God Wants You in the Wow Not the Woe
(Sermon Reprise - First given in Nov. 2008)
Addressing God directly, poet Rainer Maria Rilke writes:
We must not portray you in king’s robes,
you drifting mist that brought forth the morning.
Once again from the old paintboxes
we take the same gold for scepter and crown
that has disguised you through the ages.
Piously we produce our images of you
till they stand around you like a thousand walls.
And when our hearts would simply open,
our fervent hands hide you.
In Jesus’ parable of the sheep and goats, Jesus is giving us a vision of God-as-King. This story is first and foremost God’s story. If we look to earthly kings to understand our God-King, we look in vain.
A king is someone who has the power to force others to bend to his will. . . someone who orders rather than asks. . . At least an earthly king does.
Our heavenly God-King seeks, asks, knocks . . . the very thing he told us to do with him, he does first with us . . . persists in knocking at the door of our goat selves, begging for entry.
We humans have been very busy trying to reinvent our God-King into our own image: as Rilke says, we have covered him up with the trappings of earth-bound majesty . . .
We’ve painted him with beauty who became our ugliness that we might be freed from its cost . . .
We’ve crowned him with splendor who came and comes quietly, like a thief . . . in the night . . .to take away that which belongs always and only to us . . . our judgment . . .
We’ve burdened him with gold who burdened himself with the weight of our sins . . .
Christ our King, our God, wants for us the wow of God, not the woe.
The joy, not the sorrow . . .
The awe, not the indifference . . .
The service of love, not the debt of guilt . . .
The wow, not the woe . . .
Meeting Jesus face to face is risky business. Barbara Brown Taylor in The Preaching Life, says, “. . . to tell if they are really Jesus’ eyes . . . look into them, to risk that moment of recognition that may break your heart, or change your mind, or make you mad, or make you amend your life. Whatever effect it has on you, that seems to be one thing the sheep know how to do that the goats have never tried: to look, to see, to seek Christ in the last, the lost, the least. . .”
The ‘least of these’ are giving as well as receiving, teaching us even as we are giving to them. . .the hard brokenness of the goat misses the chance to learn grace from those who have nothing to give but grace . . .
The soft compassion of sheep is mistaken all too often in our world for weakness . . . for a lack of standards, for a lack of clear moral principles . . . but Jesus embraces as strength what the world holds to be weakness . . . and therein lies Jesus’ strength.
We are all, each and every one of us, the least of these . . .
The bad news is that we’re all goats . . . sometimes . . .
The good news is that we’re all sheep . . . sometimes. . .
The Great Good News is that God our shepherd is a sheep . . . all the time.