The Good Shepherd Who Never Fails Us

Thanksgiving and Communion Sunday


Ezek. 34: 1-16

John 10:7-11

Rev. Kit Billings

November 24, 2002

When you look back over your life, is it possible for you to take a guess at how many times you were in some kind of real trouble and yet somehow managed to get through it all right? And of those precarious moments of getting through without too many natural or spiritual bumps and bruises, were there times when it became crystal clear to you that God came to your rescue? Ever experience some type or degree of Divine intervention, whether it be God Himself, one of His angels, or a kind, loving or wise human being who just happened to be there right when you needed him or her the most?

Well, I have. I've been helped out so many times in my life that this one fact alone was enough at one point in my life to convince me of the reality of God. I've been saved, for example, from feeling brokenhearted for too long a time in life. I've been saved from feeling terribly and terrifyingly scattered in mind and spirit, when suddenly, from out of nowhere as they say, I felt a divinely loving and oh so powerful Presence just pick me up in its arms and carry me spiritually to safety…clearing my mind…bringing me away from intense fear and worry.

I recall one time back in college when finals week was around the corner and I still had one major paper due in my Sociology class at Urbana University. I had contracted the flu a few weeks before and was barely on schedule with everything, but still there was this big research paper due. And so, I prayed. I prayed and asked God to help me. Well, the next morning I didn't find my research paper finished and stapled on my desk, but what I did find was this almost eerie feeling of total peace and confidence about what I needed to accomplish. And so, I buckled down and went to work, and I simply remained focused and wound up getting an "A+" on that paper, and an "A" in the class.

Recently I had the pleasure of talking with a woman who one night found herself suddenly staring death in the face. She was being robbed and the criminal involved was pointing a gun at her, and she thought for sure this was it! But then, again out of nowhere the Lord suddenly blessed her with an enormous, ALL-ENVELOPING feeling of peace. She knew, she felt that she would be fine, whether the criminal killed her or not. The Good Shepherd came to her rescue and saved her from traumatizing fear and panic.

These are but two examples of the Good Shepherd, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, helping His flock when endangered. And if our national and local news reporters focused predominantly on good things happening in life, then we'd be amazed at how CONSTANTLY the Lord and the angels are working to help, support, heal and save us…time after time after time! All of these stories are so powerfully illustrative to me that in the vast scheme of things the Lord has EVERYTHING under control.

Emanuel Swedenborg wrote a great deal about God's Divine spiritual government or Providence in life. I find this passage especially revealing:

The Divine Providence is universal, but universal from the fact that it is in the very least things; in fact not even a hair falls from the head without God knowing it; that is, there is nothing so minute that it is not foreseen and accordingly provided for.

I believe this is true about the awesome government God, that the Lord maintains His careful love and providing over every level of reality. God cares greatly for all of your physical and spiritual needs in life. Just as a loving shepherd cares for his flock of sheep, so does the Lord care for your life and my life. And for me this year, this is what I'm most thankful for this year in 2002, what I share with you this Thanksgiving holiday, that I praise God for the Lord is real, and He's constantly on the job helping the sheep of His flock to safety when we're in spiritual and natural peril.

And it is out of His benevolent care that the Lord provides wise, loving spiritual shepherds too. For thousands of years God continues to raise up faithful spiritual shepherds to lead in religion. But, even though God calls men and women into His service, this does not mean that we all remain faithful and good. The freedom of the clergy to stain the vestments that we wear is constantly at play. In fact, as one retired minister once shared with me, he believes that the devilish spirits in Hell love nothing more than to corrupt those who lead many others. Across the board I've heard of pastors and priests who fall to the enticements of sin.

One only needs to turn to the current scene of Catholicism to gain evidence of ordained shepherds whom God had in mind when He prophesied to Ezekial. In Ezekiel's time, around 580 years before Jesus was born, where he lived in exile with many Jews away in the northeastern region of Babylon, the sinners being chastised were the kings and priests of Judah and Israel.

