Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ who with the Holy Spirit are three-in-one
A businessman was in a great deal of trouble. His business was failing, he had put everything he had into the business, and he owed everybody. It was so bad he was even contemplating suicide. As a last resort he went to a pastor and poured out his story of tears and woe. When he had finished, the pastor said, “Here’s what I want you to do, put a beach chair and your Bible in your car and drive down to the beach. Take the beach chair and the Bible to the water’s edge, sit down in the beach chair, and put the Bible in your lap. Open the Bible; the wind will rifle the pages, but finally the open Bible will come to rest on a page. Look down at the page and read the first thing you see. That will be your answer that will tell you what to do.”
A year later the businessman went back to the pastor and brought his wife and children with him. The man was in a new custom- tailored suit, his wife in a mink coat, the children shining. The businessman pulled an envelope stuffed with money out of his pocket and gave it to the pastor as a donation in thanks for his advice.
The pastor recognized the benefactor and was curious. “You did as I suggested?” he asked. “Absolutely,” replied the businessman. “You went to the beach?” “Absolutely.”
“You sat in a beach chair with the Bible in your lap?” “Absolutely.” “You let the pages rifle until they stopped?” “Absolutely.” “And what were the first words you saw?” “Chapter 11.”
It seems like a joke for our times. In the news we hear over and over how this company or that is facing collapse because of covid or crime, but we also hear of them closing because of greed. We hear how struggling companies are giving record bonuses to their executives or overcharging for goods, taking advantage of the depression. More and more, money is becoming the God of many, but we have only to open our newspapers to see what an unreliable God money is.
With all this we see people in positions of leadership who have betrayed the public trust and it begs the answer to the question. What happens to leaders – both secular and sacred – who have neglected those with whom they should be caring for? What happens when CEO’s of large corporations lie to their workers about the state of their pension plans so that they themselves may benefit? What happens to television evangelists who manipulate their audiences only to use the money given to them for trivial things like air conditioned dog houses and fancy watches rather then using it to help those in need? What happens when political leaders become self-serving, using all kinds of underhanded, back-stabbing tactics to satisfy their own needs and the needs of their cronies?
Today, our lessons focus on the end of times when Christ shall gather all the nations together in His presence. At that time there will be an accounting, a judgment of each one of us as individuals and as a community in Christ. The consequences of this judgment will be severe for many, and everyone will be made to account for the life they have led.
In our passage from Ezekiel this morning, we are blessed to have both law and gospel. In this text we see both words of condemnation because of the law and words of compassion due to the grace of God. Both judgment and peace.
The prophet Ezekiel likely spoke this prophesy around the time when the people of Israel were returning to the promised land on their way back after their exile in Babylon. In the prophesy, Ezekiel says that God will weed out the corrupt leaders, probably referring to the corrupt Israelite and foreign leaders they had to deal with. Ezekiel says that they will be weeded out because of what they have done. They would be weeded out because they were self-serving and ruthless in their acts. They had neglected the poor, the less fortunate and the sick.
But then He contrasts this by speaking of God’s amazing grace and compassion for His people. We can imagine the look on His face when he speaks with gentleness and love as he attempts to comfort his people.
When we read the words in Ezekiel it gives us hope. We read vs. 11-16 from our text: “For thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out. As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. And I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land. And I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the ravines, and in all the inhabited places of the country. I will feed them with good pasture, and on the mountain heights of Israel shall be their grazing land.There they shall lie down in good grazing land, and on rich pasture they shall feed on the mountains of Israel. I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord GOD. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak.”
When we read this were reminded of other places in scripture that speak of God as our shepherd, Psalm 23 and Jesus’ words in our Gospel lesson in the Gospel of Luke. The words provide us with a beautiful picture in our mind’s eye – the picture of Christ as the Good Shepherd.
This vision certainly reveals the great truth in Jesus word’s where he reminds us that the shepherd knows and loves his sheep, and the sheep know and love the shepherd. Therefore, they trust and follow the shepherd wherever he might lead them. They can count on Him to find them if they should get lost in the world. As Christ’s people, we can trust him to always look out for us since we know that he knows and loves us and has our best interests at heart..
When I read these beautiful words from the prophet Ezekiel, I’m also reminded of the beautiful picture of Jesus the Good Shepherd tenderly holding a lamb. This picture reminds me of how Ezekiel describes what God, our Shepherd King, will do to show His love for His people. Again, Ezekiel says: “I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak.” This must have been a very hopeful, joyful, comforting message for those Israelites who heard it as they returned to their homeland.
Today, in a time of so much corruption and bad leadership, we need to hear this message too, because it speaks to so many people in the world we live in. In a world where two-thirds of the population lives in abject poverty; where they lack most, if not all of the basics in life; such a message can give hope to a brighter future.
To those who have lost their youth because they had to learn the law of the streets, to those who have been lost to false religions and gods of wealth and fame and addiction, the ones who suffer as a result of abusive relationships and those who are weakened by illness and disease – they too have the hope that Christ, our Shepherd Kind, is waiting for them and He longs for all of them to be saved.
The fascinating thing is that He is working through His people, you and me, to be His hands and His feet, to share His love, so that those who are searching may see Christ in us. He asks us to bring His healing presence especially to those who suffer the most.
Whether its kids in our own neighborhoods or earthquake victims in China, whether it’s those suffering in Darfur or those in our big cities who have to pray every day to simply survive, God asks us to show true leadership by caring for them because they are also His children.
In our closing verses from Ezekiel this morning, the prophet proclaims his prophecy that looks ahead into the future when God’s Messiah will come and reign as the Good Shepherd King.He says: And I, the LORD, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them. I am the LORD; I have spoken.”
As Christians we know that this also refers to Christ and we are reminded of the words from our Gospel lesson, where he says, “What man of you, having a hundred sheep, if he has lost one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the open country, and go after the one that is lost, until he finds it? And when he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders, rejoicing. And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and his neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance”. Luke 15:4-7 To me, this points not to just one person who was lost but thousands who have at one time lost their way and found their way back home through the guidance of the Holy Spirit. Because Jesus never stops His search for those who have gone astray. He longs for a time of reunion among all Christians and a reconciliation and peace among all the peoples of the world.
We see the world and it’s easy to think we’re a long way off from that because we see so much disunity and animosity. Right against left, black against white, Christian against non-Christian. But we hold the promise that Christ will come as the Good Shepherd and change all that and for that we have a certain hope.
For us today, as people of God, we look forward to the Ruling Messiah to usher in a new age. An age of eternal peace, where evil and hatred, suffering and abuse will end forever. An age that we all long for today and will inherit in the future thanks to God and His incredible love and grace. What a blessing we have to take comfort in God, our Good Shepherd who forever remains the righteous ruler of us all.
We see the world and its affect on its people and we have every right to be discouraged. We see corruption and deceit in our rulers and wonder if it will ever end. The Shepherd King tells us that we do have hope. A hope we can believe in. A hope that promises better things to come. May God lead you to the places that He would have you go so that you too can count on a future with Him in eternity. Amen.