Sunday, November 17, 2013
Homily for The Second-Last Sunday of the Church Year (Trinity 26)
Matthew 25:31-46; 2 Peter 3:3-14; Daniel 7:9-14
In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Spirit.
What Jesus describes for us in today’s Gospel is not the judgment, but rather the sentencing of all humanity. Indeed, the judgment has already been rendered: each and every soul has already been judged to be a sheep or a goat, a disciple or an unbeliever, righteous or unrighteous. The sheep are sheep and the goats are goats; all that remains is their sentencing and their sorting: sorting them to the right, into eternal life in the kingdom prepared for them from the foundation of the world, or sorting them to the left, into eternal punishment in the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.
But, if this is the sentencing and not the judgment, when did the judgment occur? The judgment occurred on a Friday afternoon around two thousand years ago in the Holy City, Jerusalem. Then, it was not a sheep or a goat that was judged, but it was their Shepherd, Jesus – The Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. However, Jesus was judged in place of all sheep and goats, in place of all men, for, indeed, before Jesus’ crucifixion and death, we were all goats! But now, the sheep are sheep through faith and trust in Jesus for forgiveness, life, and salvation. If you are a goat, that is because of your own obstinate, goatish rebellion and unbelief.
I know that many of you live in terror of that day, and for many reasons. But, I say to you that you need not be terrified. Why? Again, you need not be terrified of the Last Day because the judgment has already happened. God judged Jesus guilty in your place, and, because of Him, you go scot-free. God has made you all sheep in Jesus Christ; He became the goat, even your scapegoat. However, you are not a sheep in yourself, on your own, but you are a sheep in God’s eyes in and through Jesus Christ alone. When you believe and trust in Jesus, you are clothed in sheepy clothing, so to speak: Jesus’ righteousness which covers all your goatish sins. Therefore, to God, through faith and baptism into Jesus, you are a sheep. You look like a sheep, you eat like a sheep, you talk like a sheep, and you act like a sheep. Sheep do, well, sheepy things.
What kinds of things do sheep do? They feed the hungry and give refreshment to the thirsty, they show hospitality to strangers, clothe the naked and the vulnerable, and visit the sick and the imprisoned. And, ninety-nine point nine times out of a hundred, they are not even aware that they are doing these things! Sheep just do sheepy things, the same way apple trees produce apples and grapevines produce grapes. So, don’t go trying to count all your sheepy works, and don’t get suckered into “how to be a better sheep” programs, because you are sheep by grace, not by works! Just say, “Thank you Jesus for counting me as a sheep. Help me by Your Holy Spirit to be the sheep you want me to be.” And, the best way to do this, the only way to do this, is to keep following your Shepherd. Listen to His voice, His Word. Be cleansed in the forgiving waters He showers you with in humility and repentance. Eat the good food He serves to you. Keep focused upon Him and close your ears to the voices of false-shepherds and wolves in sheep’s clothing.
What are these voices saying? Who are the false-shepherds, and how can you know? Well, you heard a bit about them last week: “If anyone says to you, ‘Look, here is the Christ!’ or ‘There he is!’ Do not believe it. For false christs and false prophets will arise and perform great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect. So if they say to you, ‘Look, he is in the wilderness,’ do not go out. If they say, ‘Look, he is in the inner rooms’, do not believe it.” Then, today, you heard in the Epistle that “scoffers will come in the last days with scoffing, following their own sinful desires. They will say, “Where is the promise of his coming? For ever since the fathers fell asleep, all things are continuing as they were from the beginning of creation.” These false-shepherds and false-christs will blatantly contradict or rationalize away the Word of God. They will try to convince you that His Word is not trustworthy or that it is merely the work of primitive, unenlightened, prejudiced and bigoted men. But they deliberately overlook the evidence of creation and the voice of their own conscience which testifies to the truth of God’s Word. Human reason is good and useful until it meets its end and its origin in the Word of God, the source of all things, apart from which no thing exists.
These are the last days. They were ushered in with Christ’s Ascension, and they will end with His Parousia. These are the days in which Christ’s sheep must be on the move, in action, clinging not to earthly possessions nor being distracted by material things. These are the days in which Christ’s sheep must be vigilant, watching, and waiting, for He is coming quickly on a day and an hour we do not know, like a thief in the night. These are the days in which our ears must be tuned to our Shepherd’s voice and our eyes fixed only on Him. But, don’t worry about what you’re doing, if you’re doing it right, or if it will be enough. You’re a sheep. Just be a sheep. Do sheepy things. If you remain in your Shepherd, He will remain in you, and you will bear sheepish fruit.
When our Shepherd King comes, He will say to you, “Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave Me food, I was thirsty and you gave Me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed Me, I was naked and you clothed Me, I was sick and you visited Me, I was in prison and you came to Me.” And, you will rightly ask, “Lord, when did we see You hungry and feed You, or thirsty and give You drink? And when did we see You a stranger and welcome You, or naked and clothe You? And when did we see You sick or in prison and visit You?” And the King will answer, “Truly, I say to You, as You did it to one of the least of these my brothers, You did it to Me.”
You are Jesus’ sheep when you do sheepy things. Those sheepy things are, first, to be fed, cared for, nurtured, and protected by your Shepherd, and, second, to feed, care for, nurture, and protect your brother as Jesus has done for you. This is not your work, but His work, His fruit borne in you and through you. You must love your brother, not because he is loveable, but because you have been and are loved by your Shepherd King, who loves your brother as well and laid down His life in death for him as much as for you. To fail to love your brother whom Jesus loves is goatish behavior, unbecoming of a sheep. Jesus’ sheep live in the love and service of their Shepherd. Remain in that love and service, and you need not fear whether you have loved enough or done enough, but you will do sheepish things: you will love and serve your brother, because that’s what sheep do.
For, Jesus came, not in power and glory as a mighty king in the eyes of men and the world, but in lowliness, humility, and in service to men. He came as our brother, in flesh and blood, body and soul like us. Truly, in the Beatitudes we heard read on The Feast of All Saints, Jesus was describing Himself, for, upon the cross we see the Beatitudes fleshed out in our Lord’s Passion: Jesus was impoverished of spirit; Jesus hungered and thirsted for righteousness; Jesus was naked, humiliated, mocked, reviled, and persecuted unto death. Likewise, when we see and minister to our brothers in these states, we see and minister to Jesus, our brother, our Shepherd, our King, and our God. This is why C. S. Lewis could write: “Next to the Blessed Sacrament itself, your neighbor is the holiest object presented to your senses.” In serving your neighbor, in loving your brother, you serve and you love your Lord, your Shepherd, your King, and your God.
This is why we prayed in the Collect: “O Lord, so rule and govern our hearts and minds by Your Holy Spirit that, ever mindful of the end of all things and the day of Your just judgment, we may be stirred up to holiness of living here and dwell with You forever hereafter.” This is a prayer that God would keep us in remembrance of the judgment He has made in Christ upon us – not guilty – and increase in us true faith by His Holy Spirit that we may not only serve our brothers in merely a perfunctory manner, but in true holiness and love that we may be received into His Kingdom when our Lord returns as King. The Lord has heard your prayer, and He answers you now, “Yes, I will,” serving you with His Word, His Washing, His Absolution, and His Meal, that you may be found a sheep, living sheepily and holy on the day of His return. Until then, Lord bless us and keep us.
In the + Name of Jesus. Amen.