Sermon - 23rd November 2014
Christ the King
Scripture - Matthew 25:31-46
Revd Andy Braunston
[An audio version of this sermon, in mp3 format, is available via the link on our Spirituality > Audio and Video page.]
Telling People Apart…
It can be hard to tell things apart these days. Some years ago Unilever used this to market a new product called “I Can’t Believe It’s Not Butter” where, evidently people can’t tell it apart from butter – it’s a margarine flavoured with buttermilk.
In contemporary UK politics there is a feeling that many have that it’s impossible to tell the main parties apart from each other. You’d expect this to be a response to the Liberal and Conservative parties as they are in government together but many people say the same about Labour. Policy geeks or people who are dedicated supporters of a particular party could probably outline the policy differences between the main three Westminster parties but, I suspect, most people in our society can’t.
This, I suspect is part of the reason why both UKIP and the Greens in England, and the SNP in Scotland, are doing well in the polls because they play to the public mood of “a plague on all your houses” directed at more mainstream politicians and because, they seem to be offering something rather different. Only time will tell if they maintain their popularity and if they can be differentiated from others if any of them make it into government.
Look at this picture.
What can you see? You will all see a flock of animals but it’s not always easy to tell the sheep and the goats apart from each other. Maybe this is part of what Jesus is getting at in today’s Gospel reading that marks our celebration of Christ the King.
Sheep and Goats
As you can see from the picture sheep and goats are rather similar. We’re used to thinking of sheep as having lots of wool but goats can too- Cashmere Goats and Angora Goats produce wool which is used in luxurious clothes. Both animals are a similar size, both eat grass, both have been tended by humans for their meat, wool and milk since the dawn of the ages. They are different animals but they can reproduce – but the offspring of the sheep/goat are either one or the other not a new breed. So the two animals are similar, used in similar ways by humans and are used to make a point in the story.
When We Read This Story we may feel…
When we hear this story we may feel a number of things. We may be worried that we’re a goat – that we will have ignored Jesus in the people in need around us and so be judged and found wanting.
We may read the story and feel rather pleased as we’re clearly sheep. After all the Bible says we’re sheep and we do our bit to help others and realise that when we help others we help Jesus.
Or we may be a bit worried as we realise that it’s not always easy to help others, that’s not always easy to see Jesus in the face of the poor and destitute, that it’s not always easy to go against the norms of our culture and to live in the radical way that the Gospel calls us to.
So this vision of the judgement at the End can evoke mixed feelings in us; it can irritate or worry us, soothe us or sadden us, liberate or change us.
Our response to the parable may be rather like our two friends in this clip.
The Coming King
We will be judged on these things. Jesus’ sermon on the end makes clear that it’s not what we believe but how we behave which matters in the end; it’s not orthodoxy but orthopraxis. This isn’t to say that beliefs don’t matter but that beliefs may not matter as much as we’re used to thinking. Many of us have been in churches where right believe – orthodoxy- was emphasised more than right behaviour. Yet, at the same time we may have been dealt with very harshly by people who have impeccable theology because their theology gets in way of behaving with any sense of normal human dignity and respect.
There is a scene in one of the Borat films where Borat goes to church. He sleeps on the church steps and people are ignoring him on their way into church and only express an interest when he goes into the church and shows interest – beforehand they ignored him. I think it’s attitudes like that which Jesus is highlighting in this text today.
In the little clip we saw earlier the Goat kept asking “what has that got to do with me” Maybe that’s how we tell if we’re sheep or goats – the questions we ask and the actions we take. If we see human suffering and ask “what has that got to do with me?” we may find ourselves in the role of goats at the Last Judgement. If we turn our backs to the need in our world and see Christianity as merely a spiritual exercise focused on the next world rather than this we may find ourselves asking the Lord when did we see him hungry, naked, alone and imprisoned.