The Calling of the Shepherds

Last Saturday night we celebrated Fr. Toms 20 years as rector of Good Shepherd, and 40 years in parish ministry. As his time here draws to a close and our final good-by's being said, we look towards the future and the calling of a new shepherd, someone who will continue to shepherd and build on the foundation Fr. Tom has laid.   Someone who will lead us to greater opportunities of serving Christ here,  in our community, our diocese, and reaching out to those who are searching and seeking God,  and helping those who have lost all hope.

On this Christ the King Sunday may we come to understand the many aspects of Jesus' ministry and the understanding of his Kingship. The Biblical view of Kingship had to do with justice, righteousness, mercy and compassion, and nothing to do with the pageantry and status we are familiar with. Israel's view of a king was the same as that of a shepherd. Perhaps, this is why King Herod considered the baby Jesus as a threat to him and his kingdom. What he did not know was that Jesus' kingdom is a spiritual one, encompassing both heaven and earth. It is where Jesus dwells in both places at once. As part of God's kingdom, it was the job of the shepherd was to protect and defend the sheep from harm, nurturing and caring for them,  and making sure all were well and safe. It was the needs of the sheep and flock which came first and the needs of the shepherd last. 

In a section just before the Old Testament reading from Ezekiel it states how God was very angry with the Hebrew kings because they did not live up to their calling as good shepherds to God's people. God declares that if these Hebrew kings cannot take care of his people, his flock, that he will be a shepherd to them, and will do this himself. God is so adamant about this he is removing the Hebrew Kings from their positions, holding them accountable for not taking care of his flock. He removes any income from them so they cannot feed off the God's flock anymore. God's condemnation is so strong he lets them know exactly what they have done. Since these shepherds have abandoned and misused their authority God announces that his judgment will come upon them.

God states that he will be a shepherd to his people, and go in search of his lost sheep, and those who have wandered away. Not only will God's flock be physically rescued from the darkness they lived under, they will now have their own land, they will have fertile pasture, water from the earth, and mountains for the sheep to graze on.  Those who have strayed, and those who are lost will be brought back, the injured and sick will be taken care of. 

But those who have abused my sheep and my people, God says, those who are fat and live off others will experience my justice. There will be a division between those sheep who are fat and those who are lean. The weak will not suffer anymore, and those who are fat and strong will be accountable to me.  There will be one Shepherd, from the root of Jesse, David an earthly king,   he will be with them and be their king and shepherd. Those who have suffered will now be able to lie down in peace knowing they have an honorable shepherd over them,  to look after God's flock, and they will have the Lord Almighty as their God. 

In the Gospel reading for today, Jesus gives us a vision of what is going to happen when he comes in his glory. All the nations will stand before Jesus, believers, and unbelievers,  who will be separated into two different groups. The sheep who represent the believers and the goats the unbelievers.  

He will separate the bad shepherds from the good shepherds, those who were in charge and failed, and those who chose to be genuine and loyal shepherds to God's flock.

The time will come when Jesus returns that those who took the message of the Gospel seriously will gain the inheritance that was given to them from the very beginning, eternal life. Those who helped bind up the wounds fed the hungry, gave water to the thirsty, treated no one like a stranger, ministered to you when you were in prison or sick, or when you had nothing to wear and you clothed me.

This is about those who were ignored in the past and those we ignore in the present. When we see someone in need disheveled, dirty, asking for money, down on their luck, how do we respond?  In this day and time I know we have to be vigilant, this is why we have places like the Care Center, food pantries, thrift stores, and many other outreach ministries so we can volunteer at or donate too. Yet, what does it take to literally take up the Cross of Christ and actually come face to face with someone who desperately needs our help? This is what Christ the King Sundayis all about. We are to be doing the work of the Kingdom of God here on earth. To treat all who we encounter as if they were Jesus is no easy task. Some of these people even show up here at Good Shepherd at coffee hour, breakfast,  in church, during the week looking for someone to help them.  Are they only looking for money or a handout? Perhaps, if we spent time with them maybe they are really looking for something else, maybe even the love of God in their lives. Let us never have anyone ask us "why didn't you help me?"

We heard also in today's Gospel about life in the Kingdom of God or life separated from God. We don't often speak of eternal life and God's eternal judgment at the same time,  at least not judgment, yet these are the lessons for Christ the King Sunday. 

We are to respond to God's call upon us because we are the church, the Body of Christ in the world. We are to actively live out the ministry of the Holy Spirit in our lives, to live out the role of shepherd and king to all who need Christ's love, compassion, and mercy.

As we come to a crossroad in the life of Good Shepherd we have the opportunity to continue to build upon the foundation Fr. Tom has laid and continue to grow and improve upon it.  Let us pray that this new rector whom I believe God has already chosen, will lead us where Fr. Tom has left off. There will still be work for Fr. Tom to do. Though he is retiring from here, yet there is much to be done outside these walls of Good Shepherd. We are also called upon to live up to our calling as shepherds here at Good Shepherd, actively leading and guiding and preparing the way for our new rector.

In the reading from Ephesians, it is Paul's prayer to the church for wisdom and revelation.  Not only was this letter from Paul important, he is commending them for their love of each other, just as it is applied us today.  Paul prays that we may be given the wisdom to understand God's hope for us, and the inheritance of eternal life we have been given through Christ himself at our baptism.

 As baby Nicholas begins his new life in Christ today he will be shepherded by his parents and Godparents who have vowed to raise him up in the Christian faith and to provide him with all the opportunities to grow and know Christ. Along with all of us at Good Shepherd,  we are here to help him grow in the love of Christ, surrounded by many faithful shepherds who will love him along the way. On this Christ the King Sunday may we all share in Christ's Kingship, as King, Lord, and Savior in our lives and those who need God's love.   Amen.