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Pushy Sheep and Their Shepherd November 23, 2014

Posted by sandhandrews in Sermons.
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Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24

Proper 29

November 23, 2014

 

Focus:  God is our Shepherd.

Function:  That the hearers follow their shepherd.

Structure:  Parallel.

 

Pushy Sheep and Their Shepherd

 

On our family vacation last month down to visit my folks in St. Louis, we tried to take advantage of some of the fun family-friendly things to do.  Which, if you’ve never been there, is actually quite a lot.  There are so many free things to do.  The museums are free, the Science Center is free. Even the zoo is free.

One of the local favorites though is a place called Grant’s Farm, which also has free entry.  It’s run by the Anheuser Busch family as a tribute to President Ulysses S. Grant.  But aside from the free beer samples and getting to see the Clydesdales, the biggest attraction is probably the goats.

There’s a fenced-in area where they keep close to 200 goats.  And right by it there’s a stand where you can buy milk in baby bottles so you can go in and feed the goats.  It’s a fun experience for little kids, one they remember for a while.  Well, I’m not quite sure Talia will…she just kind of glared at them.

Anyway, as you walk along among the goats petting and feeding them, it doesn’t take long to notice: they’re pushing and shoving.  If it weren’t for the fact that they’re all a little chunky, you’d think they never feed the little guys.  They push each other out of the way, fighting to get to the bottle.  They nibble at each other and they’ll even chew on you, too.

So while it’s definitely a fun family outing, it was one of the first things that came to mind when I read through our Scripture reading from Ezekiel today.  It’s the spitting image of what God is telling us through His prophet Ezekiel.

“Behold, I, I Myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep.  Because you push with side and shoulder, and thrust at all the weak with your horns, till you have scattered them abroad, I will rescue My flock.”

Ezekiel was God’s prophet at the time when Judah was conquered by Babylon, when Jerusalem was destroyed in 587 BC.  He saw this all the time.  He saw it in how the Judahites treated each other, constantly grubbing and picking at one another, pushing someone else down in order to lift themselves up.  He also saw it in how they were treated by the Babylonians, their captors.

But it’s not just there.  If we jump ahead 600 years to the time of Christ, we see the same thing from Him as He’s talking to His disciples and teaching them about the End Times.  You know this text, He separates the sheep and the goats.  And after speaking well to the sheep, He turns to the goats and says, “Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels.  For I was hungry and you gave Me no food, I was thirsty and you gave Me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome Me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit Me.”

You remember how they respond, “when did we see any of these things?”  “As you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to Me.”  Christ is talking about the pushy goats.  He’s talking about how willing the people were to look out only for themselves as they pushed everyone else aside.  They pushed out, they cast out the weak, the hurting, the poor, the lonely.

We see it again about 30 years later as Paul is writing to the Corinthian church.  1 Corinthians 11 is often lauded as one of the great texts on the Lord’s Supper, but really, Paul is addressing a problem.  If you read it closely, you can see that the pushy goats are still around.  They’ve pushed and they’ve shoved.  Rather than the whole church community coming together in the house and eating the body of the Lord, drinking the blood of the Lord, the rich have separated themselves from the poor.  The upper class from the lower class.  And the people with better social status are being gluttons and getting drunk while the rest get nothing.  Even in the Lord’s Supper!  Even in the Lord’s Supper the pushy goats were being pushy goats.  And that’s why Paul warns us to examine ourselves before we partake of the Lord’s Supper, so that if we’re being pushy goats , we don’t wind up drinking curses and damnation upon ourselves.

And we still see it another two thousand years later.  There are pushy goats in our world, most definitely.  We are pushed into corners.  In some cases, it’s the wickedness of a group like ISIS or the people in Africa who go about killing God’s sheep every day.

But it’s not just the world outside these walls.  We ourselves have a tendency to be pushy goats.  We take advantage of the hurting, we tell the little lies to get what we want, we glance over poverty or injustice so it doesn’t disrupt our schedule, we do all kinds of things to lift ourselves up.  That’s where Paul’s words, Christ’s words, and Ezekiel’s words come as warning to us, come trying to teach us that we should not act for ourselves, but for each other.

But in each of these places, God’s Word is the same: “I will rescue My flock; they shall no longer be a prey.  And I will judge between sheep and sheep.  And I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and He shall feed them: He shall feed them and be their shepherd.  And I, the Lord, will be their God, and My servant David shall be prince among them. I am the Lord; I have spoken.”

For those of you who know your history, those words don’t seem to make sense.  We’ve already said that Ezekiel was God’s prophet in 587 BC. But David, David was king of Israel 400 years earlier.  David’s lived and died.  How then is he our shepherd?

During David’s reign as king, God made him a promise.  God gave him His word that there would always be someone on the throne of David, that his ancestor would rule forever.  And on more than one occasion, the Bible talks about this ancestor, about David’s throne, simply by calling Him David.  They’re referring to David’s descendant, to Jesus Christ our Lord.

There is so much beauty in our Old Testament reading from Ezekiel.  There’s so much love in that text.  There’s so much about what God is doing for us.  He’s searching for us, seeking us.  He’s going out to the places where we’ve been scattered, to the places where sin and pushy goats have left us for dead.  He’s bringing us out of those places, He’s bringing us together.  He’s feeding us, shepherding us, giving us places to lie down.  He binds up the injured, strengthens the weak.  And best of all, He gives us a shepherd, someone who will look out for us.  Someone who will guide us, protect us, and feed us with His very own body and blood.

That promise always rings true.  It was true in Ezekiel’s day, as God comforted His people in the midst of their captivity and delivered them from it.  It’s true in Christ’s day, as the disciples witness the Shepherd’s death and resurrection.  They witness the gift of life itself.  It’s true in our day, as God continues to seek and to the gather the lost through the waters of Holy Baptism, just like He’s done today, by gathering to Himself Stella and Clay/Eden.

We are His people, we are His flock.  He watches over us, protects us, feeds us with His very body and blood which give us the gift of forgiveness.  He is our Shepherd who laid down His life for His sheep.

We are blessed to be in His sheep pen.  We are no longer pushy goats, but we are sheep following a Shepherd.  We are no longer scattered, but we are a community.  We no longer pillage and plunder our neighbors to better ourselves.  Instead, as we follow the Shepherd, as we listen to His voice, we give of ourselves, we feed the hungry and clothe the naked.  We welcome the stranger and visit the sick.  Once we’ve stopped focusing on ourselves, pushing and shoving to get to the bottle of milk when we’ve already eaten our fill, others get to eat, too.  That’s our role as sheep, to be sheep together, to be a community together, as we follow our Shepherd.

 

Psalm 23

1The 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 name’s 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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