Musings on Scripture

– and what isn’t always said

Tag: Good News

Trinity 24A (22-Nov-20)

Published / by Steven Secker / Leave a Comment

Ezekiel 34:11-16,20-24 God the true shepherd
11Thus says the Lord God: ‘I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out. 12As shepherds seek out their flocks when they are among their scattered sheep, so I will seek out my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places to which they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. 13I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land; and I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the watercourses, and in all the inhabited parts of the land. 14I will feed them with good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel shall be their pasture; there they shall lie down in good grazing land, and they shall feed on rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. 15I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down’, says the Lord God. 16‘I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak, but the fat and the strong I will destroy. I will feed them with justice.’

20Therefore, thus says the Lord God to them: ‘I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. 21Because you pushed with flank and shoulder, and butted at all the weak animals with your horns until you scattered them far and wide, 22I will save my flock, and they shall no longer be ravaged; and I will judge between sheep and sheep.’

23‘I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd, 24and I, the Lord, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them; I, the Lord, have spoken.’

Text ©The New Revised Standard Version, alt, Used with permission.

Just listen to the righteous anger! The religious leaders of the day had been so inept, and drawn the people’s focus away from God’s message, that He wasn’t prepared to send another messenger for them to ignore or kill. God would seek out the lost sheep Himself.

The so-called shepherds of the flock were more like the hirelings to which Jesus referred (John 10:12), because they had let the sheep wander and get lost, and they didn’t seem concerned.

Through Ezekiel God told the people, and especially the religious leaders, that the sheep would be sought in ALL the places to which they had been scattered. They would be looked after and fed appropriately, instead of being fed rubbish or left to starve. God would do the shepherding because those charged with the job had failed so miserably. Those who should have known better are accused of pushing and shoving the flock and driving them away. No wonder God was angry!

When we think of some of the gospel stories we can see the same righteous anger, and for the same reasons. Jesus didn’t just drive the money-changers out of the Temple; He effectively drove out those who had corrupted the people for their own benefit, power and prestige.

Have we learned anything? No way!! Do we need to be reminded about politicians who don’t like election results, or those who are blind to the risks of Covid-19, or don’t think of what can be achieved by supporting less polluting industries? Do we need to be reminded about churches which are more interested in protecting their images than addressing serious issues of misconduct and subtle abuse, or churches that profess to be pastorally caring when the evidence says much to the contrary? Please don’t misunderstand me: there are plenty of people in churches working hard for the good of the community and being thwarted by those higher up the power chain who say it shouldn’t be done.

Bishop Jack Spong raised an interesting point about focus on status in the churches. When someone is ordained he/she is called “Reverend” – the revered one; when that person is made Dean of a cathedral the title becomes “The Very Reverend”; a bishop is “The Right Reverend”; and an Archbishop is “The Most Reverend”; the Pope is “His Holiness” and the head of the Greek Orthodox Church is “His All Holiness”. Do any of these go out to meet the down-and-outs in mufty – civilian clothes that make them look just like everyone else around them – like Jesus did when he washed the disciples’ feet at the Last Supper? I know of one Australian bishop who did, and it changed him for ever. He realised how much the church over which he presided had strayed from its ways like a lost sheep without a shepherd.

So often through the scriptures we are called to repent and to re-focus on what God wants, not what we want. While the mainstream churches complain about a lack of clergy they frequently reject those called by God and who challenge the status quo. Is that because they would show up how scattered the flock is, by bringing them into the stable and teaching them to love and obey God? We are ALL called by God to spread the Good News and to be faithful shepherds, but it seems a number of those to whom leadership roles have been given are lacking the skills or focus, just as the shepherds in this passage from Ezekiel.

I would love us to be focussed on what God wants us to do, rather than keeping the whistleblowers quiet, though our scriptures, canonical and contemporary, show we still have a lot to learn from Ezekiel.

