Message by: Pastor Carol Kniseley / Title: Christ the King
Personally, I like goats. Always have. In fact one of the nicknames we have for our dog is ‘Bailey-goat’ because ever sense he was a pup, he has had a fondness for putting his nose into places where it does not belong…namely, the trash cans. The dog will eat anything…including socks, lifesavers, books…you name it, he will eat it if given the chance. If you were to ask me, it’s in his genes to do such things. Leading me to surmise, that the chief problem that I see pertaining to goats…is that they simply are not sheep. And according to today’s Gospel lesson, that is reason for concern.
If we take the time to carefully read today’s story, we will soon discover that both groups (the sheep and the goats) were totally baffled by the verdicts they received. It is not by coincidence that Matthew records that both responded with the exact same question: “Lord, when was it that we saw you?” Implying that the sheep did not know what they had done right…anymore that the goats knew what they had done wrong. Both were merely going about their daily routines, doing what came natural to them, when apparently they encountered Jesus. The only problem being that more often than not…neither one knew that it was him.
Amazing, isn’t it? To think that Jesus can show up on our door step one day…much like the characters who portrayed God in the TV show, Joan of Arcadia…dressed as a teenager with spiked hair, or as a janitor in his late 60’s…it really doesn’t matter whom he portrays. The only question is…how will we relate to the person God has chosen to be at that very moment in our lives? Enter a friend of mine, whom I will call Max, because quite frankly…I can no longer remember his real name.
Max showed up at church one day for one of our midweek services, having spent the night before at the local homeless shelter located just across the street. After all, the word had gotten out that every Wednesday night for the next couple of weeks soup would be served in the Fellowship Hall…and everyone was welcome to attend. Whether they knew it or not…whether they even cared or not…it was the season of Lent, and for the homeless folks, like Max, a free meal was always worth the walk.
Max was a big guy…towering some 6’ 4” tall and he must have weighed close to 250 pounds. He reminded me of a big brown teddy bear of sorts, because everywhere he went, he always wore a shaggy brown coat that dropped down about half way between his ankles and his knees. He never took the coat off…no matter what the temperature was…making some folks look at him in a little bit different light.
What we didn’t know at that time was that Max carried with him at all times everything he owned right within the pockets he had sewn into his big brown coat. The reason I knew this was because the last time I saw him, he handed me something that I shall never forget. He said he appreciated the way that I had taken the time to simply talk to him and let him know that he was welcome to join us for our Lenten services. It was then that he reached inside of his coat pocket…and pulled out what appeared to be a small picture frame.
What the picture said…spoke volumes to me. It was as if Jesus himself had come…and graced us with his presence all those weeks…only to disappear just one week before his Passion. He wanted me to know that somehow I had treated him more like a sheep than a goat, and that had meant the world to him. I suppose what Max was really trying to say, was that somewhere along the way…even I had somehow managed to be used by God. If only for a day.
Matthew knows all too well that on any given day, you and I can behave as perfect sheep…doing those things that we know God would approve of, taking the time to feed the hungry…visit with the sick…even welcome a stranger in to our midst. But then again, on any other day, we can just as easily turn into goats…sticking our noses into everyone else’s business, including the trash, without any regard for anyone else. It’s as if our wiring becomes faulty and before we know it…Jesus may be standing right in front of us…and we can’t even recognize him for who he is.
The thing is, we are called to look at each other…and see Christ, who promises to be there when our eyes meet. The goats were not condemned for doing bad things, but instead for doing nothing. They simply “did not see” any relationship between their lives and the lives of those who were in need. The truth is…there is a relationship, and it is up to each one of us to decide what we will do, or will not do, about it. Right or wrong, it helps me to remember that we are not alone. The sheep and the goats in today’s story both spoke in unison. “When was it that we saw you?” they say, reminding us that we are all part of a community, and that sometimes we can do things together that we can not do alone.
It seems to me, that even at it’s best…the church is made up of both sheep and goats. We can welcome others into our fold, pressing our limits, and widening our circle of embrace. We can do this because we are one flock…tended and fed by the one Good Shepherd…who is, I suspect, also quite fond of the goats as well. When I stop and think about it, Max reminds me a lot about Bailey-goat. Both seem to be wired a little bit differently…causing each to exhibit behavior that in some circles would certainly raise a few eyebrows. And yet, I know that God simply does not look the other way.
Nor does he expect us to do the same. Instead, I believe, he calls us to risk being in relationship even when the relationship is unlikely, momentary, and at times…even sad. We are called to look at each other…and see Christ. So when the time does come to sort us out, those are the eyes that will meet our eyes…and all of a sudden we will know that we have seen those eyes before. They will be the eyes of the one we’ve seen in a million different faces. His name? Christ the King. Or Max. They’re really one in the same. Amen