This week’s RCL readings are pretty agrarian, aren’t they? There’s lots of talk of sheep, goats, and shepherds, which leaves me at a bit of a disadvantage. I’m a total city slicker. I don’t know any shepherds personally.The only time I’ve ever even seen a goat is at a petting zoo. And I’m a vegetarian, so both lamb and goat are off my menu. I am currently wearing a wool shawl that I knitted last year — does that count for something?

At any rate, here’s what little I know about sheep and goats: they’re not the same animal. Total epiphany, right? They look similar and they even make similar noises — bleating, if you will. Perhaps from the vantage point of an average-size human, it wouldn’t be easy to distinguish between the two if they were mixed up in a large group. And yet, our shepherd in Ezekiel, Matthew, and the 100th Psalm knows exactly which species is which and which ones of those are his own, not at all confused by their similarity in appearance or sound. He can even sort them by BMI!

On Reign of Christ (or Christ the King, depending on your tradition) Sunday, I’m struck by the lack of references to civic or monarchical power in the readings. We get allusions to God as prince and the Davidic line in Ezekiel, but Ephesians deals with monarchy the most. The overwhelming connotation in these readings is not the absolute and unquestioned reign of a potentate, but the care of a loving, doting, concerned, protective, and even pursuing shepherd. This is a portrait of a caretaker who would pursue those that are his and redeem them from a destructive oligarchy designed to devour them.

Perhaps the most curious thing in any of these readings is that Matthew suggests the sheep have some say in whether or not they are sheep. And interestingly enough, they live into their sheephood (new word) by ostensibly caring for the shepherd! What a shift in dynamics! I suppose there is an inherent partnership between farmers and the animals in their care — the farmer cares for the animals and in turn gets milk, wool, or even meat from them. But this partnership in Matthew 25:31-46 is different. The acting shepherd doesn’t need the sheep for provision. The way the sheep care for the shepherd is by caring for each other, and in doing so, they proclaim who their shepherd is. Sheephood is a condition of the heart, not a matter of circumstance.

I sense that these texts are inviting us to plant our flag and declare which kingdom/pasture is our home. Where are you going with this text?

In conclusion, I leave you with an adorable video of bleating, back-talking baby goats. Because cuteness.

10 thoughts on “Revised Common Lectionary: Bleating Hearts

  1. This will be interesting.

    I know a lot of you have been preaching for years, and have had the same scriptures come up in the lectionary many times. This year, I will end up preaching 17 sermons – more than any year before, and a lot for a layperson. And this coming Sunday is the 15th anniversary of my first sermon – and I’ll be preaching these texts for the second time ever.

    Fifteen years ago, my pastor gave me these parameters:

    • We’re doing a special Transgender Sunday, so make it about transgender.
    • Use all three texts (excluding the Psalm)
    • It’s Christ Our Sovereign Sunday, so make sure it’s about that
    • It’s Thanksgiving time, so make it about Thanksgiving
    • Keep it under 15 minutes – preferably 12

    So I’m writing this sermon for a congregation I don’t really know (pulpit fill), and with echoes of my first sermon in my head. This church uses just two texts, so I’m using Ephesians and Matthew. Really not sure where I’m going with it, so I’m praying and waiting for inspiration.

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  2. I remember from seminary being challenged with this text. Raised Southern Baptists the goats were always the eurethreal “them”. Those that were not us. Whoever they were. Then at seminary I was asked to think about the goat in me. Humm. Did I ever look the other way when someone needed help? Yup. Did I not give or help when I should have? Yup. Praise be to God that someday Christ will separate the goat out of all of us so that in the reign of God we can all be happy sheep together.

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  3. It’s Christ the King Sunday, so I’m going with that, and emphasising Christ’s coming as King and Judge when he will separate the sheep from the goats. Somewhere I have a sheep-and-goats sermon that I can lift bits from, and I also have a Christ the King sermon that I don’t like, but the introduction can be reworked…. and I shall quote King Lune in “The Horse and his Boy”: “For this is what it means to be a king: to be first in every desperate attack and last in every desperate retreat, and when there’s hunger in the land (as must be now and then in bad years) to wear finer clothes and laugh louder over a scantier meal than any man in your land.”

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  4. I read this on Twitter quite a while back, and it’s stuck with me. Just went and looked it up because I think it is part of a sermon percolating in my head and heart. I don’t know about the rest of the article in which it is embedded; haven’t spent any time with it yet. But this, this:

    Brian Zahnd: We’ve demoted Jesus from Lord and King to Secretary of Afterlife Affairs.

    (link for reference: We’ve demoted Jesus from Lord and King to Secretary of Afterlife Affairs. http://jonathanmerritt.religionnews.com/2014/07/23/pastor-brian-zahnd-preaches-gospel-non-violence/)

    mrsredboots: I had forgotten that part of the book (which I love). Thank you for the reminder. It might have to be part of it, too. Appreciate your sharing it.

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  5. OMG. Thank you for the video! Of course, I so appreciate your insights and perspectives from week to week, but …. the goats! Too cute!

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