Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24; Psalm 100; Ephesians 1:15-23; Matthew 25:31-46 Oremus Bible Browser

In the of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, Amen.

The readings – I guess it must work with us all year, but particularly as we begin to have a focus towards a particular event we can begin to see how the readings can help align us to the event. And there’s a real sense, certainly over the last few weeks, of finishing off the year and just trying to steer us towards starting anew and afresh, to expect the coming of the Divine. So if we really attend to the readings I think there’s an opportunity there for us to start finding shifts in our own lives and our own life direction. It’s a lot harder to pick up a Bible and do that, even if you try the trick that some of those old Christians have found - open it at any page and there’ll be something meaningful there. I did that once and got the index.

If we look at the readings Sunday by Sunday and even just stay with them, because if you reread them in your own time and your own space - doesn’t need to be religious - you can read them in coffee shops, you can read them on the beach, just somewhere a little bit quiet - and think on them again. Listen to them within and just see where yourself aligns and is reflected in them and with them.

The readings today are really quite stunning. Prophets are quite good to read because they give us the word of God, they give us some insight into the word of God and in the passage from Ezekiel, what we actually get is some clues as to what the divine action is. So the divine action, the way it’s often written, it can be helpful, but we can get lost if we’ve still got the image of God as ‘Man in the sky’ then it actually becomes a transaction of ‘doing’ and very soon the word of God will become meaningless, because somewhere deep within we know that he’s not a man in the sky, so it’s important to translate the images that we get into things that we can actually feel.

The divine action that Ezekiel points out is that there will be a search for, a seeking them out, ‘we’ll rescue’, ‘we’ll bring them out’, ‘we’ll gather them into’, ‘we’ll feed them’. Very easy to get stuck now, with ‘OK, there’s the shepherd that going to do all these things for me’. Rather start from within and start to look for that which does search you out, that which seeks you. And we often know it and it’s quite often the things that we turn away from. How many people in the modern world have now started turning off the news because it’s so upsetting? Maybe there’s something in there that is searching you out and seeking you. What is there still to be brought out of you? Just stay with them and think of the divine action as something that is there for us, an energy for us to encounter and to engage with.

When we come towards the end of the reading - in the middle the reading is concretised: ‘I’ll seek the lost, bring back the strayed, bind up the injured and strengthen the weak’. Another way of entry point into this reading is to just quickly tick off where are you lost - what is that, how does that feel? What are the indicators of being lost, how do you know you’re lost? One of the great things about discovering your lostness is that you can then go and find, you can then move towards somewhere. The saddest thing is to be lost and not even know I’m lost, to actually think I’m there. ‘Bring back the strayed’ - what does that mean? Not all the naughty things I do and the times I miss church - that’s the Sunday School ‘strayed’. This is the strayed adult; this is the one that God has asked to give light to the world - where do I stray from that? ‘I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak.’ Nearly all of the church mothers and fathers point to our injuries and our weaknesses as the starting point for encountering the Divine. So if we can discover them now, work with them during Advent, who knows what we might find at Christmas? We may this year be able to avoid going to Myers and making an appointment with Santa and find someone else whose knee we can sit on, or at least whose right hand we might sit at. All of that is in that one short reading and it ends with ‘I, the Lord, will be their God and my servant David shall be prince among them. I will set over them one shepherd, my servant David.’

It’s again so important - David will be the shepherd. If we can wind the clock back to when we heard the story of David - ‘David was the least amongst his brothers’. There are echoes in the naming of David, that the meek shall inherit the earth - he was the weakest, yet he was the one that overcame the giant, the Goliath. The last of the brothers shall be first - it’s all there. All in that one reading, there are echoes that will now be called out and revealed again to us in the story of Christ and then is left with us to continue revealing and drawing out the energy, the life force that Ezekiel speaks of here.

The reading from Ephesians is really again helpful because what we’ve got is Paul, talking about those - ‘ I’ve heard of your faith in the Lord, your love toward towards the saints and for this reason I do not give you thanks’. I often think it’s helpful to think of Paul writing to us as a community, rather than writing many years ago to some church that’s probably now a stunning holiday resort offering Greek Island tours. Rather than allow Paul to get lost there think about him writing to us, the Church, which is Christ’s Body. Paul provides a definition for us, and sometimes when you look at the church in the modern world you think it does need to be redefined. Paul talks of the Church which is Christ’s body: ‘the fullest of the one who fills all in all’ - ‘the fullest of the one who fills all in all’. He says in verse 17, ‘I pray that the Lord of our Jesus Christ may give you a spirit of wisdom and revelation’.

