This is a talk given at the BCP Communion on Sunday 26th November 2017 and at the Taize service on the same day. You can listen to the recording here and the transcript follows
Matthew 25:31-46 The Sheep and the Goats
It’s the end of the world: Jesus is describing what will happen:
All the nations of the world, all those who have ever lived will be gathered before Him.
Included in that vast mass of humanity will be you and me and everyone we have ever known.
And Jesus will separate the sheep from the goats. The sheep go to his right hand; the goats will go to his left. The sheep will go to the kingdom prepared for them from the beginning of time and the goats will go to eternal punishment.
Gentle Jesus meek and mild speaking of the only two ways open to us.
If death were the end, of course, it would not be a problem but Jesus is saying that death is not the end and so it matters whether Jesus sees us as sheep or as goats. On that decision hinges our future for ever…..
So how does Jesus distinguish between sheep and goats; how do we know if we are one or the other?
Jesus says: it is all about our relationship with him and, of course, we start that relationship in our repentance for our sinfulness and asking him to come into our lives. This is basic – a starting point. But through repentance for our sinfulness and asking him to come into our lives we are reborn our hearts change and we find that we want to do what Jesus commands.
This is a litmus test, if you like, of being a Christian: do we want to do what Jesus commands or couldn’t we care less
And what he commands us to do, is:
to love God and
to love neighbour
and he commissions us to make disciples
Today’s passage tells us what it means to love God and one way to love God is to see Jesus in the needy and to act accordingly: to see Jesus in the needy. We love God by finding Jesus in the needy.This is partly about putting our hands in our pockets when the hungry, the thirsty, the lonely, the naked, the sick, or the prisoner come on our television screens but the prophesy Jesus shares with us tends to suggest something more immediate people that we have personally encountered and much more difficult is dealing with people whom we know those with whom we could have a face to face relationship.
You see the difficulty is that we can easily see the needy as a nuisance they are not convenient; they are not necessarily loveable and they use up our most precious possession in the Valley, they take up TIME.
This was brought home to me yesterday after Little Rainbows Amanda and I were in a meeting here in St John’s. We had lots to talk about. In the middle of it all an old man came in to rest from his walk, his companions had gone on further. Amanda and I were having a meeting, but he….well he wanted to chat; ‘I go sometimes to the church in Hayling Island’ he said and then proceeded to tell us all about it and then about his upbringing….We listened and, I hope, we were hospitable it was frustrating but he was lonely.
The needy need us at inconvenient times when it doesn’t suit us when we have more important things to do with our time.
When we think of ‘loving our neighbours’, we can easily think of those lovely neighbours next door, but one; those with the perfect children, those who we admire, we don’t mind loving them, those who we have supper with, who lend us their hedge trimmers. Its easy to love them, they are like us or we would like to be like them. They are not annoying, we like them, we might even admire them.
But then there is the needy person next door or a few doors away: the broken man or woman: broken by bereavement; broken by divorce; broken by addiction; broken by loneliness…the grumpy, the difficult, the angry, the weepy, the boring, the smelly, the sick, the old or the poor.
Jesus is asking us to see Him in that needy person next door.
You see it is only when we do something not because we want to, or we feel comfortable doing so or because we enjoy doing it but simply because Jesus asks us to do it that we are actually doing it for him and not for ourselves….
When we do something for that needy person we are doing it for Him….and then he can see that we are sheep and not goats…
A Poem (published in the Merow Pages – the local magazine of Merow village)
What go to my neighbour? You must be joking
that woman’s a menace – an absolute bore
And he’s not much better. You’d need Job’s patience
if you had the neighbours I’m stuck with – next door.
And the people behind me are really the limit
Their taste is appalling – their speech I deplore
I know they are lonely – I think they have troubles
But you can’t get involved, when you are living next door
And I do think of others – I pray for the lonely
I pray for the sick and the sad and the poor,
I’ll always come out of the missionary meeting
But I simply can’t stand those people next door.
And suppose – just suppose – that they did get converted
and wanted to join us for worship – and more
Just think of the awkwardness and of the problems
And what they would expect of us – living next door
And perhaps when the roll call is finished up yonder
and the harvest is gathered, on Heaven’s bright shore
When the Master has gathered the hosts of the ransomed
Perhaps he will turn round and address me once more
And perhaps he will say “yes they’re here in their millions
From cities and jungles and from earth’s farthest shore
the heathen have come and the outcast and children
but where are the people that I gave you next door