Monday, November 21, 2011

Sermon for 11/20/11 "The Right Shepherd"

Sermon for 11/20/11 "The Right Shepherd" Ezekiel 34 audio link May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be pleasing in your sight, oh Lord my rock and my redeemer (Ps. 19.14). Amen. Shepherds and sheep. There are some times when you read the Bible and you realize that God was speaking first to people who lived in an agrarian society. The whole idea of livestock, people caring for animals and plants, and the serious business of managing to grow your own food is a concept that has been common to almost all people in almost all times, at least until recent years. I’m sure there was a time in this community, and some of you remember it well, when a lot of people had a few chickens or even a pig or a goat in town. That’s just one of those things people do. Until recently, when we decided to make every city a cultured and clean metropolitan area, people kept a few animals about the same way that I try to keep a few green beans. But here we are, divided from that culture by some forty to sixty years, and we really don’t know what we would do with any animals but dogs and cats. So here it goes. And remember, some of you know a lot more about animals than I do. You’ll correct me, gently, I hope, later. What happens when you have a number of sheep and you need to protect them, keep them together where they won’t be in danger, and be sure they are getting the food and water they need? I know that sheep are largely self-sustaining animals. They seem to have an amazing instinct for being able to eat, drink, and wander around. There isn’t much to governing their society. But they have predators. After all, they are tasty animals. And like all the rest of us, they are able to end up eating food that’s bad for them. They are perfectly able to find themselves in an area that doesn’t have adequate water, or where the water has been contaminated in some way. So they need help. And the shepherd’s job is to seek out his sheep, to be sure they have what they need, to protect them from dangers, and to raise them in such a way that they will produce a good crop – wool, offspring, milk, cheese, even meat – sorry about that one, but it’s true. If the sheep wander away the shepherd needs to go gather them. If they place themselves in danger, the shepherd comes to rescue them. In the same way we see that God seeks out his flock. And what did he do in today’s passage from Ezekiel chapter 34? In the last few verses we saw that he placed his blessings on those who were faithful, those who look to God for all their provision. Those are the sheep that are easy to deal with. The shepherd turns around and sees them all watching him and following him around. They like to stay close. They seem to think the shepherd is responsible for the tasty flowers, and they thank him for them. As a teacher for close to two decades now I can tell you that some students are a true delight to teach. They seem to think that I have all the answers, that I always know what I’m doing, and that the hard work I assign them is a treat. Those are pretty easy people to deal with. And they aren’t really that uncommon. I have a good handful of them, probably about a quarter of my students each year seem to be like that. Are we people who follow God around? Are we the people who look to him and thank him for all our circumstances? Are we the kind of people who are glad to take on the tasks he has placed before us? Are we the ones who trust in his provision and accept his providence without grumbling or complaining? Do we view hardships as challenges? Then our Lord grants us many many blessings. He takes delight in us as we take delight in him. He pours out his blessing without measure. But there are people in this passage who incur God’s curse. In the very same passage in Ezekiel 34 we see that there are some who would harm and trouble the other sheep. They push the others away from the good food. They kick, they bite, they shove, they trample the food, they stir up mud in the water. They make conditions very difficult, not only for the other sheep but also for the shepherd. I’ve got news for you. Those difficult sheep? They are the ones who get retired to the meat market first. Are we some of the difficult sheep? Do we complain against God? Do we make life difficult for other believers? Do we complain about God’s providence, seeing the mercy of God as an imposition on us? Do we doubt God’s word? Do we reject God’s promises? Yes, I have a few students like this every year also. They are overt complainers, they don’t do their work, they assume I’m wrong in everything I do, and they want to have extra credit because they didn’t do their regular work on time. No, they don’t get extra credit. Don’t even ask for it. What kind of mercy does God show upon these sheep, both the pleasant ones and the unpleasant ones? He has promised to set up one shepherd, “his servant David” – the one who is the good shepherd. This good shepherd is the one who can care for the flock no matter where they are. This good shepherd is the one who leads his sheep in peace and safety. And he is the one who would go to rescue any sheep that goes astray. This is Jesus, the true shepherd, who has given his life for his sheep. This is Jesus, the one who gathers the faithful to himself. This is Jesus, the good shepherd who, in his death, destroys death itself. This is Jesus, the good shepherd, who leads us, his sheep, through his life, through his death, and through his resurrection, bringing us to life from the dead. I’ll ask again. What kind of sheep are we? Do we recognize and follow the good shepherd? Do we fight against him? Do we fear, love and trust in God above all things? Or do we exalt ourselves as a law of our own? At this time, the last Sunday in the Church year, as we prepare to enter the season of Advent, the season when we mourn for our unrighteousness and plead for the coming of a savior, do we realize our need for Jesus our good shepherd? Or will we continue to push and shove, take all the good food, foul the water, and deprive the other sheep and ourselves of the blessings of God? May the Lord grant us repentance and life. May our Lord give us an eager desire that he should come. May the Lord bring us into the fullness of his blessing, pouring out blessing upon blessing, showing us that we can walk in his paths and trust in him as he brings us to the true life, life eternal in Christ Jesus our Lord. Lord, grant us repentance. Turn our hearts from our own attempts at righteousness. Make us to look to you and walk in your paths, for you, the good shepherd, ever live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, the God of all mercy and grace. Amen.

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