Monthly Archives: September 2013

Separating the Geeple

In Matthew 25:31-46, we find Christ (the Son of Man) on judgment day, separating nations like a shepherd splitting sheep from goats. Christ rewards the sheep because they’d been feeding the hungry, welcoming strangers, clothing the naked, and visiting the sick and imprisoned. Christ explains that when the sheep looked out for the least of God’s children, they were looking out for him. As for the goats, they’re condemned to eternal punishment because they failed to recognize Christ’s presence in the neediest of God’s children.

It’s not easy to come to terms with Matthew 25. Our lips tend to say, “I agree with Jesus, that we should relate to the weakest and neediest the same way we regard Christ himself.” Yet, at the same time, our actions often say the opposite.

Matthew 25 uses sheep and goats to illustrate his parable because they belong to different species. Sheep have fleece and say “baa.” Goats have hair and say “maa.” Sheep like to stick with the rest of the flock, grazing along the ground, eating clover and grass. Goats like to wander away, searching high and low for leaves and twigs, rising on their hind legs to reach them. Sheep loyally follow their master’s voice. Goats need to be driven, and they like strangers, even eating from a stranger’s hand.

Over the years, scientists have worked at crossbreeding goats and sheep. They’ve mingled embryos from each species and produced a creature they call a “geep.”

It seems that many of us are geep-like—a cross between sheep and goats, simple saints and selfish sinners. We struggle with Matthew 25 because, instead of being converted people, we’re confused geeple. We hang with our flock; we stray towards our selfish pursuits. We obey God; we heed the wrong voices. We care about others; we reach over others to get what we want.

Someone might wonder, “What’s really wrong with being a geep? After all, there’s at least some good in them. Isn’t it God’s grace that saves us, not the wonderful ways that we treat others? And didn’t Jesus die for their sins too? Isn’t there room for geepnicks in heaven too?”

Matthew 25 doesn’t deny that we’re saved by grace. It simply affirms that our deeds and relationships matter. Godly deeds aren’t depicted as the price of admission to God’s eternal kingdom. Jesus paid that price. Connections with the poor are simply a means of identification, indicating who’s already in God’s eternal kingdom. Graciousness toward others around us, especially the weak and vulnerable, is a sign of the kingdom, not a precondition for getting into it.

God surely loves goats, sheep and everything in between. Yet, we weren’t created to be geepish people, rather God’s children, serving our Lord wholeheartedly. And Jesus didn’t redeem the world so that we might remain geeps, confused about who we are and who we should follow.

Speaking of geeps, it’s clear that God’s a cross breeder. God’s Son is a cross between the human and the divine. The gospel entwines justice with mercy. On the cross, God’s love intersects with our selfishness. God twists together truth, pardon and compassion. All of this crossbreeding, as we know, is fully revealed on the cross, where the Lamb gave his life as a scapegoat for our sins so that we can be sheep that follow our Shepherd.

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Whirlwind Trips in the Lord’s Vineyard

I’m often unsure about what to share in this blog. Too much information is wearisome, but too little gives the impression that not much is happening. Please accept my apologies if I don’t balance the scales quite right.

During the past week, I got caught up in another string of whirlwind trips across Guatemala.  Last Wednesday, I drove for 10 hours with several national church officials to participate in a called meeting of the Q’eqchi’ Presbytery of the Petén. We gathered at the beautiful new temple in Sayaxché (see photo).DSC01340 This presbytery is the poorest and most remote of all IENPG presbyteries. The hard working and determined leaders have few resources and little education. After addressing a church crisis caused by an untried, mischievous pastor, we labored on a vision statement for the presbytery. This trip went smoothly, although my body is covered with bedbug bites acquired at a hotel where we stayed. We returned to Guatemala City on Friday at 1:00 PM, giving me three hours to pack for the next trip to northern Quiché.

I joined a team from Central Presbyterian Church that traveled for 8-hours to visit two Ixil congregations. While en route, the country was rocked by a 6.2 degree earthquake which caused panic but fortunately no widespread damage or injury. We worshipped in San Juan Cotzal and Chajul, celebrating Holy Communion. Then we discussed with local leaders the creation of a strategic plan for their churches. We checked on the progress of the stone temple in Chajul, where three walls have been erected so far (see photo). DSC01342We arrived back in Guatemala City on Sunday at 8:00 PM, just in time for me to pack for another trip early the next morning.

At 4:00 AM Monday, I picked up Pastor Alvaro for our drive on the coastal highway to the little town of Pajapita near the Mexican border. This was a meeting of PRESGOV to make plans for future group visits from the PC(USA) and for upgrading vehicles, and to resolve a host of financial issues. We gathered at the home of a committee member whose wife served us turtle in the shell for lunch (see photo). DSC01345Before we adjourned, we gathered around the newest PRESGOV bus, a 25-passenger Toyota Coaster, to pronounce a blessing (see photo). DSC01350May God guide and protect this bus and its passengers! During the day we heard news that an overloaded bus driving toward Guatemala City plummeted over a 650 foot cliff, killing 46 passengers and injuring 41. The driver, among the fatalities, lost control when his brakes failed while speeding on the windy highway. This accident ignited nation-wide consternation about poor road maintenance and reckless driving. Three days of mourning were declared by the president.

Afterwards I drove over the mountains to Quetzaltenango, where I rested for the night before a Tuesday meeting of the IENPG International Relations Committee at the Maya Quiché Biblical Institute. Getting there the next day was challenging, because the streets around the hotel were barricaded during several hours for a parade in celebration of Children’s Day. Most every elementary school must have been represented, with marching bands, banners, and costumed characters. After the parade I got lost trying to leave the city, which was no surprise. Once I finally arrived for the meeting, we had an in-depth discussion about ways to develop new mission partnerships that will enrich each partner and give witness to God’s grace.

I salute anyone who read through this entire, perhaps tedious travelogue. Yes, God’s mission involves exhilarating undertakings and grand ideas, but it also entails lots of squirming during lengthy bus rides and patience during protracted meetings. As always, it’s a blessing to be in serving in the vineyard of the Lord.

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