Our Old Testament scriptures today are taken from the book of Ezekiel and it speaks to a culture whose main way of survival and livelihood was shepherding. You see the early Israelites were primarily nomads moving camp to where ever they could find pastures for their sheep and goats. Now I am not sure how much people know about shepherding but one would move the camp and then the men would take their flocks into the mountains and fields to find pasture sometimes being away for days and weeks at a time.
In that time the shepherds would be responsible for protecting their flocks like they would their children from raiders, wild animals, wandering off, and getting injured. Each animal was too valuable to risk being lost. This was what the metaphor for today is all about. Ezekiel is reminding the Israelites of their importance to God because in their exile many of them had begun to fall away. Many had forgotten the love, care, and acceptance of the Lord. He reminds the people in language they would understand. Each believer and each person in life is like those valuable sheep and God considers each person to be much too important to lose. This still applies to us today. Each of us is much too valuable and meaningful to God to lose to the vices of the everyday, to lose to the idols we have set up for ourselves in life. God searches for us in these times and no matter how far we may wander away from the Holy in life, God will search for us to bring us home where it is warm and safe. Yes, there is judgment awaiting those who have wandered that is evident in our Hebrew Scriptures. But there is forgiveness for those who still desire to live their lives with compassion, love, welcome, and care. Many people in Ezekiel’s time, though they felt distant from God, still lived their lives as caring individuals willing to have empathy and love for their fellow human beings.
Remember faithful people struggle just as much as those who have no faith. We all lose our way in life. We all let things get too out of hand. We all question. We all get fed up and frustrated. We all wonder from time to time, “where is God”. We all wander away. God seeks only to find us and lead us back home. God goes out and seeks all people: those who openly claim faith, as well as, those who question and struggle. We are reminded that God gently cares for all his children. God goes after those who have wondered off; those who can’t find God in life.
We all get misguided. A good friend of mine from seminary, in our second year went through a very rough time and similar experiences. He dropped out of the Masters of Divinity program. He stopped being able to connect with God. He no longer knew what to believe when it came to the Holy. He had been on several mission trips throughout the world and had seen and experienced so many horrific things from poverty, to violence, to death, and the callousness of humanity. And this made him question the existence of God when so many people suffered in the world.
Yet I believe that God did not give up on him in his time of doubt. God did not turn his back on him. God sought him out in all his years of wandering. My friend stopped going to church. Instead he created a non-profit to help feed the hungry throughout the world. He still cared for the well being of others. He still was doing God’s work and God was still using him even though he himself did not know what to make of God. Now, many years later, he has rediscovered his faith. God helped him to work through his fears, his anxieties, and brought him back into the flock when the time was right. God never gives up on any of us. This was Jesus’ message in his world when he offered forgiveness and new beginnings to each person. It is never too late.
When Ezekiel speaks of those who will be judged it means that though some may have wandered and become lost that if they still lived a good life as the Holy expects us to live then they will receive the same mercy and love they spent their lives giving. We too need to keep this in mind for we are all tempted or do wander away from the light of the Lord once in awhile. But thankfully God will gather us in when the time is right. God will search for those who are missing and bring them back into the fold. We all experience tragedy and hardships. We all feel frustrated and get worn out by life. Ezekiel reminds us that God still seeks to reunite with us. When we hear the harshness of a God that judges or in the New Testament when Jesus returns and judges the world. It is not based upon whether or not you claim a faith in Jesus. It is not about whether or not we have ever questioned or made mistakes.
To this day, I know people who are certain that they or someone they know are not going to heaven because they have asked questions. John of the Cross in the 16th century had a much better grasp on this judgment then I think any of us today do when he wrote, “In the evening, we will be judged on love”. This is simple, I know, but it holds truth. Judgment is not something to fear. It is not something that can be predicted. But rather God gathers all his children in who live good, caring, thoughtful lives.
This is God’s gift to us. Even though we may feel lost, even though we may feel disconnected from the Holy, God is there always searching for ways to reach out to our hearts, to heal us, provide for us, and lead us back to the flock. Remember what our scriptures have said today, “For God is good; God’s steadfast love endures forever, and God’s faithfulness to all generations”. God is good. God is love. God will protect us. God will lead us. We are only called to do one thing throughout all of our struggles, throughout our questions, throughout all of our wandering, and that is to love, to work for the good of others, and to stand up to oppression.
So go out into the world and ask your questions, keep an open mind and be receptive to God’s leading. Do not fear the judgments to come but rather live your lives for one another, live your lives caring for the needs of those who find themselves hungry, lost, cold, and abandoned. These are the people God calls us to care for, these are the people Christ urges us to embrace. This is our challenge in a world that is in need.
 John of the Cross, 16th century.
 Psalms 100
(Based on Psalm 100 and Ezekiel 34)