Apr 16, 2007

Sermon Title: “My sheep hear my voice,“”

Steven Broers
M.Div. Student, Luther Seminary
Fourth Place, April 2007 Round

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at his left.“ Here is God, portrayed as Donald Trump, separating his hopeful employees into two groups and getting ready his firing finger. The problem is we don’t know when the final episode will be playing. When will we know who is fired from the kingdom of God and who is not?

Or does this text remind you of another T.V. show? American Idol? American Idol has three judges that give their opinions from week to week, but, really, the viewers who are text messaging and making the phone calls actually make the choices. And we like it that way; in fact, we love it! We don’t really care who actually wins, we just like to make the comparisons. Sinners like to sit in the judgment seat. We watch, compare and decide. So when Jesus starts talking about separating the sheep from the goats you can bet on one thing . . . Everyone has got their own opinion about who’s gonna make it and who’s not.

Who are the sheep and who are the goats? Is that the question on your mind? Well, that is not the question brought out in this text. The primary issue is not who is a sheep or what is a sheep but when do you find out? When will this event take place? When? That’s the big question, and it is even more important to find out that answer than to find out whether you are a sheep or a goat.

But, doesn’t it matter whether you are a sheep or a goat? Well, yes, it matters a great deal. However, I do not believe any of you are truly worried about this matter at the present moment. Why not? Because you figure you’ve still got time. Time to repent. Time to make a change. Time to start doing the things a sheep does and give up the goatly life.

No doubt you’ve already made a list of the things you could’ve done and should’ve done to those who were hungry and thirsty, sick and in prison. You probably have another list of what you could do and should do from now on. Whether or not you ever find an opportunity to exchange your guilt into something worthwhile, perhaps God will be happy enough that you at least feel bad and want to change. And, of course, when Jesus Christ returns, perhaps you will have made enough changes in your life to make the cut.

Sometimes we believe our lives are like a season of American Idol or like the goal of life is to win a job with Donald Trump. We just want to survive to the next week so we can keep playing the game. As long as we are not the worst at any particular time we’ll still make the cut. We’ve always got a chance to improve. There is always next week. As long as we don’t really mess up, we’ll be fine. There is always that word “When” to fall back on. When is not now. “When” is sometime in the future. A future that is bound to wait for us as long as it takes so we can learn how to be sheep.

Once we have suspended time with the word, “When”, we can put our energy into what we are really interested in: Who? Who are the sheep and who are the goats? We start describing what a sheep and a goat look like. Based on today’s reading, the sheep have clothed the naked, the goats have not. The sheep have fed the hungry, the goats have not. The sheep has visited the sick, the goats have not. But when you hear that God is separating the sheep from the goats, do you really care about the naked, the hungry or the sick? No. You want to do whatever it takes to make the cut. You just want to be God’s choice, or better yet, you want to force his hand so that he’ll have no other decision than to choose you.

So maybe you’ve decided to make a change in your life. Maybe you’ve decided to start acting the way a sheep acts. Perhaps you will begin donating more food and money to the food shelter and feed the hungry. Perhaps you will stand up on behalf of a sexually abused relative and clothe the naked. Perhaps you will volunteer at an AIDS clinic and care for the sick. Perhaps you will swallow your fears and visit those in prison. Amen. Those are all very noble acts of compassion for your fellow neighbor, but is it enough? Enough to make you a sheep?

What about when you looked past someone holding a sign asking for food? Will God look past that? What about the racism we are a part of in America, where people of color are abused and oppressed? Will God speak out against our silence? What about the pesticides used on our farms that poison the water table for those around us? Will God forget those who we have harmed? Make your own list. I’ll make mine as well. As much good as we can do, we have done much worse before and we won’t be stopping until we reach our graves. Like it or not, we act like goats.

The question is not “What is a sheep?” but, “How is a sheep created or made?” Have you made your list? A list of the things you are going to do? Do you think that you can make yourself a sheep by doing those things? If you bark like a dog and eat kibbles and bits, will you soon grow a tail and paws? If you are a goat, and you start acting like a sheep, will you become a sheep? Wooly coat and all? Do you think that this will really work? If not, then you’ll have to trust in another power. A power that has the ability and the desire to create a sheep where there was no sheep before.

In the book of Ezekiel, the Lord God, says, “I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord God. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak; but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with justice.” We want God to choose us because we have chosen to be the best sheep in town with the purest woolen coats and a life full of good works. Well, how’s this for a surprise: You who are fat and strong! You who appear to be the very best sheep of them all! Hear this: You will be destroyed.

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at his left.“ This text is not read to encourage you to be a sheep or to be a particular kind of sheep. You don’t need to go on a diet for God or increase your giving to the church. God wants none of that. God wants everything! It’s not about being a sheep or a goat. It’s not about what you are in yourself. Salvation is about what you are in relationship to God. What does God think of you? What are his intentions toward you? Are you blessed or are you cursed? Will he put you on the left or on the right? And when are you going to find out his answer?

I declare to you today that you are a goat. You are fat. You are strong. You will be destroyed. There are no more episodes or immunity idols. When you bring the best that you’ve got before God he sees all that you have is completely worthless. You cannot act like a sheep, because you are a goat! You have run out of time. There is no more room for improvement. God has made his choice. You are not the judge. You are judged lacking. You are judged sinful. In relationship to God, you are dead.

Hear these words of Paul in Romans chapter 7, “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. For I know that nothing good dwells within me, that is in my flesh. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do. Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” And for you, more importantly, who will rescue you from yourself? Who will rescue you from this body of death? What is to be done with the dead you?

God has chosen you in your death. Jesus Christ has come to separate the sheep from the goats and he has found that all his sheep are lost. He looks to his left and sees a pile of corpses, dead goats, strewn like dung across the fields of his beautiful green earth. No one has fed them. No one has given them anything to drink. His beloved sons and daughters lie naked and sick, imprisoned in their own sin. You have believed the biggest lie of all. You were blind and ignorant of the truth. You believed you were a sheep, fat and strong. In fact, you are a goat, sick and dying. A helpless goat before the eternal wrath of God.

What will God do with a dead goat like you? Make a sheep out of you. Give you a new life out of the nothing you are. When? Right now. At this very moment. Your sins are forgiven on account of Jesus Christ. Your death is killed by the good shepherd himself. There is no more time for improvement because Jesus Christ is all in all. You are under his care now. “My sheep hear my voice,“ your Savior declares, “I know them and they follow me, I give them eternal life and no one will snatch them out of my hand.” Your time is up and now there is only eternal life for you.

“Make a joyful noise to the Lord, all the earth. Worship the Lord with gladness; come into his presence with singing. Know that the Lord is God. It is he that made us, and we are his; we are his people and the sheep of his pasture. Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise. Give thanks to him, bless his name. For the Lord is good; his steadfast love endures forever, and his faithfulness to all generations.” Amen.