Game of Thrones
Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24
Preached FCCW, November 23, 2014
This Thanksgiving, when I consider the things
I am most grateful for, near the top of the list
will be the fact that the elections and town meetings
are over and behind us.
(Can I get an AMEN! to that?)
Man, politics have been rough lately.
After hearing day in and day out about the skeletons
in each candidate’s closets,
it got hard to tell whether they were
up for election
or, up for parole.
But, I guess cynicism about politics is nothing new.
In fact, it’s as old as the Bible.
The ancient Hebrews knew what it was like to live
under the heel of a tyrant when they were in Egypt.
Pharaoh used them as slaves to bake bricks
that were used to build great cities.
In the Book of Exodus it says that God heard their cries
and sent Moses to lead them to freedom
and a new home where each person
would be given their own land and opportunity.
The two things that distinguished Moses as a leader
were his devotion to God and
his love for the people he led.
But as the years rolled on after Moses’ death,
the people decided they wanted
a King to rule over them,
like other nations.
Speaking through the prophet Samuel,
God warned them that this was a bad idea.
Mainly because of the tendency of kings
to worship other things before God,
like power and wealth.
Or the tendency to place their own comfort
ahead of the welfare of the people they ruled.
In other words, the tendency of absolute power
to corrupt those who sit upon the throne.
Still, the people ignored the warnings and insisted on a king.
And so, as God tends to do, He granted their wish
so that they could find out for themselves
how bad an idea it really was.
Which did not take very long.
The third Jewish King was Solomon.
Solomon set out to turn Jerusalem into a “world class” city.
He had a magnificent Temple constructed for the worship of God.
He also had a majestic palace built for himself.
It took seven years to build God’s Temple.
It took thirteen years to build Solomon’s palace.
Can you guess which throne took precedence for Solomon?
And where did Solomon get the manpower to accomplish all this?
Solomon uses slaves to build a Temple to the God
who has a reputation for setting slaves free.
Before long, Solomon is breaking covenant with God in other ways,
like worshiping idols in the Temple built for God.
If you judged Solomon’s reign by wealth, power and influence,
you would say that his throne was perched
upon the pinnacle of Israel’s Golden Age.
But his throne also rested on pillars of
unfaithfulness and injustice.
Now, Solomon’s father, was King David.
Unlike Solomon, who was born into royalty,
David had been a shepherd before he became king.
David had some skeletons in his own closet.
Most famously, his impregnation of Bathsheba,
and his ordering the assassination of
Bathsheba’s husband Uriah
to cover up his crime.
Yet, David is described as “a man after God’s own heart.”
Mainly because, despite his flaws,
David never lost his devotion to God,
or, his respect for his subjects as God’s chosen people.
For that reason, David became the standard against which
all the other kings of Israel would be forever measured.
If you read the Books of Samuel, Kings and Chronicles –
which are like the “History Channel” of the Bible –
you’ll find that each king is evaluated by the way
he stacked up to David.
The “good” kings are always introduced by it being said of them,
“they did what was right in the sight of the Lord,
as their father David had done.”
Of the “bad” kings – and there were far, far more of those –
it was said that “their hearts were not true to the Lord God,
like the heart of their father David.”
Perhaps because of David’s pre-royal life as a shepherd,
and the easy comparison between a shepherd’s
leadership and protection of his vulnerable flock,
and the similar responsibilities of a king to his subjects,
the rulers of Israel were often referred to by God as,
“Shepherds of my people Israel.”
Which brings us to this morning’s Old Testament reading
from the Book of Ezekiel.
Ezekiel was a prophet.
When we hear someone spoken of as a prophet,
we may think of that person as someone
who can predict the future.
A prophet, though, is someone called by God
to speak up to the wealthy and powerful,
and speak out against injustices and neglect
perpetrated against the vulnerable people of society.
Sometimes there isn’t a lot of difference between that,
and predicting the future.
Just before the place where Kathy read for us,
Ezekiel is confronting the rulers of Israel
for not being good shepherds of God’s people.
They have been living in the lap of luxury
while ignoring the needs of their flock.
The Shepherds of Israel have failed to feed the sheep,
to strengthen the weak,
to heal the sick and bind up the injured.
They have neglected to seek the lost and rescue the strayed.
They have ruled with force and harshness,
instead of with mercy and justice.
They are described as fat sheep,
bullies who throw their weight around
and butt the weaker sheep with their horns
to get what they want.
Ezekiel predicts what kind of future is in store for them.
We have a magnet on the refrigerator in our house.
It is a plain black tile with a simple message
in white lettering, that says:
“Don’t make me come down there.” Signed – God.
That message on a magnet pretty much sums up
the future Ezekiel sees for Israel.
Fed up with the job the leaders have been doing,
God plans to personally intervene on behalf
of the neglected, the weak and the poor.
God says, “I myself will search for my flock and seek them out.
As a shepherd seeks out the flock
when some in the flock have scattered,
so will I seek out my flock.”
God plans to take matters into His own hands
and set things right.
To leave His throne in heaven
and to personally occupy the thrones of those
who have abused their power.
God proclaims that He will undo the damage
that the false shepherds have done to the flock.
God says, “I myself will feed them in good pasture.
I will seek out the lost, bring back the strays,
bind up the wounded, and strengthen the weak.”
God promises to clean up the mess
that the corrupt shepherds have made of things.
These are words of comfort for those who
have been exploited and abandoned.
But they are accompanied by words
of judgment and determination not to allow
abuses of power to continue indefinitely.
“I will tend my sheep with justice.
I will judge between the fat and lean sheep.
I will rescue my flock so that they will
NEVER AGAIN be prey.”
Did you catch that?
They will NEVER AGAIN be prey.
These are words of justice.
God Isn’t satisfied with just
bandaging the wounds inflicted by injustice.
God wants to cure the disease of injustice
so that it doesn’t continue create suffering.
Ezekiel prophesied that God would one day establish
one Shepherd who would care for God’s people
the way God intended,
and not as so many of the false shepherds were doing.
A Shepherd who would assume the throne of King David.
For Christians, that Shepherd is Jesus.
Who was a descendant of King David.
Who was God come to earth to save the lost,
heal the wounded and establish justice.
Lord of Lords and King of Kings.
The Lamb upon the Throne.
The Head of the Church.
Jesus calls us to be agents of mercy
who respond to poverty, as we have done this morning
by collecting shopping bags
full of groceries for the Food Pantry.
But Jesus also calls us to be agents of justice,
who strive to change the root causes of poverty.
It’s like the old story of Good Samaritans who lived by a river.
Every day they would see people drowning in the water
and have to rescue them.
Despite their best efforts, they were not
always able to save everyone.
Until, one day, they got the idea to go upstream
and stop people from being thrown
in the river in the first place.
Led by the Good Shepherd, may you and I, and this church
seek the lost and bring back the strayed.
May we bind up the injured and strengthen the weak.
But let us not stop there.
May we speak like the prophets of old –
like Ezekiel, and Isaiah and Amos –
to the strong who misuse their power for their own advantage.
So that the whole world will be fed –
not only with good pasture –
but with justice.