Staunton Mennonite Church
God the True Shepherd
11 For 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.
17 As 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?
20 Therefore, 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.
23 I 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.
There was a Virginia turkey farmer who had four children and a wife. The entire family loved turkey. They would eat turkey for breakfast, lunch, and dinner if they could. The problem was, each family member wanted their own drumstick, which caused quite a bit of trouble come chow time.
All of this fighting caused the farmer a lot of grief. He was a Christian man and he hated to see his family fight. So he took his concern to his pastor and his pastor replied to the man, “You’re a master turkey breeder. I’ve seen the size and quality of your birds. Have you ever tried to breed a turkey with 6 legs?”
Years of research, trial, and error finally resulted in a turkey hatching with six legs. The farmer raised the turkey to a mature age and went back to his pastor.
“I finally did it. I bred and raised a turkey with six legs.”
“Excellent,” replied the pastor. “How does it taste?”
“I suppose I’ll never know” replied the farmer. “How in the world do you expect me to catch a turkey with six legs?”
Less than one week from today, many of us will be gathered around tables that are bending in the middle because of all of the weight placed upon said tables in the form of food. Turkey, mashed potatoes, cornbread, gravy, and of course, pumpkin pie. Forget raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens, these are a few of my favorite things!
And after an hour or so, it will no longer be the tables that are bowing from the extra weight introduced to it by the bountiful harvest placed upon it. The extra weight will soon be transferred to the chair upon which I am sitting. Yes, all of the food is beautiful and a sight to behold, but to be honest with you, I’d rather be eating it than looking at it!
Next Thursday is Thanksgiving Day, the day on which we give thanks to God for all that he has blessed us with. We all know how the first Thanksgiving involved the Pilgrims and the Native Americans gathering together to celebrate a bountiful harvest that would feed them through the cold winter months ahead. The thanks went to God, the provider of all good things.
I don’t pretend to believe that we live in a Christian nation today. I doubt that a majority of people gathering around their tables on Thursday will give the proper credit where credit is due. And this makes me wonder, To whom do non-believers give thanks on Thanksgiving?
But I am not standing here today to criticize those that don’t give credit to God for his many gifts. I want to point out that maybe we as Christians have missed the point of Thanksgiving. And this morning I want to draw our attention to two issues: the sin of gluttony and our attitude in receiving.
Our scripture for today begins with God saying that he will gather together his sheep that have been scattered throughout the land, scattered by their enemies. Again we have this imagery of God as a shepherd. Not any old shepherd, but a good shepherd. He will gather them from far and near, high and low, and bring them to a place where the pastures are green and the water is plentiful. And in this passage from Ezekiel, we hear the 23rd Psalm from the other perspective; the perspective of God.
God is referring to his people, the Israelites, as his sheep. And they have been scattered around the area in Exile. They have lost possession of the Promised Land, they have been defeated in battle, they are weak, wounded, and desperate. And the reason for this Exile is given in the verses leading up to our scripture for this morning. The people have been shepherded poorly, shepherded by false shepherds.
The people have been under the watchful eyes of selfish leaders. Now I can’t say for sure whether this is a reference to the religious leaders or to the political leaders. The scholars seem to even be divided on this as well. But I would guess both. There wasn’t really such a thing as separation of church and state in Ezekiel’s day, and the king would have had a lot of say in what went on at the Temple and the priests would have had a lot of influence on the king. Regardless, the people had experienced some pretty poor and Godless leadership. Ezekiel tells us that the selfish leaders are growing fat and clothing themselves well while the rest of the people grow weak, become injured, and stray away.
The word we often use to describe the selfishness of these leaders is gluttony. The common understanding of a glutton is one who consumes more then his or her fair share of food or drink. This is a charge that I am guilty of. But I believe that the real sin of gluttony is not becoming overly filled with food or drink, but to do so at the expense of others.
Our scripture says in verse 18, “Is 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? And must my sheep eat what you have trodden with your feet, and drink what you have fouled with your feet?”
I believe that the sin of gluttony is not eating too much, but not allowing others to be able to have a chance to eat their fair share while we gorge ourselves. The apostle Paul gets pretty angry when he hears that the church in Corinth is doing something like this as well. When they get together, those who are rich and powerful are eating and drinking in excess leaving nothing for those who are not as rich and powerful. The sin of gluttony is a sin of inequality exercised by the rich and powerful over the poor and weak.
So we have a bit of a recession going on here in the USA. This past week much of the talk is about the auto industry and the government’s proposed plan to invest large amounts of money in “The Big Three”, Ford, Chrysler, and GM. And it really doesn’t surprise me that these auto manufacturers are struggling. They have been producing large SUV’s that guzzle gas and contribute to environmental issues. But the market changed when gas prices began to soar. Now the demand is for fuel efficient cars like the ones often produced in Europe and Asia. And this has resulted in decreased sales, decreased profits, less money for these American car companies that produce vehicles like Hummers. But we can rest assured that the automobile industry executives will not be the ones that are hurt financially. And again, like we see in Ezekiel’s passage, it is the little people that are being hurt the most.
We hear stories about auto executives flying around the country in private aircrafts while they try to salvage their own jobs and their own companies. I know one way to save some money…fly coach like the rest of us. This just goes to show us some of the poor decisions that the auto executives have made. And in doing so, they have misled many employees. Now those that count on Ford, Chrysler, and GM for a paycheck find themselves eating from pastures that are over-trodden, drinking from streams fouled by the feet of their bosses.
The sad thing is that so many people will be hurt because of the poor choices that these leaders have made. It has been estimated that one in ten jobs in the US would be affected if the Big Three closed down. The factory workers, the auto dealers, the parts manufacturers, the parts sales people. The trickle-down affect will hurt many…but I doubt that the auto executives will ever have to miss a meal. The auto executives have been gluttons, consuming more than their fair share and now it seems that they are leaving little for those below.
