Gathering at the gates
Matthew 25:31-36

Today is the last Sunday of the Church year and the readings focus on the end times, when Christ will return.  Our gospel reading contains perhaps the scariest image that is portrayed in all of the New Testament, Jesus sitting on his throne as Judge with all the nations gathered in front of him, drafting gate in hand prepared to separate the sheep from the goats.  How many times have you heard this in your life and felt intimidated, it’s always been an image that has resonated with me and perhaps scared me a bit too.

But this time around it’s different, this time I read the text in light of the Psalm for the day, Psalm 100.  “Enter his gates with thanksgiving.”  When we put these two texts together it sheds a different light.  We regularly gather before Jesus, in this time between the creation and Christ’s second coming, we gather here as his body the church, to “Shout for joy to the Lord, Worship the Lord with gladness, knowing that the Lord is God, he made us and we are his people the sheep of his pasture.”

Do you get the meaning of that line, we are the sheep!  If that is the case, why are we concerned about the day of judgement?  We are the sheep, our sins are forgiven.

Whenever we gather to worship we do it in the name of the Father and of the Son of the Holy Spirit and then we confess our sins and hear the words spoken to us “As a called and ordained servant of the word, I announce the GRACE of God to all of you.  On behalf of my Lord Jesus Christ and by his COMMAND, I FORGIVE the sins of all of you who repent and believe.  Again, In the name of the Father and of the son and of the Holy Spirit.

Your sins are forgiven!  Why is it then that when we hear the words, “I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me,” that we feel guilty and burdened and think we’ve failed.

There’s a couple of reasons for it off the top of my head, number one, is because that’s the burden of sin, we always sin and fall short and so we think that we have failed, when in most cases we probably haven’t, the second is that other people try and tell us we’ve failed because they are judging us perhaps even to make themselves feel better.

Here is the truth, this text is pure gospel, we see Jesus sitting on his throne, with all the nations gathered around him, he is the only one that can tell the difference between the sheep and the goats.  Only Jesus can do the separating, and then what is said about all those on the right, “Come you who are blessed by my father, take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world.”  We are his people, therefore we are his sheep and he is our shepherd, he knows us and is calling us home, to live in the kingdom prepared for us since the creation of the world.

There’s no law bound up in that, just pure grace.  In the following verses of the gospel that we didn’t hear today the disciples say to Jesus, “hang on, we don’t remember doing any of those things for you, but Jesus says, whatever you did for others, you did for me.  Now we can only do these things because we are the sheep, this is a result of our being a part of God’s flock, not things that we must do to enter to the right side of the gate.  We are blessed and continue to be blessed and as a result we are called to shout for joy to God and sing his praises in worship.

That’s like a homecoming; remember the excitement of the shepherd who leaves the ninety nine sheep and goes to find the lost one, he throws a party to celebrate the sheep’s return.  That’s what worship is or should be like.  Coming to worship is described in Hebrews as “coming to the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God. You have come to thousands upon thousands of angels in joyful assembly” and we do that week in week out without even realising it.  We say it in the preface to Holy Communion but does it really sink in.  We are gathered with all the nations at the gates to heaven every time we worship, whether it be here or anywhere else in the world, joining with the angels and archangels and all the company of heaven we adore and magnify his glorious name.

We have nothing to fear or be scared about on the day of judgement, think of it as like gathering at the gates ready for a concert, people line up for hours to get good tickets, they pay ridiculous amounts of money and it’s usually all over in a couple of hours.  This will be an everlasting concert, that we get to participate in, singing to God with joy and gladness.

As we come and gather at the gates in preparation for that final day of judgment let’s do it with Joy and Thanksgiving.  Giving thanks to God for all that he has given to us, and then go out and share that Joy with all the world.