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.”
I have this guilty pleasure. I am totally sucked in to the melodrama that is the CW. For those of you who actually do important things with your time, and for those of you who aren’t 14 and female, The CW is a television station that airs all kinds of dramas - mostly involving young romances between unnaturally beautiful people. Well, one of these that I’m totally sucked in to is the show called “Reign.” It’s about the short reign of Mary Queen of Scots and Prince Francis of France, and I’m most taken with it because it stars Anne of Green Gables and totally ignores the fact that people back then rarely bathed or changed their clothes and frequently had nits in their wigs, but whatever. I suspend my disbelief long enough to get swept in by all the jewels, wine drinking, and fabulous hairstyles and the poorly done English accents.
Anyway, that’s about as close as I can come to imagining kingship or royalty or monarchies. But Jesus as a young handsome prince determining the fate of thousands of French peasants with a gorgeous queen on his arm is hardly what he was talking about when he was talking about the coming kingdom of God. And yet, here we are, Christ the King Sunday, or, for those of us more sensitive to the patriarchy and the relentlessness of male domination, this Sunday is also known as Reign of Christ Sunday.
Theologian James Williams argues that because the idea of “reign” and monarchies and kings are so far removed from our everyday experience we should change the name to “Culture of Christ Sunday.”
It’s a day when we stop and remember how Christ has come and will come to make all things new - including our culture. Everything will be transformed. Maybe we could call it “Facebook of Christ Sunday” or “Starbucks of Christ Sunday.” Or maybe even “McDonald’s of Christ Sunday.” Just take what we already know, sprinkle on a little Jesus spice, and there we go, Reign of Christ Sunday.
But maybe it’s more than that. It’s more than an adjustment of our worldview. It’s more than adding a little tangy Jesus dipping sauce on the side of our culture nuggets. It’s more than a double shot of Jesus-Spice in our lattes. This is a total reorientation. This is unlike anything we’ve ever known, and yet, when it’s here, it feels so familiar.
This isn’t just the “new and improved” earth - like when they made “Pepsi Clear” or “New Coke”, or when they started adding frosting to Pop Tarts or when they made mcnuggets out of “all white meat” - this is a different meal entirely. This isn’t just Earth 2.0. This is a new heaven. A new earth.
When God’s kingdom comes, our culture and God’s culture have intersected.
The kingdom of God is at the center of the axis - at the cross - where the murder and violence and indifference and self-centeredness of goats collide with the grace, peace and forgiveness of sheep. It’s the intersection where full humanity collides with full divinity and neither are left the same.
A Culture of Christ, the Kingdom of God is where we get to be fully human, fully embodied and living fully in to who we were created to be.
So often this passage is simplified as a dualism - you’re either a goat or a sheep. Cut off entirely from God or welcomed in, and it all hinges on what you do or what you fail to do.
But I think it’s more complicated than that. I think that just as Jesus was fully human and fully divine, we are fully goats, and fully sheep. We are geep. We are shoats.
Back in the day, the shepherd would keep all the sheep and goats together in one flock. They’d graze the same grass, they’d trip over the same brambles, and the lambs and the kids would wander off and get lost together. It wasn’t until night time that the shepherd would separate them. The sheep could stay out because of their wool. But the goats had to go back inside, or else they’d freeze.
I think we’ve got both going on inside of us, all the time. Like sheep, we’ve got what we need to stay warm. And yet, like the goats, we are still so vulnerable. To be truly human is to be both.
To be isolated and out in the cold. To be protected and included in the fold.
Where Christ Reigns is where the truly human reigns. Where the “Son of Man” reigns - Where the truly human culture comes.
And it’s a surprise to all of us.
This isn’t a “do good” passage. It’s a grace passage.
If it were a do-good passage, the sheep wouldn’t be so surprised. They’d think, “well, of COURSE we got in, we did good.”
But they don’t. They’re just as shocked as the goats…
See, just as I think Jesus carried both God and humanity in himself, we carry both sheep and goats in ourselves. We have both the capacity to serve Christ and the capacity to ignore him. We have the capacity - and the desire - to live in Christ’s culture - one of transformation, one where we realize that we are neither solely sheep nor solely goat. We are geeps. shoats. Embodied sinners and saints. Folks capable of amazing acts of charity who have an unbelievable need for grace.
