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Dear Christian friends,
We have just endured a rough week as a nation. Look what happened in Boston; look what happened in Texas. In Bostonthere are three dead and 170 injured, some severely - even missing limbs, because two hate-filled brothers built and exploded two bombs at the Boston Marathon. Little Martin Richard won’t see his ninth birthday, Krystle Campbell won’t see her 29th and a Chinese graduate student won’t ever be going back home again.
InTexasa mighty explosion was so great that it leveled a five block section of a city. It is occurred on Wednesday evening, but they haven’t accounted for the missing 50 + yet. The only thing we know for sure is that on Monday of last week and then on Wednesday evening, many people’s lives were changed never to be the same.
Here we are on the following weekend of this brutal week. We celebrate what the early church entitled as Misericordia Domini Sunday. It means “Compassion of the Lord Sunday.” We call it Good Shepherd Sunday. Many might be asking, “Where is the compassion of our God? Did the Good Shepherd fall asleep?”
We turn to the prophet Ezekiel who reminds us that “The Good Shepherd’s Promises are Money in the Bank.”
Ezekiel is a big book in the Bible but not that well-known to the average church member. To understand it we need to understand the background. Remember three dates. The first is the year 605 BC.Babylonwas the world power. In 605 BCBabylondestroyedEgypt, the only country that might have been powerful enough to challenge them. A famous battle was fought atCarchemishnot that far north ofJerusalem. By defaultBabylonswallowed up postage stamp sized country ofJudah.
The second date is the year 596 BC. Judahrebelled againstBabylon. Not a smart strategy! King Nebuchadnezzar sent his army. It wasn’t pretty. Judah’s elite were taken off toBabylon. The prophet Ezekiel was among those exiled.
The third date is 586 BC. Judahdidn’t learn a lesson ten years prior. They rebelled again. This was strike three. The Babylonian armies came with vengeance. After they were doneJerusalemresembled West,Texasafter the explosion Wednesday evening. More people were marched hundreds of miles against their will toBabylon. They would never seeJerusalemagain. Where was God to allow this to happen to his people? Did the Good Shepherd take a coffee break?
People almost joke about it these days that President Bush gets blamed for everything. Many like to do that to the Lord too. That’s out of bounds. While it is true that the Lord is the Creator of the heavens and the earth, he is not the creator of sin. That’s the work of Satan; that’s the sinful core that is in the heart of every human that boils up and oozes out. Sin is not part of God’s repertoire.
The exile was the result ofJudah’s evil. The bombing came from the godless hearts of the two brothers who serve the wrong god with evil actions.
What about what happened in Texas? To understand that remember what happened in Eden. God warned that the ramifications of Adam and Eve’s disobedience would be mindboggling. “Cursed is the ground because of you; through painful toil you will eat food from it all the days of your life. It will produce thorns and thistles for you, and you will eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your brow you will eat your food until you return to the ground, since from it you were taken; for dust you are and to dust you will return.” The explosion inTexas is certainly tied to what happened inEden. The world is no longer perfect. Humans aren’t perfect; the equipment that is used in this world wears out and is not perfect.
Let me give you something else to think about. If Charles Darwin was right when he said that man is evolving and the fittest survive, you’d think that the human species would have figured out by now that killing and maiming is not making things better. You would think that we would be limiting mistakes and errors. Last week’s tragedy just proves again how wrong Mr. Darwin was wrong. It is also proof that we need to seek the truth of the Good Shepherd.
To comfort and console Ezekiel gives us a glimpse of rural life and the life of a shepherd and his flock. This Shepherd is special. The Shepherd is the Lord himself. The Good Shepherd makes a promise. “I will make a covenant of peace with them.”
A receipt is a covenant, isn’t it? If I sign my credit card receipt, I am promising that the person I made an agreement with will get paid. I don’t know about you but I don’t always treat those receipts very sacredly. I often crumple them up and stuff them in my pocket. Sometimes they even get washed when my pants get washed.
God makes covenants with his people. He always treats them seriously. At Mount Sinai God made a covenant. It was cut into stone. Moses couldn’t stuff that stone in his pocket. Summed up in a word, the covenant commanded us to love; love God and love one another. If this is done, God said that he would be our God and we would be his people. No human being, from the Garden of Eden on has even come close to keeping it. Not even now!
God cut another agreement with his people. That’s what Ezekiel is referring to here. Actually it was more than just a cutting; the agreement involved piercing. It involved the piercing of the Good Shepherd’s hands and feet. The agreement was written in blood. It was a one- sided agreement. Jesus would do and did all the work and heavy lifting. It promises peace. He promises to “rid the land of savage beasts so that they may live in the wilderness and sleep in the forests in safety.”
