We Are Touching Lives Through Christ By Reaching Out, Bringing In, Lifting Up, Sending Forth.

Before you read this sermon, understand that parts of it are specific to my home congregation. However the message goes beyond that group. It speaks to all who call themselves Christians.

Ezekiel 34:1-17
The LORD spoke his word to me. He said, “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel. Prophesy to these shepherds. Tell them, ‘This is what the Almighty LORD says: How horrible it will be for the shepherds of Israel who have been taking care of only themselves. Shouldn’t shepherds take care of the sheep? You eat the best parts of the sheep, dress in the wool, and butcher the finest sheep. Yet, you don’t take care of the sheep. You have not strengthened those that were weak, healed those that were sick, or bandaged those that were injured. You have not brought back those that strayed away or looked for those that were lost. You have ruled them harshly and violently. So they were scattered because there was no shepherd. When they were scattered, they became food for every wild animal. My sheep wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. They were scattered throughout the whole earth. No one searched or looked for them. “‘So, you shepherds, listen to the word of the LORD. As I live, declares the Almighty LORD, because there is no shepherd, my sheep have become prey. My sheep have become food for every wild animal. My shepherds haven’t searched for my sheep. They have taken care of only themselves, not my sheep. So, you shepherds, listen to the word of the LORD. This is what the Almighty LORD says: I am against the shepherds. I will demand that they hand over my sheep. I won’t let them take care of my sheep anymore, and they will no longer take care of only themselves. I will rescue my sheep from their mouths, and my sheep will no longer be their food. “‘This is what the Almighty LORD says: I will search for my sheep myself, and I will look after them. As a shepherd looks after his flock when he is with his scattered sheep, so I will look after my sheep. I will rescue them on a cloudy and gloomy day from every place where they have been scattered. I will bring them out from the nations, gather them from the countries, and bring them to their own land. I will take care of them on the mountains of Israel, by the streams, and in all the inhabited places of the land. I will feed them in good pasture, and they will graze on the mountains of Israel. They will rest on the good land where they graze, and they will feed on the best pastures in the mountains of Israel. I will take care of my sheep and lead them to rest, declares the Almighty LORD. I will look for those that are lost, bring back those that have strayed away, bandage those that are injured, and strengthen those that are sick. I will destroy those that are fat and strong. I will take care of my sheep fairly. “‘As for you, my sheep, this is what the Almighty LORD says: I will judge disputes between one sheep and another, between rams and male goats.

Matthew 25:31-46
When the Son of Man comes in his glory and all his angels are with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. The people of every nation will be gathered in front of him. He will separate them as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. He will put the sheep on his right but the goats on his left. “Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, my Father has blessed you! Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. 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 took me into your home. I needed clothes, and you gave me something to wear. I was sick, and you took care of me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’ “Then the people who have God’s approval will reply to him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you or see you thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you as a stranger and take you into our homes or see you in need of clothes and give you something to wear? When did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ “The king will answer them, ‘I can guarantee this truth: Whatever you did for one of my brothers or sisters, no matter how unimportant they seemed, you did for me.’ “Then the king will say to those on his left, ‘Get away from me! God has cursed you! Go into everlasting fire that was prepared for the devil and his angels! I was hungry, and you gave me nothing to eat. I was thirsty, and you gave me nothing to drink. I was a stranger, and you didn’t take me into your homes. I needed clothes, and you didn’t give me anything to wear. I was sick and in prison, and you didn’t take care of me.’ “They, too, will ask, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or as a stranger or in need of clothes or sick or in prison and didn’t help you?’ “He will answer them, ‘I can guarantee this truth: Whatever you failed to do for one of my brothers or sisters, no matter how unimportant they seemed, you failed to do for me.’ “These people will go away into eternal punishment, but those with God’s approval will go into eternal life.”

We Are Touching Lives Through Christ By Reaching Out, Bringing In, Lifting Up, Sending Forth.

When studying the scriptures we need to ask questions as we read. We need to ask; who, what, when, where, why, and how. We also need to insert ourselves into the narrative. It is often helpful to ‘try on’ the roles of the different characters in the story. We can gain new insights by ‘seeing through another’s eyes’. And finally, we need to ask, what does this mean to ME?
We are going to first examine our reading from Ezekiel. Let’s take a look at what is going on here. First of all who are the players in this story?

Well, God is God. Ezekiel is the man God has called on to be his messenger. That’s pretty straight forward. The sheep are lost. It seems clear that these are people that are lost, they are without God. But we’ve got shepherds, who are they?

The shepherds are the leaders. Remember that in that day and age the religious and political leaders were the same people. There was no division of church and state. So these leaders were supposedly men of God, his spokespersons to the people but they are falling down on the job.

