Kenora Last Sunday after Pentecost – Reign of Christ
22 November 2020
Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24
Destitute king, one with the hungry, the naked, and the scorned: may our faith be proved not in dogma and piety but in serving you in the last and the least; through Jesus Christ, the stranger’s Lord. Amen.
I always find today an interesting festival. Today we have reached the Last Sunday after Pentecost, but we also call it the Reign of Christ Sunday or Christ the King Sunday, and our focus, in our texts and readings is to look at what the Second Coming of our Lord and Saviour is going to look like, given what our gospels are able to tell us, although we don’t know when this will be, and so was continue to be as prepared as possible for this event.
Yet this year, we’ve faced, and continue to face a large number of uncertainties due to the global pandemic that has taken and continues to take its tole on the global population.
So, as we look at the end of a liturgical year that, since Lent, has had so many twists and turns that we feel like we’re lost in a maze, or just plain lost, the reading from Ezekiel is encouraging to our bruised and battered selves.
“11 For thus says the Lord God: I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out. 12 As shepherds seek out their flocks when they are among their scattered sheep, so I will seek out my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places to which they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness.” (Ezek 34:11-12)
And this is marvelous to our ears.
It’s a balm to each one of us. Although we may, at times, find ourselves ‘lost’, and with the emotional battering and bruising of our lives have received this year, then this is a comforting concept to be reminded that God will, and does, come looking for each one of us, and will bring us home.
But maybe some of us have been lost for longer than just through our shared, and individual Covid related experiences.
Some people are absent from the life of their, or our faith communities for longer than Covid has been a part of our reality, for a large variety of reasons. But that doesn’t mean that God has forgotten any of us, or even forgotten where we are.
One of my favourite thoughts is that God does great things with remnants; and if we ponder the idea of remnants for a moment, they come to us from many different sources, from different places. Each one comes with its own story, its own tale of how it became a remnant. Each is individual and is different from all other remnants, with their own varieties of texture, patterns, qualities of cloth, sizes, and so much more.
And yet when brought together make the most beautiful and unique of items. Things that will never be repeated at anytime in exactly the same way.
My latest, and oft repeated phrase is that we do the best we can with what we have. And this is also true as our standards for communicating change as often as we’re encouraged to change our face masks, these days.
At the same time Ezekiel points out that shepherds go out and look for their sheep, that in a herd we will all know the voice of our shepherd, meanwhile, the shepherd is looking for each one of us, calling us by name.
God reminds us: “I will rescue them from all the places to which they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. 13 I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land;” (Exek 34:12b-13a)
When the virus first actively affected our lives, we willingly stepped out of our normal routines.
We stopped our global consumerist practices, we stayed at home, and we discovered ‘trousers’ were optional to attend zoom meetings, but were mandatory if you stepped away from your screen.
At that time, we watched the water and the air clean themselves as we stopped driving, stopped commercial dumping of waste into the waters.
We watched our savings dwindle, and we looked at the separation between each one of us and our extended families and friends in stride as we sought to ‘flatten the curve’ and to keep each other safe.
But deep down in our hearts, we thought this would be like our annual cold and flu season, and by Thanksgiving, at the latest, life would be back to ‘normal.’
We entered into the initial period of isolation, and hand washing, and mask debates with the thought that the ‘flattening of the curve’ would be the defeating of the disease, but that just wasn’t the case, and now our characteristic ability to ‘carry on’ is becoming strained in our desire to live the lives that we had been living way back in the early spring.
But God understands our feeling of loss, our feeling of separation from the very fabric of our lives, and Ezekiel speaks of this in God’s words of prophesy.
“15 I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord God. 16 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, but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with justice.” (Ezek 34:15-16)
At the same time, we want to get out, to socialize, to spend time together, to reengage with our economy and to find new ways to maintain the economic systems that so galvanizes our current way of life.
But for all of this time, when we’ve been required to find alternative ways to be the Body of Christ in the world, through smaller group sizes, through livestream services, through video conferencing, pre-recorded, and other online alternatives the Shepherd has and continues to watch over each one of us.
The Shepherd continues to seek each one of us out to protect us and to reclaim us when we’re feeling especially lost.
This Sunday marks the end of our liturgical year, but it doesn’t mark the end of our experiences, together, or apart.
It fails to mark the end of our experiences with covid precautions, such as the wearing of masks, the washing of hands, and distancing. Nor does it mark a division in our lives and hearts between each one of us.
Rather it encourages each one of us to continue to reach out to our friends, family, our brothers and sisters in Christ, to our neighbours in new and inventive ways maintaining old connections, building new connections and making new friendships along the way.
Ezekiel continues to remind us and everyone, of all the ‘lost sheep’ in the world, and this includes each one of us.
He tells us: “13 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 watercourses, and in all the inhabited parts of the land. 14 I will feed them with good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel shall be their pasture; there they shall lie down in good grazing land, and they shall feed on rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. 15 I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord God. 16 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, but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with justice.” (Ezek 34:13-16)
Ezekiel, and through him, God reminds us that it’s those who have profited by making us lost who will meet God’s justice.
And these are strong words because of the love of God for each one of us, who hears the voice of our shepherd, who seeks out the Shepherd, when we are feeling lost and alone.
But it’s not just a one-way street. Like all relationships that are good and healthy, its lifegiving and it’s reciprocal.
The love we receive from the Father, the guidance from the Shepherd overflows from each of our lives, our hearts, our very beings. That love, that guidance is what we take into the world, and spread it, share it, give it to all who are in need of hearing the voice of the shepherd.
We might see life as tougher than it was this time last year, but I’d rather challenge us to see it differently.
Differently because the love of the Father the teachings of the Son, and the guidance of the Holy Spirit are still with us, still a constant in our lives urging us to do what we can, even in spite of the changes that have come upon us and how the pandemic has become a part of our daily awareness.
In the midst of all of this, we are encouraged to share the voice of the Shepherd with those who might not be as sure of God’s love in for and through their lives. Because God tells us, through Ezekiel’s words “23 I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd. 24 And I, the Lord, will be their God.” (Ezek 34:23-24a)
Words of hope for each one of us, for today, and for tomorrow.