1st Scripture Reading: Ezekial 34:11-16 & Psalm 100
“Make a joyful noise!” Such a song of hope! Ezekial the prophet was active in exile in Babylon from about 598 BC. Until 586 he preached a message of judgment and doom for Israel. After 586 his message changed to focus on hope and salvation. He had clearly lost all faith in the rulers and powers of the day, and shifted his faith to the God of Israel, and found his hope in God’s nature and purpose.
Even though the temple had been destroyed, now Ezekial proclaims that God is with the people in exile, and will guide a new generation to choose life and salvation, thus opening up a future of hope and new beginnings for the Israelites – including return to their homeland and the rebuilding of the temple.
God, Ezekial says, is the true shepherd, and the old corrupt rulers who visited so much misery on the people are the “false shepherds”. The true shepherd loves the sheep, seeks them out when they are lost, protects them and cares for their needs.
False shepherds will face God’s judgment, Ezekial says, and the test will be their unjust acts towards the people.
And so there is hope. God will not abandon us. We are never alone, and we are so loved! There is much to be grateful for, so much to celebrate!
Hymn # 820 VU “Make a Joyful Noise”
2nd Scripture Reading: Matthew 25:31-46
The reading from the prophet Ezekial was a foretaste of what was to come in Jesus Christ, and he was probably influenced by the imagery of the good and false shepherds as he shaped his own ministry.
Self-identifying as the Good Shepherd, he uses this parable to make crystal clear for his followers the Way he is encouraging them to choose; the Way that leads to spiritual reward, versus the way that leads away from him into eternal darkness.
His message is for all God’s great family. It’s not about what race or colour or gender identity you are. It’s not about whether you are rich and powerful, accomplished and well educated, or poor and disabled, weak and mentally challenged.
It’s all about how you treat others; how much love there is in your heart for any and all of God’s children. This message is not for a spiritual elite – this clear and simple message is for ALL of us!
For when we help others in any simple way, without thought of reward or reputation, we are helping him – helping Jesus. After all, we are all God’s children, God is with each one of us, even within each one of us. Jesus is God’s Son – sent to save us by teaching us how to live, how to love, how to care for one another. Jesus is the Word made flesh, come to dwell among us. Therefore the Divine lives within and among every one of us, till the end of time.
I want to read you now a couple of illustrations of how this works from William Barclay’s “The Gospel of Matthew” Vol. 2.
“There were two men who found this parable blessedly true. The one was Francis of Asissi; he was wealthy and high-born and high spirited. But he was not happy. He felt that life was incomplete. Then one day he was out riding and met a leper, loathsome and repulsive in the ugliness of his disease. Something moved Francis to dismount and fling his arms around this wretched sufferer; and in his arms the face of the leper changed to the face of Christ.
The other was Martin of Tours. He was a Roman soldier and a Christian. One cold winter day, as he was entering a city, a beggar stopped him and asked for alms. Martin had no money; but the beggar was shivering and blue with cold, and Martin gave what he had. He took off his soldier’s coat, worn and frayed as it was; he cut it in two and gave half of it to the beggar man. That night he had a dream. In it he saw the heavenly places and all the angels and Jesus in the midst of them; and Jesus was wearing half of a Roman soldier’s cloak. One of the angels said to him, ‘Master, why are you wearing that battered old cloak? Who gave it to you? ‘ and Jesus answered softly, ‘My servant Martin gave it to me.’
When we learn the generosity which without calculation helps men in the simplest things, we too will know the joy of helping Jesus Christ himself.”
Francis of Asissi “saw” the face of the leper become the face of Christ. Martin of Tours had a dream in which he “saw and heard” Jesus acknowledge his gift to the beggar. “What you do to the least of these, you do also to me.” Brothers and sisters in Christ, know that Jesus is still with us, offering comfort and spiritual guidance. Let us serve him by serving one another.
Hymn # 606 VU “In Christ there is no East or West”