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Sermon: Out with the Goat, in with the New! A sermon for New Year’s Eve, December 31, 2018

January 1, 2019

Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace be unto you and peace in the name of God the Father and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.

  1. Tonight is a night for getting dressed up. You’re all looking great this evening! As for me, I’m going to go home after worship and get all gussied up in some festive New Year’s finery. On this eve of new things, there’s nothing better than wearing something fun and festive and ringing in the New Year with family and friends. Perhaps this is what you’ll be doing tonight, too. And good for you! Tonight is a night of celebration, of setting aside old things and hoping that the next year will be better than the last. But before we get dressed up, we find ourselves here in worship, getting a bit of a dressing down from Jesus. Jesus, who looks with clarity upon not only our past year, but upon our whole being, revealed to him and – even more frighteningly – to us. In his last teaching before the onset on his passion, his suffering and death, Jesus shows us the final judgment. He, the Son of Man, shall return in glory and power, and all peoples and nations shall be brought before him. He will separate the sheep from the goats, those who will inherit the kingdom from those who will go away into eternal punishment. Jesus, you see, can see through all of our cover-ups and costumes. Jesus can see the truth. Jesus can see you.
  2. And how will we be judged? By whether or not we welcomed Jesus, by whether or not we recognized our Lord in the needs of our neighbors. Did we feed Jesus, who lives in the hunger of our neighbors? Did we quench his thirst? Did we provide health care for the sick, in whose ailments Jesus the healer was present? Did we visit the imprisoned and see their cellmate, the Christ? Did we welcome Jesus as he sought to come across the border with children seeking a better life? Did we do these things? Did we see Christ in the need of our neighbor?
  3. In this parable, there are sheep and goats, those surprised to find they made it in, and those who are surprised to see that they are left out of the Kingdom. But when we read this parable with open eyes, it’s terrifying. Because while I have sometimes fed the hungry and visited the imprisoned and welcomed the stranger, I have just as often turned a blind eye. To be sure, if we’re grading a curve, I come out okay. I mean, I’m a pretty good guy. Better even, ahem, than most of you. Or maybe not. But this final parable of judgment is not shaped like a bell curve. Undressed before the King, we find that the feeble rags covering our lives do not grant us tickets to the Kingdom. We are goats, all of us. So what do we do?
  4. Well, we thank God that this is not the end of Jesus’ story. For this Messiah, this King, does not take his throne through lordship and judgment over those who have fallen short but by giving his own life for their sake; for you and for me. Jesus goes to the cross to forgive us; climbs Calvary to undo our sin; dies so that we can finally understand that the ways of the Kingdom are not rooted in a foundation of law, but in flowing waters of grace. If our hope were in the law, we would have no hope at all. Goats, all the way down. But Jesus, the Good Shepherd, gives his life to turn us into sheep. Sheep who know his voice. Sheep who are safe from the wolves. Sheep who are loved as part of God’s flock forever. Sheep who have been clothed with the righteousness of Christ, given when we were baptized into his death and resurrection.
  5. It is precisely here, on the other side of a judgment Jesus accepted on our behalf that we, the undeserving recipients of grace, can begin to see the face of Jesus, God’s Lamb, in the needs of our neighbors. For while we old goats could never earn our way into the sheepfold, once we’ve been made sheep we can certainly start to live like it. So in this New Year, go and look for Christ. Make room for him in the inn of your heart by making room for those who are in need. Goodness knows 2019 could stand to have more of us acting like sheep that belong to the Shepherd. After all, it’s not in the New Year that we place our hope; it is in the new heaven and the new earth, in which death will be no more and the Lamb of God shall be enthroned. It will be his Kingdom, and we will be there by his grace, and nothing else. The call is that we get to live like it now, seeing and serving Christ in everyone we meet.
  6. Without a crucified Christ, the reign of God and the judgment it would bring would leave us naked and revealed, nothing more. Goats, each one of us. But the Shepherd goes to the cross for his sheep; the Lamb of God pours out his life to clothe the goats with fluffy forgiveness and wooly new grace. And as for the judgment, well, I wouldn’t worry about it too much. As Robert Farrar Capon writes, “We simply don’t know, and we should all have the decency to shut up and just trust him in the passion we cannot avoid. And we don’t even have to know we have succeeded in doing that, because Jesus is there anyway and he is on everybody’s side. He is the Love that will not let us go. If anybody can sort it all out, he can; if he can’t, nobody else ever will. Trust him, therefore. And trust him now. There is nothing more to do.”
  7. So, you sinful goats, out with the old! In with the new. The Shepherd has laid down his life, and the feast of the Lamb who was slain has begun. The party is on; go and tell the others. They’re welcome, too! Raised with Christ, you are sheep of his flock forever. Wherever you might be tonight, and whomever you may be with; whatever else you might be wearing tonight, remember that you have been decked out with the righteousness of Christ. This will cover you through the New Year, and forever. And that’s not too baaaaaaad. Happy New Year! Amen.

And now may the peace that passes all human understanding keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus, this day and forever. Amen.

From → Sermons

One Comment
  1. LaNell and Jerry Koenig permalink

    Excellent sermon Pastor Lyle. A good mixture of Law and Gospel. Love your sense of humor sprinkled throughout your sermon. Coming back to RF on Jan. 11. See you at Grace on January 13.

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