Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen. Our text for this morning is the second half of our Old Testament Reading, Ezekiel 34:20-24.
1. But first, think for a moment about the more peaceful places or times in your life. For me personally, one of the most peaceful places I have ever been is a little place inside the Great Smoky Mountains National Park on the North Carolina-Tennessee border—a campground called Big Creek Campground. It’s a super remote place with towering pine, oak, and tulip poplar trees that are bigger, taller, and greener than any trees you’ve ever seen. And there’s a confluence of two creeks which roars in the background.
It’s truly one of the most calming, peaceful places that I’ve ever been. Maybe you have your own place like that—your peaceful retreat. Or maybe you’re reminded of memories of specific peaceful times in your life, like sitting by the window as a child watching the snow fall on Christmas morning, or watching the sun rise over the mountains early in the morning. There’s something about these peaceful memories that you and I treasure and cling to. We can’t get enough of these peaceful moments, probably because we don’t get enough peace in our everyday lives. I mean, think for a moment about the chaos that has been the year 2020. We’ve had a global pandemic which has turned our lives upside down and inside out throwing our country’s economy into chaos and taking the lives of so many people. We’ve had a crazy election cycle, which still hasn’t been resolved. And now, if you’re like me, you find yourself bracing for this holiday season and the inevitable chaos that it will brings into our homes, hearts, and lives. The bottom line is, we live in a world filled with chaos. And that chaos wears on us, doesn’t it? It leaves us feeling frustrated, stressed, and even helpless.
2. This feeling of helplessness in the midst of chaos is, in a lot of ways, exactly what’s being described in Ezekiel 34 in the verses which immediately precede our text (which, unfortunately, weren’t read as a part of our Old Testament reading). There’s this striking image of muddy, dirty chaos being created. Ezekiel says in those verses: As for you, my flock, thus says the Lord GOD: Behold, I judge between sheep and sheep, between rams and male goats. Is it not enough for you to feed on the good pasture, that you must tread down with your feet the rest of your pasture; and to drink of clear water, that you must muddy the rest of the water with your feet? And must my sheep eat what you have trodden with your feet, and drink what you have muddied with your feet? Do you see what’s going on here? The Lord is rebuking the people of Israel for acting like selfish, careless sheep, who are not only selfishly taking the best of the food and water, but they are destroying what they leave behind, leaving it muddied and tainted. The world of the rest of the sheep, that is, the people of God, is being thrown into chaos by the downright evil actions of these other sheep. It’s not fair, is it? How can these selfish sheep act like this? It’s infuriating that these innocent, helpless sheep are being treated like this.
3. And God agrees—this kind of treatment of his people will not go on forever. So, he will judge those selfish, “fat” sheep who bully and mistreat the helpless, “lean” sheep. Let’s listen, once again, to Ezekiel’s words: Therefore, thus says the Lord GOD to them: Behold, I, I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. Because you push with side and shoulder, and thrust at all the weak with your horns, till you have scattered them abroad, I will rescue my flock; they shall no longer be a prey. And I will judge between sheep and sheep. And 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 am the LORD; I have spoken. The Lord promises that he will rescue his flock, his people and bring them the peace that they so desperately need and desire. He will establish One Shepherd, the Good Shepherd, Jesus, as ruler over his people. And he will feed them and bring them peace because Jesus is the Good Shepherd who brings peace to his people.
4. About a week and a half ago, I had a visit with someone who really got the implications of this. When I walked in the door of Don & Marlene Pryor’s house a week ago Wednesday, I had no idea that this would be the last time I would see Marlene this side of eternity. I sat down at the table, and the three of us had a pleasant chat about various things. But, before too long, Marlene, eyeing my portable communion set, cut that pleasant conversation short, and said, “Well, shall we?” I’m sure Don knew exactly what she meant, and it only took me a fraction of a second to catch on as well. She was so eager to receive the body and blood of her savior in that meal that nothing else mattered in that moment. And as we concluded, I spoke the words of that final communion blessing, “May the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ strengthen and preserve you in both body and soul to life everlasting. Depart in peace. Amen.” And I know that Marlene did depart in peace. We talked a bit longer about how she was feeling, and she said to me more than once, “I’m ready to go.” See, she knew and believed that Jesus’ resurrection brings victory over evil and chaos of this world. And that resurrection is hers—and yours—because Christ promises it. May the Lord grant it to each one of us that we live our lives in this same kind of hope and peace.
In the name of Jesus. Amen.