“The Sheep and the Goats”
Text: Matthew 25: 31-46
Prayer: O Lord, we come to hear a word from you in this text. May it speak to us, surprise us, inspire us, and empower us to live as Christian disciples. Amen.
“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses, yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teaming shore.
Send these the homeless, tempest‑tost to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door.”
I read those words, as I stood in front of the Statue of Liberty a few years ago. I wondered if we Americans believe that any more? Do we really want the world’s huddled masses yearning to be free?
Our founder, John Wesley, had a unique way of weaving personal holiness and social concern into religious conviction. He not only helped people find the Lord, he helped people find food, jobs and health care. He carried a deep passion for the whole person. And he said to the people called Methodists, “Give none that asks relief either an ill word or ill look. Do not hurt them if you cannot help them. And expect no thanks from anyone.”
I. We Need New Eyes Through Which to See the Least of These.
As Jesus says so eloquently in this troubling parable of Matthew 25, “I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these, …you did for me.” Do we see Jesus in the faces of the poor, the prisoner, the sick, the stranger? I am struck by the realization that both of these groups were surprised. The sheep surprised to learn that as they did good things for the needy, they did it to Jesus. And the goats to learn, that when they did not do good things for the needy, overlooking them, they were overlooking Christ in their midst. What Jesus declares here:
A. As you serve the POOR, you serve Jesus
A couple of years ago, a worker with the homeless in a nearby city making a comment that you get rid of homeless people like you get rid of coyotes, “You cut off their food supply.” I spoke up in the middle of this guy’s spiel. I’m sorry but let me say it as it is. Nobody, and I mean nobody, will announce, without me challenging it, that kind of comparison of human beings to unwanted animals that need to be exterminated. In the words of Forrest Gump, “That’s all I have to say about that.” You would never have heard that from the lips of Jesus and neither should anyone else make that comparison.
B. As you serve the PRISONER, you serve Jesus.
In the children’s movie “Whistle Down the Wind,” Haley Mills and her friends stumble across a vagrant sleeping in the straw, while they are playing in a country barn. The frightened children shout, “Who are you?” The shocked vagrant replied, “Jesus Christ.” What the man meant as an expletive, the children took as a fact. They thought the man was Jesus Christ. So, they treated him with awe, respect and love.
They brought him food and blankets; they talked with him, and listened to his story. Their tenderness transformed this ex‑convict’s life and opened his eyes to the Lord. We need to see Jesus.
C. As you serve the SICK, you serve Jesus.
An elderly lady who died in a nursing home left this note behind, “What do you see nurses? What do you see? What are you thinking when you look at me? A crabbed old woman, not very wise, uncertain of habit, with far away eyes? Let me tell you who I am. I am a child of ten with sisters and brothers. I’m a bride of twenty loving my lover. I’m a mother of children who grew up too fast. I’m a grieving widow, living in the past. So open your eyes nurses, open and see. Not a crabbed old woman. Look closer, see me.”
D. As you serve the STRANGER, you serve Jesus.
A number of people joined this congregation back in October. One couldn’t be there this Sunday but will join another time. In a touching comment, she said this to me, “I visited Stanwood UMC, feeling sure I would just be a face in the crowd. But I was so warmly welcomed. And I saw how you welcomed and included someone else among you who has mental limitations as a valued human being who helps in many ways. And your sermon spoke about solving loneliness by finding a community of faith. So I just decided this is the church for me.” Open our eyes, Lord, we need to see Jesus.
II. By What Means, In What Way, Can We Serve the Least of These?
Wesley put it this way, “If you cannot relieve, do not grieve.”
Sometimes we console ourselves by noting that we never know all the good we do. Some things just go unnoticed. And likewise, we need to be aware of any possible harm we may cause, and thereby learn to avoid it.
If the first oath of office for a physician is to “Do no harm,” should not ministers, educators, teachers, homemakers and Christians in general be just as concerned?
Jesus was at the temple when the law‑enforcing Pharisees brought a woman to him, “caught in the very act of adultery.” As they call for her stoning, Jesus stoops and writes in the sand. Then, he straightens up and says, “You without sin, cast the first stone.” The first rule of helping is doing no harm.
Think about that the next time we are tempted to send an angry e‑mail, gossip about another person, or pass judgment without fully understanding the situation.
