Feed the Sheep & Starve the Goats Rev Dr Durrell Watkins (Reign of Christ Sunday, 2014) When I was little boy I wanted so very, very badly a catcher’s mitt…not really, it was an easy-bake oven. And so, one day I knelt down and I reverently prayed, “Dear Jesus, I so very badly want an […]
Feed the Sheep & Starve the Goats
Rev Dr Durrell Watkins (Reign of Christ Sunday, 2014)
When I was little boy I wanted so very, very badly a catcher’s mitt…not really, it was an easy-bake oven.
And so, one day I knelt down and I reverently prayed,
“Dear Jesus, I so very badly want an easy-bake oven. If you will give me an easy-bake oven, I won’t be naughty for a year.”
Then I looked up and saw the little Virgin of Guadalupe figurine that was in my room peering down at me, almost smirking with judgmental bemusement. So, I realized the bargain I proposed was not realistic for a mischievous child such as myself, so I amended my prayer.
“Dear Jesus, I so very badly want an easy-bake oven. If you will give me an easy-bake oven, I won’t be naughty for six months.”
Then I looked up and there was the Blessed Lady giving me the stink eye once again. So, I gave it a moment of consideration, and then I got up, grabbed the Madonna figurine, stuffed it into my little play purse that was a constant source of torment to my father, and I knelt again and prayed,
“Dear Jesus, if you ever hope to see your mother again, I will get an easy-bake oven.”
The untold part of the story is baby Durrell saving up his allowance which he kept in the play purse rather than a piggy bank and getting his favorite great aunt to take him to the Gibson’s department store where he bought his own easy-bake oven, thus cementing my belief that what God does for us, God does through us.
That story is of course apocryphal, except for the easy–bake oven and the purse, that was straight up my childhood, but the point of the story is that there is power in changing our perceptions.
Let’s look at how today’s gospel reading encourages us to be willing to change our thoughts, our attitudes, in order to experience more hope and joy in our lives. Matthew imagines the return of Christ, but not necessarily as an omen for something that will happen in the future or in some science fiction kind of way.
Hear again what Matthew writes, “When the Child of Humanity comes…he will separate…as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats…And he will say to the [sheep], ‘Welcome home! For I was hungry and you fed me, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothes, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me. When you showed kindness to those society calls least and lowly, you were honoring me.’”
That’s the return of Christ. Maybe you have a lot uneasy feelings about stories of Jesus’ return. Maybe they were presented in ways that were meant to frighten you, and you don’t find any positive value in them today. But remember, these stories were meant to encourage the original hearers. These are meant to be heard as good news. They have been mishandled, misunderstood, misrepresented, and we are wise to dismiss the poor handling of them; but we can reclaim the stories; we can liberate them from literalism and let them come alive as we engage them with our own creativity, intelligence, and lived experienced.
This isn’t gloom and doom stuff. The Jesus of Matthew’s imagination is telling us that when human nature is at its best, when human endeavor is motivated by compassion, when human activity is in the service of justice, Christ has returned because all that Christ stands for still lives among us and is expressed through us. …When we feed the hungry and welcome the immigrant, house and clothe the destitute and visit those who have been discarded by society, when we make sure that every sick person has care, we are honoring the divine light in Jesus that dwells also in us because when we are letting ourselves be divine love in action, we are Christ in the world. We are the return of Christ.
There is no magic Sci-Fi return in the future; there is only the opportunity to be Christ in the world today and we do that by caring about more than just our own privilege.
Do we revere a Jesus that conveniently looks like us, or are we willing to change our thinking and dare to follow an illiterate, Aramaic speaking, middle eastern, Jewish peasant who said, “Feed the hungry, welcome the alien, care for the sick, bless the marginalized, and affirm the sacred value of all people.” It may require a shift in thinking, but we can do it, and if we will, we will be the return of Christ.
And now, not only can we be the return of Christ by caring about our world, the whole world, even the so-called least of these, but we can improve our own lives by shifting our thinking, and Matthew’s Jesus tells us how to do that too…by separating the sheep from the goats.
Have you ever heard the expression, “They give milk like a goat”? You see, when you’re milking a goat, if you don’t move the bucket the minute you’re finished, the goat will often spoil the milk by mistaking your milk pale for a toilet. The goat gives something tasty, nutritious, helpful, and then immediately ruins it.
I go to church every Sunday, and then complain about everything at church. That’s giving milk like a goat.
I gave you a nice gift, and then reminded you 30 more times how much I shelled out for it. That’s giving milk like a goat.
I sent you to school, gave you nice Christmas gifts, took you on vacations, but rarely hugged you, frequently criticized you, and even threatened you a time or two. That’s giving milk like a goat.
We do that to ourselves, too. We apply for a job, and then talk ourselves out of being too hopeful about it.
We start a diet but then sabotage our efforts.
We meet someone special, and then tell ourselves they are too good for us.
We pray for healing but won’t do what the doctor says to help us get better.
We want more friends, but then repel people by being overly critical or constantly making snarky comments to them.
We have love and hope and brilliance within us, and then we ruin it all by spoiling the good with negative habits and attitudes. We have delicious milk to give which we then spoil with our other crap.
We all have hopeful thoughts, compassionate thoughts, peaceful thoughts, courageous thoughts, grateful thoughts, but we also have selfish thoughts, fearful thoughts, petty thoughts, judgmental thoughts, shaming thoughts. With a mixture of the positive and the negative, they are bumping up against one another and canceling each other out, which is why we often feel stuck, why nothing seems good enough or why good luck seems to be quickly followed by bad. But we can separate the sheep thoughts, the beautiful thoughts, from the goat thoughts, the negative feelings and attitudes. And once we have separated them out, we can choose to focus on the good, and by paying attention to the sheep thoughts, they will thrive and the goat thoughts will begin to falter from lack of attention. We separate the sheep from the goats so that we aren’t feeding them our focus and energy equally. We separate them so we can feed the sheep and starve the goats!
When we have a few more sheep than goats, and our sheep are healthy and our goats are wasting away, that’s when we have a powerful shift in our in experience of life. That’s when healing and breakthroughs and insights begin to bless us in powerful new ways.
So, we can rethink religion and in so doing, reclaim it and let become alive and new in our lives.
We can rethink what the return of Christ means; it can mean being more committed to the healing work of Christ in the world, caring for others, and lifting up those who have been cast aside or left behind. Not magic, just our living into our true purpose.
And we can rethink how we face the issue of our lives. We can choose to separate our positive and negative attitudes, and then give much more attention and care to the positive so that the positive will become the greater influence in our lives.
Of course, there is a much simpler way of saying all of this.
Johnnie Colemon said this way: I am the thinker that thinks the thought that makes the thing.
And Norman Vincent Peale said it this way: Change your thoughts and you change your world.
And this is the good news. Amen.
© Durrell Watkins 2014
When I change my thoughts, I change my world.
I am willing to choose some new thoughts today.
I choose optimism.
I choose gratitude.
I choose joy.
And so it is!