Ezekiel 34.11-16, 20-24
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.??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.??
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.??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, theLord, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them; I, the??Lord, have spoken.
In chapter 34, God is condemning Israel???s leaders for not looking after their people. ??The so-called shepherds have sought after their own interests, doing what they want and not putting the good of the people over and above their own. ??Israel???s leaders know better. ??Why? ??Because of who they worship. ??The passage is seasoned with the character of God; a character that we are called to emulate as we care for those around us. ??Listen to the language:??
I myself will search??? I will seek out??? I will bring them out??? I will feed them??? I myself will be their shepherd??? I will make them lie down??? I will seek the lost??? I will bring back the strayed??? I will bind up the injured??? I will strengthen the weak
This language reveals two important characteristics of God, among others: responsibility and compassion.
Responsibility is crucial. ??God has determined that He is not going to let the selfish ways of the rulers continue any longer. ??Here we learn that God is only going to tolerate so much poor leadership. ??And so now He will take charge, caring for them and leading them out of hardship. ??This lack of responsibility by Israel???s leaders is due to their failure to be led by God. ??When our own interests become our compass rather than God's interests, we are led around by our own self-created appetites, chasing after things that distract us from people rather than leading us to the places where people are. ??This means that we have to know WHERE people are in their life, recognizing that they are scattered and lost, seeking guidance and relief. ??
One of our greatest vices in American society is our being led around by our bellies. ??Whether it be food or entertainment, our appetites determine the direction our lives and our families are pointed in. ??People today have no clue where their life is headed or what they are doing as a family because they chase their own interests. ??This is a problem because we become individualistic and self-seeking when we don't seek a common good, only proving to be irresponsible in the caring of others. ??
God???s example of responsibility here shows that He will intervene and help those in need, leading them out of the ditches of life, bringing healing and restoration. ??We can do this, too, given the resources that we may have. ??I don???t know the full giftedness of each family or person in this room, but I do know that you have the opportunity each day to make yourself available to someone else and provide hope in their life.
A Godly-diet is so important. ??We need to be feeding on things above, growing in our knowledge and understanding of what it means to live as a child of God and not as a child of this world. ??If we will take responsibility for the lost, the scattered, and the broken through a Godly-character, will see results in all of our lives in ways that we have never before.
The second characteristic of God here in our text is compassion. ??God is drawing a contrast to the rulers by stating what it is that He will do for His people that they are not. ??God's compassion for His people is the evidence of His love for them, of His desire to make them a priority and not an afterthought. ??We must understand this morning that compassion is the key to reaching out in the first place. ??
Many of us want to take what we learn in the pews out into the streets. ??But before we do we must be able to recognize where there are needs to be met. ??We respond to the needs that we see by having a heart that is able to connect to them. ??There is need all around us, but what I want to see in you is a movement, where your heart is drawn to a particular need. ??We can all go down to the food bank and hand out food, but what gets YOUR blood going? ??What is it that you know you can do something about? ??Where do you hear God calling your name to make a difference and usher change into other people's lives?
The rulers of Israel could't hear that call. ??They were busy meeting their own needs and by consequence neglecting their people. ??Compassion begins in the heart. ??Many of us find a connection to a suffering that we may have experienced ourselves. ??Some of us may have been down that road where we lost a relationship with someone, may be through death or through divorce. ??How can you share your story and meet the need of someone who may be in that familiar situation? ??What about those of you who have survived cancer? ??Can you reach out to those who have been diagnosed or may be even to those whose loved ones have just received that news? ??Will you offer a good word and a warm presence to them?
Are you being led in a direction to work with children of some sort? ??Teenagers maybe? ??Are there young adults with kids who need a guiding hand as they are discovering what it means to be parents? ??Do you care deeply about the elderly people in our church or in this community? ??Will you begin to visit them, talk with them, extend a hand of fellowship with those who don't get to experience it like we do here on Sunday morning? ??What about the unchurched? ??Are there people you know need hope? ??Are they waiting for someone to call or knock and simply invite them to a place that you know can bring meaning and purpose? ??ARE YOU INVITING ANYONE INTO THESE MINISTRIES, THESE PASSIONS YOU MAY HAVE? ??Are you passing on these convictions to others and making them aware of the needs or are we content in being discontent with others?
Folks, being led by God means letting go. ??It means laying down our life and sometimes our life-sty
le and taking up God???s mission to bring other people into fellowship and family. ??God???s will is to relieve suffering. ??And suffering comes in many ways. ??We suffer from hunger, from illness, from loss. ??It's physical, it's emotional, it's spiritual. ??
Suffering has been introduced into this world through sin, but suffering is also redeemed through the sacrifice of Jesus on the cross. ??Because of Jesus, we can experience suffering in a whole new way. ??We can see this life not as a burden that will crush us but as a burden that can bring wholeness through responsibility and compassion. ??
Let us see suffering as something that can have God's mercy applied to it. ??Let God work miracles in our suffering. ??But you gotta be led by God. ??You gotta lay down your will and you have to submit to His will. ??God is saying to us today "Come and lay down your life, lay down your self-created interests, let me lead you beside still waters and take you to pastures, green and full. ??Be led today and may the Holy Spirit be your guide.
Rev. Whit R. Martin??
Pastor,??New Liberty United Methodist Church