As we read in 2 Kings 13:10-11, "In the thirty-seventh year of Joash the king of Judah, Jehoash the son of Jehoahaz became king over Israel in Samaria…and he did evil in the sight of the Lord. He did not depart from all the sins of Jeroboam the son of Nebat, who made Israel sin, but walked in them."

The zeal of the Lord against the clergy who sin treacherously and without repentance is both hot and vehement:

"Woe to the shepherds of Israel who feed themselves! Should not the shepherds feed the flocks? You eat the fat and clothe yourselves with the wool; you slaughter the fatlings, but you do not feed the flock. The weak you have not strengthened, nor have you healed those who were sick, nor bound up the broken, nor brought back what was driven away, nor sought what was lost."

It was, in part, because of the severe priestly and political sin in ancient Israel that God knew that He Himself must come in the flesh to save the lost and the scattered sheep on earth. While there clearly were some very good and faithful clergy, one among them being Ezekiel, in general humanity's spiritual leadership was covered in darkness-thus the need for the virgin birth was set in motion.

And Jesus Christ did come. And He brought His tremendous, unfailing love and truth into life, and sowed it into the very fabric of creation. What was Divine became human, and through His good living and choice-making made His natural human fully Divine. Thus, we now may refer to the Lord Jesus Christ as the one and only Divine Human. Humanity back then was in the worst shape it had ever been in. Literally, as Swedenborg wrote, the hells were overwhelming the good spirits of heaven-selfishness and corruption, injustice and doubt were at an all-time high before Christ came.

Spiritually speaking the word of God that came to Ezekiel was true in his day and in Jesus' day. Most of the Pharisees and rabbis could also be told, "The weak you have not strengthened, nor have you healed those who were sick, nor bound up the broken, nor brought back what was driven away, nor sought what was lost…. So they were scattered because there was no shepherd…and My sheep wandered through all the mountains…yes, My flock was scattered over the whole face of the earth, and no one was seeking or searching for them."

So God took the job unto Himself and entered the level of life where on the outward appearances of things both light and darkness equally reign. As the Lord promised through Ezekiel's comforting words, He did gather up the remnant of Israel and brought them home to Jerusalem. And then later after Israel fell again into the most severe spiritual imbalance possible, our Lord Jesus Christ came and gathered those who had been spiritually scattered, giving them spiritual restoration and revitalization through the love and truth of the Good Shepherd.

The Lord did not incarnate to whisk all evil and untruth out of the world, but instead to make sure He Himself could forever come to us in His Divine-Humanity. He came to make sure that when anyone needs a very visible Presence of the Infinite in life, that in Christ our need may be fulfilled. He came to maintain spiritual balance and keep the power and forces of love and wisdom present and reachable…but also so that the Lord Himself can maintain His full ability to reach us!

For you see, in the more internal aspects of what makes up a human being, just as we see outwardly happening on earth, in a similar sense we're all dealing with a mixture of good and evil, light and darkness inside of us-thus the reason for Jesus' parable of the wheat and the tares. On earth we're living in between heaven and hell, as Swedenborg so notably put it.

In the veiled landscape of the human spirit our own thoughts and affections can play the part of the bad, irresponsible shepherd, which may try at times to confuse and scare the good feelings and loves (represented by the sheep in this lesson) away. At times, the leadership within our minds may become severely corrupt and bent on selfishness. In this passage in Ezekiel we here great comfort for us internally as well.

Indeed, one of us may find ourselves in spiritual exile inside at times. Or someone you deeply care for may be terribly lost within, whereupon his or her own deep affections for God and loving others are scattered, broken, and have become food for the beasts of the heart. This Thanksgiving I give thanks that the Lord through His holy Word has promised that He is the head of the church, and also the true king of love-a God who will always be ready to actively pursue and come after anyone who is lost or broken.