need of another.

Struggling how to emphasize all the ways that we can serve continues to be a difficult task.  Reading over this parable once more, as familiar as it is to us, I find new meaning.  First, the story is not really about the quality of the livestock breeds, it is about looking at life through God’s eyes and acting to needs that you see.

How do we serve is our next challenge.  It is easy to meet those small needs once and a while when they present themselves to you.  You know, like when someone asks for a drink.  You can see someone whose house has burned down and has lost everything.  You can pray when you hear ambulances, fire trucks and police cars wailing their sirens.  What about the needs of all the people all around the world that do not come face to face with us?

This is a challenge because we know that we cannot possibly do all that needs to be done, but as a group we can make a difference.  Putting together the school packs for kids right here in Missouri is one way to serve in our own state.  But, what else can we do?

The UMCOR services are used in all the disasters that hit in the United States and abroad.  The fact that there is an arm of our church already in place to send out supplies to those with immediate needs is another reason to provide for their services.  Cash donations are always accepted and can be done on line.  But, did you know that some go down to the headquarters outside of New Orleans area and help right there putting together the buckets, the various packages, boxes, and shipments?  Have you ever considered going to help?

The “Imagine No Malaria” campaign is a huge operation.  The emphasis has been to provide a $10.00 mosquito net for each individual and that has proven to be successful.  The deaths have been cut in half over the past few years.  The campaign now shifts to continued prevention but adds in education and treatment.  The campaign is so successful that now other organizations have joined in—The Gates Foundation and the UN are the two most discussed.

You have heard all this before, and I know the concern is not for the far-reaching corners of the earth as much as it is for right here in our community!  The question remains the same, though, are we doing all that we can do for all that we can in all the ways that we can.

I continue to support the focus on the community, and each church has to define the boundaries of that local or immediate community.  There needs to be a goal written and posted in order to keep the focus on the church’s ministry.  A plan needs to be developed so the funds and resources are channeled efficiently.  And the members need to team together in order to reach the goal.

How can I personally add to our ministry?  I was knitting another ruffle scarf and I started asking myself how can I encourage the churches to step up their ministry efforts.  What I have done in the past has not been very successful, so what more can I do?

Then, right there in my hands, an idea sprang up.  The ruffle yarn has the same structure as nets.  The cost of the yarn is about $5.00, I love making them and have made so many that I have lost count.  Why not make the scarves and then offer them in return for a donation to “Imagine No Malaria”?  Think about it, the yarn is there, the work fills a personal need, and the return could be a huge benefit to the campaign.  I have decided that my need to knit and the love I have for the yarns—color and textures—could provide for a new need.

The challenge to you is what can you do?  So many of you do such a wide range of things, I am sure you have something you do that you love so much, you just want to do it over and over and over.  Is there a way to shift it ever so easily into a way to serve?

Another example that I witness is the holiday bashes that Earlene and Diana enjoy putting on.  This is another example of how doing something you love can meet a need in the immediate community in which you live.  The Holy Ghost Party for Halloween is coming up, and the enthusiasm for decorating and providing is contagious.  I love it.

We have this wonderful facility right in the middle of a community filled with poverty, with children, with little healthy entertainment, so why not host a party!  Why not engage in a healthy, safe Halloween event for anybody who wants to come?  I know celebrating Halloween is uncomfortable for me, but when I see the delight in the kiddos faces, the joy in the adults serving, and the fun that results from the efforts, I can push aside my own discomfort and join in.

Each time we decide to act in the best interest of the community in which we live and serve, we are serving as God’s hands and legs.  We see someone who is thirsty, and we give them a drink.  We see someone hungry, and we give them food.  We see someone who needs clothing, and we find a way to clothe them.  The pattern is already part of our lives, now we just need to find ways to continue the plan to reach the goal.

Let us each think about what we can do.  Let us look at what we already do and make sure it connects to God’s commandment.  Let’s look for new ways to meet needs that remain unmet.  Let’s make sure that we join in with others to enhance their efforts whether right here in our community or whether it is through a conference outreach.

In a few weeks, the School Packs will be delivered to the Festival of Sharing event in Sedalia.  We have the year to add to Heartland South’s efforts for Imagine No Malaria campaign.  And we have our community events.  We are not living our Christian beliefs if we do not work to serve one another in love.

Each and every one of us whether alone or in a household, must live the Christian life we say we believe.  There is no time to lose, especially when we look at the world around us and see so many un-Christian behaviors challenging each one of us.

Yes, these are words of challenge, but they are words Jesus used, too.  Remember those key verses from Matthew 25:

I was hungry and you gave me no meal,
I was thirsty and you gave me no drink,
I was homeless and you gave me no bed,
I was shivering and you gave me no clothes,
Sick and in prison, and you never visited.’

Closing prayer

Dear God Almighty,

We hear the cries of pain or want,

We see the horrors of refugees .

We witness meanness daily.

And we cry out, shake our heads,

moaning about what has gone wrong.

Each time we hear Jesus’ parable

we do a self-evaluation,

unfortunately we misjudge our efforts

and the needs continue to mount.

Guide us to look deep into our own hearts

to honestly see the world through your eyes.

Guide us to find the means to serve

in an effort to meet the needs as best we can.

Ease our own conscious as we learn to serve

and take mini-steps serving others near and far.

-Amen.

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