Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24; Psalm 95:1-7a and Matthew 25:31-46
Grace to you and peace from our Good Shepherd - Provider, Savior and Sustainer. Amen.
As I said last week, chapters 24 and 25 of Matthew read as a whole - Jesus preparing his disciples for when he has left them - what persecutions they can expect, and what the coming “day of the Lord” will look like - a day of judgement. This is what is going on in Ezekiel as well. We have God, the Good Shepherd, here, too, not just in Psalm 23 or the Gospels with Jesus.
We hear that the Good Shepherd 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.” And that justice will probably taste like sweetgrass to the weak and will taste bitter to those sheep who pushed around the weaker sheep and “butted at all the weak animals with your horns until you scattered them far and wide.” And over all of them, there will be one shepherd. In Christ, we have the fulfillment of a Good Shepherd who laid down his life for all the sheep, and took it back up again in the resurrection, breaking the power of death and sin over our lives.
Jesus spoke to his disciples repeatedly about what really matters in God’s eyes, what is of value in God's economy. It is not about monetary wealth. The joy of the Lord is found in caring for the poor, feeding the hungry, visiting those in prison, welcoming the stranger and sojourner in our midst. What you do unto the least of these, you do unto me. What you do not do unto the least of these, you do not do unto me. Love God, love neighbor; love one another.
I don’t know about you, but sometimes I am a goat, and sometimes I am a sheep. We are simultaneously saint and sinner, saved, thank goodness, not because of our own deeds, but because of Christ. And, in Christ, we are called to care for the poor, for all, regardless of their situation in life, pursuing justice and righteousness. And we are called to this right now. Yet, there are times when I keep my resources, don’t share, say no to the empathy I feel. And, there are times when I literally do not see the suffering of my neighbor - usually because I don’t know what they are suffering.
We are ignorant of others’ experiences because of our lack of relationships with people with different experiences than we have. We see the world through our own lens - our eyes and experiences. Relationships with people from different backgrounds helps us see the world in different ways. I want to use this ornament next to me to illustrate. I have a flashlight with tape over the lens to give just a small beam of light. The flashlight starts as a single beam of light. When the light hits the prism, the light refracts, it bends to many different angles. This is similar to meeting people who are different than us, who have different angles and takes - they help us see things in a different way.
You’ve likely experienced this, yourself or a family member. I learned more about challenges in mental health access and the jail system because of some of my family and friends. If you read this list in Matthew and say - I don’t know anybody who is hungry, in prison, needs clothes, different race than me, immigrant, new in town, etc., then do something about it. Build up relationships in person if you can. And if that’s not possible, read books, watch movies, etc, from a different perspective to raise your awareness, increase empathy, increase our compassion - increase our ability to walk with the suffering; not just feel their pain, but act on our compassion. Assuming that Christ is in every person - even when they’re acting up or make you angry or act a fool. As the grandma of one of my colleague’s says - you might need to go on an excavation to find Christ, yet Christ is there (Angie Shannon’s grandma).
I also want to turn to the judgement in this parable. To the being cast out, cast aside. Using language from last week’s gospel, what happens when we don’t live in the joy of our master? The joy of the Lord? Well, we live in our own hell on earth. There are consequences to actions. Not caring for our neighbor and planet, not loving God means that things go out of control. The broken world in which we live is evidence of that. Separation from God is not living in God’s joy. An experience of weeping & gnashing of teeth describes removing yourself from God's abundance.
I’ve been bringing in Narnia connections already this month even though we start our Advent in Narnia series next week. I have a few more connections today, and it feels even more appropriate today because it is the anniversary of C.S. Lewis’ death.
Removing yourselves from the joy of the Lord is like the dwarves in Narnia in The Last Battle. The Last Battle is the last of the seven books that make up the Chronicles of Narnia. The story is what it sounds like - the last battle of their world, and all things are moving toward a final judgement of all people, animals and nations, which fits with these chapters from Matthew. I have some of the original illustrations from the book to help me tell these stories.
In the midst of the fighting in the last battle between Narnians and the Calormenes, there is a stable. The Narnians have been told that the Calormene god Tash is inside the stable and all who go into it will meet him. In fact, the Calormenes have stationed guards inside - with instructions to kill any Narnians who go in. The Pevensie children and their friends end up being forced into the stable and what happened next was very unexpected. They found themselves surrounded by lush green rolling hills, fruit trees and a warm summer’s breeze on their cheeks. It was Aslan’s country. It was a Narnia within Narnia that also contained their “real world” too. It was similar to what they knew before, and yet a bit more vibrant and alive, becoming more and more so the further they went in.
One person observed that the stable’s “inside is bigger than its outside,” to which Lucy replied, “In our world too, a stable once had something inside it that was bigger than our whole world.” All who go through the stable door go to the same next place, but they experience it in different ways.
There were some dwarves who had been forced through the stable door as well. These dwarves had attacked both sides in the battle on the other side of the stable door - the “dwarves were for the dwarves.” Once through the stable door, the dwarves couldn't see the abundance around them. You can see their chapter is titled “How the dwarves refused to be taken in.” They thought they were in a windowless, dark stable. When the Penvesies and others saw Aslan provide an abundant feast before the dwarves, the dwarves dug in and thought they were eating that which you’d find in a stable - an old turnip, hay, a raw cabbage leaf, drinking stale water.
The dwarves were bound and determined not to see Narnia, so they didn't. They were resistant to the gift, yet still provided for. Back to the passage from Ezekiel - Justice tastes different depending on where you’re at, depending on your social location - justice may taste like sweetgrass when you have been trampled upon. It may taste bitter to those who need to be held accountable - to those who have removed themselves from God’s joy.
Another Narnia connection with this story is related to the question - who is saved? What about those who don’t know Jesus? The beginning of the parable from Matthew talks about the king judging between the nations. Not just between the sheep as in Ezekiel - amongst the Hebrew people, but all the nations, the sheep and the goats. There are those who do the will of the Lord who may not know it. Again, in The Last Battle, there was a faithful soldier, a Calormene who went into the stable seeking his god Tash who he had sought to serve faithfully his whole life. He found himself in Aslan’s country and was greeted by Aslan who told him that all the good he had done in his life was attributed to Aslan and the bad to Tash. C.S. Lewis is saying that our notion of who is right and wrong isn’t about our judging - but about God’s. God judges the heart.
We have all sinned and fall short of the glory of God. In our baptism, we are claimed by Christ - the promise of the Holy Spirit living in us. When we pray in the Lord's Prayer for God’s kingdom to come and God’s will be done, we know that God's will and provision will come without us. Yet in this prayer, we pray that we see God’s kingdom come within our lives, seek after God’s will for our lives, give thanks to God, and attribute the provision to God. We are sometimes a goat and sometimes a sheep, yet you and I are always claimed by God in Christ and sealed with the Holy Spirit forever, thanks be to God.
Rev. Elizabeth Bier is the pastor of ONE in Christ Parish, a three-point parish in Greenwood, Longwood, and Withee. She is ordained with the Evangelical Lutheran Church of America (ELCA) and has served the ONE in Christ Parish since February of 2019.Profile
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