Exploring the Word | Spreaker

Sunday, November 20, 2011

The King's Judgment, 11.20

Matthew 25:31-46
31“When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. 32All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, 33and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. 34Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ‘Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; 35for 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, 36I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.’

37Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?’ 40And the king will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.’

41Then he will say to those at his left hand, ‘You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; 42for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ 44Then they also will answer, ‘Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?’ 45Then he will answer them, ‘Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’ 46And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.”

We may not know Ezekiel as well as Jeremiah and Isaiah. His visions and actions are often strange, though this vision is easy enough to follow. Ezekiel preached in the years before and after Judah’s defeat and occupation by Babylon. His prophetic words combine criticism of injustice with hope for Israel’s future. Let’s see what Ezekiel has to say to us this morning.

Ezekiel 34:1-24 (pg. 803-804)
1 The word of the Lord came to me: 2Mortal, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel:

Let’s start out by getting our parts straight so we can understand this passage. Who do you think Ezekiel and God mean by the shepherds of Israel? Who are the sheep in this passage?

We’ll find out more about this in a minute, but why do you think God might want Ezekiel to prophesy against Israel’s leaders? Don’t worry if you don’t know the answer, the passage will get to it, I just want to get our brains warmed up by thinking about where we might be headed.

2Mortal, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel: prophesy, and say to them—to the shepherds: Thus says the Lord God: Ah, you shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? 3You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fatlings; but you do not feed the sheep. 4You have not strengthened the weak, you have not healed the sick, you have not bound up the injured, you have not brought back the strayed, you have not sought the lost, but with force and harshness you have ruled them.

What’s a shepherd’s job? How is a king or business leader like a shepherd? What’s their responsibility to the people they lead? What does it seem like these leaders were doing instead?

Check this out: Ezekiel says that Israel’s shepherds, Israel’s leaders, are so bad that they aren’t really shepherds at all.

5So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd; and scattered, they became food for all the wild animals. 6My sheep were scattered, they wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill; my sheep were scattered over all the face of the earth, with no one to search or seek for them.

What happens to sheep without a shepherd? What does being scattered mean in this case? How does God feel about this situation?

7Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: 8As I live, says the Lord God, because my sheep have become a prey, and my sheep have become food for all the wild animals, since there was no shepherd; and because my shepherds have not searched for my sheep, but the shepherds have fed themselves, and have not fed my sheep; 9therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: 10Thus says the Lord God, I am against the shepherds; and I will demand my sheep at their hand, and put a stop to their feeding the sheep; no longer shall the shepherds feed themselves. I will rescue my sheep from their mouths, so that they may not be food for them.

God warns the shepherds, the leaders of Israel, that they haven’t done their job. They haven’t taken care of the sheep, so God is going to kick the shepherds out and take care of the sheep himself. In other words, even though it seems like the powerful can take advantage of the weak forever, even though it seems like the leaders of society can ignore the needs of others and pile up riches for themselves, it won’t always be that way. God is going to step into the picture and take care of people in need. God is going to take his flock back from the selfish leaders and give them the care they aren’t getting from their shepherds.

11For thus says the Lord GOD: I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out. 12As 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.

God’s sheep, God’s people won’t always be scattered in the wilderness. Israel and Judah are exiled from their land now, but it won’t always be that way. One day God will bring back the exiles and make sure everyone has good land to feed on. God will make sure everyone has enough.

13I 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 watercourses, and in all the inhabited parts of the land. 14I will feed them with good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel shall be their pasture; there they shall lie down in good grazing land, and they shall feed on rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. 15I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord GOD.16I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with justice.

God promises special care for the sheep who need it most. God talks about seeking the lost, binding up the injured and strengthening the weak. Sometimes we feel like we aren’t important enough to attract God’s notice. Sometimes we feel like our faith is too week to be worth God’s time. That’s not true at all; in fact it’s just the reverse. God cares especially for the weak and lost.

Jesus talked several times about his special ministry to people whom others felt were outside God’s love. He says, “It’s not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick.” If you feel weak in your faith or sick in your soul, Jesus has a special place in his heart for you and wants to nurse you back to health.