Now we have the WHO let us examine the what. The WHAT is the scattering, neglect and destruction of the sheep, the lost people.
WHEN is the next question that we ask. Ezekiel may have had a specific time in mind for this prophesy, but when we examine it we’ll see that the story is timeless. It could and has taken place over and over.
Where did these events take place? Again, as in the question of when, the WHERE is not important to the events of the story because it is a story about universal events.
Moving on to the next question, WHY, we find that there are many WHYS here: greed, laziness, self centeredness, self willed and on and on.
The HOW of the story seems to indicate a general neglect of the sheep by the shepherds. When it is not neglect it is abuse.
Okay, so God says, Hey Zek! Take this message to the leaders of your nation. Tell them that I am really NOT happy. And when I’m not happy, ‘aint nobody happy. Do you blockheadds really think that I can’t see what is going on?
You are down there getting fat off of My people. You take the blessings that I have given them to pad your own nest eggs. You are all dressed up in your fancy clothes , living in your mansions, driving expensive cars – er, camels, and taking the best of everything for yourselves.
Man, it sure points out how little things have changed doesn’t it? If you watch the TV or read the paper you can tell that these guys would feel right at home in our world today.
They were supposed to be leaders. Now, you can’t be a leader if you aren’t moving and nobody is following! And according to this parable, the sheep – that is the people – were lost. They were scattered over the face of the earth and nobody was searching for them.
Not one of these, supposedly good, Godly people was getting out of their comfort zone and …. Oh oh! I just got one of those spiritual slaps up side the head! I was feeling fairly comfortable with my place in this parable. I was seeing myself as a sheep – were you?
But look here, we are not the ‘lost’. We have been redeemed. We are sitting here in church because we have found THE WAY. Oh, we’re not perfect and we may temporarily get turned around but I really can’t see casting us in the role of the sheep.
But wait a minute, Tom, if they are the lost sheep, who are we? Well, we sure aren’t God. And unless God has your cellphone number, I don’t think we are Ezekiel either.
Man, I hate to admit this, but I think that we may be the shepherds that ol’ Zeke here is talkin’ to. I was feeling so smug and comfortable a minute ago. Now, not so much.
The shepherds were the religious leaders and yet they were not doing what shepherds do. Shepherds do not sit at home while the sheep are in the field. Shepherds feed the sheep. They lead them to where the water is good. They protected them from the wild beasts. They bring them safely home. That is what shepherds are SUPPOSED to do.
Ol’ Ezekiel’s shepherds did not protect, did not heal the injured, did not lead, they did not even do the most basic of care by feeding the sheep. And as a result, the Almighty Lord says: I am against the shepherds. I will demand that they hand over my sheep. I won’t let them take care of my sheep anymore, and they will no longer take care of only themselves. I will rescue my sheep from their mouths, and my sheep will no longer be their food.
In our Gospel reading, Jesus lays out the job description for being the right kind of shepherd.
for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’
Now, this congregation does many good things to take care of the sheep. We do protect through various programs such as the blanket bucks,

We feed through programs like the food pantry, the monthly meals at Trinity, the Heifer Project and even the suppers provided through UP kids.
We clothe the naked through our contributions to the Ingathering and yes through the rummage sales.
We visit, pray for and send cards and flowers to the sick
We welcome the stranger that enters our doors.
However, I’m wondering if we doing all that we can to go find the lost sheep that are scattered across the face of the earth. Our church’s mission statement is. We Are Touching Lives Through Christ By Reaching Out, Bringing In, Lifting Up, Sending Forth

Answer this for yourselves, are we really reaching out? Are we seeking the lost? I know that if the lost find their way into our fold, we will welcome them, we will protect them, we will feed them, and many other things that a good shepherd would do. But let’s face this, a good shepherd does not just open the gate to the shephold and hope the sheep find their way to. He actively seeks the sheep and herds them into safety.
I have to ask this, and understand that I’m not just asking YOU, I’m asking US, are we actively inviting people in? And if we are, are they the lost sheep? Or we inviting the saved to come and join us?
I ask that because … well, here is a personal admission: We just recently got some new neighbors who will be spending the winter in an RV near ours. Ella asked them if they had found a church home yet and we invited them to come to church with us.
Were we being shepherds? Not really, these people are already Believers. We were not inviting sheep. We were inviting more shepherds.
If we are to live up to our mission statement, we need to go find the sheep and bring them in. We need to be seeking the lost. Just as Jesus did. For the Son of Man came to seek out and to save the lost.” Luke 19:10. Jesus was fulfilling what Ezekiel had prophesied, “For thus says the Lord GOD: I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out. As shepherds seek out their flocks when they are among their scattered sheep, so I will seek out my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places to which they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness.” We, as Christ’s hands and feet on earth are under an obligation to continue this work.
Remember the words of the Great Commandment in Matthew 28:19-20 “Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and of the Holy Spirit,and teaching them to obey everything that I have command you.”
This was not a suggestion to sit in our comfortable sanctuary and wait for the lost to wander in. This is a command to go and find them.
We each have to ask ourselves how we have obeyed this command. When we stand before God will He say, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world’?

God bless

  • Visit my devotions blog

https://musingsdevotions.wordpress.com

All content (except quotations) ©2011Thomas E. Williams

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