But if we learn anything from our scripture for today, it is that God doesn’t forget about his people in exile. Though sometimes it may feel that way, God does not turn his back on those in need. God leads his people back into green pasture lands flowing with life-giving streams. Misled people will be brought back to God, those led astray will return to green pastures and flowing streams. Verse 16 tells us that God will seek the lost, care for the injured, and strengthen the weak. God the good shepherd will care for those who have been injured.
I don’t pretend to have all of the answers to our current economic crisis. I know very little about economics, so I won’t try to fool you into thinking that I know what the right thing to do is. But I do know who does. God knows. And God cares.
When the Israelites were forced into labor by Pharaoh in Egypt, forced to make bricks without straw, force to meet unreachable quotas, they cried out to God for help. When the Israelites were hungry or thirsty as they wandered through the wilderness, they argued amongst themselves, and they cried out to God. When the Israelites were overthrown and taken away into exile, they cried out to God. And do you know what happened? God heard their cries, had compassion on them, and gave them the things that they needed. God, the good shepherd led them to green pastures, searched for the lost, tended to their wounds, and strengthened the weak.
Now we Christians that gather for Thanksgiving should not feel guilty about having plenty. We are not being gluttonous by my definition given above just because we have a lot of food; we are only being gluttonous when we deprive someone else of something so that we can have it for ourselves. But the second thing I want to point out about our celebration of Thanksgiving is our attitude of receiving.
How do we view all of that food that is set before us on Thanksgiving Day? Do we see it as a blessing from God or do we see it as something we are entitled to? To say we are entitled to us is to say that it is owed to us. We earned it, we worked for it, it is ours because of our own actions. And I fear that this is how many people will look at their Thanksgiving meal, as something that they have earned.
We must realize that all of the food that we have access to is a blessing from God. I can’t even begin to understand why I am blessed while others suffer, but I know it isn’t simply because of what I have done for myself. I am not entitled to a big meal because I have worked hard and earned it.
There are people starving in Africa that work hard every day. Half of the world lives off only two US dollars a week. I spend that much on a cup of coffee. The poor rice farmer in Africa, working in the hot sun to provide for her family is just as entitled to a large meal as I am. But for some reason, they have not been blessed in the same way that I have been. I can’t explain why, but I, we have been blessed. And that is why we must remember to give thanks. Because what we have is a blessing, it is a gift we receive by the grace of God.
An example of the difference between realizing our blessedness and believing we are entitled to something can be found in a recent issue of Beyond Ourselves, a publication of Mennonite Church USA. The story reads:
“A burglary brought new freedom for Mennonite Voluntary Service participant Matt Yoder. On April 19, after celebrating his 21st birthday at a local restaurant (in Bradford, England), Yoder and fellow MVSer Kate Harnish returned to their neighboring apartments to find many of Yoder’s possessions stolen, including guitars, a computer, a camera and his passport.
Yoder was sure he knew who was responsible.
Earlier this year, Yoder opened his door at midnight to a young, intoxicated man who he had seen on the streets hanging out with a group that had a reputation for drug use and robbery. Yoder chatted and offered the man a glass of water. As the man left, Yoder had to coax his personal mp3 player and digital camera from the man’s pockets.
The young man made occasional visits to Yoder’s flat until Yoder’s birthday, when he attempted to break the door lock while Yoder was at home.
Yoder assumes the same man succeeded in entering later that evening.
The usual response to a burglary is anger, but instead Yoder, a member of West Union Mennonite Church in Parnell Iowa, has used the burglary as an opportunity to live a simpler life.
“It’s a chance for me to grow up and realize that life as a human has so much more to be learned and explored than for me to worry about pieces of metal and plastic,” he said.
Since the burglary, Yoder has interacted briefly with the group of young men. He hopes he can get to know them better.”
It seems to me that the young man that stole Matt Yoder’s things believed that he was entitled to them. If he got away with stealing them, then his reward was a new mp3 player, a new camera, a computer, and guitars. He earned them by stealing them.
But Yoder’s response showed and attitude of blessing. Yoder knew that he had been blessed with the things that had been stolen from him, and he was willing to grow from this experience. His attitude reminds me of another shepherd that Ezekiel mentions.
In verse 23 Ezekiel tells us that he will make David a shepherd over the people of Israel, and that David will not only be their shepherd, but also their prince. One problem…David died a long time ago. Ezekiel wasn’t talking about David the son of Jesse, the father of Solomon. He was talking about one who would come along after David, an heir to his throne. Ezekiel is talking about Jesus.
In our world of hyper-consumption and gluttonous living, in our world of people who believe that they are entitled to have many things, we look to Jesus. When we get caught up in what stuff we want or think we need, remember Jesus, the homeless vagabond carpenter who taught us that relationships are more important than possessions. When we begin to give ourselves credit for the things that we have, for making something out of ourselves, putting clothes on our own backs and food on our own tables, remember to pray like Jesus did, praying to God for daily bread. Recognizing that God is the source of such blessings. Jesus, the good shepherd is not only our protector from ravenous animals, as the good shepherd he is also our guide on how to live. And as his sheep, we must follow him.
This Thanksgiving, don’t be like the selfish leaders that misled the Israelites and later abused their power over them by consuming all of the available goods like food and water. Over-consumption is a sin, a sin we call gluttony. If having much means someone else gets none, I hope we will all choose to scale back in the appropriate way.
And as we survey all that we have; food, drink, home, clothing, remember to give thanks to God for the blessings in your life. What we have isn’t because we have earned it. It is a gift from God.