Matthew 25:31-46— 31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. 34 Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ 37 Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? 38 And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? 39 And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 40 And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’
41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44 Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ 45 Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”
In the name of Jesus. Amen.
At some point in life, everyone is plagued with thoughts of futility. Everyone wonders if all their work and all their effort and all their labor is, ultimately, serving no useful purpose. You go through the same motions day after day, month after month, and year after year, but who cares? You try hard to be a good husband or a good mother or a good son or a good student but does anyone notice? Does anyone appreciate it? What difference does it make?
The ancient Chinese philosopher Confucius said, “The hardest thing of all is to find a black cat in a dark room, especially if there is no cat.” Maybe your life feels that futile.
You wash the dishes, fold the laundry, and sweep the floor only to turn around and find the same mess moments later. You do your homework, write that paper, or finish that task at work and wonder, “What difference does it make? Why bother?” Your life is filled with all sorts of busyness – work, classes, meetings, taking the kids to this practice or that event – and everything you do feels as meaningless as finding that elusive, non-existent black cat.
The temptation to go through the motions of our daily lives without regard for the meaning behind the motions hounds us all. And always the fear of futility looms and grows. When all is said and done, what difference does it make? What’s the point? Why bother?
The answer is in today’s text, the story of the sheep and the goats. It’s not an easy text. It’s not that it is hard to understand; instead, the meaning is altogether clear, and that’s the problem. Now let’s be honest. If this was the only word that we had received from Jesus, then a religion of works and salvation by human effort would be the logical conclusion. Sheep do acts of kindness, and they receive heavenly praise and eternal rewards. Goats don’t, and get hell. It’s a tough text.
But Scripture is clear. We do not earn our way into God’s good graces. We don’t buy our way into eternal life. And even this text agrees. Notice, what Jesus first says to the sheep, “Come, you who are blessed of My Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”
The sheep are sheep because God has made them sheep. They are chosen, predestined, elect. They are not sheep because they made a choice to be a sheep. They are not sheep because they did acts of kindness. They are not sheep because they worked hard to become a sheep. They are sheep for one reason – God has done it! God makes them sheep. God makes them righteous. And then, these sheep live like His sheep.
They go out into God’s creation, out into their ordinary lives, and they take care of those around them. They help the sick. They feed the hungry. They visit the imprisoned. They clothe the naked. They do sheep things. God’s sheep act like sheep.
And the goats? Well, the goats choose what God never planned. They choose to ignore the call of God. They choose to ignore the cry of their fellow creatures. They reject grace, and they choose death. And so, in return, God gives them what they choose. They share the unintended and unsought fate of Satan and his hoard.
But not you. You are a sheep.
At the Font, God made His claim on you and gave you His Name. The Lord is your shepherd. You are His sheep. You belong to Him – you always will. And so you, His sheep, live like His sheep. You go out into God’s world and you do what you have been given to do. You meet the needs of fellow creatures who cry for your help. That’s what sheep do. And when sheep do what God gives them to do, futility is gone. It’s wiped out completely. That’s the point of the text.
This text is not an exhortation to be a sheep and not a goat. Sheep have no choice anyway. Remember, God does the choosing. The point is that what sheep do as sheep is never wasted and never lost. There’s no futility. This means that your work, your daily work, is transformed. What you do, whatever you do, for the sake of those around you who need your help, whatever you do in fulfillment of your God-given vocation, whatever you do that God has given you to do, is exactly the work you should be doing and is never wasted and is never lost.
It’s not what makes a big splash. It’s not what makes others applaud. It’s not what earns financial perks or accolades or A’s. It’s not what makes you feel good. None of these things determine the value of the work you do. The only thing that counts is that you are doing what you have been given to do in service to others. And so, know that whatever it is you are doing, you are doing it as God’s sheep. And whatever you do as God’s sheep is holy work.
You get up and go to work and put in our eight or ten or twelve hours. You prepare another report. You struggle to meet another deadline. You stock that shelf. You clean up the kitchen. You fold the laundry. You sit through another lecture. You study for another spelling or history or science test. You make your bed, clear your dishes, and straighten your shoes and coats in the entryway. You change the day’s eighth dirty diaper, and you prepare the days’ fourth bottle, and you wipe the white truckle from your shoulder because it is holy work.
As God’s sheep, all the work you do is done in service to the one who needs what God has put you there to give. God has put that needy person in your life – even if their need seems inconsequential. Everything you do can be done with a sense of awe and wonder and gratitude at the sheer holiness of the work you are doing.
You don’t need work that is more meaningful. You don’t need a vocation that packs more prestige. You don’t need to do things that will impress those who watch or grade or evaluate. No, you just need to do what you have been given to do to care for those around you who need it. And when you do that, you are doing an incredible, holy work – just the way that God intended it to be done.
Your work is worthwhile always. That’s the way that it is with sheep. And you are a sheep. Elect, chosen by God, doused in forgiveness at the Font. Righteous. Righteous before God. You are a sheep. You see the need of those around you. You step up and you meet that need. Parents, children, students, employers, neighbors, strangers – you give them what they need from you, and you fulfill your vocation. And you are righteous.
Sheep are righteous twice. Righteous before God in your election, and righteous before creation in your vocation. You are a sheep, my friend. You live without fear. You live without futility. You know – you know that your labor is never in vain. No deed is insignificant. No act is forgotten. God saves you and your labor. Neither is ever lost.
You may feel that your work is insignificant and meaningless. You may feel like what you do goes unnoticed. But it is not. You, you are a sheep. And that changes everything – everything about you and everything about what you do forever. Amen.
The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.
 This sermon was taken largely from a sermon by Dr. Joel Biermann on this text (https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/matthew-25-31-46/id463450793?i=105495219&mt=2).