The following sermon was preached at saint benedict’s table on Sunday November 22, 2020.  The service was live-streamed from our empty church building because of COVID-19. You can read or listen to it here and you can also find it anywhere you listen to podcasts. During these unusual times, you can join us Monday-Friday for Evening Prayer at 5pm and at 7pm on Sundays for live-streamed liturgies on our church’s FB page.  The links to help you connect with me directly on social media can also be found on this website.




May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts be acceptable and pleasing in your sight O God, for you are our rock and our redeemer. Amen.

“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33 and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left.” (31-33)

This story really isn’t suitable for young children, and yet I was taught it as a child in part through a pithy little song:


“I just wanna be a sheep baa baa baa baa.”

First verse:  “I don’t want to be a hypocrite, ‘cause they’re not hip with it! I just wanna be a sheep.”


There are more verses, each one more anti-Semitic than the last. What were all my well-meaning Sunday School teachers and camp counsellors thinking?

I can’t be sure, but I do know that I absorbed two key lessons from this song and others like it. First I learned that it’s fun to be in the in crowd and to feel superior over everyone who isn’t. I just wanna be a sheep because anyone who is not a sheep is … a loser. The baa baa baa baa refrain might as well be “na nana na na.”

Second, I developed a sense of terror that maybe I wasn’t a sheep. Maybe I was a hypocrite or one of the other groups we were making fun of and so for years I prayed every single night that Jesus would forgive me and make me a sheep.

I can’t remember but it’s possible that my fear also led me to sing the songs at church even louder, to make sure everyone saw my well used Bible secured in its zippered pouch, and to enact other performative signs of belonging.  I just wanted to be a sheep, and if I couldn’t be completely sure I was one, I sure could act like the sheepiest sheep to ever sheep.

It was a dangerous mix of moral superiority and fear.

It was not good news.

Binaries rarely are.

The second you hear that there are two groups of people – one that will be rewarded and one punished – you want to do everything you can to make sure that you are in the right group and oftentimes we do that by distancing ourselves from anyone we’re afraid might be in the wrong group.  And we teach our kids to do the same thing.

I think Jesus understood this impulse. I think Jesus was well aware of our capacity to misapply this story and so he included several big clues to help us avoid doing just that.

First, he made it clear that we’re not the ones who get to decide who is a sheep and who is a goat. That’s not our job, it’s Jesus’ job.  So we should all just stop trying to put Jesus out of a job when it comes to judging people.

Second, Jesus makes it clear what our job is.  It’s right there in the story. Our job is to provide food for people who are hungry, clothing for people who are naked, to care for the sick, and to visit people who are in prison.  That’s our job.

And I will talk more about our job tonight, but first, my colleague Scott Sharman had something interesting to say about sheep and goats this week that I wanted to share with you:

“Goats largely get a pretty bad rap in some places in the bible. In the Hebrew Scriptures, for example, they often represent sins, even being symbolically driven out from the people to cast away evil. The well-known vision in Matthew chapter 25 about the great end-time separation of the sheep from the goats is another such passage. Sheep receive praise and goats get judgment from the eschatological herder-King.

The meaning of that Gospel text changed for me  immensely when I stopped reading it as a who is who or an either/or. In my view, the line between the sheep and the goats is far less a line that runs between me and another person, and far more a line that runs down the centre of every human heart. I have some sheep tendencies and some goat tendencies, and both need sorting out and proper directing as I am brought towards communion with God.

Scott continues – And, what’s more, I think there’s reason to believe that even the goats are not entirely without hope. After all, Jesus, who we are accustomed to thinking of as the Passover lamb, also takes the place of the first covenant’s scapegoat in his incarnate life and death so as to deliver us from the cycle of evil. If that’s true, perhaps the lifegiving and redeeming power of Christ’s resurrection can extend even to those ‘goat parts’ of me, of you, and of all things.”

No one, not even the goats are entirely without hope.

Now back to the subject of our job – to feed the hungry, clothe the naked, care for the sick and visit people in prison.

Preaching is an interesting artform. You have a text firmly rooted in the historical context in which it was written and also an expectation that is has something to say to you and your community in the present day.  The text doesn’t change, but the application invariably does based on our context.

I could preach a sermon today about how there is so much more we should be doing, how our goat side is winning and we need to do better, do more, do different and maybe next time I preach on this text I will, but not today.

