Wednesday, November 19, 2008

November 23 Sheepish Behavior

Matthew 25:31-46

“Lord, when did we see you like that?” When you did it to the least of my brothers and sisters you did it also unto me. And the sheep are stunned. But we weren’t trying to be religious or anything. We didn’t know. Maybe that is why there are called sheep here. They didn’t know. Aw, I just had a little left over time so I helped make the Trinity meal. Yeah, I called on some folks who were sick, but the truth is, I didn’t have the slightest idea what to say. I didn’t know I helped feed hungry people, I just dropped a few bucks into the offering plate.

God says, “Surprise. That’s the way that it works. In the end you are judged by whether or not your faith drives you to do some good for the least and the lost.”

The goats on the other hand, are equally surprised and monumentally disappointed. These are the people who thought they were going to heaven, but find out at the last minute that they are going to be on the outside looking in. They are rejected because they didn’t care for the least of Christ’s brothers and sisters. They did not respond to human suffering, so God’s judgment is harsh. And they don’t like it. “Lord when did we see you? We were waiting for you to come back? I even put a bumper sticker on my car, “In case of Rapture, this car will be unoccupied.” I read the Left Behind books, and I believed the right things, I kept my nose clean and didn’t do many really bad things.”

But the Lord says, “You don’t you get it. I said I’d return and you used that as a reason to feel smug and superior to others with that arrogant bumper sticker. Hoping to see the cars and planes crash when their drivers and pilots were snatched into heaven at the rapture, that’s just sick. Well, do I have news for you. I came back already and you missed it.”

But the goats had not been able to hear what the Lord told the sheep. “When did you come back? We didn’t see you!”

“Whenever you passed by human need, you passed ME by.”

Can’t you just hear their response? No fair. We were looking in the clouds. You never said you would be so sneaky about it. Give us a do-over!

Jesus tells them being part of this is much more than what you believe in your head. It’s what you do with your life. It is more than trying not to repeatedly break the Big Ten Commandments. It is about how you align yourself in the world. Do you align yourself with the lost and suffering, does your faith make you roll up your sleeves and get busy, or do you align yourself with those who would just make up excuses why you shouldn’t help people. Because that is easy to do.

Sometimes we can look at folks and say, they got themselves into their problems through their own bad choices. My helping just helps people abuse the system, and doesn’t teach them personal responsibility. And sometimes, there is some truth to that, but it isn’t true for everybody who is hurting and it doesn’t give us a pass on trying to reach out and do some good. Jesus seems to be saying in this passage that if you worship God and somehow are indifferent to the plight of those around you, then you are not worshiping the Bible’s God, you are worshiping a false idol, a cheap knock-off that isn’t going to do you any good at the final judgment.

It’s hard. And we don’t always get it right. This passage has been at the heart of my faith from the day I first heard it and I’ve been trying to get it right ever since. When I went to seminary from LeMars, IA, I had my first encounters with homeless people. A guy on the street asked me for money for food and I remembered that my grandfather told me not to give out money, but if they are really hungry to buy them a meal. That way you know they won’t be buying booze with the money. Made sense, don’t give them money for beer, cause that’s what I was going to by for myself with the money.

So, I take this guy to a convenience store and he asks if he can get a hot dog, an orange juice and some chips. As we approached the counter to pay for it, I was feeling like a sheep. I could just hear the words of the Lord ringing in my ears, “Well done, good sheep, enter into the joy of the good shepherd.” But the words that I really heard came from the clerk who started yelling at me for helping. “This bum gets a sucker in here every day. You just spent more money on giving him a handout than I make in two hours working this job. Idiot.”

I walked sheepishly out of the building. And I was discovering that it is hard to do the right thing. But this passage remains. It is tough, and we won’t always get it right, but we have to keep responding, we have to keep trying and not get discouraged.

With the downturn in the economy, word is out on the streets that this church is the place of last resort that people can come to to get some help. There are a lot of needy people out there, with all kinds of needs, not just financial. And sometimes it just wears me down. Some people have legitimate needs, others are running scams, and I can’t always tell the difference. And I’m trying to get stuff done, I trying to do my job and someone comes in and interrupts everything. I used to find myself getting a bit angry, but then I found a way to calm myself down. When I see their faces and I feel my blood pressure rising, I just say to my self, “Jesus Christ, is it you again?”

I already know the answer.

David J. Clark

Ankeny Christian Church

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