Sermon: Fenced In?

Fenced In
Matthew 25: 31-46
23 November, 2014
Christ the King Sunday

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(Scene 1: Around the Fire)

The crickets were chirping their amen. The fire continued its crackle and the cedar wood incense continued its unabated rising to the Divine. Jesus had just finished talking about the risky proposition the disciples will be expected to take up when he is gone. Will they take the extraordinary blessing they have been given and use to the benefit of the Reign of God, or will they hoard it? Are they going to live out of they abundance or are they going to be fenced in by fear?

The crickets continue their amen as Jesus begins to tell them another story. They stare at him transfixed, entranced by the dancing flames of the evening fire.

He tells them the story of the coming of the Son of Humanity. About how when he comes he will gather all the nations together and begin separating the people like a shepherd separates the sheep form the goats. One side will be blessed and the other side cursed.

Jesus tells them about how the king will bless the sheep and tell them the Kingdom of Heaven is theirs. That the place prepared at the dawn of creation is now ready for them to inherit. He will tell them that they have the place because when he was hungry they fed him. They gave him water when he was thirsty. They welcomed him, the immigrant, the stranger in with out hesitation. Whey they saw him naked they gate him the cloak off their backs. When he was sick, they did not fear monger but rather looked after them. And when he was in prison, these blessed sheep came to visit.

But the people, the sheep, will ask the him, when did we do these things? We did not see you hungry, we did not see you thirsty, we did not know you were a stranger. When were you naked or sick or in prison? They had been completely unaware of any of this. They were just following the shepherd’s lead. Where he went, they followed.

And the Glorious One will tell them, “Friends, whenever you did these things to one of the least of my brothers or sisters – you did it to me. When you saw a need and met it. You did it to me. When you were confronted with injustice and you acted without regard to they system – you did it to me.”

Baffled, they sheep move into the fold of the Divine.

Around the flickering fire, the disciples lean in. Attentive the the words of the rabbi, they seem eager to hear of what happens next.

So, Jesus continues, he tells the disciples that the King will expel the goats from the pasture. Remove them from the fold of the Divine. He will send them to the place of utmost darkness and remove them from his presence.

“Why?” comes a voice from the other side of the fire.

The King, Jesu says, will tell them that they did none of the things the sheep had done. He will tell them, When I was hungry, you took away my food. When I was thirsty, you cut off my water. When I was an immigrant, you treated me as an outcast. When I was naked you stood and laughed. When I was sick you refused treatment. And when I was in prison you made it impossible for me to ever be free.

But the goats will look at the king dumbfounded. We never saw you there. So, how can you judge us?

And the king will say, “What you did not do to the least of these my brothers and sisters you did not do to me. You worried about yourselves more than you worried about the wellbeing of everyone. You stood in the middle of the field, I gave you, and grazed as there were hungry ones. You refused to share the fold with others. You took what I gave you and claimed it solely for yourselves. So, now, you are left alone. But the sheep are with me.

Unsettled disciples retreat to their mats for the evening. Jesus sits, knowing that his time is almost here.

Theses parables of judgement, of warning continue to flutter in the minds of the disciples as sleep weighs down their eyelids.

Jesus has told a parable that is the bookend of his entire ministry. He stands as a prophet of something new. He tells this parable, in the tradition of Ezekiel, that highlights the beauty that is the Kingdom of God. That God is with the least among us, sisters and brothers. Jesus tells a parable about how all are included within the fold of God. Sheep and Goats, and that it is the king who ultimately decides who is in and who is out. Judgement comes based on how one follows the shepherd.

Some are sheep and follow the shepherd. Doing what he does. Watching and understanding. They may not even know what they are doing. Or how their actions are making a difference in the lives they are touching. But they follow and emulate. But, also, within the fold of the king there are some who just graze and watch as the shepherd goes about his business. They are worried only about what is good for them. They grow fat on the ample blessings, but do not see where the shepherd is going.

Within the sheep fold, all who are gathered are loved and cared for, and yet there are some who do not see the graciousness of the shepherd and they hoard their resources.

And this hoarding breeds isolation. It spirals into a view that only what is good for oneself is all that matters. It begins to become blind to the needs and interdependence of all within the fold. This isolation allows one to think that if they are fed, then all are fed. That if their are well, all are well. If their thirst has been sated, then there are no thirsty. That they belong, and if anyone else comes into the fold, there will not be enough food. Thy are fenced into to a world that becomes self-centered and self-serving.

The disciples hear these word and don’t know what to think. What to do. They see themselves giving all the time, but they still want to keep Jesus for themselves. They know he is leaving them, but they don’t want him to go. `And yet, he tells them, his time is almost through, and it is their time. They have been fed in the fold of the Good Shepherd, it is up to them to be sheep or goats.

(Scene 2: The fence)

Friends, the time is coming when we will be held to account for how we live as followers of Jesus. We have to ask ourselves which are we? Do we follow the shepherd or do we stay where we are, content, well fed and complacent?

