Focus Scripture Ezekiel 34:11-24; Matthew 25:31-46 Psalm 100
(Introductory words to follow choir anthem “You Are Mine” – our choir’s version was beautiful, here’s another at:
“You are mine, you are mine, you are mine; I am yours, I am yours, I am yours; You are mine, I love you; Cannot live without you; You are mine, I am yours, you are mine…)
Todays scripture readings are from Ezekiel, Matthew and Psalm 100. Chosen to highlight Reign of Christ Sunday their call to always put the love of God in front of us can sometimes seem like a heavy load. It helps to recall what Jesus said in Matthew 11:28-30 paraphrased in The Message translation of the Bible:
“Are you tired? Worn out? Burned out on religion? Come to me, get away with me, and you will recover your life. I’ll show you how to take a real rest. Walk with me, work with me, watch how I do it. Learn the unforced rhythms of grace. I won’t lay anything heavy or ill-fitting on you. Keep company with me and you’ll learn to love freely and lightly.”
The prophet Ezekiel saw people who were tired, and worn out, who’d forgotten their place in God’s love. A people lost in fear, giving up their hope, their joy, their peace, their love. Trading in faith for observance. Other gods were placed in the temple, their icons set up for worship. Images of power, wealth, strength and majesty. The people prostrating themselves before them, forced into contortions they thought the gods might reward.
Ezekiel saw what they could no longer see: the wheel of faith turning in the centre of the wheel of grace. The glory, wonder and awesome love of God turning for all. He called them to attend, to return, to rebind themselves to God. To act before it was too late and the walls came down. They did not listen. The walls came down, the people were enslaved. Carried off to Babylon, they sang the Lord’s song, in a strange land.
In exile, Ezekiel sings a prophecy renewed. The wheel of faith turning, the wheel of grace pouring out. Dry bones live. The scattered returned, the weak championed, the helpless blessed in right relationship. Those who used strength for their own account brought low by strength, and those brought low, comforted. A shepherd from David’s line giving guidance, love and aid to all. Together, they would learn the unforced rhythms of grace.
Matthew’s people were weary too. Persecuted, scorned and ridiculed, waiting for the return of one who’d been denied, crucified and resurrected, gone for half a century or more. One who’s return seemed further away each passing day.
Matthew asks: why wait? Act now! Pour out your love. Feed the hungry, clothe the naked, tend the sick, visit the imprisoned, care for the aged. Look for lack and fill it. He promises those who do not will weep and gnash their teeth in the outer darkness.
In our time men who’ve tried to fill a love-void with power, and twisted themselves in it’s service, are now in the outer darkness, wailing and gnashing their teeth. Likeable men – Bill Cosby, Jian Ghomeshi. Shadowy men like Howard Weinstein and James Toback. Famous men – Kevin Spacey, Charlie Rose. The list lengthens every day, and ordinary men, men like me, reflect on their pasts, and reconsider their actions.
In our own community news of abuse has awakened a storm of protest on social media. Perhaps you’ve heard the story of what happened to a cat in Duncan? It’s been on the news, reported from Victoria and on our local station. Some people took a person’s cat, did horrible things to it and sent her pictures. Bullying her by torturing her cat.
People are up in arms. Comments on facebook are generally vile, with all kinds of suggestions about what could and should be done to the perpetrators. I’m not sure what that’s rooted in, maybe because it happened here and people don’t want others to think they live in a town where actions like that are ‘normal’.
Matters are so heated up that the police have cautioned people not to take the law into their own hands. To wait for the courts and the justice system to deal with the persons involved. Apparently some aren’t willing to wait, don’t trust the justice system and have already taken steps to make sure the bullies pay a heavy price for what they’ve done. Comment after comment pours out rage, hatred and self-righteous indignation. Make the bullies pay!
One voice, though, has risen out of the tide to offer another perspective. “I know the mother of the young man who is accused of this,” she says, “I know she has been looking for help for her son for years. Five or six years. Everywhere she’s gone she’s been turned away. No help for her, no help for her son, and now this.”
That voice, that perspective from the circle of community around this family and its struggles changed the picture for me. I think it might carry a bit of Ezekiel and Matthew in its teaching. How we respond to one another should be couched in the wheels of faith and grace. Should be reflected in the call to love. When the entire community is beside itself in righteous indignation, it might serve us well to listen for the voices counselling us to consider the unforced rhythms of grace.
We often don’t see abuse as it happens. Those who sold small pox blankets to Indigenous people, those who paid for scalps, those who set up Residential Schools, those who rioted because Chinese workers came to Vancouver, those who sold arms to Nazi Germany, those who turned their backs on Jewish refugees fleeing Nazi Germany. Those who shot union members. Those who persecuted, vilified and fired Gay and Lesbian men and women. We tend to see transgressions as products of their time. We forget the voices raised against racism, sexism, homophobia, and genocide. We apologize for the actions of our ‘ignorant’ ancestors and – usually irritably – want to know why we can’t just ‘move on’.
Ezekiel and Matthew might say we can’t move on because we perpetrate the same harms over and over and over again. The false idols remain in the temple. Matthew asks us to think not only about what we do, and how we do it, but who we are doing it to. Matthew believes in the wheel of faith and the wheel of grace. Matthew knows if we have the faith to see one-another as Jesus, we will have the grace to treat one-another as Jesus.
Not only a Jesus who is hungry, thirsty, naked, sick or imprisoned. An attractive Jesus, coerced by one with the power to grant or remove employment; a Jesus from a minority our culture despises and fears; a Gay or Lesbian Jesus; a self-medicating, homeless, panhandling Jesus; an abusive, intolerant Jesus. Like Ezekiel, Matthew sees folk deciding who is in, and who is out, who is worthy of love, and who is not. Like Ezekiel, Matthew prophecies a difficult end for individuals and cultures perpetuating the belief that some matter and some do not.
However, also like Ezekiel, Matthew knows God’s love is alive in, with, and for all of creation. In his parable the sheep and the goats are equally surprised. Perhaps because most of us can be sheep and goats at the same time. God may well take joy and celebration with the sheep, and may well have a preferential option for the least among us, but God always insists on the salvation of the goats. Perhaps because, from a Spiritual perspective, the goats are the least.
There can be no good outcome for any of us, until all set the wheels of faith and grace in their hearts and as their guide. Until we are fully captivated in the unforced rhythms of grace, knowing it is to God we belong. Until we can look at another and see Jesus, and look at ourselves and see the love of Jesus, yearning to be fed.