Christ the King Sunday
November 21-22, 2020
Rev. John R. Larson
Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
This last Sunday it was a delight to see one of our extended families together in worship. Grandma and grandpa, mom and dad, and three kids. What I saw was the great picture of mutual care and support for one another. They all came out together and joined together in a conversation with each other and shared life together. I call that “shepherding”. There was protection, feeding, guiding, care from the oldest to the youngest.
I bet some of you will have some shepherding happening during this week. You’ll connect with your family or friends. You’ll be talking about safety and mutual care. And, if you’re like most, there will be a bunch of feeding going on. Shepherding is one of the most genuine actions we can engage in during these last days of November and throughout December and into the New Year.
Shepherding is whenever you find yourself responsible for others. Teachers act as shepherds. Parents do that continually throughout life. I’ve spoken to children who are now doing that for parents who have grown older or weaker or in need of caregivers. I bet you shepherd others.
God shepherds people too. Remember the start of Psalm 23? “The Lord is my shepherd I shall not be in want.” Or, Jesus says, “I am the Good Shepherd.” (John 10:11) Today my sermon, on Christ the King Sunday, is about our King, Jesus, who comes as a Shepherd.
Shepherding is the passion of God. He delights in feeding, protecting, and guiding us. And He is angered when people who are supposed to shepherd don’t do what they are supposed to do. In Ezekiel 34 he speaks, “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel…You do not take care of the flock. You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured. You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally.” (Ezekiel 34:1,3b-4) When I hear that I hear what God says to all pastors, including me. They are pointed words. They demand of any shepherd, including me and you, the right heart and the right actions.
You know who is the best shepherd? You? Me? No. Our Lord is the best shepherd. Our reading talks about His heart for His people. “For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness.” He goes on “I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, says the Sovereign Lord. I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak.” (Ezekiel 34:11-12,15-16a) When I hear about the shepherding of God I think of the Parable of the Lost Sheep (Luke 15:1-10). One out of 100 of his sheep gets lost. The shepherd searches for the one finds it, puts it on his shoulders, and returns home. He calls everyone together and proudly says, “I found my lost sheep. Let’s have a party!!”
Isn’t that picture of this shepherd the most comforting picture of God’s individual care of each of us? We’re never forgotten. If we are injured we will be cared for. His heart and actions are pure and engaging. He cares for you!! He cares for me!!
But I didn’t read all of verse 16 in Ezekiel 34 to you. I stopped short of everything that a shepherd does. I read, “I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak”, but it goes on, “but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice.”
What’s this? The sleek and the strong I will destroy? What kind of shepherd is that? Why would he destroy the best of his flock? That doesn’t make sense!!
Do you know what culling is? It is the selecting of the ill, the weak, the inferior for their slaughter. This happens in livestock selection continually. It is called selective breeding or flock management. You keep the best, the fat, the strong, the healthy and you get rid of the weak, ugly, sick, or small. That is culling.
I just read that in Denmark they will be culling 17 million mink because there is a coronavirus mutation in their coats. I know what you’re not getting for Christmas this year – a mink coat!!
So, it makes sense to get rid of the sickly and weak. Why would a shepherd say, “The sleek and the strong I will destroy”? Why? The sleek and the strong don’t need a shepherd. They are self-sufficient. They have all of life figured out. They don’t need anyone or anything. They certainly don’t need a shepherd. The sleek and the strong are over-confident and prideful. The shepherd will destroy them.
God doesn’t have time for a self-made person. A month from now we’re going to be talking about Mary, the mother of Jesus, and John the Baptist. They have a bunch to say about the sleek and the strong. In Mary’s song, the Magnificat, she says, “He has performed mighty deeds with his arm; he has scattered those who are proud in their inmost thoughts. He has brought down rulers from their thrones but lifted up the humble. He has filled the hungry with good things but has sent the rich away empty.” (Luke 1:51-53) When the shepherding of John the Baptist is introduced the very thought of exalting the humble and humbling the prideful is given, “Every valley shall be filled in, every mountain and hill made low. The crooked roads shall become straight, the rough ways smooth. And all mankind will see God’s salvation.” (Luke 3:5-6) How about the Pharisee and Tax Collector in Luke 18? Talk about someone who thought they were sleek and strong! “God, I thank you that I am not like other men – robbers, evildoers, adulterers – are even like this tax collector. (Verse 11) Jesus’ conclusion of this? “Everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.” (Luke 18:14)
Our Shepherd, Jesus, doesn’t have time for the self-righteous. Jesus got into trouble with some religious folks because he kept bad company. His response to their complaint was, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance.” (Luke 5:31-32) “The sleek and the strong I will destroy.”
If anyone knew how far someone can come from a pinnacle of pride it is Peter. He was one sleek, strong, and fat sheep. He was better than anyone. He was sure that his faith was solid, his faithfulness was without question, and that he was better than the best. When Jesus, on the night of His arrest, said, “This very night you will fall away on account of me” (Matthew 26:31), Peter had his word, “Even if all fall away on account of you, I never will.” (Matthew 26:33) Jesus, wanting to ground this apostle said, “I tell you the truth, this very night, before the rooster crows, you will disown me three times.” And proud Peter’s words, “Even if I have to die with you, I will never disown you.” (See Matthew 26:34-35)
Fat, sleek, smart, strong Peter crashed. Three times. And he was crushed when he realized how far he fell.
Do you know why a shepherd would take the choice sheep of his flock and destroy them? It is so they could come back alive. Look at what God is doing in us, right now. In so many ways we were sleek, fat, capable, and had life in a right order. But for many of us now, right now, that is not the case. These last 9 months have been brutal on many, in many ways.
Now is the time to lose our control and let God take over. Now it is the time to be broken so that God can put us together. This is the time to repent of pride and self so that Jesus can be the King who will shepherd us.
At the Last Supper, Peter was watching Jesus begin to wash the other apostle’s feet. He asked Jesus, “Lord are you going to wash my feet?” After Jesus said that He was going to do that, Peter’s reply was, “No, you shall never wash my feet.” Once again He was better than everyone else. But Jesus said, “Unless I wash you, you have no part with me.” And Peter gave a great word, “Lord, not just my feet but my hands and my head as well!” (See John 13:6-9)
The Lord cares about all the sheep. The ones who are lost and injured are close to His heart. But so also are the fat, the strong, the sleek. He wants to wash us clean. He wants to give us a new heart and a new way. He wants to make us fat in grace. In Jesus, we are sheep under the shepherding of our King. Amen!!