"Welcome to the Haven of the Servant of All," Pastor Kinsey
There was a time, when for every spring vacation, Kim and I went all the way from the UP down to Panama, Florida. We always went a week or two after Easter, to miss the college crowd, who famously take over the beaches at spring break (how smart were we, right?!) – and, it also gave us an opportunity to stop in to see Kim’s grandparents, who lived in the Orlando area.
Ted and Esther Beckmann lived in a Lutheran retirement complex, called, Luther Haven, a beautiful little paradise, with their own grapefruit tree in the back yard, which we enjoyed every morning at breakfast. Ted and Esther bought-in early to the Haven, when it was still very affordable. And because both of them lived well into their 90’s, they made the most of their investment. Once you were admitted into the Haven, you paid a very nominal monthly fee, and never had to worry about your accommodations again. They started in a nice 2-bedroom home on the Haven property, which is where we visited them for many years. And if they ever needed it, there was two more levels of care, assisted living, and a nursing home facility.
For them it was ideal. Kind of like universal housing, for the well-off!
Plus I think you had to be Lutheran to get in! The Haven was a Lutheran built facility, and Ted and Esther were devout Missouri-Synod Lutherans. In fact Ted & Esther were both teachers in MO-Synod schools, and Ted was a principal, for a good part of their careers. Every morning at the Haven, at 9AM, someone came on the loudspeaker, in everyone’s home or room, in the whole complex, and gave announcements, and then devotions, which we sat and listened to with Kim’s grandparents. It felt a little Big-Brother-ish to me at first, but was also very touching that we could have this family worship-time together.
The MO-Synod is what we in the ELCA would call, our conservative cousins. Kim grew up in that branch of Lutheranism, but when she was called to ordained ministry, she had to leave all that and switch over to the ELCA, because the MO-Synod doesn’t allow women pastors. Women aren’t supposed to have leadership positions in the church at all, though, local practice can vary.
We used to have some very uncomfortable discussions with them back in the 1990’s about opening the ELCA up to having LGBT marriages and ordained pastors, which they were convinced was against what the Bible taught, in their literal interpretation of it. But then we’d go to church on Sunday with them, and when it came time for communion, even though we pointed out to them in their own worship folder that we weren’t allowed to commune, as outsiders – they just said, ‘come up with us.’ They were long-time members, and the pastor wouldn’t pass us over. Ted & Esther wanted their family to commune with them, even though we didn’t profess all the right creeds and beliefs they thought we should!
In Jesus’ parable of the sheep and the goats, the criteria for entering God’s New Age, also, doesn’t depend on your confession of faith.
And this is the crowning one! The final parable from Jesus in the Gospel of Matthew – aren’t you glad!! – which takes place just days before the Passover in Jerusalem and Jesus’ final journey there: Maundy Thursday-Good Friday-Vigil at the tomb, and Easter morning.
This is the climax of 3 chapters of parables, in a series of 7, all about the end times – what it will look like, and what that means for followers of Jesus.
Jesus is the Son of Man, the Son of Humanity, or, the New Human Being, who comes at the eschaton in the glory of a King who sits enthroned over the whole world. And all the nations are gathered before the King – for this “just ruler” will separate the nations like a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats.
As the New Human Being, separates the nations, whole peoples are waiting for their assignment. We often hear this passage as the separating of “people,” good and bad, sheep and goats. But the meaning can be quite different when we recognize that Jesus is talking about whole groups of peoples: Romans, Israelites, and Gentiles of various nations. Who is it that each of these worship? Who do they call their king? There are pagans and Jews, and Zoroastrians, and Greeks, and Egyptians, and Persians, and on and on.
Jesus on the throne says that “the blessed” will inherit the kingdom and realm of God, because when I was hungry you gave me food; when I was thirsty; something to drink; a stranger, you welcomed me; naked, you clothed me; sick, you took care of me; imprisoned, you welcomed me. But those from the just nations were perplexed because they didn’t ever realize or remember when they did this! But Jesus tells them, yes of course, “just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.”
“The unjust nations” who didn’t care for these members of Jesus’ family, “the least of these,” were equally surprised they had not done these things. But they will also be judged on the same criterion – the ways their nations institutionalized and glorified, those who already had the power, the abilities, and privileges, leaving the poor and powerless to suffer and die on their own. So, the nations of goats “will go away into a time of punishment, but the just nations into life in God’s new age," says the King.
Maybe the surprise, on the part of both sheep and goats, is that they were expecting the Son of Humanity to make the final decision based on their creed, their clan, and nationality.
It’s just as easy to think that way, today, if we consider the zero-sum game all the nations play. Who is the most successful? Who has the most feared military? Who is the richest?
But when the New Human Being comes in glory, and all the angels, they will sit on the throne and gather the sheep close to their bosom. Why? Because caring for the homeless, the sick, the imprisoned and the immigrant, is caring for Jesus himself! They will enter “the new life of the age to come,” not because of their creed or their strength to be #1, but because they actually care for “the goats!” the ones who we normally shun, and shove out of the way.
In the realm of the glory of Jesus the King, all will receive a “Haven” of respectable living quarters, each with a grapefruit tree in the back yard. There will be no separation of goats and sheep there, because the power to separate into favored and stigmatized, or powerful and downtrodden, will not fly there. The realm of Jesus’ kingship is founded on caring for, and lifting up, those who are most vulnerable, those who have been used and scapegoated, for the few to profit and thrive. No society or culture is truly healthy, safe, and free, until it is a culture based on, and following, the New Human Being, who is a servant of all!
But the age is coming, and indeed is already here in Christ Jesus, where this ethic and egalitarian Haven, is taking root in and through us, the followers of Jesus. And this universal Haven, this kingdom and realm of God, it turns out, is based more on sheep and goats recognizing their need for one another, not on the criteria of creeds of faith. “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.”
Today, right now, we are invited into that new life in God’s age!