Advent 3 (Year A)

Published / by Steven Secker / Leave a Comment

Isaiah 35:1-10

1The wilderness and the dry land shall be glad, the desert shall rejoice and blossom; like the crocus 2it shall blossom abundantly, and rejoice with joy and singing. The glory of Lebanon shall be given to it, the majesty of Carmel and Sharon. They shall see the glory of the Lord, the majesty of our God. 3Strengthen the weak hands, and make firm the feeble knees. 4Say to those who are of a fearful heart: ‘Be strong, do not fear! Here is your God. He will come with vengeance, with terrible recompense. He will come and save you.’ 5Then the eyes of the blind shall be opened, and the ears of the deaf unstopped; 6then the lame shall leap like a deer, and the tongue of the dumb sing for joy. For waters shall break forth in the wilderness, and streams in the desert; 7the burning sand shall become a pool, and the thirsty ground springs of water; the haunt of jackals shall become a swamp, the grass shall become reeds and rushes. 8A highway shall be there, and it shall be called the Holy Way; the unclean shall not travel on it, but it shall be for God’s people; no traveller, not even fools, shall go astray. 9No lion shall be there, nor shall any ravenous beast come up on it; they shall not be found there, but the redeemed shall walk there. 10And the ransomed of the Lord shall return, and come to Zion with singing; everlasting joy shall be upon their heads; they shall obtain joy and gladness, and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.

Text © The New Revised Standard Version (English version), alt, used with permission.

Just as hope is the recurrent theme of readings leading up to Christmas, Isaiah gives us a sense of hope for an exiled community. When we take a simple reading from scripture, and read it in isolation in our churches, we miss the connection, or disconnection in this case, with the surrounding text. This message of hope comes amid others of despair. Why? I think it’s important that even in our darkest hours we can hear the hope of a future which will restore us to a good relationship with God. Give thanks to God in all circumstances. If you break a leg, give thanks to God; if someone close to you dies, give thanks to God; if you’ve just won a major lottery, give thanks to God; if you have a child with disabilities, give thanks to God; if you lose your job, give thanks to God. Why? Because God doesn’t give us a challenge we cannot meet when we put our minds to it and trust Him to help us, and what you will receive can be a far greater reward than you might expect – just don’t expect to see the reward in a time-frame set by you. In this instant-gratification era that’s hard, I know, but it’s what God calls us to do.

Some commentators believe this passage appears too early in Isaiah for it to be in its original position. This is a passage which appears before people would expect to hear it. Absolutely fantastic! Of course it’s earlier than people would expect. That’s precisely what God has intended. Isaiah is showing us that we need to speak up against what is wrong in this world, and speak with hope for a future where we can live peacefully with others. This passage tells us that we should not wait for ’the right time’ because the right time might never come.

The message in this passage is not directed at anyone in particular, and there is no time reference which would allow us to stick it at some point in history and forget the implications of the message. No, the message applies to everyone, everywhere, in every age, including Australians in 2019! We should help the weak, those who are downhearted and fearful of the consequences of their actions because God will deal with the oppressors. We don’t have to be concerned about them. Let go and let God!

Whenever I read the next few verses I can’t help but start to sing from Handel’s Messiah. Remember the quote from last week’s reflection: ‘there are none so blind as those who will not see’? Does it matter, in terms of the message from Isaiah, if those who are literally blind do not see, when the message which Christ brought as well was that we need to be willing to open our eyes to what is happening around us, and to act. The lame can leap, the dumb can ‘sing’ and the deaf can hear when God’s message is shown in our lives. We will find what we haven’t been able to see, even though it has always been there, new life will spring forth because we are charged by the power of God – as Christians we would say by the Holy Spirit – and we will live protected from the evil ways of oppressors.

Trust God unconditionally. Do not wait for the right time to pass on messages of hope and an opportunity to redirect our ways so that we listen to God, rather than human ways of thinking, which are all-too-often self-centred, power greedy, worshipping money, and trying to stop people spreading the Good News.

Advent is a time of preparation for the coming of Christ, so let’s prepare the way for the Lord, let’s make a straight path through the wilderness around us for the Son of God, and let’s challenge ourselves with the question “What would Christ do in my circumstances?”