B. Second, DO GOOD.
John Wesley eloquently advised people to “Do all the good you can, by all the means you can, in all the ways you can, to all the people you can, as long as you ever can.
And one way we do good by “PRAYING.”
Prayer changes us more than it changes circumstances. It gets our hearts in tune. It makes our motives pure. It gives us courage to approach all things in Jesus’ name.
We do good by “HELPING.” In Wesley’s mind there was no excuse for pulling away from the poor, the sick, the imprisoned.
When J.C. March protested to Wesley that she was too much of a gentlewoman to visit the poor in their wretched homes, Wesley would have none of it. He wrote her back and said, “Take up your cross, woman! Remember the faith! Jesus went before you and will go with you! Put off the gentlewoman; you bear a higher character.”
We do good by “ADDRESSING SYSTEMIC CAUSES.” John Wesley not only visited the sick, he also wrote books on promoting health. He worked tirelessly for the end of slavery and advocated major prison reform.
We live in a country where poverty is increasing, where jails are overcrowded, and where 39 million Americans have no health insurance, homelessness is major issue and the opioid addiction is epidemic. Can Christians continue to ignore these concerns by blaming the government for inaction?
There is enough wisdom in this congregation alone, to bring radical reform to some of the most pressing social needs of our time. Dare we do something about it for the glory of God and the good of humanity?
C. Finally, we take action by “INTENTIONALLY FORGETTING.”
Those who helped and those who hurt had one common response to the situation in this parable of our Lord. “Lord, when?” “When did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?” Lord, when? I do not remember when.
The great preacher of a previous generation, Charles Spurgeon, along with his wife, raised chickens and sold the eggs the chickens had laid. The Spurgeons had strict rules about their egg enterprise. Everybody paid. Friends, even family paid. There were no free eggs at the Spurgeon house. Some people concluded the Spurgeons were greedy and selfish. But, the Spurgeons refused to change. Only after their deaths, did the whole story come to light.
All the profits from those eggs went to support two elderly widows. The Spurgeons were not about to let the left hand know what the right hand was doing. And, they were willing to endure the attacks from friends to keep that secret.
Goodness is not announced on neon lights. It is not an announcement in the paper, or a plaque on the wall in some church. Goodness is done for the glory of God and for the good of the people. That is reward enough, no matter what other people think!
Am I my brother’s keeper? The answer is no. That rings of manipulation and control. I am my brother’s brother, for Jesus is a brother to us all!
A man named John Jackson, who is an advocate for the poor in Orlando, Florida, tells of an event that happened one day outside a food distribution center where he was working.
Jackson describes the event:
“The line was long that day, but moving quickly. And in that line, at the very end of the line, stood a young girl who appeared to be about 12 years old. She waited patiently as those at the front of that very long line received a little rice, some canned goods, maybe a couple of pieces of fruit. Slowly but surely, she was getting closer to the front of the line, closer to the food.
From time to time she would glance across the street. She didn’t notice the growing concern on the faces of the people who were distributing the food. There wasn’t going to be enough. The food was rapidly running out. Their anxiety began to show, but still the girl didn’t notice.
Her attention seemed always to focus on three figures huddled together under a tree across the street. At last she stepped forward to get her food. But the only thing left was one lonely banana. The workers were almost ashamed to tell her that was all that was left. But she didn’t seem to mind. In fact she seemed genuinely happy to get that solitary banana.
Quietly she took the precious gift and ran across the street where three small children waited. Maybe they were her siblings, maybe not. Very deliberately the girl peeled the banana. Then she carefully divided the banana into three equal parts and placed the precious food in the eager hands of those three young ones. `One for you, and one for you, and one for you!’ Then, for her own meal, she licked the inside of that banana peel.” Jackson concludes the story, “And I will always believe that I saw the face of God that day.”
Every little act of kindness we’ve ever done — the visit to the shut‑in, the get‑well card to the ailing church member, the food taken to the home where a family member is ill or has died, the little everyday acts of care and compassion that often go unrecognized — that we have done in the name of Jesus counts.
Prayer: O Lord, help us to see you in the face of others. So often we can miss that opportunity to do something just out of shear goodness. Help us to be mindful of those in need around us. And give us a love to serve their needs. Amen.