Monday, November 21, 2011

The Sheep and Goat Test

For a while now I have been skeptical of the self help craze so I have decided to give up on all self betterment programs.
I guess I am sick of thinking that the better me is right around the corner.
That if I read some new book, or go to some seminar I will discover some secret to finding life’s happiness.
The fact is that this is it.
We are who we are.
We can’t make ourselves better.
Now you might think that this is some flag of surrender on my part.
That I have given up on life.
To the contrary I have decided not to dictate the terms of my life.
Instead, I have decided that we live each day in the grace of God.
As Americans we spend about 8 billion dollars a year on self help material from books, to seminars, to programs, to DVDs.
And despite all this we don’t feel any better about ourselves.
So today I am giving everyone here permission to stop trying to improve yourselves.

Today’s Gospel is often preached and heard as “We all need to work harder at being better Christians.”
So go out there and feed the poor, clothe the naked, welcome the stranger, visit the sick and those imprisoned.
And then just like reading a self help book we leave worship and not much changes in our lives.
I think it is a miss use of the Bible to see it as a Christian self help guide.
The Bible is about the essential question of life.
Who are we?
Who is God?

What is worse is that people who get the most media attention are really people disguising Christianity as self help.
Rick Warren became a millionaire by selling a book called “The Purpose Driven Life.”
Which is really just a book about how finding our purpose in life we can find the better us.
Rick Warren has admitted that he made the mistake of overlooking 250,000 other verses in the Bible that deal with how our lives should be about serving others, and not just naval gazing.
Joel Olsteen who preaches weekly in a football stadium and has a television show had a New York Times Best seller with the book, “You Best Life Now: 7 Steps to Living to Your Full Potential.”
The book says nothing about helping the stranger, the poor, the sick, or imprisoned.
I don’t remember Jesus giving us 7 steps to living our full potential.
It simply does not pass the sheep and goat test.

Of course it is not just pastors; Rick Perry and Michelle Bachmann who are running for the Republican nomination to be President of the United States belong to an organization called New Apostolic Reformation.
The basic idea of the New Apostolic Reformation is that Christian leaders (Apostles) need to take over the world in preparation for the end times.
Now I have said many times I have no interest in being a politician, but if politicians insist on being theologians than I have to speak up.
It is not a Christian’s job to take over the world.
The Bible is very clear that God is in charge of the world, and gives it to us to be good stewards.
That is what Jesus is upholding in today’s Gospel.
What Jesus tells us is this morning is that if he is Lord of our life than we as good stewards will care for the poor, imprisoned, naked, stranger, and sick.
I don’t know if we can claim to follow Jesus if we can clap when someone is electrocuted, or deported, or kept out of the health care system.
I don’t care what political party Michelle Bachmann or Rick Perry belong to the simple fact is that they do not pass the sheep and goat test Jesus gives this morning.
My guess is that they are molding a theology to justify their politics.
I don’t have a problem with someone who says they believe in the death penalty, or the idea that we live in a world where every person is for themselves, or the idea that in a capitalist system some people are left behind, just don’t call it Christianity.
But what I won’t say is the Rick Perry and Michelle Bachmann need to work harder, or be better.
The problem is that they just don’t know Jesus that well.

In our text today neither the goats nor the sheep know who they are.
“When Lord? When did we see you hungry, naked, thirsty, sick, or imprisoned?”
Being a sheep and a goat is something that we don’t do because we have thought about all the options and decided to do this thing over that thing.
It is something that comes naturally from who we are, and what we are about.
Those who know Jesus well will know that he does not care about conquering the world, or self help programs.
Jesus cares about the lost, the broken-hearted, the poor, the sinner, and sick.
People who know Jesus well know that he had no use for taking over the world, or making sure that you had your best life now.
Jesus died because he knew that we did not have it all together.
Instead he died so that we might be saved from ourselves.
Jesus gave his life even though he could have taken over the world.
So if you are really a Christian and really know Jesus well then you cannot believe that executing people is a good thing (even if as a government official you might have to do it).
You cannot possibly believe that some people will fall behind and that is OK.
You cannot possibly believe that a health care system that allows about 50 million people to be without health care is a good one.
You cannot possibly clap when you hear that people have died, been left out, or been deported.

For me it brings up two very difficult things.
On the one hand it brings up the question of what it means that I am Christian.
And what does it mean that Rick Warren, Joel Olsteen, Rick Perry and Michelle Bachmann claim to be a Christian too.

I guess the only difference is that we can claim not to be perfect.
I don’t know what my best life is, and I don’t want 7 steps to get there, I don’t care what my purpose is, I don’t want to take over the world for Jesus.
I simply want to know Christ and him crucified.
I want to know that his grace is sufficient for this day.

I believe that being part of this Christian community helps me to do things that I maybe could not do on my own.
You may not have the ability and time to do all the things that Jesus names this morning.
But here you belong to this community that does.
And the things that you cannot do someone in this community are doing on your behalf.
Consider that about 6 people for the last year have been working with a refugee family here in Concord.
They have been doing this not because they thought it would get them in good with Jesus on the last day.
In the words of the one of the participants of that group, “I want to show them love. So they will know God’s love.”
That is why they do it.
Because they feel it is where Jesus would be.
Recently our congregation helped to give a baby shower for this family as the welcomed there newest member.
At the shower I felt that they appreciated those gifts.
In fact, they invited us on the following Monday to their family celebration.
I went and I have never felt more welcomed in a place.
In that time I felt Jesus among us and with us.
This is who we are.
We are welcoming to the stranger among us in them we see Christ.

When I was at my endorsement interview, which is the final step in our churches discernment process before ordination.
I was asked what I liked about doing ministry with the poor.
All I could say was, “I don’t know. I have always just felt that is where God called me.”
It was not that I set out in my life to try and be more Christ like.
It is that through getting to know Jesus I naturally did the things that are Jesus like.
We are all really flawed human beings.
The best thing we got going for us is that we know Jesus Christ.

Having Jesus as our Lord and savior is the best self help we can have.
It does not tell us to change or be different then we are it just asks us to acknowledge who we are.
This is not about making a choice or trying harder it is about living in the grace and mercy of God, and seeing everyone else living in that same space.
We don’t know if we will pass the sheep and goat test either, we can only get to know Jesus better and believe that through him we too will be saved.

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