Last Sunday of the Church Year 2017
Immanuel Lutheran Church, Hamilton, Ohio
Pastor Kevin Jud
November 26, 2017
Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24, 1 Corinthians 15:20-28, Matthew 25:31-46
Full Service Audio: bit.ly/ImmanuelWorship
The alarm clock buzzes and you hit snooze…twice. You finally wake up and drag yourself out of bed to start another day; another day of doing the same stuff once again. Every day a lot like the last. Sometimes it can seem so futile, like you are just going through the motions. What is the point?
You catch the bus and ride to school and get to your classroom and sit at your desk and listen to the teacher and write down the homework and come home and do the homework and go to practice and then repeat; the next day and the next. Sometimes it can seem so futile, like you are just going through the motions. What is the point?
You are out the door in the morning before the sun comes up and fight the traffic for 45 minutes to get to work and push through the day’s assignments and drive home late in the dark just to get to sleep and be able to do it all again the next morning. Every time it looks like you are catching up on the paperwork the boss comes and dumps another big pile on your desk. It feels like the only reward for working hard is getting more work. It can all seem so futile, like you are just going through the motions. What is the point?
You get up early to make sure the kids are awake and dressed and fed and out the door on time. You quick bake a batch of cookies for the school bake sale that the kids forgot to tell you about until that morning and quick get in a couple of loads of laundry before heading off to your part time job to work a few hours and still be home before the kids. The more you do, the faster you go, it seems like you just get further behind. It can all seem so futile, like you are just going through the motions. What is the point?
You face another day of being married to that same old person. The excitement of the early years has long ago faded and it feels like everyone else has exciting and fulfilling relationships while you are stuck in the boredom of the same old same old; just doing the same things with the same person. It can all seem so futile, like you are just going through the motions. What is the point?
You volunteer and keep busy running here and there and everywhere to help out your kids and grandkids and the church and grandkid’s schools and the community. But as much effort as you put into all of these activities nothing seems to change. It can all seem so futile, like you are just going through the motions. What is the point?
All of your hard work; all of the things you do for everyone else all day long, it can feel like just an exercise in futility. Why bother? What is the point?
Why bother? The answer is in Jesus’ parable for us today. The story of the sheep and the goats.
Now, this is a hard parable. It is a difficult text; because it is so clear. If this was the only teaching we ever got from Jesus it would appear that Christianity is a religion of works; that you earn your salvation by doing good things for others. Sheep do acts of kindness and receive praise from Jesus on judgment day and go to their heavenly reward. Goats don’t… and get hell. It is a tough parable.
But this is not the only teaching of Jesus that we get. We get a complete teaching from Jesus in which we learn that salvation is not earned by us. We don’t buy our way into eternal life with our works. And as we look more carefully at this text we can see that even here the truth about salvation is evident. Jesus speaks to the sheep. Matthew 25:34 (ESV) 34 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.
The sheep are sheep because God has made them sheep. They are chosen, predestined, elect. They are not sheep because they decided to be sheep. They are not sheep because they did acts of kindness. They are not sheep because they worked hard to become sheep. They are sheep for one reason; because God has done it. God makes them sheep. God makes them righteous. God makes them sheep and then these sheep live like His sheep. They go out into God’s creation; out into their ordinary lives and they take care of those around them. Sheep live their ordinary lives in extraordinary ways. They care for the sick; they feed the hungry; they visit the imprisoned. They clothe the naked. They do sheep things. Sheep act like sheep.
The goats? The goats choose what God never planned. They choose to ignore the call of God and ignore the cry of their fellow creatures. They reject grace and they choose death and so in return God gives them what they choose. Matthew 25:41 (ESV) 41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. Hell was never intended for people, but so many choose to share the fate of Satan and his demons.
The Lord is your shepherd, you are His sheep. So you live like one of the Lord’s sheep. You go out into God’s world and you do what you have been given to do. You meet the needs of fellow creatures who cry for help. That’s what sheep do. And when sheep do what God has given them to do, futility is gone. Futility is wiped out completely.
But not you. You are a sheep. You have come to the font just like little Bradley this morning and you have been marked as one of the sheep in the Lord’s flock. God has made you His own in the waters of baptism. God has given you His name. The Lord is your shepherd, you are His sheep. So you live like one of the Lord’s sheep. You go out into God’s world and you do what you have been given to do. You meet the needs of fellow creatures who cry for help. That’s what sheep do. And when sheep do what God has given them to do, futility is gone. Futility is wiped out completely. That is the point of the parable.
This is not an exhortation to be a sheep and not a goat. Sheep have no choice. God does the choosing. You are a sheep because God chose you. You are the Lord’s sheep and what sheep do as sheep is never wasted and never lost. There is no futility. This means your daily work is transformed. Whatever you do for the sake of those around you is never pointless and futile. Whatever you do in fulfillment of your God-given vocation of serving and preparing for service is not wasted. Whatever you do as a child, parent, husband, wife, student, worker, employer, citizen; in whatever vocation you have, your service to others is never futile.
Your motivation to work hard and do what you have been given to do is not about what makes you famous. It is not about making more money or getting ahead.. It is not about awards and good grades. It’s not about what makes you happy. It’s not about what makes you feel good. None of this determines the validity of what you do. The only thing that counts is that do what you have been given to do in service to others.
All your work and effort is redeemed by God. So pay attention in school and do your homework, keep on keeping on in your daily commute and work and completing endless task after task, keep serving your children and your spouse and your grandkids and your community and do it all with commitment and passion because this is holy work.
You do what you have been given to do with energy and zeal because what you do is holy work.
You change your baby’s diaper for the fifth time and wipe their milky spit up off your shoulder again and you do it with awe and wonder and gratitude at the sheer holiness of the work you are doing. Caring for your baby is holy work.
You tie the first grader’s shoes and give him a smile and patient, kind words to encourage this student who never seems like he can get things together. You do it with patience and care and love because this is holy work.
You don’t need work that is more meaningful. You don’t need more excitement and fulfillment in your relationships. You don’t need more prestige and power. You do holy work in whatever it is the Lord has given you to do.
You do holy work when you do what you have been given to do and care for those around you. You are doing incredible holy work just the way God intended it to be done and that is work that is always worthwhile.
That is the way it is with sheep. You are a sheep. You are the elect of the Good Shepherd, chosen by God, washed with forgiveness at the font. You are righteous before God. You see the needs of those around you and you give them what they need from you. You treat others with kindness even when you don’t receive kindness in return. You see needs and meet needs. You fulfill your vocations.
You are a sheep and sheep are righteous twice. Righteous before God in your election. Righteous before creation in your vocation. You are a sheep. You live without fear. You live without futility. You know your labor is never in vain. No deed is insignificant. God saves you and your labor.
You are a sheep, and that changes everything, everything about you and everything about what you do, forever.
 The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001
 The Holy Bible : English Standard Version. Wheaton : Standard Bible Society, 2001