Baa Baa Black Sheep

Frances Le Bas

Matthew 25:13-46

What is the difference between sheep and goats?  (PULL UP THE WHITE SHEEP).  Sheep are docile animals that follow the lead of their shepherd.  They graze on grass throughout the day.  If one of them, falls on its back, it cannot get up on its own and can die.  It is easily frightened.  Sheep have a reputation of being stupid and worthless.  The sheep need a shepherd to stir them to water and food.  A goat, on the other hand (PULL UP THE GOAT) is a more independent animal that consumes a large quantity of food and can eat just about anything.  A mother goat will even butt her head against her offspring to get at their food.  You may think that goat and sheep look quite different as in these stuffed animals but in parts of the world, as well as in Jesus’ time, goats and sheep look almost the same and can be hard to distinguish.  Hence, separating goats and sheep is not that easy.

In Jesus’ parable of the sheep and the goats, only Jesus Christ as our shepherd and king will judge and separate the sheep and the goats.  The sheep represent followers of Jesus who fed the hungry, gave drink to the thirsty, welcomed the stranger, clothed the naked, took care of the sick, and visited those in prison.  Theirs will be the kingdom of God.  The goats are those who have not accepted God into their hearts and therefore will not inherit the kingdom.

But let’s be clear.  We do these beautiful things for others not to get into the kingdom of God but because of God’s love for us.  Our salvation is not dependent on good deeds but is freely given by God’s grace through faith.  As Martin Luther emphasized, we are both saint and sinner.  God knows this but still gives us the gift of salvation through our faith.

But let us add another wrinkle to this parable.  (PULL OUT BLACK SHEEP and put the white one away) What about black sheep?  In nature, black sheep result when two recessive genes come together, and this does not occur often.  Black sheep are not desired because their wool cannot be dyed, so they were often eliminated from the flock.  The idiom “black sheep of the family” is used to describe an odd or disreputable member of a family.  They are often the victim of repeated negative circumstances.  They may be said to have a black cloud over their head.  When I think of black sheep in this context I think of two stories.  The first is the story of Charlie Brown in the movie “The Great Pumpkin.”  As they go trick or treating, Lucy says, “I got a candied apple.”  Pig Pen says, “I got a chocolate bar.”  Charlie Brown says, “I got a rock.”  Sometimes life delivers rocks to us.

The second story comes from the movie “Field of Dreams.”  In the movie, Burt Lancaster plays Dr. Archibald Graham who was considered a black sheep in baseball because he was too small to play in the major league. and so, he became a doctor.  He died with the pain of never knowing what it was like to play baseball in the major league.  Kevin Costner’s character Ray Kinsella hears the cornfield whisper “ease his pain.”  Ray brings Doc to the field where he transforms into a twenty-year-old baseball player.  He receives the opportunity to play baseball with Shoeless Joe Jackson, Ty Cobb and other great baseball players.  As Doc in his 20’s was playing baseball, he noticed that Ray’s daughter was choking on a hot dog.  This puts Doc in the position of having to choose between staying on the field and playing baseball for the rest of his life, which he always yearned for or stepping back into his realm as a doctor and saving the young girls life.  He chose to save the girl’s life.  We must remember that black sheep have a heart and can do what is right by God.  Charlie Brown and Doc were outcasts in their community, but they did not necessarily engage in a pattern of sinning.

Who are the black sheep today?  Let’s take Pastor Nadia Bolz-Weber for example.  She started out in life as a young Christian who was forced to attend a very fundamentalist church.  She later discovered that it was not for her and in her teens, strayed away from God.  Instead, she turned to a life full of sinful conduct.  Adorned with tattoos, she hung out with all types of black sheep who were addicted to drugs and alcohol.  She found God after her future husband introduced her to the Lutheran church.  Her positive experience in the Lutheran church prompted her to attend seminary.  During seminary, she learned that we are both saint and sinner.  That we are both black sheep and white sheep.  As the great singer Johnny Cash once said, “We have a good dog and bad dog inside of us.  The trick is not to let the bad dog out so often.”  I would change this to say, we have both types of sheep, black and white, in each of us.  What is nice about Nadia Bolz-Weber and Johnny Cash is that they converted to white sheep based on the circumstances of their lives, but continued to serve their fellow black sheep.  As an example, Nadia Bolz-Weber established a Lutheran congregation called the House for all Saints and Sinners that focuses on a more eclectic group of people while Johnny Cash performed for prisoners on a regular basis including Folsom prison.

Just as Johnny Cash and Nadia Bolz-Weber went through years of struggle, I too faced years of emptiness without God in my life.  During my practice of medicine, I too was a black sheep.  Years of being a doctor 24/7 side tracked my commitment to the Lord.  I put the Lord on hold during this time.  It was not until 2013 that I discovered my need for a shepherd and his flock, that is, the church.  Being bedridden for a year I discerned heavily on what God was trying to tell me.  I felt a strong calling from God, and we reconnected.  Even during my practice of medicine, I felt that God was always with me.  It was as if God was allowing me to go my own way while knowing full well that I would returned to God’s loving arms.  As Henry David Thoreau once stated, “If a man does not keep pace with his companions, perhaps it is because he hears the sound of a different drummer.  Let him step to the music he hears, however measured or far away.”

On this Christ the King day, it is important to note that we are both white and black sheep, not goats, and that God loves the flock no matter what color.  So, do not be concerned if you find yourself in a lowly position with a black cloud over your head.  Because it is during these times that God is shadowing us and protecting us, and continuing to shepherd us into the flock to be in the kingdom of God that is now and not yet. AMEN..