Do We Bless?
I think most of you know that I am sort of an exercise fanatic.
I work out every day.
Why do I do that?
Because I want to stay healthy and … well … look fit.
So, it was with some surprise a couple years ago that I went to my doctor for a routine physical and I got some unwelcome news.
The doctor looked at my pre-visit lab results, took my temperature, weighed me, listened to my heart, listened to my lungs, thumped my back a few times, looked in my eyes, my ears and had me open my mouth and say aaahh.
Good, good, good , good …
The last part of the exam was an EKG.
The test that looks at how your heart is working.
The nurse attached me to the machine, hit the start button, waited a few minutes, then took the printout to the doctor.
The doctor almost immediately came into the room and asked me what I thought to be a strange question.
“How are you feeling right now?”
He emphasized the words “right now”.
“Fine,” was my response.
“Yesterday?”, the doctor continued.
“Any chest pain?
Shortness of breath?”
I knew where this was going.
“What’s up, doc?”
Yeah, I really said that.
He finally asked, “Have you ever had a heart attack?”
“Um, no, not to my knowledge,” I said.
His response was simply this:
“Your EKG suggests otherwise.”
I was referred to a cardiologist, like right then.
Cardiac enzymes were tested.
But still, abnormal EKG.
Then to a stress test.
No problem, but still that abnormal EKG.
Finally, to the MRI for one of the most unpleasant experiences I have ever had.
A chemical induced stress test.
Everything was fine … except the EKG which was still abnormal.
So, despite my perceived and apparent fitness, I was told I needed to change my lifestyle a bit.
I had to reduce my cholesterol and to take some medication to make sure it stays low.
I also needed to get more sleep and drink more water.
I was also told to find time to just relax to reduce my stress.
There was something about my heart that was not right.
That is what an abnormal EKG will do.
You think you are at the pinnacle of health, but in reality, maybe not.
That is why we need to get to the doctor for check -ups and then do what the doctor tells us to do.
And this is kind of what our scripture reading is about.
You might know that it is my personal favorite passage in the New Testament.
Matthew 25: 31-46
31 ‘When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 32All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 34Then the king will say to those at his right hand, “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” 37Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” 40And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” 41Then he will say to those at his left hand, “You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; 42for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.” 44Then they also will answer, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?” 45Then he will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” 46And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.’
So, here are some things we need to know about this passage.
Jesus teaches this lesson at the end of a series of lessons and parables describing the end times.
In our text today, Jesus describes the final judgment.
It is an agricultural illustration of what awaits us when Jesus comes in glory, which, by the way, is at some unknown future time.
Maybe generations from now.
Now there are many folks who look at this passage and wring their hands.
It sounds so dualistic.
People are either sheep or goat.
Good or bad.
Saved or damned.
So, here is Jesus in the Temple preaching to whoever is near.
And at the end, he leads the listeners in that well known VBS song, “I want to be a sheep”.
Don’t wanna be a goat…nope
Don’t wanna be a goat…nope
Haven’t got any hope…nope
Don’t wanna be a goat…nope
OK, but how can we be sure we are not?
Maybe have a Jesus check-up.
One way to understand this passage is that Jesus is kind of doing a spiritual exam to see if we are healthy disciples.
Doctor Jesus has some questions.
“Have you been feeding the hungry?”
“Have you been giving water to the thirsty?”
“Have you been welcoming the stranger?”
“Have you been clothing the naked?”
“Have you been caring for the sick?”
“Have you been visiting the imprisoned?”
“Have you been standing up to those who don’t think we need to do these things?”
“Great, you are a healthy disciple.”
“You are good to go, even if the end comes tomorrow.”
“But if it doesn’t, see you next year for another check-up.”
“But if you haven’t been doing these things, how are you feeling right now?”
“Your sheep/goat test doesn’t look so good.”
“There is something about your discipleship that is not right.”
“You might want to change your lifestyle.”
“And do it soon because you don’t know when the end will come.”
“But wait a minute”, you say to Doctor Jesus, “I thought all I needed to do to be a healthy disciple was believe in you!”
“Ah!” Jesus says, “but you really don’t seem to believe in me when you don’t follow my instructions.”
“And if you don’t follow my instructions, there is not much I can do to make you a healthy disciple.”
