Imagine Henry, a Easter-Christmas nominal Christian, coming to your church this week and hearing Jesus’ story about how on Judgement Day, God will sort us all out, like a shepherd separating sheep from goats. Henry has never spent a day upon a farm. He wonders what is so bad about goats. He gets the bit about how people, who are only nice when they know that there’s something in it for them, deserve Hell. But, what’s this talk about all of humankind being brought before God (Jesus) and given only one chance to make it into heaven? Henry, like Hamlet and many other fictional people, views his life as a series of good and bad decisions. We assume that we get into heaven if we happen to be doing something good when we die; like Hamlet’s stepfather saying his prayers. I think that this week’s sermon should answer Henry’s questions, instead of going over the familiar ground of being good when nobody is watching.
First, we have to say that goats are really fine animals. Jesus’ point is not that sheep are warm and fuzzy and therefor saved. He is referring to the fact that shepherds can do this separation very easily. God will not take long to sort us. The direction of our hearts, is an open book to Jesus who lives within us.
Second, we all experience our lives as a series of ups and downs. We all do things that we are ashamed of, even though our hearts are in the right place. A friend of mine once said, “I used to worry that Jesus would come on a night when I was smoking pot with my buddies.” He later became a staunch Calvinist to escape the theological muddiness of his Wesleyan parents.
Our emphasis, needs to be on the transforming power of God’s grace. People who know Jesus, don’t live perfect lives. They know perfect love. They live out of a deep thanksgiving. That inner peace overflows in dozens of daily bits of kindness. These acts often go unnoticed. Jesus knows his own from a distance, like a shepherd sorting sheep from goats, because they have his heart.