Tuesday, November 25, 2014

“The Seeking Shepherd” (Ezekiel 34:11-12)

S-1456 LSOCY/3A 11/23/2014 Hymns: (O) #436; (S) #368; L.S. #314; 311; (C) # 628

Texts: Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24; 1 Corinthians 15:20-28; Matthew 25:31-46

Theme: “The Seeking Shepherd” (Ezekiel 34:11-12)

Question: “Have you ever lost something important?”

Faithful followers of the Savior, Christ is Risen! He is risen indeed! Alleluia. The text for our meditation this morning is from the O.T. Lesson: “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” (Ezekiel 34:11-12).

Beloved in the Lord, I share with you a heartwarming true story of a couple who were separated after 3 days of their wedding night. Anna Koslov kissed her husband Boris goodbye. A soldier in Russia’s Red Army, he was set to rejoin his military unit. However, when Boris returned home from his military expedition, he found the house cold and empty. When he called his wife’s name, there was only the echo of his own voice. Anna was gone. Under the brutal regime of Joseph Stalin, Anna and her family had been declared enemies of the state. Boris’ new bride was sent into exile in the vast plains of Siberia, with no chance to contact her husband. He didn’t even know if she was still alive. Boris spent years searching for his lost love, but never found a trace of her.

Over the years, both Boris and Anna remarried other people, and had children. But they never forgot about one another: After Boris became a writer, he dedicated a book to Anna, the woman he had loved and lived with for a mere three nights. As time went by, Boris and Anna’s respective spouses passed away. In 2007, Anna, a lonely widow, went back to visit the old house where she and Boris had spent those precious few nights.

In a remarkable twist of fate, another visitor–an 80-year-old man stopped in the town to lay flowers on his parents’ gravestone. But when he caught sight of the woman across the road, he knew it was his beloved Anna. After 60 years they were reconnected with one another. This is indeed a remarkable story of love and searching.

I have another love story—the story of our loving, caring and Seeking Shepherd. Through the prophet Ezekiel, he tells us of God’s heart and what He desires to do for His scattered, spread, stretched and suffering sheep—the people of Israel of old and the people of Israel today—you and me. PAUSE.

On this Last Sunday of the Church Year, the Word of God that engages us today comes on the heels of God’s anger over the unfaithful shepherds who have ignored their responsibilities and destroyed and drove their sheep away.

To that end, God steps upon the scene and reveals His heart’s desire as He wears it on His sleeves. This is what God says: He Himself will search for His sheep. What a comfort! God is not going to leave it up to us to find our way, or to some fallible human agent to find us. He is going to do it Himself! We know that faith comes only by the power of the Holy Spirit working through the Word of God preached and proclaimed. God seeks out each of His people by the proclamation of His Word, calling them sweetly by the gospel of forgiveness and of the free gift of eternal life. He washes over and enters them with His power in the waters of Baptism and creates faith, and teaches them how to hear, believe and equip them to live for God in holiness.

Through His care and mercy God promises to gather His scattered people from every corner of the world. To the people of Ezekiel’s day, this promise was to bring about deliverance from the Babylonian Captivity. To us—His new Israel we hear the promise given to the Church, in which we are called together out of the world and fed on the rich pasture of His eternal Word.

The promise of this seeking Shepherd has not changed today. This is the promise of the Good Shepherd to bring His people together to hear His Word clearly and purely proclaimed and to give to them lives which will please Him in holiness. He speaks of lying in good pasture and grazing on the mountain heights of Israel. This is a life of abundance and purity—but the abundance is in God’s Word, and the purity is in the doctrine heard by and lived out by the people of God. The mountain heights of Israel are figuratively as close as you can get to God in this world—and you can get no closer than where you hear the Word of God taught clearly, taught plainly, and taught honestly - and when you eat of His Holy meal in which He Himself actually comes to you in, with, and under the bread and the wine. PAUSE

In the midst of our hurt and pain, we see the hand of God stretching out to us and lifting us up from the midst of the storms of life. We see a great picture of this in the Gospel of Luke chapter 15. In these familiar words we hear of a lost coin, lost shepherd and lost sons. Yet in all these stories we see the face of God as the Seeking Shepherd. The One who removes every obstacle, turns every stone, opens every door, crosses every ocean and walks every mile searching for us—His lost sheep. The great and faithful Seeking Shepherd goes on the hunt for every lost sheep to bring him/her back to the fold—to feed and nurture them.