“That’s up to you!”
Time to get to work on that.
Maybe put that list of Doctor Jesus’ instructions on the front of the refrigerator.
This is a description of what disciples do.
Last week we talked about what disciples are.
A disciple is poor in spirit.
A disciple is a mourner.
A disciple is meek.
A disciple is hungry and thirsty for righteousness.
A disciple is merciful.
A disciple is pure in heart.
A disciple is faithful despite persecution and hatred for being a disciple.
And because disciples are these things, they are blessed.
This week we find out what disciples do.
Disciples bless others.
Jesus gives us that list, too.
Feed the hungry.
Give water to the thirsty.
Welcome the stranger.
Clothe the naked.
Care for the sick.
Visit the imprisoned.
You know, love your neighbor.
This list is how we love our neighbor.
This list is how we love Jesus.
This list is the lifestyle of healthy disciples.
But let’s face it.
We don’t always live that way.
We are sometimes sheep and sometimes goat.
We go through our daily lives and are faced with folks on this list.
What do we do?
It kind of depends on the day, right?
Maybe it depends on the moment, right?
Maybe it depends on the mood.
It feels like we have the devil on one shoulder and an angel on the other, each whispering in our ears.
And we struggle because the answer is not always obvious or easy.
A couple years ago I watched an episode of “This is Us”.
In one scene, an overweight woman opens her refrigerator.
Inside there are a bunch of unhealthy desserts.
On each one there is a post-it note that tells her why she should not eat it.
So why did she buy them?
Because she is not perfect.
Sometimes she is a healthy sheep, sometimes an unhealthy goat.
What Jesus is teaching in this lesson is that we need to pay attention to what makes us healthy, and then do the best we can to do it.
It takes a bit of discernment, too.
A bit of humility.
If you think that you are always a healthy sheep, then you might not go to the doctor.
Then you are surprised when you get sick.
And worse, regretful, because you could have done something about it if you had only had a check-up periodically.
But even then, it is not too late, right?
Do what the doctor says, and you might get better.
Do what Doctor Jesus says, and you will get better.
Then there is the opposite way folks think about this passage.
They just assume they are goats because they don’t always care for the needy.
These people remind me of some of my tennis friends.
We call ourselves the “Self-Loathing Club”.
Every time we hit a bad shot, we lose a point of a game, we assume it’s our fault.
We tell ourselves, and those around us, that we are bad tennis players.
But we aren’t really bad tennis players, we are just not perfect tennis players.
If we practice and play more, maybe get a lesson from time to time, we will get better, but will never be perfect.
Self-loathers do much the same with Jesus’ list.
I did not give that roadside beggar a dollar.
I did not stop on the Turnpike to help the folks in that disabled car.
I did not give up my seat on the bus to that old fellow.
I did not contribute to the hospital bills for that kid in school who has no health insurance.
I did not feed, give water, clothe, welcome, care, or visit anyone today.
I AM A GOAT!
There is no hope for me.
Even occasional “goatness” can make us feel imperfect, incapable of healthy discipleship.
Why even try?
It’s like the often-overwhelming task of trying to change your lifestyle to improve your health that drives you to your favorite unhealthy vice.
But that isn’t what Doctor Jesus is prescribing here.
Jesus is telling us to do a self-check-up from time to time by asking ourselves these questions.
Then trying to do a bit better.
One day, one moment, at a time.
The more we try, the better we get.
Jesus knows we will never be perfect.
But he does want us to try.
And when we try, we are – SHEEP!
This passage, like last week’s Beatitudes, came to mind after our recent divisive, vitriolic election.
Many are profoundly unhappy with the result.
Many are ecstatic.
So, we ask what are we to do?
Let’s look at those questions we raised last week.
How do we remain disciples when a winner is declared, and it is not the one we want?
And how do we remain disciples when a winner is declared, and it is the one we want?
Interestingly enough, the answer is the same to both questions.
We live the way we promised to live on the day we declared our discipleship to Jesus.
We will strive to be healthy disciples.
We will love our neighbor.
We will care about our neighbor.
And we will care for our neighbor.
And we will check in with Jesus often to make sure we are blessing others, the way Jesus blessed us.
That makes us healthy disciples.
You know … sheep.