Windsor Community United Methodist Church
Thursday, December 05, 2013
Mike Turgeon “Five practices of fruitful congregations: Radical hospitality” 8/8/10
When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the nations with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. All the nations will be gathered before him, and 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 at his left.
Then 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; for 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, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.'
Then 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? And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing; and when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?'
And 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.' Matthew 25:31-41
Five Fruits of Fruitful Congregations: Radical Hospitality.
Hospitality is not so much about what you do but who you are. People come to a church to find God. Before they find God, they find you. By who you are, will they be directed to God?
I remember one time after preaching about a hundred sermons, looking back to find that a significant number of those sermons made reference to sheep and goats.
The thing about the bible, having been written and formed at a time when sheep and goats were the lifeblood of the Middle Eastern economy, is that you’re going to run into sheep and goats sooner or later.
In studying this passage this week, I found myself really wanting to be a sheep, one of the ones doing the right thing. Don’t we all?
But I became curious as to why the sheep were the good guys. Are goats that much different? Why do the goats have to be the bad guys? I’m a city boy, I never learned these things.
Back in Biblical times you didn’t have to learn the difference between a sheep and a goat, you just knew. They were that integral to survival.
And in ancient cultures, sheep and goats were raised together (still are today in some parts of the world) since both need grazing and they eat more or less the same thing.
Yet sheep and goats are quite different. Goats are generally dark in color and sheep generally white-ish. Goats are able to cope with mountains and rocks, but sheep prefer the flatter terrain, such as valleys. Goats will eat the leaves off trees, whereas sheep prefer grass. Goats graze all day while sheep lie down in the shade during the heat of the day.
But most significantly, goats were less popular than sheep because goats, just doing what goats do, are destructive. They chew down grass much closer to the ground than sheep and often destroy pasture when they are done with it.
And goats have a more stubborn, less pleasant disposition. Therefore, it was the "scapegoat" and not the ‘scapesheep’ that took the sins of the people into the wilderness on the Day of Atonement (Leviticus 16:22).
With the scapegoat, it was like killing two birds with one stone. Get rid of the sins of the people, and one less goat to deal with.
And sheep were the preferred choice in many sacrificial offerings instead of a goat. A sheep was deemed more worthy, somehow. So you see it is a tricky proposition to separate the sheep from the goats, whatever the criteria.
Now, to add to the confusion, you have the fact that both sheep and goats had value to their owners back then. Sheep produced wool for clothing, milk for food and they reproduced rapidly. Goats also produced milk (3 quarts per day) plus hair for tent coverings and skin for leather.
But... for a shepherd who raised both sheep and goats, separating them was easy. It came with the territory. And so my curiosity leads me to understand that for the Good Shepherd, the Son of Man, the rules for separating by charitable action fit right into Jesus’ plan of salvation. He has no hands and feet but ours.
I had an up close and personal encounter with sheep and goats in seminary school; it was about as unexpected as anything that I’ve ever encountered.
San Francisco Theological Seminary in Marin County is perched on the knob of a hill. The campus is over a hundred years old and the vegetation covering the hillside is lush and was becoming a fire hazzard.
One year while we were there, they hired a shepherd, that’s right, a shepherd! He came in with a couple of moving vans filled with hundreds of sheep and goats. The plan was to turn these critters loose for a week and let them do their thing, munching and rooting and generally cleaning up the place.
Well, it worked like a charm. After a week, you could stand on the street and look straight up to see the classrooms and administrative buildings, where before it was all dense shrubbery.
The theological implications of a week’s worth of munching were vast. You had about 500 mostly goats and a few sheep being observed by about 75 seminary students. They set up a fence around the perimeter. Originally, I thought it was to keep the animals in, but by the end of the week, I was convinced it was to keep the students out more than anything.
As I took my place at the fence each day, I found my own thoughts drifting to sermon illustrations by the score. I could see that the goats and the sheep looked very different, it wasn’t hard to tell them apart physically. But they acted exactly the same. Both sheep and goat munched away hungrily as if they were born and bred to act like this.
In our passage this morning, we’re led to believe that the sheep were acting on behalf of God’s people while the goats were not.
So every time I come to this passage in Matthew 25, my heart skips a beat. I hope I’m a sheep. But I don’t make that decision. That is up to the Son of Man.
Did you know that Matthew 25 with these verses about caring for the needs of strangers is considered the ‘other’ love chapter?
You all by now, I am sure, have heard the first Love Chapter. The words of the Apostle Paul from the 13th Chapter of his Letter to the Corinthians. It is read at a large percentage of weddings, and it is quoted widely elsewhere.
“Love is patient; love is kind; love is not envious or boastful or arrogant or rude. It does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice in wrongdoing, but rejoices in the truth.
…Love never ends. Faith, hope, and love abide…and the greatest of these is love.”
Whereas Paul holds up images of love in concept and theory, Matthew gives us love in action.
Matthew 25 signals a turning point in human history. Yes, people did good deeds before Matthew 25, of course they did. But now Jesus enters the picture and God’s plan for salvation is revealed. Surrender to Jesus, and take care of his people.
Let me walk you through some Greek here. I’m feeling Greeky this morning.
