November 29, 2019- The Good Shepherd, God With Us- Ezekiel 34:11-24

feed-my-sheep

“For thus says the Lord God: Behold, I, I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out.  As a shepherd seeks out his flock when he is among his sheep that have been scattered, so will I seek out my sheep, and I will rescue them from all places where they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. And I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land. And I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the ravines, and in all the inhabited places of the country.  I will feed them with good pasture, and on the mountain heights of Israel shall be their grazing land. There they shall lie down in good grazing land, and on rich pasture they shall feed on the mountains of Israel.  I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord God.  I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them in justice.

“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?

“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. Ezekiel 34:11-24 (ESV)

Ezekiel was a priest who was taken to Babylon in 597 BC as part of the Babylonian exile.  When he was in Babylon, he received a series of prophetic visions from God.  The first vision was of Ezekiel coming down in a chariot of fire to deliver God’s judgment to Israel and God commissioning Ezekiel to be His prophet.  The second was convicting the people of all the ways that Israel as a nation had violated God’s Law via idolatry and immoral living.  The third vision was that exile wasn’t the end of God’s people Israel.  At the end of Ezekiel’s prophecies we get the glorious image of dead, dry bones being spoken into life again.  (Ezekiel 37:1-14)

Here through the pen of Ezekiel, God speaks of a new nation that will come to be- the remnant of the faithful, God’s sheep, the new Israel.

More importantly Ezekiel points us to the Good Shepherd- God Himself, Who we know as Jesus, God in human flesh, the Son of David, will gather His sheep.

I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I myself will make them lie down, declares the Lord God. I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them in justice.

God is the One doing the acting.  He is the Shepherd.  He makes us His sheep.  He seeks out His sheep.  He brings back those who have wandered away.  He brings strength to the weak, and He will bring down the strong who have taken advantage of the weak.

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 we gladly learn and share God’s word, and the material gifts He so lavishly gives us? Or do we keep all of that to ourselves and fail to acknowledge the needs of those around us?  None of us do that perfectly. We sin daily and sin much.

Lord, please help us to share your good news and good pasture with others, that we would be generous and truthful and gracious in our dealings with our neighbors.

All of us are in bondage to sin and cannot free ourselves.  Do we trust in Christ that He will transform our hearts and minds to His will?

As the church year comes to an end and we enter into the season of Advent, we can take comfort and confidence that the Son of David, the Good Shepherd, God With Us, Emmanuel, is gathering His sheep.

 

A Scion of David, God of the Impossible-Ezekiel 17:22-24, Romans 8:20-21

Cross

Thus says the Lord God: “I myself will take a sprig from the lofty top of the cedar and will set it out. I will break off from the topmost of its young twigs a tender one, and I myself will plant it on a high and lofty mountain. On the mountain height of Israel will I plant it, that it may bear branches and produce fruit and become a noble cedar. And under it will dwell every kind of bird; in the shade of its branches birds of every sort will nest. And all the trees of the field shall know that I am the Lord; I bring low the high tree, and make high the low tree, dry up the green tree, and make the dry tree flourish. I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it.” Ezekiel 17:22-24 (ESV)

Old Testament prophets usually had the unenviable job of being the bearers of bad news. Often they found their ways into various tortures and martyrdoms because of the messages God charged them to bear. Ezekiel had plenty of bad news for the people of Israel, but he also had good news.

There is a theme throughout Scripture- which points us to Jesus, the Lord of All, the Suffering Servant, yet always the King of Kings- the theme that God always preserves His people. (Isaiah 11) God makes a way when the way seems impossible, and he usually uses humble and unlikely people and things to make His will come to pass.

God isn’t impressed by the strength of men. Money, power, weapons, etc. can’t buy anyone entrance into the kingdom of heaven.  The strongest empires eventually fall.  The most powerful and wealthy men eventually grow old and die and their lineages die out.  Entropy – the eventual decay and return of created things to their base elements- has been written into the order of the natural world since the Fall.  This world is in the process of passing away. God must re-make the world free of corruption, and that new re-made earth is still to come.

