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11.23.14 Being Right or Being Left Matthew 25:31-46 Sermon Summary

by on November 26, 2014

What does it mean that Christ is King and Lord? This is perhaps the fundamental Christian question, bearing on both how we live now, and whether we will be with God for eternity.

Summary Points

  • Jesus’ redefinition of “Lord” and “King”
  • Two places to look for and find God
  • An insight into heaven
  • The warning and invitation of these passages
  • Questions for discussion and reflection

Jesus as Lord (and King) is the original Christian confession of faith. The language is archaic for us. Who speaks of kings and lords today? Perhaps it is better to envision Christ as president, boss, or general. In any case, Jesus redefined kingship and lordship from images of power, possession, and privilege to depictions of service and sacrifice.

In the language of today’s readings: the king and lord is a shepherd. This image may no less lost to us since the “shepherd” motive is also a relatively foreign one.

Ezekiel is a long, complicated, and symbolic book. On one hand, it includes harsh and terrible judgments against the people of God. On the other hand, there are scenes of redemption, like the one included in today’s readings. God judges the shepherds of Israel, particularly the religious leaders, but also those whose luxurious living comes on the backs of the poor. These two, religious infidelity and lack of social justice led to the scattering of God’s flock—specifically, to the Exile, the context in which Ezekiel wrote.

The end result is that God himself must shepherd his people. He draws upon the image of “David,” the tradition’s epitome of the shepherd king. God promises to gather those who are scattered and lost. Particularly, God will seek those who are Lost, Strayed, Injured, or Weak.

I wonder how many of us view ourselves this way. Don’t we in fact pride ourselves on achievement? We project ourselves as having it all together. We never want to be lost. But God particularly seeks the lost, strayed, injured, and weak. And what is more, God judges the “by the book, straight and narrow, Hollywood hair, healthy, strong, have-it-all-together, fat sheep.” These are bullies. Ezekiel says they got that way by oppressing the weak sheep.

Consider this: If we try so hard to not be lost, strayed, injured, and weak, why are we surprised when God seems distant? God is near to the lost, strayed, injured, and weak! If we want to find God, this is where we must look first: within, and honestly, at those places where we are lost, strayed, injured, and weak.

There is a second place to look for God. Jesus reveals it when he revealed the kingdom—when he replaced David as the quintessential shepherd king. Jesus said we could find God among the Hungry, Thirsty, Foreign, Naked, Sick, and the Imprisoned. Among these is where Jesus promised to be. And how we treat them is how we treat Jesus. And furthermore, how we treat Jesus determines whether we are among God’s flock.

Here we have an insight as to what heaven is like. Heaven is the place where all needs are met, because all needs are acknowledged, and God, the shepherd king, meets the needs himself. Heaven is the intersection between our need and God’s meeting the need.

These passages us warn us, to be sure. But they also invite us. They warn us not to neglect the needs of the lost, strayed, injured, the weak, or the hungry, thirsty, foreign, naked, sick, imprisoned—or any such vulnerable, needy persons. If we ignore this warning, we will not find ourselves in God’s company, because God is with them.

But these passages invite us also, to get in touch with our own needs. In touch with our sense of being lost, of having gone astray. Of being hurt, of being weak. In touch with our physical needs, symbolized by hunger, thirst, nakedness (if these are not literal concerns). With our social vulnerabilities of being the foreigner, the marginalized, the overlooked, the taken-advantage of. With our mental and emotional vulnerabilities that make us sick and imprisoned. These passages invite us to get us in touch with any need that creates the place where God ministers to us.

And as we become more aware of these places in our own lives, we will discover God there. And we will recognize these places in the lives of others. And we will discover God there also.

Questions for Discussion and Reflection

  • What contemporary language would make more immediate sense to us than “Lord,” “King,” and “Shepherd”?
  • How do you identify with the sheep who are lost, strayed, weak, or injured? Or with those who are hungry, thirsty, foreign, naked, sick, or imprisoned?
  • Do you feel the force of these passages more as warning or invitation? How will you respond?

 

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