As you will be aware, new lockdown restrictions come into place on Thursday 5th November, for a period of at least four weeks. While the restrictions appear to be less stringent than in March the changes do affect the church and our ability to meet together for public worship.
I understand the disappointment and frustration this causes, I feel the same. However, I don’t have access to the same information that those advising the Government do and so have to trust that they are giving wise counsel and these latest restrictions, while annoying, are for the greater good.
In the meantime, in person worship has been suspended at St Columba until at least the 2nd December. We can still worship at home, united in the Spirit, in the presence of God who is everywhere. We can use the worship booklet or connect to other services offered online, the TV or radio. The next worship booklet will be out in time for the first Sunday of Advent.
The planned Advent Bible Study will continue as it was to be all on Zoom. Remember to let me know if you are interested so I can send you the study materials and zoom links ahead of time. You can join using your computer or you can join using your telephone, both work equally well and everyone is welcome.
I will continue to hold you in prayer. If you need help during this time please contact myself or an Elder and we will try our best to support you. My contact details are below. We will keep you informed via the weekly notice sheet.
Take care, stay safe and God bless.
Reading 1: Ezekiel 34:11 – 16, 20 - 24
11 For thus says the Lord GOD: I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out. 12 As 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. 13 I 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. 14 I 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. 15 I 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.
20 Therefore, thus says the Lord GOD to them: I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. 21 Because you pushed with flank and shoulder, and butted at all the weak animals with your horns until you scattered them far and wide, 22 I 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. 24 And I, the LORD, will be their God, and my servant David shall be prince among them; I, the LORD, have spoken.
Reading 2: Matthew 25:31 – 46
31 ‘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; 35 for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, 36 I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me.” 37 Then the righteous will answer him, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry and gave you food, or thirsty and gave you something to drink? 38 And when was it that we saw you a stranger and welcomed you, or naked and gave you clothing? 39 And when was it that we saw you sick or in prison and visited you?” 40 And the king will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me.” 41 Then he will say to those at his left hand, “You that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels; 42 for I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me nothing to drink, 43 I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not give me clothing, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.” 44 Then they also will answer, “Lord, when was it that we saw you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not take care of you?” 45 Then he will answer them, “Truly I tell you, just as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.” 46 And these will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous into eternal life.’
Ezekiel was God’s prophet to a people in exile. The warnings of his predecessors had gone unheeded, Judah and Jerusalem had fallen and its leaders had been taken to Babylon. This passage is the beginning of a collection of salvation oracles that announce the restoration of Israel. While this passage contains words of hope for God’s people in exile it also gives as an insight into why they were in exile and so these are words of caution for us today.
In the ancient Near East, the term shepherd was also a name for a king – a servant of God who was expected to provide for his people and rule them with justice. God had been King of Israel until they had asked for a human king. Despite the warnings issued by Samuel, Saul was appointed as king over Israel. In this passage we read that things were about to change; God was taking back the role of shepherd and had a plan in place. God described how he would search out his sheep, sheep that have been scattered by the day of the Lord, God planned to gather the sheep together, he would bring them out of the places they were and bring them back to their own land. There, God would care for them, he would feed them and give them water to drink, he would give them a safe place to rest and he would ensure that all their needs were met. While God give care, he would also bring justice – the injured, the weak, the lost and those cast aside would be nurtured and healed and those responsible for doing them harm would answer for their actions.
Shepherd after shepherd has failed to support and care for the people as they should and Ezekiel was not afraid to speak words of condemnation on the kings and leaders of Judah. When they were supposed to be looking after their people they focused on their own need and while the people went hungry, they grew fat on too much food. They bullied rather that nurtured and turned a blind eye to what was wrong. Their actions resulted in the people being scattered and Jerusalem and the temple being destroyed. Now God promised to replace them with one Shepherd suggesting that the previously divided kingdoms of Judah and Israel would be reunited. This new shepherd would care and nurture the people and the Lord would be their God.
Now the people had the promise of a new future, not a future in exile, but a future back in the land of their ancestors and back in the presence of their God.
