New Year’s Eve homily
Ecclesiastes 3: 1–13 Revelation 21: 1-6a
Matthew 25: 31-40 31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left. 34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’ 37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ 40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
One of the things I love about St Petri is that it does a lot of what God directs his people to do in this image of how we are to live. We do help feed the hungry around here. We give people a drink – not just of water as needed, but of the Living Steam of Jesus’ word. We are often hearing that we are getting pretty good at inviting the stranger in without judgement in a spirit of gracious acceptance. That’s what the feedback is from those who have found this place and become part of it.
We can take it as gospel that whatever ways in which we engage in this kind of generous giving of resources time, effort and skills, we are serving the Lord as is right and good.
Of course this is only part of this well known, but mostly misunderstood picture of God’s conclusion to the world. There are the goats too. They are the people who have not got the time or the heart to care, to give, to befriend. They don’t fare well in this parable.
A lot of people hear the judgement of the goats and conclude that this is the Lord’s main goal – to fry people! People think about all the times they could have given more or been more helpful or done more right things, and conclude, “well, that is me then. I will be with the goats when God brings an end to my life”.
On the other hand, some people can hear this image of the end judgement of God and congratulate themselves on their fine efforts and in the same movement roundly condemn all the “bad people” they know of whom they assume don’t give, don’t care, don’t welcome new people and things into their lives.
But here’s the thing. The people hearing this picture would know that it is nearly impossible for the average person to actually tell the difference between the sheep and the goats in the Middle East.
I saw this when in Israel some year back. A young boy of eight in the Judean hill country sitting on his milk crate among the rocks and sand with what I thought were goats eating what little grass there was. I was assured by the locals that that this little flock was made up of sheep and goats, but I could not tell the difference. So, the message is that we actually won’t have a clue who the sheep and goats are. We can’t make judgements about who the “good people” and “bad people” are then or now. Only God can draft them right. Only he knows the heart and the full truth of person. That means I can’t and don’t and nether do you.
So we leave judgement about ‘bad people’ at the door in our congregation and simply get on in 2016 with all this caring , loving, sharing welcoming things and we do this in the hope that the Spirit will work in our loving and more and more people will grasp this…
Revelation 21: 1-6 Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth,”[a] for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. 2 I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. 3 And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. 4 ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death’[b] or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” 5 He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” Then he said, “Write this down, for these words are trustworthy and true.” 6 He said to me: “It is done. I am the Alpha and the Omega, the Beginning and the End. To the thirsty I will give water without cost from the spring of the water of life.
We set our course again to be instruments of the Lord helping people experience and grow in God’s new heaven and earth coming right now – a heaven and earth of living Water for the soul – the joy of a wedding banquet with only tears of joy not pain and sorrow – no death, no grief just laughter and choice food and wine and friendship and belonging and life coursing through our veins – and all of this together, face-to-face with each other and the Lord of Life, the Lamb on the Throne, the one who began this good work in us and will being us to our completion – the Alpha and the Omega.
His name be the name on our lips in 2016.