As a child, I was terrified of being lost. I understood “being lost” as being separated from my parents. When I was five, I tried to spend the night away from home with a friend for the first time ever. Around nine o’clock, I asked my friend’s parents to call my parents so that they could come and pick me up. I longed for the safety of my own bed, which was only steps from my mom and dad.
As a teenager longing for a boy to kiss me; as a college student wondering if the God of my childhood could still love me; as a new pastor questioning if I could sustain this work forever; as a mother in need of silence and space, rest and renewal, I also felt lost, disconnected, sick, tired, and alone.
In all these times, I could hear the distant promise of Ezekiel’s prophecy during Israel’s exile in Babylon: “I will seek out my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places to which they have been scattered.”
An active God who searches, rescues, gathers, heals, nurtures, and shows up for an entire people is the promise Ezekiel offers in today’s reading. It promises that the Creator of life longs to be with God’s people and is willing to act in order to make it so.
We need not choose between individual or communal disorientation in Ezekiel. Rather, both reveal themselves as part of what God seeks to make whole. God offers goodness, mercy, and healing to the individual sheep and to the collective herd. These offerings come with a promise that our hearts, our spirits, our minds, and our bodies will not be exiled forever.
Holy One, help us hear your promise of healing, rescue, and mercy; help us know that we will not be lost forever. Amen.
The Bible uses metaphors meaningful in its time, and the image of a shepherd and sheep evokes protection, care, and safety. Through the prophet Ezekiel, God declares that all the scattered sheep will be joined together again. The weak and oppressed will receive special protection and justice from God. The psalmist says that the Israelites are the sheep of God’s pasture. In the Gospel reading, Jesus describes the final judgment as separating the sheep (those who are his) from the goats (those who are not). The distinction is made in part based upon how they treated the weakest among them. Although the epistle does not use the imagery of sheep, it describes the promises of a glorious inheritance reserved for those in God’s flock.
Read Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24. What does it mean for you that God seeks you as an individual and as part of your faith community?
Read Psalm 100. In times of trial or pain, how do you gather with others to praise God?
Read Ephesians 1:15-23. How do you express gratitude to God and for your faith community?
Read Matthew 25:31-46. How do you sit with unresolved questions of faith? How does asking questions of the Bible strengthen your faith or your comfort in not having answers to your questions?
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