Surprisingly, God says he will destroy not only the wicked shepherds, but also the fat and strong sheep. Why do you think God feels that way? Let’s see:

17As for you, my flock, thus says the Lord God: I shall judge between sheep and sheep, between rams and goats: 18Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture, but you must tread down with your feet the rest of your pasture? When you drink of clear water, must you foul the rest with your feet? 19And must my sheep eat what you have trodden with your feet, and drink what you have fouled with your feet?

20Therefore, thus says the Lord GOD to them: I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. 21Because you pushed with flank and shoulder, and butted at all the weak animals with your horns until you scattered them far and wide, 22I will save my flock, and they shall no longer be ravaged; and I will judge between sheep and sheep.

            Not only have the leaders of the people, the shepherds, abused their trust and injured the flock, the strong sheep have also hurt the flock by being selfish. The strong sheep haven’t used their strength to protect the weak; instead they’ve used their strength to take more than their fair share and left the weaker sheep with trampled scraps. God promises judgment to put a stop to injustice and save the weak from being abused and pushed aside.

In God’s kingdom everyone has enough. The strong can’t take more and the weak don’t have to make do with less. God’s judgment will make sure there is justice for all. God will hold back greed and injustice. Ezekiel’s vision looks forward to the time when God’s justice prevails and selfishness is defeated.

23I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd. 24And I, the LORD, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them; I, the LORD, have spoken.

            Ezekiel looks forward to God’s kingdom. He looks forward to a faithful king ruling from David’s throne, filled with God’s power and justice. We Christians believe that Jesus Christ fulfills this promise. Jesus was a descendant of King David. He didn’t look like a king during his lifetime, but he was full of God’s power and righteousness. Like the royal psalm of David says, Jesus was the stone rejected by the builders but chosen by God as the cornerstone, the foundation of God’s kingdom.

            Today is Christ the King Sunday. It’s the last Sunday before Advent begins and it focuses our attention on Christ’s future kingdom. Both of our readings tell the story about how God will bring history to its right conclusion. One day Jesus will be revealed as the king of all creation. He will shepherd his people and bring together all nations. He will sit on his throne and judge the world so that injustice is abolished and righteousness secured forever.

            The reason we look at that future judgment now is to prepare ourselves. The way Christ will judge in the future shows us how we are called to live today as Christ’s followers. We look at this vision of judgment to learn how to build God’s kingdom with our actions today.

            These passages tell us a lot about how God sees the world and how our king Jesus calls us to live. God doesn’t believe in an unchecked free market economy where everyone takes what they can. God calls us to community and one day we will answer for how we take care of our neighbors. Jesus says that the poor, the hungry, the sick, the stranger and the prisoner are where he hides in the world today. When we care for or ignore our neighbors we care for or ignore Jesus.

            I’m grateful Jesus is the one who’s going to be our judge because his love is incredible. Still I wonder about myself in front of that throne. Sometimes I do care for the poor and the lonely. But I also turn away from those in need. Sometimes I ignore need right in front of my face and I fail to look for the need I know is hidden just beneath the surface. I’ve never visited anyone in prison.

            This vision of God’s judgment gives me hope because I long for the injustice of our world to be made right. It also challenges me because there is much more I can do to serve my king Jesus. We are part of the problem and part of the solution. When I come before Christ’s throne and Jesus asks me how I have taken care of my most vulnerable brothers and sisters, what will I say? What will you say?

            Next Sunday is the first Sunday of Advent, a season for repentance that prepares us to welcome Jesus as a baby in Bethlehem. We get this vision of Christ the king and judge just before Advent because the same Jesus we welcome as a baby in a manger will be our king and judge when history comes to a close. Advent is about preparing for the baby and the king. It’s about preparing our hearts and lives to receive Christ’s love more deeply.

            Christ calls us to deepen our faith and to put our faith in action. This vision of Christ’s rule shows the kingdom we are preparing for. So take this vision into the weeks ahead and together, by God’s grace, we will start making that vision of justice a reality. Our calling is clear: Seek out the lost and the lonely. Feed the hungry and clothe the naked. Visit the prisoners and work for justice. Jesus will be with us as we follow his calling.

            Thanks be to God.

This was our affirmation of faith after the sermon, which seemed like both good encouragement for a challenging sermon and a comforting echo of God’s shepherding presence from the Ezekiel reading.
Psalm 23
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his names sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

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