Monday, 27 November 2017

The Shepherd King

Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24 (page 722 in our pew Bibles) God is the good shepherd and will stop at nothing to find and gather his people.
Ephesians 1: 15-end (page 976 in our pew Bibles) A glorious piece in its entirety but within it Paul prays that we may find Wisdom and revelation
Matthew 25: 31-end (page 831 in our pew Bibles) In the story of the sheep and the goats at the final judgement we may find it surprising that faith is not mentioned once, only the outworking of faith resulting in good works.  

The feast of Christ the King is a modern 20th century festival instituted by Pope Pius 11th in 1925 possibly as a counter blast to the rise of fascism in Europe at that time.

That being the context, we see that the raison d’etre for instituting such a festival was to remind people that the Kings and shepherds of this world are as clumsy, exploitative and corrupt as any of the Shepherds lambasted in Ezekiel’s book and so nothing that is happening is new or unexpected.

Then as now the festival warns us against false hope and false prophets and declares that God himself is our shepherd king.

Drawing a similarity or correlation between kingship and shepherding is a perennial feature of middle eastern culture and is found across ancient cultures including ancient Egypt, but within the fiercely monotheistic culture of the Israelites these attributes of the “Good shepherd” and the “Good and righteous king” are given to God alone.

For thus says the Lord God: Behold I myself will search for my sheep and will seek them out. And in verse 16…

“ I will seek the lost, and bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, and the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them in justice”

That verse includes a warning to those who have abused their strength and power to use their power for wrong ends – something that God expands in the second half of that piece.

The Jewish people need to remember that they have one Lord and God, and that they have one servant that is David or the "Davidic line."
And in the Christian era there is a fusion between the servant King of the Royal line of David and God himself in Jesus Christ and the piece from Ephesians is mesmerising in its rhetorical and actual power.

In the risen Jesus we see Christ the king when God “raised Him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but in the age to come. And he put all things under his feet and gave him as head over all things to the church, which is his body, the fullness of him who fills all in all”

Inspiring, Poetic, and mesmerising words that set Christ the king in his rightful place far above all leaders and political movements here on earth.

Which brings us to Matthew’s story of the sheep and the goats at the final judgement. There are many problems that present themselves in terms of interpreting this passage but there is one thing we can say with confidence.

The first and main thing is that Christ the King identifies himself with those who suffer, and love for them is service to Him.

The only inherent danger in all this is that it could lead to a certain Christian arrogance and triumphalism towards those we judge outside the sheepfold.

The answer to this problem lies within the narrative itself of course, because this king is fully revealed in the hunger and thirst, nakedness, loneliness, imprisonment, and death of the King of the Jews who reigns from a cross.

Monday, 20 November 2017

Walk the walk!

Amos 5: 18-24 (page 768 in our pew Bibles) Amos points out that "The day of the Lord" that everybody was looking forward to would actually be a day of judgement for those Jews who worshiped God with their lips only and not in deed. Amos denounces all their religious feasts as rubbish because of their lack of integrity and authenticity.
1 Thessalonians 4: 13-18 (page 987 in our pew Bibles) Many Christians in the first century thought the end of the world was imminent and were perturbed by the deaths of Christians before Jesus returned. Paul was assuring them that whether alive or already deceased Christ leaves no-one behind. We are with Him forever. 
Matthew 25: 1-13 (page 830 in our pew Bibles). The oil in our lamps are the good deeds that flow from the Spirit, received when we put our faith in Christ. We mustn't lose hope or concentration waiting for Jesus to return as He could do so at any time.  

Amos cannot stand the religious ceremonies of the Israelites -  people who purport to love and follow God, and all the while they condone massive injustice in the land.
“I hate, I despise your feasts and I take no delight in your solemn assemblies” he famously writes and their noise and singing of praise to God just upsets him.
This extract ends today with the words….
“Take away from me the noise of your songs; to the melody of your harps I will not listen. But let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream”
There has to be a correlation between worship of God and personal and corporate morality and ethics. 
Be as devoted to Justice and righteousness as you are to robes and religious rituals and sacrifices and God might just take you seriously.
He starts by telling them that “The day of the Lord” that everyone is looking forward to is actually going to be a very uncomfortable day of judgement for the religious establishment because of this inherent incongruity.
Their faith needs to be reflected in their deeds.
This is the strand that runs through the day and especially the parable that Jesus tells about the ten virgins.
Oil, in this parable is the oil of good works, of deeds. The bridegroom is the return of Jesus and you must have good works as a result of your faith or you have nothing to show the world.
In Matthew 5: 16 Jesus says “Let your light so shine before men, so they may see your good works and give glory to your Father in heaven”.
That light shines because of the oil of good deeds and righteous living – exactly the thing that Amos said was missing from the Jewish people in his much older document.
In the parable the girls who didn’t have any oil couldn’t borrow any from the ones that did – a second hand faith is not valid – and they tried to get some but it was too late. The door was shut when they returned and they were locked out of the marriage feast, which is the same event known as the “Day of the Lord” in Amos’ earlier work.
Those girls were judged just as the religious establishment in Amos was judged because for all their worship and praise, they didn’t really know God for that was evident by their actions.
In Paul’s message to the Thessalonians, we see just how pressing and imminent people thought the return of Christ was to be – For that return read  “The day of the Lord” in Amos or the Marriage feast  in Jesus’ parable.
But the main thrust of this piece is not that, but is given in Paul’s opening sentence about the certainty of Christ’s death and resurrection and how our hope is invested in that fact. We are not to grieve like others who have no hope – we have a certain hope vested in a God who never forgets us and whose presence transcends life and death.
Our task is not to second guess who or how many are saved but to rejoice in the fact of that offer and offer it to others.
Remembrance offers the chance to remember the sacrifice of millions in war and in the act of remembrance we meditate on the enormity and waste of war to the end that we never underestimate the consequences of warfare making it less likely to be considered as a first option or response to provocation. This is the reason for the state occasion
Christianity offers another window to look through that talks about the ultimate destination of all those people that died.

All our readings today are underpinned not only by a belief in eternal life but also by being prepared for that prospect in this life through living a life that reflects the values of God.