October 6 2019

Yom Kippur
Isaiah 53:3-6

He was despised and rejected by mankind, a man of suffering, and familiar with pain. Like one from whom people hide their faces he was despised, and we held him in low esteem. Surely he took up our pain and bore our suffering, yet we considered him punished by God, stricken by him, and afflicted. But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed. We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to our own way; and the Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

I know you don’t know me, but since this coming Tuesday is Yom Kippur I just have to tell you my story.

My name is Ozziyell Gruff, but my friends just call me Ozzie. And you guessed it; I’m a bona fide billy goat. And I’m a Jewish billy goat? Born and breed right outside Jerusalem, in the shadow of Solomon’s porch.

On the day I was born, Isaac Ben Hammed, was one of the proudest goat herders in town. When he looked at my impressive face and muscular haunches he said, “When this goat gets big, maybe he’ll be selected for Yom Kippur.” Of course, at that time I was too young to know anything about Yom Kippur. I figured it must be some kind of goat beauty pageant, so I was mighty proud to think I’d be selected. But as I grew up in the goat yard, the words, Yom Kippur took on a whole different meaning.

I’ll never forget the first time I heard the old goats talkin’ about it. A couple of them were gathered over in the corner of the pen, talkin’ real serious-like. One of ‘em

“Ain’t gonna' be long now.”

The other one said, “Yep. Yom Kippur’s just around the corner and pretty soon, somebody’s gonna’ get the ax.”

“Yep. It happens every year, round this time. Just about sunset they come and take two goats away and nobody hears from ‘em again.”

“What you reckon they do to them goats?”

“I don’t know for sure. More than likely, them goats probably end up in some shepherd’s soufflé.”

Well, the old goats were right. Just about the time the leaves were startin’ to change you could tell somethin’ big was fixin’ to happen. All the humans in Jerusalem were actin’ mighty strange. Nobody was sayin’ a word. In fact, nobody was doing much of anything. All the shops were closed. All the markets were empty, and for some reason, everybody in town felt the need to take a bath.

And those religious guys, you know, the Levites, they were actin’ mighty strange, too. Most of the time, they wear these bright-colored tunics with all kinds of fringes, but on this day, all of them were dressed up in these plain-lookin’ white robes. The whole bunch of ‘em looked like ghosts.

Then about sunset, it happened. One of them white-robed Levi dudes came into the goat lot with Isaac Ben Hammed. Both of ‘em had this real serious look on their face. The Levi dude just kept lookin’ around the goat yard, sizing everybody up. Then he finally pointed to the two best lookin’ goats in the lot, Rufus, and Hortimus, billy goats from the Grimm family. In less than a minute flat, Ben Hammed snagged ‘em both and led them out of the pen tied to a rope. And that’s the last we ever saw or heard of Rufus or Hortimus.

After a day or so, everything in the goat pen got back to normal, and while all of us missed Rufus and Hortimus, the clock of life seemed to tick on.

Over the next year, I got bigger, stronger and even more handsome. I had most of the young nanny goats eatin’ out of the palm of my hoof. The only goat in the lot who could give me any competition was my first cousin, Antonio. He was about my size and often, people thought Antonio and I were twins.

Life was good that summer for me and Antonio, but as the days began to get shorter and the nights began to get cooler, the mood of the goat lot began to change. Once again, you could hear the old goats talking in hushed tones about that day called Yom Kippur. Everybody kept wondering who they’d get this year.

I can remember the day as though it were yesterday. Just like in years before, there was a strange silence among the humans. Few of them said a word, and none of them went to work, except some of those Levite dudes who kept doing something around the temple area. Several times that day, I saw them bring in cart-loads of dried wood, the kind they use in their days of sacrifice. I also notice that none of the humans were eating. For some reason, all of them had chosen this day to observe a fast.

As the sun began to set I could see the shadows of two men walking toward the pen. One was Ben Hammed. The other was one of those Levi dudes, all dressed up in his spotless, white robe.

When they opened the door to the pen, I worked my way behind several of the other goats, hoping they wouldn’t see me, hoping they would pick somebody else, and sure enough they did. Before he knew what was happening, my cousin Antonio had a rope tied around his neck and he was being led out of the goat yard.

Then I glanced up and saw the Levite pointing directly at me. I tried to run, but it didn’t do any good. Before I knew what was happening, I, too, was being led out of the goat yard, tethered to the end of a rope.

