THE DAY OF THE LORD
Here we are on the last Sunday of the Church year. The new church year begins next Sunday with the first Sunday on Advent when we begin to prepare for the coming of Jesus at Bethlehem. But today, we are going to be talking about the day of the Lord. We talked it last week too if you recall. Do you remember what we said? In 1 Thessalonians, we read that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. No one will know when and everyone will be surprised. We also learned that it will impact everyone. No one will escape the coming judgment but all will stand before the judgment seat of God. And, finally, we learned that we need not fear the coming judgment because we are people of the light who live in the light of God’s love.
Today, we are going to delve into the Old Testament book of the prophet Ezekiel because he too talks about he day of the Lord. The prophet Ezekiel wrote during the Exile in Babylon. He had been in Jerusalem when it fell to the armies of King Nebuchadnezzar in 597 BCE. He along with 10,000 of the brightest and best of the nation of Judah had been carted off into slavery by their conquerors. It is from this place that Ezekiel prophesied and gave hope to the people that God would someday deliver them and return them to their homeland.
It’s interesting that on the surface, Exekiel’s prophecies spoke to the people of their immediate hope of returning to Judah. But to those who are more discerning they also see a message of the end times when God will gather his people one more time into the eternal New Jerusalem.
The book of Ezekiel contains various references to those end times but the one that I want to focus on this morning is from Ezekiel 34:11-16 because it has a unique message, not perhaps what you might expect from a passage that focuses on end times prophecies.
Let’s begin with the first two verses, Ezekiel 34:11-12 (NIV) which say this:
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.
The first place that people often go in their minds when they think about the end times is lots of dark smoke and judgment and devastation, an apocalypse if you will. They think of despair and destruction.
But those things are not to be found in this passage. It speaks of hope in the midst of despair. It speaks of light that will take away the darkness. God will search for his children as a shepherd looks for his lost sheep. Those who were scattered in the darkness will be gathered again in the light. God will rescue them from all of the places where they were scattered and look after them as a shepherd looks after his flock. This is good news.
And then Ezekiel goes on. Ezekiel 34:13-16 (NIV) says this:
I will bring them out from the nations and gather them from the countries, and I will bring them into their own land. I will pasture them on the mountains of Israel, in the ravines and in all the settlements in the land. I will tend them in a good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel will be their grazing land. There they will lie down in good grazing land, and there they will feed in a rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign Lord. I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice.
The Lord promises to do all of these things: to lead the people, to feed the people, to look after the people so that they can lie down in safety. He will actively seek out those who are lost and bring them back to the fold. No one will be left out. All of God’s faithful people will be gathered and strengthened and healed.
And then there is the last sentence which may be the most powerful sentence in this who passage: “I will shepherd the flock with justice.” God promises justice. But what does justice look like? That’s important to consider because God’s justice is not always what we think of as justice. We think of justice as people getting what they deserve. If that’s the case, then justice has already been served. We are reminded of Romans 3:23 (NIV): “… for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.” And we remember the penalty for sin that is found in Romans 6:23 (NIV) that, “For the wages of sin is death.” Yikes! What this tells us that we have all sinned and, because of that, we all deserve death. If justice is getting what we deserve, most of us would say, “No thank you.”
But Ezekiel talks about a new kind of justice, God’s kind of justice. It is not about the people getting what they deserve – in many ways, that’s already happened. God’s justice is about people getting what they need. God says, “I will take you back to the land that you came from and when you get there I will provide more than enough to meet all of the needs of all of the people. My justice means that all of those resources are shared so that everyone will have enough.”
This is where we get confused in our society. In our world, people are motivated by jealousy and comparisons. It’s us vs them, those who have less against those who have more. But that’s not God’s justice. It is not about the 1% vs the 99%. It is not about the 10% vs the 90%. It is not about half of the people having more than the other half. It is about everyone having enough. There is no precedence in Scripture to suggests that everyone should have the same amount of everything. It’s just not there. The Bible recognizes that some will have more than others and the Bible never calls that a sin. But it does say that it is unfaithful when some have too much and others don’t have enough. That is unfaithfulness and that is what God calls injustice.
Ezekiel speaks of a day when all people will have enough, yes some will have more and some will have less but all will have enough because that is God’s justice. In times of captivity and exile, Ezekiel tells the people that one day they will return home and that they will be fed and cared for and loved and that life again will be good because there will be enough for everyone.
