Rev. Dr. John J. Lolla, Jr.
November 26, 2017
O.T.: Ezek. 34:11-16, 20-24, N.T.: Eph. 1:15-23, Text: Ezek. 34:12
The Pilgrims left Europe because they were tired of government failures and religious conflict. They wanted a New World where they could find hope and a better future for their families. They wanted a community where they belonged.
They wanted a church that lived up to the promise of God’s covenant with Abraham. They wanted a community where they could prosper. They wanted a community at peace. Most of all, they wanted a community where Jesus Christ was its head.
The Pilgrims were tired of political intrigue. They were upset with the public posturing of government leaders that didn’t offer real hope for the oldest or the youngest among them. They were disgusted with public immorality.
When the Pilgrims read the Scriptures, and saw Jesus’ character, his intelligence, his compassion, his tireless efforts to help the weak and afflicted, they yearned for Him to gather them into a community. They wanted to glorify God as a society.
They had no real community in Europe. The Pilgrims were Christian nomads yearning for a place of security and rest. They truly believed they could find that security and rest under Jesus’ leadership and no other. They were deeply convicted that a community formed under Jesus would be a light to the world.
The Pilgrims were driven to America by a timeless question. Where can we find a community of life and vitality that unites us with others in a loving, moral, just society?
We can find that place in God’s gathering. Where God gathers people through His love and mercy, we can find life and vitality that unites us. Where God gathers families through his moral, just compassion, we can find a community that offers itself for others.
God yearns for us to live together as His people. He alone offers hope in a discouraging world. Today’s passage from Ezekiel is hopeful. Ezekiel foresees a good shepherd who will search for the scattered flock to restore them in God’s community. The good shepherd will pursue those who are lost. He won’t give up on any who are scattered. The good shepherd will not permit his flock to be destroyed. He doesn’t wait for the flock to return to the fold. They can’t do so on their own. He searches for them to find them and gather them together.
When they’re gathered under God’s watchfulness, they will work to gather others into God’s community. This offering of self for others begins with the good shepherd that Ezekiel describes.
The good shepherd will give His life in this endless pursuit. He will herd His people from their scattered places into God’s fold. We know God fulfilled this prophecy in Jesus Christ. Jesus identified Himself with the Good Shepherd.
In the Gospel of John, chapter 10, Jesus says He is the Good Shepherd. His sheep hear His voice. They recognize Him as the one who lays down His life for His sheep. Jesus’ sacrificial gift gives life that unites His sheep in one flock.
Jesus’ life-giving is not an obligation or duty. Spontaneous life-giving springs from love and mercy. Life-giving leads others in God’s direction. Life-giving nourishes and strengthens relationships. It binds us together.
This morning’s communion table is just one symbol of the Good Shepherd’s life-giving. But life-giving is also the bread we take to Northside Common Ministries. Life-giving is the spiritual food we share in our Sunday school classrooms and youth groups. Life-giving lessons we teach children in our homes about loving Jesus and following Jesus gathers us before God. Their truthfulness and compassion draw us into a deeper relationship with Him and each other.
God’s Good Shepherd gathers His sheep where Sunday school teachers sacrifice their time for children, where song leaders sacrifice their days so children sing praises to God, where women and men gather in kitchens to feed others. Each of these examples feeds the yearning in our hearts for community.
They show that under God’s leadership and direction, new hope gathers people together. Under God’s direction a vital, living community is formed.
They joined in the effort to celebrate the work of the Good Shepherd who searches for the lost sheep to give them new life. This is just one example of how the Good Shepherd gathers His flock.
There are congregations where the needs of the flock fall on deaf ears. But where there are those who are inspired by the Good Shepherd, they give themselves for the good of others, just like the Pilgrims gave thanks to God as they worked together as one fellowship.
Their new community wasn’t a perfect place. It wasn’t a place without its challenges, or its failures. But it was a place led by Jesus Christ to gather God’s people around His table. Eventually, God gathered Native American and English settler in a secure, just community at Plymouth Rock.
Bellevue’s community thankfully gives our lives for the Good Shepherd to reach the flock of His pasture. God works through our communion in Christ to gather us into His fold. Happy Thanksgiving!