November 22, 2020*
By Pastor John Partridge
Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24 Ephesians 1:15-23 Matthew 25:31-46
Have you ever been so busy that you really needed to be in two places at the same time?
We all try not to do that, but on more than one occasion I have accidentally double-booked myself and needed to be in two places at the same time. At other times, District Superintendents, or various committee chairs have changed meeting dates that conflicted with other activities to which I had already committed, and as many of you have experienced, when our children were in school, we often needed to be at soccer, cross-country, cheer-leading, football, band, school, church, or scouting events in different places at the same time.
But we all know that we can’t be in two places at once.
Or can we?
Obviously, God, being omni-present, is everywhere at the same time, but since we are individuals that are bound by the limits of space and time, we can only be in one place at any particular moment in time. But that’s not the end of the story, although it is a good place to begin. Let’s continue by reading Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24, where God has just condemned the leaders and shepherds of Israel for misleading and bringing harm to his people, and now, instead, promises to lead and care for his people himself.
11 “‘For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. 12 As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness. 13 I will bring them out from the nations and gather them from the countries, and I will bring them into their own land. I will pasture them on the mountains of Israel, in the ravines and in all the settlements in the land. 14 I will tend them in a good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel will be their grazing land. There they will lie down in good grazing land, and there they will feed in a rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. 15 I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign Lord. 16 I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak, but the sleek and the strong I will destroy. I will shepherd the flock with justice.
20 “‘Therefore this is what the Sovereign Lord says to them: See, I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. 21 Because you shove with flank and shoulder, butting all the weak sheep with your horns until you have driven them away, 22 I will save my flock, and they will no longer be plundered. I will judge between one sheep and another. 23 I will place over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he will tend them; he will tend them and be their shepherd. 24 I the Lord will be their God, and my servant David will be prince among them. I the Lord have spoken.
Throughout this passage, God speaks in the first person. “I myself will search,” I will bring them, I will pasture them, I will tend them, “I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak.” But God also promises that he will, personally, bring punishment and destruction to the bullies who used their strength and power to abuse the people and to drive them away from God. Instead, God promises that he, through his servant David, will place one shepherd to watch over his people.
And this prophecy and promise of God is reiterated and echoed in Matthew 25:31-46, as Jesus says, …
31 “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, he will sit on his glorious throne. 32 All the nations will be gathered before him, and he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. 33 He will put the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
34 “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father; take your inheritance, the kingdom prepared for you since the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, 36 I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.’
37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’
41 “Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you who are cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me nothing to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not invite me in, I needed clothes and you did not clothe me, I was sick and in prison and you did not look after me.’
44 “They also will answer, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or needing clothes or sick or in prison, and did not help you?’
45 “He will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.’
46 “Then they will go away to eternal punishment, but the righteous to eternal life.”
There are three things that struck me as I read this, and all are worth remembering as we consider the idea of being everywhere at once. First, Jesus reminds us that everyone, Christian, Jew, Muslim, agnostic, atheist and everything in between will one day stand in front of Jesus and be judged. In that moment, the good will be separated from the bad or, as Jesus said, the sheep will be separated from the goats. Sheep and goats are similar, but are not the same, and that is also true of human beings. We might look the same on the outside, but what is inside of us makes us different from one another. And that difference of heart creates the next two distinctions.
The second thing worth remembering is that the good, or the righteous people, had no idea that they had done good. For them, doing good, was so automatic that they did it without thinking and weren’t even aware that they were doing it for, or to, Jesus. Doing good, helping others, and being Jesus to the world, was so ingrained, so natural to them, that it was simply who they were. And the third thing is nearly the same thing. The people who Jesus condemns didn’t really do anything overtly, or obviously evil. Instead, they simply looked past the evil and suffering of the world, they looked, they saw, and they ignored. And when Jesus condemns them, they had no idea who they had ignored, or the pain and suffering that they had ignored. Like the righteous, the behavior of the unrighteous was so ingrained, so natural, and so normal to them, that it was simply who they were.
But what does that have to do with us, or with being everywhere at once?
We are connected to the person, and to the mission, of Jesus, and to his omnipresence, because we are his followers. And, in Paul’s letter to the church in Ephesus (Ephesians 1:15-23), he explains it this way…
15 For this reason, ever since I heard about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all God’s people, 16 I have not stopped giving thanks for you, remembering you in my prayers. 17 I keep asking that the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the glorious Father, may give you the Spirit[f] of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. 18 I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of his glorious inheritance in his holy people, 19 and his incomparably great power for us who believe. That power is the same as the mighty strength 20 he exerted when he raised Christ from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly realms, 21 far above all rule and authority, power and dominion, and every name that is invoked, not only in the present age but also in the one to come. 22 And God placed all things under his feet and appointed him to be head over everything for the church, 23 which is his body, the fullness of him who fills everything in every way.
Paul says that he has not stopped giving thanks for the people of the church and goes on to pray that God would bless them with the wisdom to know Jesus better, enlightenment to know the hope that Jesus brings, to know the riches of God’s inheritance, and to understand the great power that God gives to those who believe. Paul then reminds the people of the church of the God’s great power and the power that God has granted to Jesus Christ and to his church which is the body of Christ.
Paul emphasizes God’s great power, and the power that God gave to Jesus, and then surprises us by explaining that the great power of Jesus Christ has been given to the church which, he says, “is the fullness” of God. I want to be clear that what Paul is saying, is that we are Jesus to the world because we are the body of Christ.
And so, as the body of Christ, collectively, we, as the church, find ourselves, at any moment in time, spread all over the world. Although we are certainly not omnipresent in the way that God is, we are, almost, everywhere at once when we are acting as the body of Christ. But to do that, there is something that we need to do first. We must tune our hearts so that, as much as possible, we have the same heart as Jesus Christ.
There are two steps for us to take. First, we are to shape and tune our hearts to be like the heart of Jesus Christ. Our hearts are to be so in tune with Jesus that we become Jesus to the world around us. And second, we must be the church. We must be the body of Christ and do the work of Jesus.
But it really is easier than that.
The people in Jesus’ parable who did good, did so without even realizing that they were doing good. Being Christlike was automatic. Doing the work of Jesus was a completely unconscious action once their hearts became like the heart of Christ. So, our first step is to do everything we can to be like Jesus, to love like Jesus, to care like Jesus, and to have the heart of Jesus for the world, and for the people around us. Once we accomplish that, the rest is automatic. Once we accomplish that, we only have to go out into the world…
…and be ourselves.
You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/DFz1jUZnWTw
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*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page. Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio. Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you. Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership. You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org. If you have questions, you can ask them in our discussion forum on Facebook (search for Pastor John Online). These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.