I was ordained as a United Methodist minister over fifty years ago. I now have file drawers and three-ring binders filled to overflowing with lessons taught and sermons preached. Today’s reading has awakened me to the understanding that I have been guilty of telling one side of the story to the exclusion of the other.
Most of my preaching and teaching has focused on how to search for God. I have encouraged people to search for God by hearing the message of scripture, practicing deeds of mercy and kindness, being prayerful, being faithful to private and public worship, and sharing in Christian fellowship. I have admonished my congregants to be faithful and steadfast in this search for God.
Ezekiel points us to God’s redemptive activity and personal involvement with the people. He also points me to the other side of the story. He believes that God also searches for us. He writes, “Thus says the Lord GOD: I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out.” I now wish that I had given more attention to God’s quest for us.
One way that God searches for us is through the love that others have for us. We experience God’s reaching out to us when we, in humility, accept the love of family, friends, and strangers. In some moments God approaches us through music, liturgy, and sermon. It does not happen in every act of worship, but God is unveiled to us as we listen for the word behind all of the words that call our name.
God also meets us as we relate to the poor, the imprisoned, and to those who have been pushed aside. One of my favorite professors in divinity school would encourage us to meet Christ in the poor. I find it both disquieting and comforting to know that God is one who “search[es] for my sheep.”
May we be open to God’s search for us.
The universal rule of God, expressed in Christ the Shepherd-King, is a dominant theme in all the texts assigned for the week. Both Old Testament texts dwell on the nurturing, protecting role of the Shepherd-King, whose people we are. Ezekiel 34 gives the shepherd’s guiding and defending role a political twist by condemning the succession of shepherd-kings who have neglected and exploited the flock. Both New Testament passages celebrate the victory of Christ: the enthroned Son of Man of Matthew 25 separates the flock, and the risen Christ of Ephesians 1 is seated by God “far above all rule and authority and power and dominion.” Christ guarantees God’s completed reign.
• Read Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24. How does it feel to be compared to sheep with God as the shepherd? What would the sheep expect from the shepherd? What would the shepherd expect from the sheep?• Read Psalm 100. How would a total stranger know that your faith in God brings you joy?
• Read Ephesians 1:15-23. Would you say that you love God more with your mind or with your heart?
• Read Matthew 25:31-46. What is required for you to be so attuned to others that you would recognize the Christ in them? How will you ensure that Christ’s kingdom comes on earth as it is in heaven?
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