So in our becoming Church, in our becoming ‘the fullest of the one who fills all in all’, then one of the discerning factors in that is a spirit of wisdom and revelation, a movement towards understanding and seeing. He says then in verse 18, ‘so that with the eyes of your heart enlightened, you may know what is the hope to which he is calling you, what are the riches of his glorious inheritance’. ‘With the eyes of your heart, enlightened’ - the wisdom that Paul is speaking about is not to be acquired outside but rather to be found by looking within ourselves, looking to the place of love and seeing the world through that sight, not through the place that we normally see, which is the eyes that are stuck in our heads, so we usually actually see the world quite rationally. It is with an enlightened heart that Paul suggests we look. And then in verse 20: ‘God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead’. ‘God put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead’ - it almost sounds like an Easter reading, but what Paul is talking about is a full incarnation of Christ. The power is not handed over in the stable at Bethlehem, the power of the incarnation occurs in being raised from the dead. And maybe that’s where we need to look for the starting point for that power to be raised in us. When we are lifted into life from that which holds us in death then the power of God becomes realised, we’ll end up at God’s right hand - not in a place of pride or privilege, but rather at the right hand, serving Him closely. When God needs a cup of tea it is the one at his right hand he’ll look at to get it. And we will also dwell in the heavenly places, which again doesn’t mean that we will be gathered up on a cloud and taken up on, but rather our dwelling will be with and in the Divine, wherever we are.

This is going on and on, so we’re just very quickly going to have a look at the Gospel, because the Gospel is quite important.

There’s the separating of the sheep from the goats that we can have a lot of fun with and maybe we’ll do that one day up in the Hall - we’ll try and get it sorted out once and for all. There’s an uncomfortableness with this reading because there’s an uncertainty within each of us - I wonder how I’d be marked, would I be marked as sheep or goat? It’s quite a similar uncomfortableness, the sort of twinge that also occurred last week with the talents: ‘to one he gave five, to one he gave two, to one he gave one’. I want to be the one he gave five to, who wants to be the one who got the one talent, you know? So there’s an uncomfortableness about last week’s reading and this week's reading and I think it’s about separation. And it’s a reading that’s been either misunderstood or stunningly manipulated by the Church to create a sense of us and them - saved and unsaved - because the Church is intrinsically linked with society that has spilled out. We have residents and aliens, we have passports and visas, we have all these things that differentiate and separate. So on the one hand we’ve got separation here. Now that takes on a different meaning if you just relabel it as ‘discerned difference’ rather than separation. But also what we’re going to discover in this reading is we’ve got relatedness, we’ve got oneness as well, and I think oneness is as equally misunderstood as separatedness, for oneness often translates as ‘we are all the same’. And that creates objections and uncomfortableness when we know we’re not. What about the in-crowds, the in-groups, look at that group over there and this group over here, those that do that and those that don’t do that - there’s another level of uncomfortableness.

The parable that we hear today speaks of both separating the sheep from the goats and it finishes with that wonderful phrase in verse 40: ‘Just as you did it to the least of these you did it to me. And I think there’s an opportunity to discover just in this reading that our place in the whole has got nothing to do with sameness. It would be great for us to get real and acknowledge that we aren’t. We’re not the same, don’t even try to be or aspire to be the same as any one else. It’s not about equality, hopefully we got some of that last week: we are not equal. When you go for a cup of tea in the Hall, have a look at the art exhibition. If we were all equal we’d all be producing things that looked equal. Have a look around - I bet there’s a piece up there you don’t like. I can tell you what I... no, I won’t tell you what it is - I bet there’s a piece that you don’t like and I bet there’s a piece that you do like. They are different. What we learn about, I think, from Matthew’s gospel today is that our place in the whole comes from our encounter, our relatedness and our orientation toward the other, because it’s in that encounter, that relatedness and our orientation toward the other that we will find our orientation with the Divine and so find the Divine within us, which is why it finishes on that delightful phrase: ‘Just as you did it to one of the least of these so you did it to me’. Our encounter with the other, the way we can discover and find our relatedness to the other, not our sameness, not our difference, not our equality, but rather our relatedness, and the way we look to the other, the way our orientation is toward the other. It’s in those that we discover ourselves as part of a Whole, delightfully at one with all and yet equally delightfully, unique and gifted.

The Lord be with you.