(You’ve got to read Ezekiel 34 — the whole chapter — before you read this post.)
Ezekiel 34 troubles me. Just exactly like the rest of this book of prophesy, it’s strong. Bold. In-your-face. It pulls no punches. It’s convicting. Condemning, even. Powerful. You never have to wonder what God is thinking when he speaks through Ezekiel. And that’s true with chapter 34. I’m troubled because so much of this chapter seems to be speaking so directly to our churches today.
God rips into the bad shepherds because they’re ignoring the fat sheep who are oppressing the other sheep. And I see us. Sometimes. Sometimes elders don’t want to challenge the church bullies because they don’t want to stir up any conflict. They want to keep the peace. And, sometimes, the fattest sheep are the biggest givers. Sometimes preachers hold back on what God’s telling them to preach because they don’t want to offend anybody. They don’t want to answer the phone calls and emails Monday morning. They don’t want anybody to leave. They don’t want the emergency meeting with the elders.
Elders and ministers don’t always take care of the weak sheep like we should. Taking care of sheep is hard. It’s painful. Time-consuming. It’s work. And, sometimes, church leaders do crave the attention. Some of are tempted by the spotlight. Sometimes we really do just want our own way. Sometimes we do only act in an effort to save our own necks. And our selfishness and inconsistencies can drive the sheep away.
God help us.
We can also — all of us — sometimes be really sorry sheep. We can be territorial about our ministries or areas of service. Or our pews. We don’t let anybody in. We can shove brothers and sisters out the door by being dogmatic and unyielding about our own personal preferences. We can push people to the curb by insisting they believe and think and worship and sing and dress and pray just like me. We’re so good at it, so oblivious to it, that sometimes we can actually take the official position of a weak sheep and use it like an 18-pound sledgehammer to bully and head-butt and ram other sheep into my comfort zone and my lines and boundaries.
There are sheep in our flocks who’ve been in our flocks for years and who’ve never been invited to anyone’s house for dinner. They’ve never been asked to go out to eat. There are sheep in our churches who feel like they don’t matter because we have absolutely run them over on our way to the next committee meeting or service project.
God help us.
God says, “No, I’m just going to do it myself.”
“I myself will shepherd my sheep”
Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd.”
Jesus knows how to afflict the comfortable and comfort the afflicted. To those who relied on their own righteousness, Jesus ripped away all their excuses and forced them to see their deep need for his grace. To those who were burdened and marginalized, Jesus drew them to God. He showed them that God did not delight in their death but was begging them to come to him so he could give them eternal life. They needed to know there was a place in God’s flock for the weak and the sinful.
The Lord Jesus Christ is our great shepherd. He’s bold and courageous and single-minded in his mission to seek and save the lost, to restore the lost sheep of Israel. And he’s so committed to it — he’s so committed to us, his sheep — that he lays down his life for us. He dies for us. He stands in the gate — he says in John 10 he IS the gate! — between us and the ravenous wolves and the muderous robbers who would kill us and eat us. He’s unwilling to sacrifice even one of us to the enemy. He’d rather die first.
And he did.
God’s people are scattered. We’re all over the map. We bicker and argue. We’re lost and injured and sick. And God through Christ keeps his promises to search and bring back and strengthen. The Good Shepherd makes us one. And he gives us peace.
The Rangers are 2-5 right now on this ten game road trip. They’ve gone oh-fer on the season in the Twin Cities. They’ve lost four straight. Josh and Lee are both out indefinitely. Just a little speed bump, right?