November 23, 2014
Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24
Grace and Peace to you this morning. Grace and Peace.
The job of the prophet is not to tell the future, like a fortuneteller over a crystal ball. A prophet speaks the Word of God that the people need to hear. And one way to know a prophet is speaking in the Bible is the phrase: “For thus says the Lord God.”
What is so amazing about the prophets of the Bible is that they are not like Pharaoh’s magicians who are a part of the court, a part of the established system. Some come from pruning their fig trees, some come from a line of priests, some come from the wilderness. Another amazing aspect about the prophets is that they are given hearing even in the courts of power. There is an acknowledgement that God will speak through the one God chooses, not necessarily through the credentialed and the entrenched.
And the Word Ezekiel gives in his time is one we need today. Out of Ezekiel’s mouth hear what God says God will do. Nineteen times in this morning’s reading, God says “I will.” And what promises does God make to the people?
God says that God will:
- search for my sheep, and will seek them out
- rescue them
- bring them out, gather them, bring them to their own land
- feed them; feed them and they will be fed
- be the shepherd of [God’s] sheep, and make them lie down (Psalm 23)
- seek the lost
- bring back the strayed
- bind up the injured
- strengthen the weak
How many of us need to hear this word this morning? How many of us are in need of rescue? How many of us have been scattered, are lost, have strayed? How many of us are injured or weak?
Being a prophet, of course there is a “however!”
“But, the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with justice.” Anybody else decide to diet just now?!?
The reason for such a harsh “however” is not because some are fat and some are lean, but, extending the sheep and shepherd metaphor, the fat ones have pushed the lean ones away from the feed. The strong have edged the weak out from access to the grass and the water and the things that sustain life. It is about human privilege and the assumptions that it is okay for the strong to push the weak and the fat to deny the lean.
A professor gave every person in their class a piece of scrap paper and placed a recycle bin in the front of the classroom. She then told them to each wad up the piece of paper and if they could throw their paper into the bin from where they were, they would get an A on the assignment.
The front row was thrilled. Not all of them made it, but quite a few got their piece of paper into the bin. The back row started complaining. How would they be able to make the shot? Well, one of them got a lucky bounce off the wall and got theirs in.
The ones in the front row had no problem with the layout. The ones in the middle were hopeful, but not terribly pleased with the set up. The back row was upset.
The lesson was not about how good their arms were. Were the lesson given in Confirmation class I would say that it is about understanding where we are in relation to our neighbor, not in relation to the bin.
If you are straight, white, male, married, Christian, educated, and employed, welcome to the front row. Change any of those attributes and you will find yourself moving sideways or backwards, where the chances of success are smaller and the work is harder. The more traits you change, the further away you get moved.
And the prophet is not just speaking to individuals, although we are all a part of it. The prophet is speaking of systems and institutions which perpetuate putting some in the back of the class and which keep telling us there are only so many seats up front, so if we have one, by God do not let anyone else take their shot from up there.
Something remarkable happens between the prophet and the Gospel this morning. In the prophet, the solution is that David will become the shepherd over the people and the Lord will be their God. David, for all his blessings, proved himself to be just as human as the rest of us. Perhaps this is why in the Gospel Jesus offers a parable that says that this taking care of one another stuff is far too important to be left to the professionals.
The people of faith are in charge of taking care of the weak and the lean. It is a frightening thought that the searching, gathering, rescuing, feeding and taking care of are no longer just what God and the king will do, but now we too are responsible for:
- feeding the hungry
- relieving thirst
- welcoming the stranger
- clothing the naked
- taking care of the sick
- visiting those imprisoned
This is not a popular list. Some ways of doing these are easier than others. It is easier to bring food to the church than to go find out who in the neighborhood is hungry. It is easier to invite a new person downstairs to coffee than to take a stranger to Biggby.
The strange thing is not that the list has changed. In many ways it is the same list as it has always been – from the Torah to the prophets and through the Gospels. The strange thing is that Jesus says to offer kindness and relief to the least of these in our midst is to do it for him.
So if you need to see Jesus, go help your neighbor. If you need some more Jesus in your life, go help your neighbor. And if you are needing help, and don’t we all need help at some point?, ask for help, because one of your neighbors needs to see Jesus as well.
And having helped and been helped, may we all hear:
Come, you that are blessed by my Father,
inherit the kingdom prepared for you
from the foundation of the world.
Thanks be to God. Amen.