Sermon from November 20, 2011
(Last Pentecost – Year A)
Matthew 25: 31-46
St. Alban’s Episcopal Church, Waco, Texas
I don’t want to be an old goat.
I would rather be a sheep.
Yet it can be hard to tell a goat from a sheep.
Goats and sheep have a lot of the same genetic makeup.
Goats and sheep are both grazing animals.
Goats and sheep are both accustomed to being herded by shepherds or goat herders across mountainous terrain.
I have distant cousins who live in Brackettville, in west Texas.
These country cousins are ranchers, ranchers who raise both sheep and goats.
When I was a boy, my family of city slickers from Houston traveled out to Brackettville.
At the time of our visit to the country, it was sheep shearing time on the ranch.
And after their extreme haircut, it became difficult for this city boy to tell the difference between a sheep and a goat.
For without their thick coat of wool, a sheep can look an awful lot like a goat.
Yet Jesus sits between the sheep and the goats.
In Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus proclaims:
“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.
And he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats to his left.”
Jesus goes on to teach us that the sheep are those who practice a life of service to others.
The sheep are those who feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, clothe the naked, and visit prisoners.
Sheep are those who serve others.
Yet, aside from a few characteristics, it could be hard to tell a goat from a sheep in the flock.
For the biggest difference between a sheep and a goat is a thick coat of warm, white wool.
As an old goat myself, I would love to grow a thick coat of warm, white, wool.
I first began showing signs of hair loss when I was in college.
My college roommates thought it was hilarious to make jokes about my receding hairline, that began when I was about 19.
In my mailbox at my dorm, I began to receive advertisements and promotions for hair enhancement products.
I began to receive sales calls from the Hair Club for Men, asking if I wanted information about hair replacement.
One afternoon, I received a phone call from a store that specialized in toupees for men.
The salesperson asked:
“Is this Jeff Fisher?”
“Yes, it is.”
The salesperson continued:
“Mr. Fisher, I am returning your phone call from yesterday.
You had left a message that you are disturbed by your hair loss.”
I then realized that my roommates had been playing pranks on me, signing me up for mailings about hair growth and calling the Hair Club for Men, using my name as their alias!
Yet, I really would like to grow some hair.
I really don’t want to end up as a bald old goat.
For I would much rather be a sheep, with a thick and luxurious head of warm wool.
The Church, the Body of Christ, is a place where we can grow hair and develop a thick coat of wool.
The Church offers products and opportunities that transform us from hairless goats into wooly sheep, sporting thick coats of service to others.
Jesus can change us from goats into sheep.
Jesus can move us from his left hand to his right hand.
In this church, in Jesus’ church, we can grow thick coats of wool.
Last month, St. Alban’s entered into a partnership with Wesley United Methodist Church in east Waco.
We have communicated this partnership in worship leaflets and in the monthly church newsletter, yet I am not sure that all of you know about this amazing new opportunity for all of us to grow wool.
In this new partnership, St. Alban’s is now hosting Wesley’s Friday evening children’s education program in our building.
This children’s program is called Furaha Friday.
‘Furaha’ is a Swahili word that means ‘joyful’.
As of right now, every Friday evening, children and adult leaders from Wesley Church travel across the Brazos River and into St. Alban’s parish hall.
Every Friday evening, wooly sheep, like you, prepare and serve a simple meal to our new friends from Wesley.
The pastor from Wesley, Valda Combs, then leads all of the children, including the St. Alban’s kids who are here, in singing and laughing and joyfully learning about the Faith.
The first Furaha Friday at St. Alban’s occurred this weekend.
Last Friday evening, warm, wooly sheep from St. Alban’s served up hot dogs, apples and homemade macaroni and cheese in our parish hall kitchen.
The wooly sheep from St. Alban’s sat on the floor with the sheep from Wesley, as they had a joyful time together, learning about the faith of Jesus as one flock.
On our first Furaha Friday, you would be hard pressed to find many goats in the flock.
Because Jesus was growing a fluffy coat of wool on each of them, as they fed and served, with our new friends from Wesley.
Furaha Friday will take a one-week break for the Friday after Thanksgiving.
But after that, every Friday evening at St. Alban’s, you have an opportunity to help serve dinner and clean up the kitchen, just for an hour or so.
All you have to do is serve about once a month.
For through Faraha Fridays, Jesus will grow us a wooly coat of love, changing us from goats into sheep, as we serve others.
I don’t want to be an old goat.
I want to be a sheep.
For Jesus proclaims to us that, in his glory, he will separate the goats from the sheep.
The goats will go on his left.
The sheep will be on his right.
And Jesus will be in the middle.
Just as the bridges across the Brazos River are bringing new friends to us on Furaha Fridays,
Jesus is the bridge between the goats and the sheep.
Jesus is the bridge that leads us from living as selfish, self-serving, hairless goats.
And into a new life, living as serving, giving, wooly sheep.
Jesus changes us into people who serve the least of these in the world.
Jesus changes us into sheep.
In the Episcopal Church, when someone dies, we offer words from The Book of Common Prayer, from the liturgy of the Burial of the Dead.
Near the end of that beautiful funeral service, the priest stands at these chancel steps beside the body, if present, and says these words of commendation:
“O merciful Savior…
Acknowledge, we humbly beseech you, a sheep of your own fold, a lamb of your own flock, a sinner of your own redeeming.”
Jesus redeems me from my sins - by making me a sheep of his own fold, a lamb of his own flock.
Jesus rescues me from myself - by teaching me to serve the hungry, the jobless, the lonely and the least.
Jesus saves me from disturbing hair loss - by growing a wooly coat of love and service.
For I don’t want to be an old goat.
I want to be a sheep.
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