The sheep are welcomed in to eternal life.
The goats are cast in to eternal hell.
And I think Jesus has experienced both. He knows what it is like to be so close to God that his identity is merged to God’s, and he knows what it is like to be so far away as to call out, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” Jesus has experienced the beauty of heaven on earth and the full connection between himself and God. And he’s experienced a separation so deep, so painful, a violence so profound, that we could only call it hell.
Jesus has been a sheep. And he knows what it’s like to suffer the consequences of being a goat. He becomes the needy, the hungry, the thirsty, the lost and the imprisoned.
He becomes one whom most of us shout out to “just get a job” and “stop being so lazy.” He becomes the one whom we tell to “just get over it.” He becomes the one who knows what it is like to experience eternal hell. In short, he knows what it’s like to be a goat who has been left out in the cold to face the elements alone.
Jesus is the Lamb of God who becomes the goat so that we can be the sheep. He becomes the least of these so that we can serve him, so that we can be transformed, so that we can participate in the Culture of Christ, so that nothing can ever be the same again.
Jesus crosses the boundaries.
He becomes the vulnerable goat, left out in the cold, left out in the elements.
And he’s been the sheep, coming up to the least of these - to all of us goats - and he’s fed us, he’s clothed us, he’s been present with us in our darkest, coldest, most isolated hours.
Jesus asks us to do these unspectacular acts - feeding, clothing, visiting - not so that we can earn our way into heaven, but so that we can be like Christ - so that we can be a part of rewriting culture, so that we can bring about Christ’s reign here on earth.
And when we don’t treat each other like we’d treat Jesus, we end up in our own kind of hell - cold, and isolated.
We start to think we’re alone in this world. We start to get hard and bitter and fearful. We become vulnerable to the wind and the rain and the hellish realities of a culture hell-bent on violence and consumption and prejudice.
But we are capable of such amazing beauty. Such amazing grace. And our eyes get opened and we are able to do crazy, uncomplicated, unremarkable things with crazy, complicated, remarkable passion.
We’re such shoats. We’re geep. We’re sheep and we’re goats all in the same breath.
Every Tuesday and Thursday I drive across the Birmingham Bridge, usually going a little too fast, and as I’m listening to the latest atrocities happening in the world on NPR, I think to myself, “Well, at least I’m going somewhere where I can love people. ‘Cause I love people so much. Boy do I love people. And I’m going to Hot Metal to serve a meal to the homeless and the lonely and the hungry and the lost because I love people so much.
And then after I’ve mopped up the third spilled cup of coffee, and after I’ve told Francine for the 27th time that no, she cannot have thirds on dessert, and after I’ve replaced the garbage bag in the men’s restroom for the fourth time because someone keeps taking it, I start to question what the hell I’m doing there.
But on good nights, even though I can’t remember or believe or feel like I love people. On good nights, I remember or believe or feel or want to feel that I love Jesus.
On good nights, when, inevitably, I will stop loving people, when I’ll turn into a goat, on good nights, some kind of grace comes in and reminds me that I love Jesus. Some kind of grace comes in and pulls me out of the goat pen and drops me back in to the sheepfold.
And when it does happen, I’m just as surprised as those in our story for today. When was I really loving you, Jesus? When was I really serving you?
And when I don’t end up there, when I’m not reminded of my love for Jesus, my pushing a broom and digging through bleach water and dirty silverware, my plunging of the ladies’ restroom toilet and my helping a homeless man pin up his pants looks a whole lot like eternal hellfire. When I don’t approach each person as if he or she were the face of Christ, the work exhausts me, makes me cynical, makes me hate the world. Makes me isolated and alone. Makes me feel like I’m being punished somehow.
But when my goaty self-centeredness intersects with Christ’s sheepish grace and peace and forgiveness, my whole reality is shifted. I am - even for just half a second - who I was created to be. A new culture is born. A new reign appears.
Thanks be to God.