Thus says the Lord God: I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out. 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. 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. 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. I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord God. 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.
Therefore, thus says the Lord God to them: I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. Because you pushed with flank and shoulder, and butted at all the weak animals with your horns until you scattered them far and wide, I will save my flock, and they shall no longer be ravaged; and I will judge between sheep and sheep.
I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd. And I, the Lord, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them; I, the Lord, have spoken. Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24
The brain is one of the greatest parts of the created self. Its complex design, its capacity to take in information and attempt to make sense of it, and its role as the driver of our thoughts and actions are fascinating and mysterious. One of those very unique aspects of our brain function is our spatial awareness. Spatial awareness is the ability to make sense out of what we encounter. Our spatial awareness helps us connect data points as we create mental images and maps of the world around us. When it is functioning appropriately, we can find our way around town, pick the right entrance at the mall, and choose the most direct route to our destination. When something is off, or we are missing a significant data point, our spatial awareness can lead us in the wrong direction or down unsafe paths. And feeling lost is one of the worst feelings in the world.
This Sunday is the celebration of Christ the King. It is the last Sunday of the liturgical year, the grand finale if you will, before we start the new liturgical year with Advent I next Sunday. A brilliant way to understand the authority and intent of the kingship of Christ is in the reading this week from Ezekiel, even though the incarnate Christ had not yet been revealed. Through the words of the prophet, God is revealed as the shepherd of God’s people. And we Christians know that the great shepherd of the flock is revealed to us in the life and ministry of Jesus. The prophet Ezekiel is living amongst the exiled Israelites, a people who have been rescued from slavery but have wandered and felt lost in the desert for what surely must have seemed like a lifetime. His prophecy is a message of hope to a lost people.
We may not physically live in a geographical desert today, but we are often a lost people ourselves. We rely on our spatial awareness to do something for us that the created self simply cannot do. Although we are created by God, we are lost without Jesus, who is both our great shepherd and our king. Jesus will search for us, rescue us from ourselves, and lead us to the kingdom when we cannot find our way. For it is in God’s kingdom that we are redeemed through the death and resurrection of Christ. When we are safely under the kingship of Christ, we sit at God’s right hand. And we never find ourselves lost again.
God created humanity and calls us through our baptism into covenant. It is within that covenantal context that we are “fed with justice” as Ezekiel says. This justice is like no human justice at all, but rather is a justice that forgives us our sins and reconciles us with God though we cannot ever deserve such gifts. And a reconciled people are then called to go out into the world and extend that justice to others through love. Today’s Gospel writer conveys what that is to look like, as we feed the hungry, clothe the naked, care for the sick, and visit the imprisoned. For we are all members of the body of Christ, found and claimed by Christ our King.
New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
The Parable of the Lost Sheep
15 Now all the tax collectors and sinners were coming near to listen to him. 2 And the Pharisees and the scribes were grumbling and saying, “This fellow welcomes sinners and eats with them.”
3 So he told them this parable: 4 “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it? 5 When he has found it, he lays it on his shoulders and rejoices. 6 And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbors, saying to them, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost.’ 7 Just so, I tell you, there will be more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety-nine righteous persons who need no repentance.
The Parable of the Lost Coin
8 “Or what woman having ten silver coins, if she loses one of them, does not light a lamp, sweep the house, and search carefully until she finds it? 9 When she has found it, she calls together her friends and neighbors, saying, ‘Rejoice with me, for I have found the coin that I had lost.’ 10 Just so, I tell you, there is joy in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.”
Through the wonders of social media and its ability to make miles seem insignificant, I have had the pleasure of keeping up with friends from high school I haven’t seen in almost 30 years. Through FaceBook, I have been able to see pictures of family events, pray for friends in trouble, celebrate new life and laugh at Throwback Thursday posts. I have been able to keep in touch in a way that didn’t even seem possible when we graduated, even with my friends of friends or folks who have the same shared memories of homeroom or after school activities. I also share myself with them, and we have learned more about each other as we have grown into our closer to middle age years than we did in the three years of high school for sure.
One of those folks is a gal whose mom was one of my favorite teachers in high school, my 10th grade English teacher. She was a year behind me in school, so we didn’t run in the same circles (why is that such a big divider in high school and non-existent as a barrier in adulthood???), but I have enjoyed seeing her kids as adults and hearing about her life, especially her life of faith. She married her high school sweetheart, but as those things sometimes do, it didn’t work out for the long run. She remarried a man and through the wonders of electronic media, anyone could see how close they were and she spoke of him with respect and love, sounding grateful to have found her life partner.
A few months ago, tragedy struck this family and her dear husband of not enough years long passed away unexpectedly. As these things happen, I found out from our mutual friends who were posting condolence messages which prompted me to investigate this mystery loss from across the country. I learned he died and was very sad for her, a tragedy and loss that is inexplicable to those of us standing by on the sidelines. But in true form, she began posting status updates that read like chapters in a “Surviving Grief through Faith” book, baring open her soul about her love for her husband and the devastating loss. She told of her husband’s life of finding and living in Christ, alluding to pretty rocky places before giving his life to God. It is touching to read her posts – they are raw, painful to read and yet always filled with the faith that has kept her afloat during this incredibly difficult time.
When I read today’s Gospel reading from Luke about the lost sheep and the lost coin, I immediately thought of her stories about her husband’s journey to faith. A constant thread in her posts has been about how grateful she is that she is able to be confident in her husband’s presence fully with Christ now. She has actually been able to write about that as a celebration, which has been remarkable when you consider how incredibly sad she must be every day without her best friend. But he has been united with God, was lost and then found, and she finds strength in that because his destiny has been fulfilled. She has shared this story with her friends and neighbors (virtual and in the vicinity) to give all the Glory to God. God wants nothing more from us than to walk with him in our lives as a constant companion. These parables make the same point in two different ways. The first is to celebrate the repentance of a sinner – in the presence of some previously identified sinners in the Pharisees. The second is to celebrate the loss of something less important than a human, but something that we ourselves can find. I see these two parables as showing us that God mourns for each lost soul and we should do the same, as if each person is as precious as our belongings and “stuff.” God charges us to go do everything we can, sweep all the hidden corners, shine light into their darkness and keep searching until we find the ones who need to be found. God values us more than any amount of money, but the second parable hits home because we don’t always have the same value of human life as our Lord does, and Jesus’ story brings it to our simple level of human trappings.
My high school friend is celebrating the joyful reunion of her husband with Christ. Can we all do the same under her circumstances? Can we celebrate when we ourselves repent and return to him, knowing that we are bringing joy to our Lord by fulfilling our end of the covenant? How hard are we looking for ways to bring others to Christ?
Forgiving Lord, thank you for celebrating our return to you when we are found and repent. Help us as your followers to bring more people to Christ and to not stop looking until all are found. Help us tell out the Good News in your world. AMEN.