Matthew 25 is often referred to as the ‘little apocalypse.’ The Book of Revelation is the big Apocalypse because it reveals the writer John’s vision of the end of the world. But in Greek, apokalypsis literally means ‘lifting of the veil.’
Jesus is pulling back the curtain, so to speak, to show us the way of discipleship.
What we do to and for our fellow human neighbor counts. No longer are we looking through a glass darkly, under some illusion that it is all about me or all about you.
It is all about our neighbor.
And the kingdom of heaven is not some ‘pie-in-the-sky-when-you-die. Eternity begins now, not later. The key to real life in Christ is how you feed, clothe, tend, visit and welcome. Radical hospitality.
More Greek. The 25th chapter of Matthew is a study in the third type of love according to the Greeks. I refer to agape—love that treats the happiness of another as equal to your own. Of course, the other two types of love according to the Greeks besides agape are philia, = brotherly love
and eros = affection of a sexual nature.
Agape literally means ‘wide-open.’
We often struggle with wide-open. It’s a little scary. We prefer close to the vest, or in control. But the agape love laid out in Matthew 25 by Jesus is designed to take us from closed to open. Action on behalf of the stranger in need is the plan for disciples who make a difference.
This world is desperate for disciples imitating Jesus. Not talking about Jesus, or bragging about Jesus, but acting like Jesus. Business as usual was the world that Jesus entered.
His battles were not against earth’s armies, but against the goat-like destructive ways we think—think about our neighbor and think about our enemies.
Jesus had to make a difference. And he did. And by that same token, our very own souls were created to make a difference.
When you claim Christ, your software is re-programmed. No longer are your actions ‘for profit.’ No. As a follower you will be judged by a different standard. Be devoted with mind, heart and soul to Jesus Christ. Do this and you will do something for someone else.
Is it ever possible to sum up the Bible?
That was our assignment one week in one of my classes at seminary. The class was split into two groups and after studying the bible for a full week, our task was to come up with no more than five verses that would sum up the entire 66 books and 1100 pages of the Holy Bible. How do these professors think that stuff up?
Well, our group debated and cajoled and bargained and read and prayed and quoted to each other until we finally came up with this very passage we’re studying today. I don’t remember all the reasons why we eliminated everything else. And ironically, the other group in the class came up with Paul’s Love Chapter 13 from First Corinthians.
But I remember this exercise well for two reasons. One, it caused me to deeply reflect, maybe for the first time ever on the ultimate meaning and message of the life, death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. What is God’s plan for man, and where do I fit in?
And the second reason that exercise in Biblical summary left its mark, is that two weeks after this class ended Chris and I were in El Salvador, helping to build a school.
And since the semester had just ended, Matthew 25 was still percolating in my mind.
Once we made it into El Salvador, Alejandro, our host, helped us settle in at our hotel; then we went for a simple meal down the street. As we finished our meal I asked this man, a native Salvadoran, who had gotten the same seminary degree as I and from the same school—I asked him why he was here among the poor of his country, when he could have literally been anywhere?
His words still give me goose bumps. He said, “When I read the Bible, I keep getting drawn back to one passage, and that is, Matthew 25, verse 35. …”for 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.”
I sat there, overwhelmed by my thoughts and emotions. What in the heck was the Holy Spirit trying to do to me? What is it with God’s purposes? They always seems to tap us on the shoulder over here when we’re looking over there.
As disciples, as learners, we are charged with putting ourselves in places we normally would never go. We don’t have to go thousands of miles to do this, we can do it right here in Windsor. Every time we leave our comfort zone, we see the world through new eyes. Perhaps we get a closer look at how Jesus saw the world, immersed as he was with the hungry, the sick, the stranger.
The world’s system is set up for competition. In the global capitalist system there has to be winners and losers. But the losers in the system aren’t only in El Salvador, or in Cuba, or in the developing world. The losers of a system that needs winners and losers are right down the street.
Some of you may have seen the article about NOAH, the Rohnert Park food pantry. The article talked about how the old firehouse NOAH used was being shutdown due to rats.
When I was the pastor down in Rohnert Park, and was working with NOAH, one day I spoke with a man who was coming to receive food. I met him as he was parking his car and at first, I wasn’t sure he was coming to get groceries.
He was well-dressed, in his eighties, moving a little slowly, but by strict appearance, not someone you think is in need of food.
I introduced myself and asked if I could ask him a question. He was surprised that someone had stopped him. I asked him if he was coming to NOAH. He said, “Yes, it has been a life-saver for me this last year. Without this food each week, I wouldn’t make it. I lost my wife 3 years ago and it’s been rough.”
Here I was, talking to a man who could have been my father. I wasn’t going to get his complete story, but I’m sure most of his life was spent thinking that he had followed all the rules, that he had done what he was told, and that everything would be all right.
I don’t know, maybe he was irresponsible. But I’m sure he never thought he’d be standing in line at a food pantry.
But what I learned was how easy it was for me to assume I knew what his deal was. Jesus, thank God, isn’t too concerned with what your deal is, he just wants you close to him. And how do you do that? Feed. Clothe. Tend. Visit. Welcome. Is this radical hospitality? What would Jesus say?