For the creation was subjected to futility, not willingly, but because of him who subjected it, in hope that the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. Romans 8:20-21 (ESV)

God raised up Jesus, who in His earthly bloodline, is a scion of a long dead king (David), even though Jesus is the one who is and was the King of Kings for all eternity. The noble cedar that Ezekiel speaks of is a reference to both the line of David and to the original Temple.

The idea that Jesus was the father of David (who was Jesus’ forefather) may seem a little strange from a metaphysical perspective- how can it be that a son is his father’s father? How can it be, as Mary asked, that a virgin would conceive and bear a child, much less the very Son of God?  As we learn in Luke 1:26-38, “nothing (is, was, or) will be impossible with God.”

The noble cedar, this scion of David, from this branch is Jesus. Jesus who came to be salvation and shelter for “every bird of a feather” came to us through from a most unlikely source. Jesus’ people come from every nation and people group and from all demographic backgrounds.  Jesus’ people come with every sort of history and baggage attached to them. God especially calls the unlikely, the humble, the downtrodden, and the weak.  He is known for making something out of nothing- for raising the dead, to breathing life into dry bones.

Do we trust in God, even in the face of the physically and logically impossible? We aren’t called to check our brains at the door, but we are challenged to trust the Author of the universe. We aren’t promised that we will get the answers we want or that our lives will be made easy. In our baptism and at the table of the Lord’s Supper we are named and claimed as God’s own.  We are brought into His body and made new creations even as we sometimes slog through life in this broken world and we are currently living the difficult paradox of now and not yet.

We are fragile, flawed and captive to sin, but at the same time we are made God’s beloved because Jesus humbled Himself, allowing Himself to be tortured and killed (the punishment we deserve see- Isaiah 53:5) and became the sacrifice to cover our sins. Even when it seems impossible, God speaks and it happens.  He has spoken, and it will be.  In Jesus, God comes to us in a most unlikely way.  God is with us, has been with us, and will be with us.

May 23, 2018 Breath to the Bones- Ezekiel 37:1-14, 1 Corinthians 15:50-58

dry bones

The hand of the Lord was upon me, and he brought me out in the Spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of the valley; it was full of bones. And he led me around among them, and behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley, and behold, they were very dry. And he said to me, “Son of man, can these bones live?” And I answered, “O Lord God, you know.” Then he said to me, “Prophesy over these bones, and say to them, O dry bones, hear the word of the Lord. Thus says the Lord God to these bones: Behold, I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live. And I will lay sinews upon you, and will cause flesh to come upon you, and cover you with skin, and put breath in you, and you shall live, and you shall know that I am the Lord.”

So I prophesied as I was commanded. And as I prophesied, there was a sound, and behold, a rattling and the bones came together, bone to its bone. And I looked, and behold, there were sinews on them, and flesh had come upon them, and skin had covered them. But there was no breath in them.  Then he said to me, “Prophesy to the breath; prophesy, son of man, and say to the breath, Thus says the Lord God: Come from the four winds, O breath, and breathe on these slain, that they may live.” So I prophesied as he commanded me, and the breath came into them, and they lived and stood on their feet, an exceedingly great army.

 Then he said to me, “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel. Behold, they say, ‘Our bones are dried up, and our hope is lost; we are indeed cut off.’ Therefore prophesy, and say to them, Thus says the Lord God: Behold, I will open your graves and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will bring you into the land of Israel. And you shall know that I am the Lord, when I open your graves, and raise you from your graves, O my people. And I will put my Spirit within you, and you shall live, and I will place you in your own land. Then you shall know that I am the Lord; I have spoken, and I will do it, declares the Lord.” Ezekiel 37:1-14 (ESV)

The Holy Spirit brings breath to the bones. As much as we think we know in the 21st century, we still don’t get the mystery of how “breath comes to the bones,” or how life enters into elements that were once dry and dead and inanimate.  This is a mystery, an understanding, and a power that is reserved for God.

Ezekiel was a prophet who spoke to the people of Judah, when the kings of the line of David had been defeated and the people of the Judean kingdom were exiled in Babylon. (2 Kings 24:10-16)  It seemed as if all was lost to them.  The temple was destroyed, their kings were no more, and their land was taken over by foreign pagans. It seemed to the people of Judah that God had abandoned them, and that their heritage and their family were defeated for good.  Yet God had other plans for them- God, who keeps His promises, God who raised up multitudes of Abraham’s descendants from Isaac, the child of the promise.  From the seemingly dead and dry bones of the line of David, the King of Kings would arise, just as He promised David.

