29.10.11

I want to be surprised - looking in the mirror




I was in New York in May of this year when all the end-time predictions were occurring. I suppose they are always occurring but I was approached by people on the street and their flyers announcing Harold Camping's predictions that I only had 13 days left to go before the world would end and God's judgement would come down upon us– Oh well, I thought, at least I will be back home by then, somehow because I was unconvinced I jumped quickly to thinking that it might only happen in New York. I would be safe.

Do not think by this that I am about to help you to work out what judgement will look like or when it will occur – there are a huge number of opinions on that and many different pictures painted throughout the bible. Wjat I can offer you is that as Christians, we do profess that it will occur – in our creed we say that He will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead.

I can also offer you my realisation that in thinking I am safe, I am beginning my thinking on this topic in just about the unhealthiest way possible and perhaps you are doing the same.

I can also explore with you Jesus' words about the sheep and the goats in Matthew 25:31-46 in the hope that God helps us all to leave this place this morning more the sheep who follow the shepherd than the goats who roam wild.

***

In this passage, Matthew paints a picture of Jesus the shepherd-King, enthroned on high but, like a humble keeper of sheep, busy separating his sheep from his goats, the goats with their thinner frames and less suitable coats would have needed to have been taken out of the fields at night as it grew cold.

...So we have this separation that has become very alive in the popular imagination – the sheep and the goats – the sheep on Christ's right and the goats on his left –
the righteous and the cursed
the found and the lost
the saved and the condemned
the heaven-bound and the hell-bound.

What are we to do with this?

Matthew has already given us other parables of separation, most notably the wheat separated from the weeds at harvest time (chp 13).

What I think is important about these other parables is that they give us every reason to leave judgement to Jesus alone. We are not to attempt to pull up the weeds from the wheat because in pulling up the weeds, we would pull out and kill off the wheat too – we fail so often to be good judges of character, don't we? It is only God who can look on the heart. Judgement belongs to Christ alone and so it is not up to us to consider ourselves yet quite the sheep Jesus hopes us to be. Neither do we get to decide who the goats are among us either.

Do you ever people watch? Have you ever sat in a restaurant or a park and just watched people and wondered about them- what do you see?

There is a verse in Matthew – about Jesus looking at the crowd and having compassion on them. Matthew tells us that Jesus saw a harassed and helpless people. He saw sheep without a shepherd. Because when Jesus people-watches he really sees people. We see people eating and shopping, going about their buisness and getting off to work but he sees people in all their struggles and heartaches and lost-ness. Jesus sees sheep without a shepherd and he prays that God will send workers out into the crowd. In Matthew's gospel therefore it is interesting we are both the sheep who are lost and then the sheep who are found but the marker of our being found is not an over-confidence that we are safe, it is not in our considering ourselves sheep surrounded by goats, our feeling safe over here because we are not over- there – safe in England rather than New York even, as was the case for me. Our mark, even our branding, if you like, is that our lives are so characterised by love, that we resemble in our hearts the shepherd who cares for us.

If we understand this passage correctly we are surprised to learn that we are sheep. I like to think that it is as if we just for a moment catch a sight of our fleeces in a mirror and see that we have been sealed, marked, branded by Christ, we have the stamp of his Holy Spirit upon our flesh and we are 'wow-ed' at the sight of ourselves.

We have something very much in common with the goats because like them we are surprised by Christ's verdict. You see what both the sheep and the goats are both surprised to learn is that 'what you did or did not do to one of the least, you did to the Son of Man (25:40, 45).
Judgement is a surprise.
Inheriting the kingdom of God is similarly as much of a surprise.

Both sides - sheep and goats - were unaware that when they were choosing to help or ignore other people, they were choosing to help or ignore Jesus himself.

Imagine how we will feel on that day we are judged – how passionately we want to belong to that flock of sheep and be shown re-runs of our lives where we chose
to help and serve
and not ignore and walk past.

Where God shows mercy to us all, this God of love in whom we trust, is in in his offering to both the sheep and the goats this passage for our guidance. (It would seem that both sheep and goats know Jesus, they both call him Lord). We can all read and learn from this picture that those of us with goat-like tendencies or perhaps even those of us who have not yet turned around to see the branding of the Holy Spirit on our fleeces might wake up before it is too late and do something about it!

We are presented with this vision of our future destiny so that we might begin to pray that the Holy Spirit would so inhabit our lives in greater and greater measure that we can begin more fully to demonstrate transformed lives that go on to transform the lives of others because we live out of the strength that we have been given by Christ our shepherd – out of his leading.

Our prayer this morning is that we might see ourselves already branded, sealed by the Holy Spirit, chosen in Christ and in realising that this is true begin to act accordingly. Peter's second letter reveals that 'God's divine power has given us everything we need for a godly life.' We just need to remember that the gift is already ours, pray for the release of that power into our lives and continue to ask for its release by earnestly desiring the Holy Spirit, praying for the Spirit's power continually as we face new situations and new people... as we are given opportunities to see not only ourselves as the treasured sheep of a shepherd-king but to see the very Lord of our lives in the people around us whom he asks us to serve.

Who are we to see goats when we are asked instead to see Christ in the very least and the lost?

So...
  • May we continually be surprised to find that we have served Christ when we have served one another.

  • May we meditate less on our own eternal safety and pray more for the eternal safety of others.

  • Might we learn from this passage that ours is an inheritance with which our fleeces are branded, we belong to the shepherd King but with coats that can grow wild and woolly we must demonstrate our identity through our actions and that begins with loving one another and leaving Judgement to the shepherd-king.   

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