Sunday, October 18, 2015

The Cause
October 18, 2015

Matthew 25:31-40

31 “When the Son of Man comes in His glory, and all the holy angels with Him, then He will sit on the throne of His glory. 32 Before Him will be gathered all nations, and He will separate them one from another as a shepherd separates his sheep from the goats. 33 He will set the sheep at His right hand, but the goats at the left.

The Judgement of the Nations...that’s the title my Bible gives this Matthew 25 passage. Judgement is something that is not very popular in current Christian teaching, but we do it all the time, don’t we.

“Judge not, lest you be judged” was written on the chalkboard in the kitchen of the old farm house where I grew up, just above the list of chores that each of us was expected to accomplish that day. That was the way our mother organized her family of five kids back in the Forties...but the scripture choice was always printed larger than the tasks that followed. Mom was trying to teach us something in addition to keeping the farm running. She followed the parenting philosophy that, “Children have to be carefully taught.”

As some of you know, my parents moved us to the farm just after the beginning of WWII because Dad was in the Army Reserve and knew he would be activated. He was a dentist and served in WWI also. Mother told him that if she had to raise five children, ages 13-9 months, alone, she wanted to be in the country, not the city. So it was by the fortune of war that I became a farmer-kid.

During Dad’s absence she took on the task of not only raising a family but managing a 65 acre general farm. As you can tell her influence in my early development was significant. Her tools were scripture and music, which have stuck with me all these years.

So here we are today reading about judgment by none other than...The Son of Man, himself….all the nations involved here...and there he sits on his throne of glory. And what’s he do? Separates nations like a “shepherd” separates the Sheep from the Goats….and the Sheep go to the right and goats go to the left…    “this way, please, you gnarly goats.“ And that saying has endured...separating sheep from the is used over and over when it comes to delineating good from bad, haves from have-nots...and as a high school math teacher used to say when it came time for testing...sheep were the knowing and goats were those less prepared.

So here we are being told that the nations will be Judged….sheep = good; goats = bad. To top that off the good nations to the Right...bad nations to the Left. How does that make you feel, all you southpaws? Then the goats are damned to hell, no less.

When I took this assignment to speak on this text, I of course, accepted it with laser-like interest since, hey,  I am first and foremost a farmer kid...and my first animal 4-H project was a pen of lambs. Those cute little sheep, so wooly and soft, and here, sheep are scripturally uplifted as the more desireable of their close relative...goats.

But before I could get into my study of this lesson, I had to figure out why the Biblical preference.

Check this out: we talk about the Lamb of God not the Kid of God. And  “There were in the same country Shepherds abiding in the field”...not Goat herders abiding in the fields. Then there is the story of the “Ninety and nine,” who were sheep not goats...and the shepherd struggles to find the lost lamb not the lost goat. You get my point.

So we have been taught...sometimes directly and sometimes indirectly, which to prefer. As the lyrics from the South Pacific song…”You have to be taught….before it’s too late...before you are six or seven or hate all the people your family have to be carefully taught.”

Those words ran through my mind as I sat to compose this message since I was once cast as LT Cable and would sing those words as our choir at Audubon United Methodist did a musical show at the end of each choir season. The lyrics are ingrained in my mind…In fact the entire show is written about the clash of cultures as LT Cable from Philadelphia and Nellie Forebush from Arkansas find themselves on an island and faced with falling in love with someone of another race. Doesn’t this speak to our

But, back to the bad goats and good sheep.

The Judgement was being made because The King (no longer the Son of Man, but the King) says, roughly, “You fed me, clothed me, tended me, visited me,” etc...and the Righteous, in turn, ask the King...when did we do all that for You? which he replies…”Truly I say to you, as you have done it for the least of these brothers of mine, you have done it for me.”

Wow...we are being Judged not just for doing the right things but for doing it for a specific class of people... those of lesser status. How does that feel to you this morning?
So who is the Least of These? Who are these goats we have to care for anyway?

Well, I have to tell you that scholars are not in total agreement as to what this all means. For you see the context of this lesson is about how Christ’s converts are being treated...especially Gentiles...ah-ha...the least become the Unwashed...the non-believers, not just as I always supposed...the poor and downtrodden.

So who do you see as the least of these today in our society? Are they our neighbors who are less fortunate? or are they the nations that cannot seem to catch a break in the geopolitical struggle that is ongoing….seemingly forever. Or are they simply the unbelieviers?

What Cause,then, are we being asked to champion?.

Well, this too is an ages old dispute...The Great Commission...has many supporters and is considered by most to be our primary role as Christians...You know, go forth and make believers of all nations.

And so does the Command to Feed my Lambs, or Love your neighbor as yourself… or as many of us have experienced over the years, I am sure you have and I to just keep trying to keep your own head above water in this Sin Sick World we live in and to reach out a helping hand to those around you who are struggling a bit more than you.

Frankly, I am at a loss to positively identify the “Least of the These” our Scripture lesson mentions today. Is it the Gentiles...the unbelievers, or those of lesser means, or as many think the disciples out doing the “work of the Lord?”

But I am not at a loss to tell you that I think we have to stop teaching our kids lessons of bigotry and Lt Cable sings about...and updated for  today...not to be divisive in our understanding of things political and those things spiritual. Those fighting that fight, to me, also qualify as the “Least of these.”

Back to the Kitchen Blackboard…

Another favorite scripture that Mother put on the chalkboard said…”Remove the beam from your own eye so you can see clearly to remove the speck from your brother’s.” Oh yes, the wisdom wrought from the Kitchen of that old farm house on Valley Road...during my early years was formative. You have to be carefully taught...goes the song.

And our “Brothers” referred to in the speck removal passage were not just our siblings, but a wider net was cast as to whom our brothers might be...much like the story of the Good Samaritan...that was clear from Mother’s actions...not just her choice of scripture  she used to feed her off-spring, but how she led her life. That’s what I learned before I was six or seven or eight…...

So, let me sum up here since I have rambled on a bit…

1) Sheep and goats are close cousins and one is not genetically superior to the other regardless of Scripture….they are used as a metaphor... and if you have any trouble telling them apart just look at their tails as our Animal Husbandry prof pointed out...sheep tails turn down and goat tails turn up unless they are sick or upset. And along with that, I want to add that Lefties are just as favored as Righties, too.

2) “The Least of these” we are admonished to help are those in need where we find them...and to me that includes spiritual, physical and emotional need. The world is full of hurting people and our Cause, if you will, is to assuage that need.

So go forth and spread the Gospel through the example of your life. That’s the Cause we are called to champion.

At the Going Forth time:

I want to add that…..My brief experience as LT Cable took a twist… the irony is I was not permitted to sing those words…You have to be the very last minute...  too controversial in 1971 some thought...maybe the truth would hurt...I was never given a good reason. That song was scratched…..But today we need to confront our demons of bigotry and hatred that seems to be creeping back into our culture. We need to chase them out as if they were a bunch of bad goats….

So to you I say….go out, find the least of these and serve.

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