But this is not the only thing that the Seeking Shepherd will do. He will bring terror and destruction upon those who are unfaithful, uninvolved and unbelievers. He will pour upon them His wrath and eternal judgment. He will spew them out of His presence and send them on their way to hell. And that judgment starts with the shepherds…the pastors!

Don’t think that this is only about those people who lived then, but this applies to us and our day. The Seeking Shepherded is not referring to any kind of people, but He is talking about us who bear His name on our foreheads and hearts. We have every advantage. We have the Word of God, clear and plain and in abundance. We enjoy the rich blessings of the earth in such super-abundance that the world has never seen before! We are fat and lazy spiritually. And we are what the Bible refers to so often as the “strong”. We are the ones who are so wealthy and so comfortable that we feel no need and fear no evil.

Perhaps, not all of us are in this position and perhaps not at this time with so many uncertainties and the unknown—we don’t lift our voice to God seeking His directions and favor because we are strong and rely on ourselves rather than on Him. The strong don’t need help - so they don’t pray much. The strong don’t need any more power or knowledge - so they don’t study much. The strong are wise and capable - so they don’t let God’s Word or their faith interfere with their thinking or decision making. The strong have no compassion - so they take care of themselves first - and last, if the truth be known. Spiritual pride and spiritual apathy mark the fat and the strong. Many of us are marked by Spiritual Pride and Spiritual Apathy. How sad and how terrifying that we don’t care to reach out to others and be faithful in our lives and actions to let the Gospel of Christ permeate in our lives.

Look into your lives ask this question: Are we the fat and strong ones—those who don’t care or want to make any effort to be in the presence of God. The strong who don’t spend time in His house, around His Word, and at His table to receive His favor and blessings. The strong who are not concerned about their brothers and sisters; who avoid this place, or reach out to them in love. The strong who care less about evangelism, mission or support the ministry of the Gospel with their offerings and service. The strong who are don’t encourage one another, visit the sick and the hurting, and reach out in the name of Christ with an arm of love and compassion. And I am just as guilty as you are in this manner.

By the Spirit’s power and in the name of Christ let us reach out to others. May we hear and take to heart the Words of Jesus who said: “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:17). May we reach out to our brothers and sisters in Christ, who are sick, who have hurts, who have sinned and fear the coming judgment God has a promise. He has forgiven us in Jesus, paid for our sins by His death on the cross, and announced His love and His will to save us by the Easter resurrection of Jesus. Those He will feed and lead to His eternal rest.

Unlike the story of Anna and Boris who found each other by fate after 60 years, the Seeking Shepherd’s story is not a story of fate but by the faithful promise He made and has kept from the beginning of the world.

Through the prophet Ezekiel whose name means (God will strengthen him) we see the seeking Shepherd reaching out and doing the unthinkable and unimaginable—He feeds and He heals, He finds and He strengthens, He gives them forgiveness and eternal life. But He also culls the flock. Those who do not want Him, do not love Him or do not need Him any longer - the fat and the strong - He will destroy. These are two sides, both real views of the same seeking Shepherd. By the power of the Holy Spirit, which you received in the majestic of Baptism, come, hear, and feed. Come, let Him guide and lead you and give you rest. Let the seeking Shepherd bind up your wounds, and comfort your sorrows. Come to the seeking Shepherd in Word and Sacrament regularly and become strong in His service. Amen.

Now the peace of God…


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