Just Announced: Philippians Sermon Series

Summary: We are called to go about the business given to us by God and while we may be challenged by the parable of the sheep and goats we should not be fearful, having faith that as we love our Lord, he even more deeply loves us.

Going about God’s Business

"When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on the throne of his glory. {32}All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats, {33}and he will put the sheep at his right hand and the goats at the left. {34}Then the king will say to those at his right hand, ’Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world..."

(Mat 25:31-35)

The feast of Christ the King forms the culmination of the Church’s year. We recognise that Jesus has a special place in our lives even though each of us will express that relationship differently. The readings this morning leads us to see that proclaiming Christ as King will indeed make a difference to the way we live our lives. If we think of royalty with some disdain we might have some sympathy for the 19th century Scandinavian preacher who in the vestry one Sunday morning heard that the King would be present at worship. Understandably rattled he ditched his well prepared sermon and spoke on and on about the Christian virtues of their King. Even though the King said nothing after the service the preacher could not help but wonder if he would receive some reward for his loyal support. Sure enough some time later a very large crate was delivered to the Church. Immediately the priest concluded that his reward had arrived. He prized open the crate to find inside a life sized crucifix. He could hardly contain his disappointment we’ve got lots of crucifixes already he thought. As he looked inside the crate he saw a letter under the royal seal. Exitedly he opened it. The letter contained the kings instructions as to the placement of the crucifix in the Church. It was to go on the western wall of the Church so that the preacher would always be reminded of which king he should be speaking.

It is about Christ the King I speak today, but I also speak of what it means to make that proclamation. The Israelites drew heavily on the image of the shepherd for model of royal leadership. Kingship, or leadership, and shepherding were brought into close relationship by David. David’s experience as a shepherd stood him in good stead as he faced the giant Goliath. It was understandable that king Saul thought it a joke to send a boy after Goliath but David said to him:

"Your servant used to keep sheep for his father; and whenever a lion or a bear came, and took a lamb from the flock, I went after it and struck it down, rescuing the lamb from its mouth; and if it turned against me, I would catch it by the jaw, strike it down, and kill it. Your servant has killed both lions and bears; and this uncircumcised Philistine shall be like one of them, since he has defied the armies of the living God." 1 Samuel 17. 34-36

David the shepherd, with all of his documented faults, becomes the king that Israel would celebrate during the following centuries. For many David would become the primary image of their saviour or Messiah. Even though Ezekiel writes about 400 years after David it seems that he is looking forward to David’s reign. Such was the impact of David on the prophetic consciousness. Ezekiel takes up the shepherd motif. We heard a snippet this morning as our Old Testament reading. In the beginning of chapter 34 Ezekiel speaks out against unworthy leaders who had their own interests at heart to the detriment of those they were supposed to be leading.

(Ezek 34:2 NRSV) Mortal, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel: prophesy, and say to them--to the shepherds: Thus says the Lord GOD: Ah, you shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fatlings; but you do not feed the sheep. You have not strengthened the weak, you have not healed the sick, you have not bound up the injured, you have not brought back the strayed, you have not sought the lost, but with force and harshness you have ruled them.

This is a scathing review of the way the leaders of Israel had lost sight of true nature of their calling. If we think that such simple images from the land are not relevant to our time and place I will share with you some pastoral advice I was given the other night by someone who runs sheep. "My flock," he said to me, "is a lot like yours. If I push them too hard I’ll ware out the sheep and myself as well, but if I lead them gently they will do what ever I want!" You can see that sheep and shepherd analogies have their limits!

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