FILLED WITH HOPE
I love this passage. It is so full of hope. It is one of those passages that you can read again and again and again, especially when going through tough times. It is the story of people who experienced great tribulation in the midst of the judgment of the day of the Lord and yet still found hope to survive and thrive.
This is a passage that also rings so true for me this week. There has been a lot going on at Cottam United Church. We’re in the midst of considering more Covid-19 adjustments to what we do as new information comes out. It’s really has been and continues to be crazy time.
I think it’s interesting how, in crazy times God gives us reasons to be hopeful. I’m thinking this week, of course, of the turkey supper. Like everything else this year, the turkey supper is going to be different. I think we all know that. It’s all going to be take-out. Tickets are sold mostly online. The vast majority of pick ups will be curbside. We’ve sold close to 600 meals already. And that’s amazing. The phone in the church office has been ringing off the wall.
It’s been interesting to watch the organizing team at work. Everything had to be rethought. Plans were made and then the plans had to be adjusted because, as we thought things through, we realized that we missed something or hadn’t accounted for how one thing would impact something else. But the organizing team has been absolutely amazing. I cannot say enough good about how they have pulled together to get this done when lots of other churches have tossed in the towel when it comes to things like turkey suppers.
I also could not help but to think about how God has prepared us to deal with these new realities. The only way we could do the turkey supper successfully is with a team of people working together. That started three years ago when it was decided to bring new team together to do this work. We didn’t know Covid-19 was going to happen. We didn’t know that we would have to change everything about our world famous turkey dinner but God did. God knew that and, as always, God prepared us for this time. And so, even though we know that this is going to be crazy week and even though we know that we probably will have to make adjustments along the way and even though we’re pretty sure we have not thought of everything, we go into this year’s edition of the turkey supper with hope because we know that God is with us.
I also want to touch on the news that is in all of our minds today. Like the rest of you, I was surprised to learn of Lou-Anne’s resignation. I was not expecting it. Lou-Anne has been the Music Director here since before I arrived. She has touched our hearts. She has impacted our lives and she is going to be missed.
I was not here when Lou-Anne arrived but it strikes me as amazing that she managed in a very few short years to take a very modest music programme and turn it around by building a strong choir and introducing contemporary music that was quite new to the people who were here back then. When you think about it, it was really quite impressive. And Lou-Anne didn’t just come by herself. She brought Paul, and their three children, Chantelle, Carolyn and Chris. She also brought Larry and Sharon Chalmers. And all of those people have had a significant impact on this congregation over the past twenty years.
Let’s be honest, her resignation amounts to a significant loss for us. It is a time for us to grieve in a very real way. Even that is going to be difficult because, as things stand now, it’s hard to know how to say, “Thank you,” for all the leadership that Lou-Anne has provided. Because of Covid-19 it’s difficult have a party to celebrate her ministry. I don’t know what the rules would be around that. But we will have to do something to show our appreciation.
I also know that, for some of us, we wonder what the future will hold. Lou-Anne was the face of our music programme and eventually we will have to find someone else. But who will that be? What will they be like? And how will that change things? We don’t know and so, into a world that seems to be constantly changing, we have to deal with yet another change.
But into that situation too, Ezekiel speaks his words of hope. He speaks of light in darkness. He speaks of gathering the scattered people. And he speaks of justice, not our justice but God’s justice. Remember that God’s justice is the justice that gives us not what we deserve but what we need. And I have confidence that God will do that. God will provide. God has already prepared us for a time such as this. God will supply our needs and God will enable us to move into the future with hope. I know that because that is what God always does for those who are faithful and seek to walk in his way.
We do not know what the future holds but God does. God has a plan and God has a purpose that we will see unfold in God’s good time. And so, as we mourn, let us be patient as we wait upon the Lord. For as God tells us in Ezekiel 34:13-15 (NIV): “I will bring them out from the nations and gather them from the countries, and I will bring them into their own land. I will pasture them on the mountains of Israel, in the ravines and in all the settlements in the land. I will tend them in a good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel will be their grazing land. There they will lie down in good grazing land, and there they will feed in a rich pasture on the mountains of Israel.” God will provide.
Ezekiel prophesied at a time when the people of Israel were held in captivity in a foreign land. He prophesied to a people who missed their homeland and had become despondent during their exile. They would remain in Babylon sixty more years but eventually the Babylonian Empire that had conquered Jerusalem would itself be defeated by King Cyrus of Persia in 539 BCE.
