Rev. Eric Dillenbeck
Sunday, November 20, 2011
based on: Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24 & Matthew 25:31-46

I wonder if 50 years from now, historians will look back and point to 2011 as the year the world thumbed their nose at Monarchs, Presidents, dictators and at policies that are oppressive. This really has not been a good year for Heads-of-State around the world.

Eleven months ago the first rumblings of the Arab Spring began to come to light in Tunisia, but then, in January, the events in Egypt captured the main stage and the world’s attention.

Those protests led to the resignation of President Mubarack and to the beginning of a different kind of society in Egypt, but they were the fan to the flames of unrest in at least 15 other countries in the Middle East, most notably Syria and Libya, whose leader, as you know, was killed in an all-out civil war.

In the midst of all that global turmoil the British made monarchies look good with the royal wedding, but given the state of world affairs and grim economic news that over the top extravagance highlighted the widening gap between the super wealthy and those on the margins and in the end could not hold our attention forever. The Arab Spring continues to this day and has inspired other forms of protest the world over, including right here in the United States.

The Occupy movement could, until recently, be found on Wall Street and in many other cities around the country. It builds upon some of the same simmering problems that plagued those countries in the Arab world.

But unlike those protesting in the Arab Spring, who are trying to change oppressive governments, the Occupy “Wall Streeters” are taking aim at economic policies they feel are benefiting a few at the expense of so many others.

While I might not agree with all of their strategies and would appreciate it if they were more eloquent, and possibly more knowledgeable, in how they express their opinions, I do appreciate how they are, for the most part, trying to call attention to practices and policies that are less than friendly to the very least of these. I appreciate how they are advocating for justice in the world.

The prophet Ezekiel had a similar task. He was called by God to challenge the power and privilege of the Davidic kings who had been abusing their status and position for generations. He was a young priest in Jerusalem right before the wars began that would result in the Hebrew’s exile and the goal of his ministry was to help the Hebrew people and their leadership understand that the came about because of the flawed and selfish kings of Jerusalem.

In fact, the first 9 verses of the 34th chapter make his opinions pretty clear. He says,

“Thus says the Lord God: Ah, you shepherds of Israel (which was a title used to describe the work of the king) who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? 3You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fatlings; but you do not feed the sheep. 4You have not strengthened the weak, you have not healed the sick, you have not bound up the injured, you have not brought back the strayed, you have not sought the lost, but with force and harshness you have ruled them.”

Then describing the exile he goes on to say that the sheep have been lost, have become prey and have been scattered to the worst fields.

But then, as we see in today’s passage, Ezekiel turns toward the future and becomes distinctly positive and hopeful. His message, “There’s a NEW Shepherd in town.”

And this Shepherd is VERY aware of the struggle the sheep have endured; this is a shepherd who will:

    • Seek out the lost,
    • bring back the strayed,
    • bind up the injured,
    • strengthen the weak and
    • feed the hungry.

This Shepherd will forsake the “fat and strong.” Now God does not particularly have an issue with a person’s body size. The point of that phrase alludes to those who have enjoyed the luxuries of life while others struggled.

God will no longer tolerate the injustice that the former shepherds carried out against the sheep and instead promises a new shepherd who will come to work out God’s justice in the world. And that new Shepherd, that son of David, did come in the person of Jesus Christ who was born in a manager and died on a cross. And in between those defining bookends of his life, this new shepherd, this messiah-king, sought out the lost, fed the hungry, healed the sick, and befriended the sinners. And he promises to come back to us as a “shepherd who separates sheep from goats.”

But there is our trap. We hear talk of sheep and goats being separated and we get stuck wondering if we are a sheep or a goat and we miss the real invitation of the text.

Ezekiel and Jesus both are asking us if we will place our trust in the usual things people have elevated to godlike status: temporal power, wealth, celebrity and fame and in so doing pattern our lives on those values which lead to separation and anxiety,

Or will we recognize Christ as our King, our shepherd, and then live accordingly. Will we search out Christ’s presence by working for justice with and for those who are marginalized and disempowered and in so doing enjoy the compassion reign of Christ in our lives here and now?

Today we celebrate Christ the King Sunday. To call Christ our King, our President, our Head of State, our Shepherd is to say publically that our ultimate authority does not reside in Washington, or on Wall Street, but in the person of Jesus Christ who lived his life on the margins and who invited us to follow; who expects us to care for the least of these.

How will you demonstrate this call to the margins in your life? How will we respond as a congregation?