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Don’t be a GOAT

By Nathan Decker

Ever hear something that made you get nervous for the person speaking? Retired Bishop Carl Sanders came back to Cheriton UMC to preach. It was Advent, and the church was celebrating 100 years of ministry. Cheriton UMC had a special place in the bishop’s heart. It was his first appointment in the 1930s. It was where he had married his wife.

He began his sermon stating he had to confess a sin. “I’m in love with another woman.” Of course the congregation began murmuring, starring over at the pew where his wife sat. She began dotting her eyes with a handkerchief. The bishop went on to describe the virtues and beauty of this “other woman.” She was radiant, loving, humble, faithful. The more he spoke, the greater the uncomfortable nature of sitting through this. Some men thought they should tell him to stop. Some women thought the men should haul him out of the pew. His poor wife sat there poised and controlled through his rambling. “I’m in love with another woman, and she is Mary, the mother of Jesus.” A sudden exhale, a relaxation, his wife smiling — she’d been in on the joke the whole time.

I had that experience watching Fox News one day. A commentator on the news was interviewing a local man about the president. He was rambling on, talking about his support, and then he said the strangest thing. “The President is a Goat.” My ears hurt. I need my hearing checked. What did he say? The President is a Goat? I’m used to animals in politics but usually they are elephants, donkeys, penguins and porcupines — but a goat? Only later did I realize he was using an acronym. G-O-A-T — Greatest Of All Time.

In September 1992, Lonnie Ali, wife of Muhammed Ali, started G.O.A.T. Inc. After all, Ali always said, “I’m the Greatest.” Ah, it’s a sport’s analogy. Suddenly images of Wayne Gretzky, Michael Jordan and Babe Ruth come to mind. And today we seem to use this acronym all the time. We encourage our kids: Be a GOAT! We tell our spouses: You’re my GOAT! And politicians still want the title of the greatest GOAT.

Funny thing. Jesus tells us not to be a GOAT. In Matthew 25, Jesus describes himself in glory, sitting on the throne, with all the nations and peoples gathered before him. The great sorting has begun. Goats to the left, sheep to the right. He describes them, their lives, their way of being. I was thirsty, and you gave me something to drink. I was hungry, and you gave me food. I was a stranger, and you welcomed me as a friend. I was cold, and you provided a warm coat. I was sick, and you took the time to check on me. I was in prison, and even though everyone else turned their back on me, you came and visited me.

When? The Sheep ask. When did we do any of this? When you were not trying to be the greatest. When you didn’t care if you got credit. When you ignored popularity, accepted ridicule and were willing to do justice even though it meant losing. When you did it to the least of these, you did it for me.

The goats wait patiently. Goats are used to getting awards last because they always get No. 1. But Jesus looks sad, disappointed, almost angry as he turns to them. I was thirsty, and you assumed all I wanted was alcohol. I was hungry, and you thought I was lazy and undeserving. I was a stranger, and you saw me as a threat even though you didn’t know me. I was cold, and you ignored my nakedness. I was sick, and you politicized my illness. I was in prison, alone and afraid, and you said I belonged there.

The Goats get nervous. This whole fire and adversary thing doesn’t sound like winning. First place usually means being lifted up. This doesn’t sound right at all. When? Jesus, you were never thirsty or hungry. You’re an American — we’re the richest nation on Earth. Jesus, you were never a stranger. You’re one of us — we’re the good guys! Cold and naked? No way! In prison? I’d like to see someone try to throw my Jesus in prison. He’s the Rambo of Saviors, the kick butt and take names God who isn’t vulnerable, right? When? When did we not lift you up in song and vote?

Jesus’ answer? When you were trying to be the greatest. When you wanted credit, spotlight and trophies. When you wanted to win no matter who you stepped on. When you refused the least of these, you rejected me.

Matthew 25 reminds us the ways of Jesus, the journey in the Kingdom of God, being led by the Spirit — God doesn’t want goats. God wants sheep. Sheep follow the Shepherd footsteps. Sheep listen to the Shepherd’s voice. Sheep flock together and look out for one another. SHEEP are Simple Helpers Empowering and Equipping People.

God’s vision of greatness isn’t like our own. Disciples of Jesus serve. Those who follow Jesus lead others in service. Christians are known by who they include rather than who they exclude. Don’t be a GOAT; be a SHEEP. The Shepherd loves the sheep. Amen.

NATHAN DECKER is the pastor of High Street United Methodist Church. Contact him at 562-3367.