These words describe the world at the beginning. It also describes the world to come. It hardly describes the planet earth now where lions or grizzlies or black mambas prey on other animals.
I believe there is a deeper meaning to these words. There are those who are savage beasts! The two men and all the others who have been successful in harming and killing are the wild beasts. The wildest beast of all, however, is the one who smiles when people like those two brothers are successful. Satan is the one whom the Bible describes as the enemy who “prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour.” The events of this past week surely show Satan is alive and well and has many minions to do his bidding.
Yet he is no match for the Good Shepherd. While Satan changed the course of history by tempting Adam and Eve and brought death and evil to God’s perfect world, Jesus, the Good Shepherd, came to destroy the mess that Satan had made and cleanse and purify. The Bible says, “The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the devil’s work.”
Satan loves to accuse. He wants us to convince us we are more like him than we are like the Good Shepherd. The fact is that’s true. Yet the Good Shepherd, who laid down his life for his sheep, makes the following true. “Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies.” Even when a boy eight years old or a 28 year old woman or a whole plant full of workers get in the middle of a horrific explosion, those who know that Jesus laid down his life for his sheep, take a step that goes way up – to be at the Good Shepherd’s side. How do we know? The obstacle that keeps people out of heaven has been taken away. That’s sin, and the Good Shepherd who laid down his life for the sheep took away the consequences of sin. We have peace because he the ultimate way to safety.
He promises us a refuge in his church. “I will make them and the places surrounding my hill a blessing. I will send down showers in season; there will be showers of blessing. The trees will yield their fruit and the ground will yield its crops; the people will be secure in their land.” As you listened, didn’t you visualize a serene peaceful place? The shepherd sits on a grassy knoll; his sheep graze all around with plenty to eat.
He speaks about his hill. Often the Bible refers to MountZion. That was the hill on which the great temple was built. Often Mount Zion refers to his church. It is the place where God is in his very special way. “Where two or three gather together in my name, there am I in the middle of them.” That’s where his word and sacraments are. The Baptismal fount reminds us that we are not cast out into the wilderness to fend for ourselves but when we were baptized to be part of his family. He nourishes. We come to the feed on this meal at the Lord’s altar. He says, “Take eat, this is my body; take drink, this is my blood for the forgiveness of your sins.” This house is a house of refuge.
He promises us freedom from the guilt we so often feel and bear. “They will know that I am the Lord, when I break the bars of their yoke and rescue them from the hands of those who enslaved them.” There is a picture that most of us don’t understand. He promises to break the bars of the yoke we bear. What yoke is he talking about. The yoke we know, although spelled differently, is the middle of an egg, or a yoke is funny story to someone with a speech impediment. I guess that’s a yoke, huh?
A yoke is that frame of wood or bar that joins two oxen at the neck. They are joined to do work, like plow a field or pull a heavy wagon. They were the yoke to work. It was taken off when the work was done.
The prophet uses that reference to point out the heavy burden people bear when people believe that the only way to receive God’s favor is by hard unbearable work; when the master whips the oxen to make them go; when people think that God whips us into shape by making jus fear and hurting us.
That’s the yoke Jesus breaks. Actually he took it from us and wore it himself. He did the hard work. The yoke was the cross he bore for us. We are free from bearing the yoke of unachievable perfection.
In fact, the best days, the perfect days, lie ahead. That too is a promise of the Good Shepherd. “They will no longer be plundered by the nations, nor will wild animals devour them. They will live in safety, and no one will make them afraid. I will provide for them a land renowned for its crops, and they will no longer be victims of famine in the land or bear the scorn of the nations.”
Life has some very unpleasant moments. Ezekiel mentions things that were unpleasant forJerusalem. Israelhad been was constantly plundered by nations – Assyria,Babylon,GreeceandRome. In their history there were the Egyptians, Edomites, Amakelites, Amorites, Moabites, the Mosquitobites and all kinds of other bites. Here we are having experienced another assault by terrorists who hate our land and hate our God. We just lived through a year of drought where 80 % of theUnited Statesdidn’t have adequate rains to harvest even an average crop. The world as is makes us uneasy and causes us to squirm.
That’s why the Lord’s promise is so important, “I will provide for them a land renowned for its crops, and they will no longer be victims of famine in the land or bear the scorn of the nations.” The Good Shepherd promises heaven. Heaven is real. Heaven isn’t a land of ulcers, stress and heart attacks. There will be no bombs and shootings or shellings. There are no attacks on what we believe and how we live or on the one that we follow. Count on it, because it is money in the bank.