After they took us out of the pen, two of the men in white robes led Antonio and me toward the temple courtyard area. As we got closer to the gate, I could see the crowd, thousands of Jewish humans, all standing silently facing the temple.

There was a large altar at the center of the temple area, and behind the altar stood another man dressed in a white robe. Someone called him the High Priest, but I could tell he was the executioner because he was holding a large, sharpened blade.

As we got to the altar, I watched them take my good friend Antonio and bind all four of his legs. Then, as the priest laid his hands on Antonio’s head, he called out to the people.

“This day is Yom Kippur. This is the Day of Atonement, the day when we come to God and repent of our sins. For all sinned and deserve to die.”

The people replied, “Yes, we have all sinned and deserve to die.”

Then right there before my eyes the High Priest took his knife and cut the throat of poor Antonio. He did it so quickly I’m sure Antonio felt no pain, but as Antonio lay there his life drained away as his blood flowed freely and covered the altar.

I could tell it broke the Levite’s heart when he slew Antonio, for when he looked at the people again, he had tears running down his face, and his voice started breaking as he shouted, “This blood that covers the altar ought to be our blood, for we all have sinned and deserve to die, but God in his grace has atoned for the sin of us all.”

Then the people began to weep and pray. As they did, the High Priest took Antonio’s dead body and placed it on a large pile of wood. Without further words, he set the wood on fire and the smoke of the fire covered the entire area like the giant hand of God.

Finally, when they finished with Antonio they came to get me. They placed me on the altar, and like Antonio, they bound all four of my legs. Then the High Priest put his hands upon my head and said, “We have all sinned and our sins must be placed on this poor goat’s head.”

Then the people replied, “Yes, we have all sinned and deserve to die.”

Then the priest cried out, “Confess your sins so God will forgive.”

And as I lay there with the Priest’s hands on my head, I heard thousands of voices crying to God as they all confessed their sins.

“I have stolen from my neighbor,” cried out one man.

“I am an adulterer,” cried out another.

“I have not honored my parents,” cried out one of the children.

“I have not kept the Sabbath,” said a kindly young lady.

For what seemed to be an hour, the people kept crying out to God, confessing all kinds of terrible sins, and as they cried out, the Priest kept his hands on my head as he wept and said, “God has placed on him the iniquity of us all.”
Then after all the people had finished confessing sins, the priest called out in a loud voice. “It is finished. It is finished. Praise be to God who forgives all our sins.”

Then the people replied in one joyous voice, “It is finished. Praise be to God who forgives all our sins. Amen. Amen. Amen and Amen.”

As they shouted Amen, I knew that was to be my last Amen. So I took a deep breath and prepared to die.

But then it happened. The surprise of all surprises. The grace of all grace. The chief priest cut the ropes from my legs, picked me up off the altar and placed me back on the ground. Then he let me go as he yelled out, “Run free, little scapegoat. Run free. Run free. The blood of another has covered our sin. And now we, like you, are atoned to run free.”

Soon the entire congregation began to shout out, “Run free, run free, run free, little scapegoat. We are forgiven by the blood of another. Run free, run free, run free.”

So I did just as they instructed. I ran and I ran until I was in the desert, just outside the city gate. For the first time in my entire life, I was free. No longer was I in a pen. No longer was I tied by a rope. Because another had shed his blood, I was allowed to run free.

That’s why Yom Kippur is so important to me. Yom Kippur is the Jewish Day of Atonement, the day when shed blood makes our sin so real, and the day when God’s love invites sinners, like you and me, to run free.

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We Christians no longer celebrate Yom Kippur, for you see the Bible tells us that we no longer need to sacrifice a goat. Instead of a goat, we have the perfect Lamb of God, Jesus Christ who was the final sacrifice for our sins.

Like the people of Yom Kippur, we have an altar before us. We call our altar the communion table. On our altar are the symbols of the sacrificed lamb: the broken bread which symbolizes the sacrifice’s broken body; wine, or in our case, juice which symbolizes the sacrifice’s shed blood. Yes, on this table is the sacrificial lamb, Jesus the Son of God.

And what about you and me? We are the scapegoats, the ones who run free because another has died in our place.

So run free little scapegoat run free. You are forgiven by the blood of another and you don’t need to die. Run free, fun free, saved by the blood of the sacrificed lamb, saved by the blood of our Savior Jesus Christ.