King Cyrus, soon after his conquest of Babylon, signed an edict allowing the Jews to return home beginning in 537 BCE. Part of that story is found in the Old Testament books of Ezra and Nehemiah.
The people who had been scattered were allowed to return home as Ezekiel had prophesied. You’d think that would be the end of it but it wasn’t because the reality is that history tells us that the vast majority of the Jews did not return to their homeland. It had been seventy years since Jerusalem had been destroyed by the Babylonians. Most of those who had been taken captive had died in captivity. The people who were freed by King Cyrus had never been to Judah. All they knew of Jerusalem were stories told to them by their ancestors. And so, rather than returning to the ancestral homelend, most of them moved north and west to what is now present day Lebanon, Syria and Iraq. And so the people were still scattered and continue to be to be scattered to this very day.
As Christians, we read the prophesies in Ezekiel not only as a promise of the return from the Babylonian Exile but also as God’s promise that on the day of the Lord, all his faithful children will be gathered together in the New Jerusalem where God will care for us and provide for us what we need. And we will live eternally in the light of God’s love. And there will be no more crying and no more pain, no more death or hardship or hunger or thirst.
There is no need to despair when life takes us by surprise. For we have a God who cares for us, each of us, intimately and individually. Our God is faithful and so we can live in hope.
PRAYERS OF THE PEOPLE
God our Shepherd, God our Friend, God our Heavenly Father, we come before your throne of grace to give thanks for all that you have done and been for us. You created us. You protect us. You call us home. In our times of turmoil, you give us peace. In our times of stress, you offer relief. In our times of doubt and fear, you give us comfort. Hear our prayers and the prayers of all of your people.
We give thanks for another year ended on the Christian calendar. Even as the new church year begins, we see signs of the coming Christmas season all around us. Houses are being lit up. Shopping is being done. But many of our traditional activities are happening in different ways this year. Keep us mindful of the need to be smart and be safe as we enter the Advent/Christmas season next week.
We look toward another successful turkey dinner on Thursday. We pray for your strength, patience and understanding. We pray for safety and that we will be able to do everything possible to be safe, both for our volunteers and our customers.
We lift up in prayer the sick of our congregation and community. We especially pray for Richard, Gary, Mark and Morley. Bless them and all of us and heal us in those places where we need most to feel your touch.
Finally, today, we pray for your justice. Your judgements are good and holy. Sometimes, we do not understand what happens in our world. We question events and decisions. Enable us to change the things that we can and accept the things we cannot change. Help us, O God, as individuals and as your church, to live by your standards, to seek your justice in all things and to support the poor and needy. May we use our abundant resources for your purpose and glory. We lift up these prayers to you in Jesus’ name who gave all that he had for us. Amen.
WORSHIP RESOURCE PAGE
November 22, 2020 / Christ the King
Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24; Psalm 100; Matthew 25:31-46; Ephesians 1:15-23
CALL TO WORSHIP
May the people declare God’s praises.
and sing a song to the Most High.
We come before God with thankful hearts;
God’s faithfulness extends from age to age.
Holy is your Name, O God of the Ages. Great is your mercy and many are the marvelous works of your hand. We come before you, on this day, mindful of your abundant love. You come to us in our need bringing comfort and peace. You come to us in our confusion and show us the way to go. You come us in our pain and soothe our wounds with the healing balm of your Spirit. Come to us now, Lord Jesus. Sanctify our lives in this time of worship that we may walk in your way.
PRAYER OF CONFESSION
Your way is made known to us through the Scriptures. But in our busyness we forget to read from your word. We forget and go astray from your path. Remind us, O God of Light, of the covenant which you have made with us. You are our God and we are your people. Even though you always remain faithful, there are times when our sinfulness separates us from you. Enable us to turn back to your way and receive, once again, the assurance of our salvation in Jesus Christ.
ASSURANCE OF PARDON
Even though sins seems to rule for a season, it is Christ who prevails and reigns supreme. When we repent of our sins, our confessions are heard and the stain of our transgressions is washed away.
DEDICATION OF OFFERING
For abundance and prosperity, we give you thanks. In the midst of all that we have, remind us of those who have less. Enable us to see those who do not have enough. Give us the courage to share with others that all people may be blessed.
Jesus Christ is King forever. He reigns over heaven and earth. It is his name that we proclaim. It is his salvation that we are called to claim as our own and to share with others. Go in the name of Jesus to touch the life of another child of God this week.