I feel a bit sorry for goats. They get a bad press in the reading for today from Matthew 25.
Jesus tells of a separation into groups at the end of time - akin to sheep and goats. The 'sheep' are those who are welcomed into eternal life and the 'goats' are...let's just say they don't quite make the cut...
The sheep and goats reading coincided with a baptism in church today so there was a double challenge: what does the parable mean and what does it say about Christ and belonging. It certainly upsets the notion that all those welcomed by Christ were those who confessed his name in this life...
In all age services, I normally find once the visual aid is in place, the rest of the talk writes itself but this one didn't come so easily.
Our cupboard of once loved children's cuddly toys had produced two sheep. I went into town to buy a toy goat. There was Monty the Penguin in John Lewis; and various cows, rabbits, giraffes, kittens, bears and ducks. But no goat. It must be the horns. They're just not very cuddly. I did find a lurid pink goat in Mothercare but it was one of those toys made to stimulate babies with multi coloured rattly and scrunchy bits all over it, and hooves that went clip clop. And it was £13.99.
So I bought some cream felt and went home to modify a sheep.
And so, armed with Gertie the Goat (whose cotton wool beard fell off in stages throughout the course of the baptism) and Shelley the Sheep, and with much assistance from various conversations on Twitter, I ended up with the following:
Who can tell me the difference between sheep and goats?
I’ve done some research on this and according to The Daily Vet, ‘goats are from Mars and Sheep are from Venus’
Yes, The Daily Vet goes on to ask: ‘did you know that not all small ruminants are created equal? There are some pretty big differences between sheep and goats.’
Would you like to know what they are?
‘Sheep are technically grazers, meaning they prefer munching grass low to the ground. Goats, on the other hand, are known as browsers, meaning they often choose to select leaves, shrubs, vines, and weeds, often found at the tops of plants, higher off the ground’. (http://www.petmd.com/blogs/thedailyvet/aobrien/2013/sept/goats-are-from-mars-sheep-are-from-venus-30886)
And lastly (this might be useful, so listen up)
‘If you ever get into the position where you’ve made a goat or sheep angry, here’s one last difference that might be useful to know. Rams (male sheep), when aggressive, will butt head-on while bucks (male goats) will rear up and come down with their heads. Believe me, you do not want to be on the receiving end of either one of those heads!’
Does anyone here want to look after Shelley the Sheep or Gertie the Goat while we think about a story Jesus told?
Jesus told a story where there was a big difference between sheep and goats.
It might seem a bit unfair that goats come in for some criticism (to put it mildly) while sheep are blessed in the story.
The goats are sent away and the sheep are welcomed into eternal life.
We know that in the parables, Jesus uses every day pictures to show us spiritual truths.
So what’s going on with the separation of the sheep and the goats?
Jesus says to the sheep, well done; 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 clothing; I was sick and you took care of me; I was in prison and you visited me’.
And the sheep are puzzled: they say to Jesus – Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you something to eat; or thirsty and we 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?’
They’re puzzled, because they don’t remember seeing Jesus in any of these states. Jesus didn’t go to prison, did he? He didn’t wander about with nothing to wear; there’s no record that he was sick and needed healing…
But Jesus says to them, whenever you did these things for ‘the least of these who are members of my family’ you did them to me.
And the poor old goats?
They were the people who saw all this need – people going hungry and thirsty, and naked and sick and in prison, but they did nothing about them.
Jesus says, in effect, in ignoring others they ignored Him.
The goats were not people who did bad things necessarily – they just neglected to do good.
Throughout history there’s always been a debate about God and goodness.
Do you have to believe to do good?
Which is more Christian: a food bank or getting baptised?
In this story we have Christ and action intimately connected.
In having this service of baptism, we are all making that connection.
In baptism, parents and Godparents are saying – we believe and we want to do something about it publicly, and we know this means certain things for our lives.
And along with them, as we make promises at the font, we recall our own identification with Christ, and what it means for our lives.
We all affirm with our words that we want to live the Christ life – saying no to sin and yes to following in the way of self giving love, on behalf of the world Christ came to save.
Because belief and action go together.
It may surprise you to know that only 1 in 7 babies are brought for Christian baptism these days - that’s about 14%.
It means that to make a stand for Christ is quite a counter cultural thing to do.
That’s why we promise to love and support those who are baptised, so they can know the strength of being in a Christian family as well as in a natural family.
And we pray, along with parents and godparents, that as they grow up they will find their path to making a difference in the world.
We pray that they’ll discover the Christian life is about combining belief and action, and we pray we will discover this a church too.
Because when all’s said and done, we want to be in that group who got on with loving the ones in need, and who, in doing so, inadvertently encountered Christ.