Danny Stone, Marion, IA

Warm-up Question

What are your favorite non-profit organizations?

Helping Your Neighbors

There are few ELCA youth directors who wake up every morning and separate the goats from the sheep.  I get to live out today’s Gospel twice a day! I serve full-time at Faith Lutheran Church in Marion, Iowa and live on a 40 acre farm animal sanctuary which cares for 60+ animals.  My wife, Alison, and I founded Hercules’ Haven as a forever home for animals.  It is a place where people can come to experience grace, compassion, and grow in empathy.  With church and farm, non-profits rule my life.

As you can imagine, 2020 has been difficult for non-profit organizations.  Our friends at the local rescues struggled during the shutdown.  All in-person fundraising events were cancelled, volunteers stayed home, and each organization had to double-down with skeleton crews. Everyone pivoted to online fundraising and eventually helpers returned.  Grants and gifts helped make up the difference, and we welcomed Zoom visitors from across the country.  

2020 had another surprise for Central Iowa and its struggling charities.  On August 10th, a powerful storm system moved across the Midwest.  This “derecho” pummeled communities from Iowa to Indiana.  A narrow band over Cedar Rapids had gusts over 140 mph.  That is equal to an EF3 tornado or Category 4 hurricane.  1.9 million utility customers across the region lost power. The storm devastated the greater Cedar Rapids area.  The city lost 60% of its tree cover, crops were destroyed, and most homes suffered mild to severe damage.  The homeless population doubled overnight when the fire department deemed 1000 homes, apartment buildings and businesses “unsafe to occupy.”  

Once animals were secure, the Cedar Rapids animal rescues mobilized to help each other and the community.  The Atomic Salon, a plant-based salon and yoga studio, closed to “normal operations” and became a distribution center for necessities and hot vegan meals.    New groups organized to gather aid, share supplies, and offer comfort.  The “animal people” joined the growing volunteer army that spread out to help their neighbors.  It was one of the few times in American history, when suburban dwellers would gladly welcome a masked stranger waving a chainsaw.

National press coverage briefly reported the Iowa storm, but the story was buried by a busy news cycle.  Many in Iowa felt that they were being ignored by the rest of the country.  Insurance claims reached 1.8 billion dollars by November 9th.  Many homes have tarped roofs, missing doors, and damaged siding.  Contractors are booked until October of 2021.  We are thankful for all our new friends who traveled to offer help.  Life goes on and we cope the best we can.  Fields need to be prepped for spring, non-profits still help people and animals, and neighbors still help neighbors.

Discussion Questions

  • 2020 feels like a string of disasters, one after another.  What are some of this year’s disaster stories?
  • How have non-profit organizations aided disaster victims?

Christ the King Sunday

Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24

Ephesians 1:15-23

Matthew 25:31-46

(Text links are to Oremus Bible Browser. Oremus Bible Browser is not affiliated with or supported by the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America. You can find the calendar of readings for Year A at Lectionary Readings.)

For lectionary humor and insight, check the weekly comic Agnus Day.

Gospel Reflection

The parable of separating goats and sheep is the last parable in Matthew’s Gospel. This was Jesus’ final lesson before his crucifixion and resurrection, and he chose to talk about barnyard animals?  

Parables based on farming metaphors were a natural way for Jesus to affect his audience.  Even those living in cities saw flocks in the fields and animals in the market.  Farming stories are rarely part of today’s life.  According to the Farm Bureau, only 2% of Americans live on a farm or ranch.  If you are lucky enough to have a farm kid in your group, now is their time to shine.

Why do you need to separate goats from the sheep?  Everyone is friendly in the field, but at feeding times and bedtime, goats are … jerks.  They bash and butt the sheep away from the grain and will push their wooly friends out of their shelter into the rain.  “Stubborn as a goat” is a real thing and being “sheepish” is also true.  Honestly, sheep are easy and agreeable.  Goats cause far more mischief.  

Jesus wanted to help us understand the “final judgement.”  Righteous sheep are on the right. Undesirable goats are sorted to the left.  The King blesses those on the right for their works of kindness to others.  The goats on the left are cursed for ignoring others. In all things, we must remember that Jesus separates and judges – Jesus judges.  Throughout history and definitely today, we are too eager to judge.  Leave the judgements to Jesus and go out and serve others.

Discussion Questions

  • When have you felt that someone was judging you?
  • When have you judged someone else?
  • How do you think Jesus will judge you? Your family? Friends? Our leaders?  By what standard?

Activity Suggestions

Closing Prayer

Dear heavenly Father, blessed Son and inspiring Holy Spirit, help us through the storms of 2020.  Challenge us to serve and remind us to withhold judgement.  In your name we pray. Amen.