One of the least understood and perhaps under taught concepts included in the Apostle’s Creed– which is one of the primary statements of Christian faith that Lutherans and all other orthodox Christians believe- is that of the resurrection of the body. Because of the curse of the Fall, all of us are doomed to death in these mortal bodies. But in Christ we will rise from the dead just as He did- in new bodies. God the Holy Spirit, who breathes life into dry, dead bones, will breathe eternal life and incorruptible flesh into our dead, dry bones.

We see in Job 19:25-27 that Job in his earthly torment believes – and that George Fredrick Handel echoes in his musical work The Messiah- although worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God.”  The apostle Paul explains to us in 1 Corinthians 15:50-58  that when Jesus comes to establish the “not yet” part of the kingdom of God, the trumpet will sound and we will be changed into our incorruptible bodies in a twinkling of an eye. Our mortal, decaying, corruptible bodies will be remade like Jesus’ resurrected body.  We will live forever in God’s kingdom with bodies that won’t get sick or scarred or die.  The Spirit will bring breath to our new incorruptible bones and flesh!

Nothing is impossible for God. When we think there is no hope for us, we are called to trust that God will restore broken creation and that He will make us new.  He promises us that He will breathe life into long-dead bones.  We can be confident that there is hope.  We are baptized into Jesus’ life and death- and we will share in Jesus’ resurrection.

December 29, 2016-God Sees the Heart, and Beauty for Ashes- 1 Samuel 16:7, 10-13, Ezekiel 36:26, Isaiah 61:3

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But the Lord said to Samuel, “Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.” 

Jesse made seven of his sons pass before Samuel, and Samuel said to Jesse, “The Lord has not chosen any of these.”   Samuel said to Jesse, “Are all your sons here?” And he said, “There remains yet the youngest, but he is keeping the sheep.” And Samuel said to Jesse, “Send and bring him; for we will not sit down until he comes here.”  He sent and brought him in. Now he was ruddy, and had beautiful eyes, and was handsome. The Lord said, “Rise and anoint him; for this is the one.”   Then Samuel took the horn of oil, and anointed him in the presence of his brothers; and the spirit of the Lord came mightily upon David from that day forward. Samuel then set out and went to Ramah. 1 Samuel 16:7, 10-13 (NRSV)

I find encouragement in the story of David.  He wasn’t anyone who we would consider to be a “first pick.”  He had older and stronger and more “qualified” brothers.  He was consigned to the lowly and dirty job of caring for sheep. Even David’s own father considered him an afterthought.   Yet God knew his heart, and God chose David over his seemingly better equipped brothers.

God doesn’t always choose the beautiful people, or the strong people, or the smart people.  In fact, the theme throughout Scripture is that God equips those who He chooses. He has a real sense of humor in it too, as time and time again He chooses the underdog, the meek, the weak, the poor, and the flawed through which to do His greatest work.  We discover as we study the Bible that the only real hero in the Bible is God, and that He does amazing things with and through really messed up people.

Our potential lies in what God empowers us to do, not in what the world sees in us.  Even the condition of our hearts is not impossible for God to change.

A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. Ezekiel 36:26 (NRSV)

When we are put in those wilderness places, when we fall short and we know full well we aren’t among the “beautiful people,” or we have been used by others and left hurting for a long time, it’s easy for our hearts to become hard.  Yet God has the power to take our hard hearts and give us new ones- hearts that are after His own heart, hearts that God can use for His good purpose.

Even better news is that God brings restoration and healing to the hurting.  Not only can we be put to God’s good purpose, in the process of doing His work He makes us whole.

…to bestow on them a crown of beauty
    instead of ashes,
the oil of joy
    instead of mourning,
and a garment of praise
    instead of a spirit of despair. Isaiah 61:3 (NIV)

Beauty for ashes.  Greatness from unlikely places and from even more unlikely people.  Such is the nature of God.