For thus says the Lord God: I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out. As 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. I 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. I 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. I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord God. I 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…Ezekiel 34.11-16, 20-24
Therefore, thus says the Lord God to them: I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. Because you pushed with flank and shoulder, and butted at all the weak animals with your horns until you scattered them far and wide, I will save my flock, and they shall no longer be ravaged; and I will judge between sheep and sheep. 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, the Lord, have spoken.
[The other readings for today are Ephesians 1.15-end and Matthew 25.31-end]
Today is the last Sunday of the Church’s year, and the Sunday before Advent. It is also the day when we think of Christ as the King.
These days it may be hard to imagine that the kings and queens in years gone by were all powerful; you may never have seen them, but what they said was law, and you did everything in your power to keep them happy. Woe betide you if you made the king angry, as your life would not be worth living, that is, if you still had a life! Today our Royal family has lost most of its mystery and virtually all of its power, and subject to constant media attention, the Royal Family has shown itself to be just as human and frail as we all are. That is apart from the Queen herself, who throughout her long reign has honoured her commitment to duty to this country and Commonwealth which she made before God at her coronation.
But today we celebrate and honour a different kind of monarch, God’s only Son, Christ the King. Christ, who is everlasting, and through the years has not had his power diminished or whittled down. Following his victory on the Cross and His glorious resurrection, God has given him all power to rule over God’s kingdom, both here on earth and in heaven. And this King seeks to save and enhance lives, not to destroy or belittle them. Perhaps now, just before Advent and the run up to Christmas, it is timely to remember that Christ is the all powerful king. We sometimes forget that when we celebrate his birth, when he laid aside all his glory, and rightful place in heaven, to come down to us on earth as a helpless babe at Christmas.
As we read in the Good News Bible translation, God is saying;
I will give them a king like my servant David to be their one shepherd, and he will take care of them. I, the Lord, will be their God, and a king like my servant David will be their ruler. I have spoken.Ezekiel 34:23
And in The Message translation we read:
God raised Christ from death and set him on a throne in deep heaven, in charge of running the universe; everything from galaxies to governments, no name and no power is exempt from his rule. And not just for the time being, but forever. He is in charge of it all; has the final word on everything: At the centre of all this, Christ rules the church: The church is Christ’s body, in which he speaks and acts, by which he fills everything with his presence:Ephesians 1.20-23
And Christ is given the Power to defeat death and evil, we don’t mind that, it’s nice to have an all-powerful king to fight our corner, or a nice shepherd to care and look after us, but, Christ is also given the power and authority to judge. We don’t like that so much, especially as we all know we have all done much of which we are ashamed. And as Matthew, harking back to the images we find in Ezekiel, says;
When the Son of Man comes in his glory … he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, and he will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.Matthew 25.31-33
Now those of you who have been to the Middle East will know that sheep don’t look like the fluffy white bundles of wool that we think of in this country. No, they look scraggy and thin, much like a goat, so when I was in Aden, Diana my first wife and I used to call them ‘shoats’. The reason for separating them was that goats are less hardy than sheep and have to be cared for in harsh weather. Oh! and if you have to separate them yourself, a lamb’s tail hangs down and goat’s tail points skywards!
And going back to Ezekiel, a good shepherd can also judge between one sheep and another. Perhaps that is why we are told not to judge each other; only God knows all, and he will judge all of us at the end of time.
Then the King will say to those on his right, Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the foundation of the world.Matthew 25.34
So Christ will be able to separate us as sheep from goats; or as chalk from cheese.
As inheritor’s of Christ’s kingdom, we must ensure that we are trying our best at all times to do what our King requires. In the reading from Ezekiel, verses 17 to 19 are missing. Have you wondered what they said? We are told that we should be satisfied with eating the best that the Lord provides and we must not trample down what we don’t eat. God provides clear water for us to drink, and yet we tend to muddy what we leave for others! God made us stewards of the world he created, yet we are greedy and tend to plunder, waste, and pollute this fragile ecosystem that is God’s world.
God says this about us, comparing us to sheep:
I shall look for the lost one, bring back the stray, bandage the injured and make the sick strong… I shall be a true shepherd to them.Ezekiel 34.16
He rightly accuses us as the rich and fat sheep, of pushing the sick ones aside and butting them away from the flock. What an indictment!
In Matthew, Christ is telling his disciples that He is with the hungry and the thirsty and if we do not feed them or give them drink we are failing in our duty to serve him. In the same way, He is with the stranger needing clothing and shelter, and with the sick and those in prison, whose plight we ignore at our peril. This does not mean that we have to rush off and visit all the prisoners; although in the Middle East that is necessary, because if your friends don’t visit you with food, you go very very hungry! But if we are not all required to visit prisoners, we are all needed to fight for justice.
Remember as we say our Lord’s Prayer together:
Do we really mean that? Are we trying to do God’s will on earth? Are we like the Christians we read about in the New Testament? They were prepared to do God’s will on earth, and were even prepared to die for their faith. And we should remember that even today, Christians in other parts of the world are still dying for their faith. Or are we perhaps fair-weather Christians, a bit like our politicians, who will say whatever they think is needed at the time, but will go their own way when it suits them?
And there is another thing about Christ our king which is different from earthly rulers. He is approachable, He has lived on earth and knows all about our tribulations and trials. And Christ is real and can escort us to the throne of heavenly grace.
A boy once asked his vicar, “How do I know that Christ is real and alive?”
The vicar said to the boy, “When you and your father came into church this morning, what were you doing?”
“We were talking,” said the boy.
“And is your father real and alive?”
“Of course he is, I couldn’t have a conversation with him if he was dead,” replied the boy.
“There is your answer,” said his vicar, “We are able to talk to God the Father, through God the Son by the power of the Holy Spirit in prayer, and if we give him time, and space and silence, he will speak to us. This is how we know God is alive and very real.”
Now God as three persons in the Trinity is a mystery, impossible to fully understand, yet we know in our hearts it is true, and that God is alive, working and caring in our world today. And we have to make the reality of Christ, come alive for us. Because although Christ is King, he still wants to have a personal relationship with each one of us.
Make sure that you get to know Christ and let Him rule in your life today.
And then Christ the King, will bestow his love and his peace and his purpose, to all you think, and to all you say, and to all you do.