It is a hard question to answer. Often we see ourselves on both sides. We give and give generously, but we still want things to be like they were. We want the comfort we are content with. For those of us who have grown up in the church, we want the comfort we are familiar with. We want the pews full and the budgets surplus. We like it when our social lives have a center piece. We remember a time when we saw our friends, met our lovers, baptized our children – and those things bring us great comfort.

But over time we have seen our friends move away, our lovers die. We see that the influx of new people does not balance out the loss. We watch as our endowments are dwindling to balance budgets. We are fenced in by a sense of hopelessness. We want to hold on these things because we love our church. In this fold we have felt the love and compassion of a gracious shepherd. And we don’t want to loose that. So, we close our eyes and keep eating. Hoping that when we open our eyes, all will be well.

We feel fenced in because we are in a world that is rapidly spinning out of control and it is safe within the confines of the fold. We don’t want to be outside of the fold where the streets are painted with the blood of innocents. Where families are being torn apart by drugs and violence. We don’t want to be outside of the fence where people there are 25 year old grandmothers. We don’t want leave the safety of the fence where innocent aid workers loose their heads because they were faithful to their call. We want to remain safely in the protection of the shepherd as our political process is sold to the highest bidder – we watch as schools crumble and teachers burn out because it is a system that rewards abstract litmus tests rather than knowledge.

We don’t want to leave the safety of the pasture because outside of the fence posts lies a world that is burning. There are predators and it is dangerous. We are fenced in by our fear and we stand there, in the safety of the fold frozen by fear.

(Scene 3: A Fitful Night)

As the fire fades to glowing embers, the and the weary disciples try to sleep. The weight of their eyelids are counter-levered by the weight of Jesus’ words. Longing for sleep, this fitful night, their sheep fold is moving.

Words begin to bounce around their brains. Echoes of the past three years reverberate in their souls. Slowly the wear eyes open as the sun begins its early morning ascension. And as the new day begins to dawn, the light of Jesus’ words begin to flood their souls.

One whispers, “Blessed are the poor in Sprit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”

Another, “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”

Louder, “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.”

The chorus grows, “Blessed are those who thirst and hunger for justice, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful for they shall receive mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart. Blessed are the peacemakers. Blessed are those who are persecuted for justice. Blessed are you when you are insulted and persecuted.”

The words of Jesus’ sermon on mount cause the fence of the fear to fall. “Love your enemies. Pray for those who persecute you.” They see Jesus confronting those who would harm his sheep. They see him standing in front of them as their mission is challenged. They remember Jesus protecting them, selflessly, against those who would banish them because they failed to follow the law 100%. The remember the stormy sea standing still. They remember the meal of the multitudes.

And as they are fed by this, as their strength begins to grow they remember how they were sent out. How the shepherd send them away from the fold into the whole house of Israel with nothing but the message that “The Kingdom of God is near.” They remember they were fed by those grateful for a message of hope rather than the rule of law. They remember and their hearts are grateful.

They see how they were fed and they stepped away from the safety of the fence to feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, welcome the immigrant, clothe the naked, comfort the sick, and visit the oppressed. And they were grateful.

They see how when they relied on the safety of the pen they became self focused and survival centered, but when they looked toward the shepherd, they realized they were already safe, they did not need to worry. When they kept their eyes on the shepherd, they did these things much of the time not even knowing it. They did the work of the shepherd. And they were grateful.

(Scene 4: A mended fence)

Friends, we are grateful. We are grateful to a God who has sustained us for 93 years. We are grateful for a God who has been present in our times of trouble. In our days of dark and doubt. We are grateful because God is with us.

Something happens when we begin to see the world through lens of gratefulness. We begin to see how God has been leading us all along. We begin to hear the words of Jesus in a way that pulls us out of our selves and into the Beloved Community. A community where it doesn’t’ matter if you are hungry, because you will be fed. A community where it doesn’t matter if you are thirsty, there will be water. A community that doesn’t care if you are in this country with or without papers because you are a Child of God. A community where if your are naked we have have clothes to share. A community that visits the sick and stands with the oppressed. Something happens when we open ourselves up to being grateful.

We are not afraid to step into the blood painted streets because we know that it was the blood of the innocent who transformed the world.

We are not afraid to stand with the addicts as they struggle to shake of the shame of addiction. Because we know that Jesus stood in the tombs with the broken and bloody man.

We are not afraid to be with the 25 year old grandmother as she struggles to understand what is going on, because we know the shepherd sits with the weeping mother.

We are not afraid because we know that God is with us. And we are grateful.

We are grateful and we follow the shepherds lead. And we act as the shepherd acts. Unencumbered by the weight of doubt and fear. We do because that is what we are called to do. And we are grateful because God is faithful. God is steadfast. The Lord is our shepherd, and we shall never want. For God is with us!

But the goats? They look up and see the fence and the shepherd and the sheep have moved on.

When we look up, and see the shepherd, no matter where we are, we will be in the safety of the fold. Always besides the streams of still waters. There in the green pastures. Our cups running over. Our heads anointed. We will fear no evil. For we have been welcomed into the reign of the Good Shepherd. Into the Reign of Christ the King.

Thanks be to God

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