As we turn to the gospel reading, we can see some similar imagery being used by Matthew. As Jesus approached the end of his life, he gave this dramatic image of the end times, and what judgement would be like. The Son of Man had returned, he was sitting on the throne of his glory, accompanied by angels and before him stood the nations of the world. There has been much debate about what that means but within the context of Matthew’s gospel it probably meant Jews and Gentiles, in other words everybody.
The people are then separated into two groups one group of people gather on the right and one group gather on the left. Jesus used the idea of a shepherd separating the sheep from the goats. In Palestine, sheep and goats were often found in the same fields and in the same flock. Some native breeds were similar in size and colour and it could be difficult to distinguish between them except the shepherd could tell the difference. Jesus was making the point that people on the whole look the same and it was often not possible to tell a good person from not so good person by simply looking – but the shepherd, Jesus, knows the difference between people because he can see into their hearts. It is also worth noting at this point that although the nations were gathered, it was the people who were separated. Today we often contemn whole countries, but Jesus sees beyond our national identities and treats us individuals.
Once the people are separated onto two groups the King turned to the group on the right and said “Come, you that are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world”. Later, the King turned to the group of people on the left and said to them “you that are accursed, depart from me into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels.
The reason given as to why people where in one group or the other was very similar. Those who were blessed had cared for Jesus’ physical and emotional needs when he was hungry, thirst, a stranger, naked, sick and in prison and the group on the left who were accursed had not care for Jesus’ when he was in need.
The response of both groups is the same, one of surprise which suggests that the people were not consciously aware of the impact of their actions. Jesus responded to both questions of surprise and told the group on the right that when they cared for “one of the least of those who are members of my family” they cared for him. To the group on the left he replied that when they didn’t care for “one of the least of these”, they did not also care for him. Jesus finished by saying that there are two outcomes to judgement – eternal life or eternal punishment.
In the reasons why people were either blessed or accursed we see echoes of the Ezekiel passage and the care God took of the sheep “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”. Both passages remind us that how we care for one another matters. There is a danger in reading this passage too simply and to see the list of things Jesus mentions as a to do list for helping those in need and if we do that then we will find ourselves in the group on the right. Remember we are saved by faith and not works, and the reason the shepherd is the person to separate the people is because he knows what is in people’s hearts. True action is a response to the love and grace and mercy God has shown us. Our relationship with God comes first and only then can we act with true compassion and only then will we help those who are in true need rather than those we think we ought to help or those who it is easy to help.
However, the Ezekiel passage makes clear that while caring is good it is only part of the solution and there is a limited impact if there is also not justice. For me, on the last Sunday of the liturgical year, we see a bringing together the messages of the last four weeks. What we do matters, justice and righteousness are what makes a difference, we should caution against complacency and we should respond to what we have received from God by caring for those around us in a way that alleviates need and brings justice.
This is inspiring but this is scary but this is what it is at the heart of the Gospel, this is what we witnessed in Jesus life and this is what we are called to do as disciples today. Amen
• What is the difference between caring and justice – which one are you more passionate about?
• Pray for those in need – whether that is physical, economic or emotional
• Pray that we, the Church, have a heart for justice
• Pray for those who are already passionate for justice and ask how we might get involved.
Red, yellow, tan, copper, light green, beige, Different trees, different colours, Some branches bare, some still laden with leaves, Lord, the changes in the trees remind me of the changes in me, I am not the same now as I was this time last year, I am not the same in the morning as I am in the evening, At times I want nothing more than to come into your presence and worship you, At other times I go on my way without a thought for you.
Lord, as the trees become bare and the leaves flutter to the ground I know that this is temporary and new life will follow after a period of rest, Lord, this reminds me that there are parts of my life that need to die so you can become a greater part of me.
Lord, the evergreen trees remind me of your faithfulness Faithfulness through the different seasons of my life Lord, I thank you that you are evergreen.
Lord I thank you for Autumn and the lessons that it teaches. Lord I thank you for the colour change and the promise of new life that it brings But I thank you most of all for the evergreen……