This week someone commented that the last few weeks of readings have been real downers and they hoped we were getting a more hopeful passage this week. They expressed a sense that what we needed right now when the number of people who are sick and dying of this disease just continue to increase was not a smarten up and work harder sermon, but a little hope, a little encouragement, a little reminder that sometimes we do get it right.

Because while we do have goat like qualities as a community, while it is true that there is much to be done and we could be doing more, it’s also true that as a community we are doing some pretty wonderful things.

And today feels like a day to spend some time focusing on those.

In his Rule, St Benedict quotes Jesus’ words and then instructs his followers that they are to welcome all as Christ.  Basically, Christ is in everyone you meet, treat them as such, learn to see Christ in them.

That’s the basic hallmark of the Benedictine way of following Jesus.

You all are doing this in so many different ways, people in this community volunteer for a wide range of organizations, many of you work for non-profits, you are checking in on neighbours, dropping off meals, writing notes of encouragement praying for people.

These are such good things.

Sometimes, maybe even oftentimes right now, you are recognizing that you also bear Christ’s image and you’re giving yourself permission to not do all of those things and rather to do the basics of taking care of yourself – eating regularly, drinking water, and resting.

These are also good and important things to be doing right now.

This community of saint benedict’s table would not exist if we all also didn’t choose to pool some of our money into a collective pot we call the church budget. That money makes our common life possible. It makes it possible to rent space in this building, to have equipment and people to lead worship on this livestream, to host events, to create podcasts. All of this happens because we all give a portion of our individual incomes to make it happen.

And we could have just stopped there and said, “That’s fine, that’s enough,” but ten or so years ago we were challenged to do more and we rose to that challenge. Now every year we calculate 10 percent of our church’s budget and we set that aside. We set it aside for work done outside of our community. We set it aside for work we don’t get to control.  We set it aside to support groups that feed the hungry, clothe the naked, care for the sick and visit people who are in prison.

We could just choose to decrease the amount of money we give to the church by 10% and not do that.

We could choose to dramatically increase our budget and try to do all of that work in house, where we could control it and ensure it was all done “our way.”

But we don’t, we give more so that collectively we can do more. And we release control to other organizations precisely because we know that that sort of control isn’t actually effective. That they can do a better job with our money than we can.

This year, we gave away over 20 000 to 14 organizations that are doing good work here in Winnipeg and around the world. You can read more about them on the church’s website.[1]

And it’s not just money. After reading about these organizations in previous years, many of you have chosen to volunteer at them and the Mission Fund is always looking for other ways that we can work more directly with the groups we support financially.

We can always also decide to give more so that we can both do more as a community and give more away – that’s a great conversation to have when we look at next year’s budget, but if you want a quick, simple, low cost way to provide additional support to these organizations follow them on social media, comment and share their posts.  Learn more about that they’re doing and cheer them on.

Can you imagine the boost of encouragement it would be if each one of these groups suddenly saw a bump of a few hundred followers tomorrow?

I imagine that if Jesus was to appear right now and we were to ask the question from tonight’s reading, “Lord, when was it that we saw you in need and met that need,” that Jesus might repeat his reply that, “whenever you fed someone or clothed someone or visited someone that someone was me.” I think he would say, “Well done good and faithful servants.”

Well done.

And now for a but, it’s a sermon you knew there would be a but right?

But as I said earlier, context is key. We are in the middle of a health care crisis and so in addition to “Well done” I also think Jesus would say, “and when I was immunocompromised you stayed home as much as possible, maintained a two meter distance, washed your hands, and wore your mask,” and “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.”[2] (40)

We are living through a difficult crisis. Be ever so gentle with yourself. It can be so easy to feel overwhelmed and helpless. Stay home, wash your hands, wear your mask when you need to go out, keep 2 meters from others.

We need to do this for each other, we need to do this for the people in our city who are sick, and we need to do this for our health care workers because right now they are doing their very best and their best is literally not good enough.  There are simply more sick people than they could care for if they had all just come back from a month’s vacation in the tropics let alone when they are exhausted and severely under resourced.   We are asking too much of them already, we all need to do our part.

Stay home. Wash your hands, wear your mask, keep 2 meters apart. Check in with each other, join us for prayer at 5pm when you can. We are all in this together, even when we feel so far apart.

Each and every person, including each and every one of you has stamped within them the image of Christ. May we all, as both Jesus and Benedict have told us to do, learn to see Christ in each other and treat each other accordingly.

In the strong name of our Triune God who creates, redeems, and sustains. Amen.


[2] Thanks to Robin Shugart for this take on Jesus’ words.


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