Giving Thanks For A God That Fights For Us

Hello and Happy (almost) Thanksgiving! Here is this morning’s sermon – a combination of Thanksgiving / Reign of Christ Sunday.

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
November 23, 2014

Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24
Ephesians 1:15-23

Giving Thanks For A God That Fights For Us

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

I wonder if anyone has ever done a study to determine what holiday most Americans prefer. I cannot speak with any kind of authority on this, but I would be willing to bet that a lot of people would choose Thanksgiving. It is a holiday where we are called to give thanks – nothing else matters.

We do not have to fight crowds and traffic in our quest to find the perfect gift for everyone on our list. We do not have to balance holiday parties, concerts and worship services with travel and family time. We do not have to worry about what we are spending on gifts and whether or not we will be able to make other ends meet.

No; on Thanksgiving, we celebrate with family, friends, food and the occasional Turkey Trot (by the way, please pray for those of us running in Pawtucket on Thursday morning!). We give thanks because it is the only time all year when no one expects us to do anything else.

This year, as the pastor of this church, I am giving thanks for so many things. I give thanks for new members, for a renewed spirit and for music that fills our worship service with joy, week after week. I give thanks for children who make me laugh and for youth who inspire me to do more. I give thanks for the great cloud of witnesses who have come before us and for the new generation that is excited to journey forward. I give thanks for a dedicated staff and for faithful volunteers. I give thanks for a God that is always present, always loving and always faithful, even in my darkest moments.

This morning’s reading from the Old Testament comes from the prophet Ezekiel, a Hebrew prophet in the 6th and 7th centuries BCE. Ezekiel prophesied during a time of great turmoil. Israel was in crisis: Jerusalem had been destroyed, the temple was gone and the Hebrew people had fundamental theological and political reasons to believe that God had abandoned them.

But Ezekiel assured the Hebrew people that God was most certainly still in their midst. He used the metaphor of God as a shepherd – one that most of us are familiar with from the 23rd psalm – to create a tangible understanding of what it means for God to protect us.

But more than that, Ezekiel’s description of God was a far cry from simply the gentle shepherd that we all imagine from the 23rd psalm or the image that hangs in many churches of Jesus softly tending to his flock of sheep at sunset.

(You all know the one I am talking about, right? Jesus is wearing a flowing white robe and cradling a sheep like a mother would cradle her newborn; it is simply precious and practically emanates the song, Jesus loves me.)

Yes, Ezekiel described God as that gentle shepherd that would feed his sheep in good pastures, watch over them as they slept, bring back those who were lost, heal the injured and strengthen the weak, but there was a also a bit of a harsher side to the shepherd that Ezekiel described. Ezekiel described God as the shepherd that would fight – really and truly fight – for his flock.

Therefore, thus says the Lord God to them: I myself will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep. Because you pushed with flank and shoulder, and butted at all the weak animals with your horns until you scattered them far and wide, I will save my flock, and they shall no longer be ravaged; and I will judge between sheep and sheep. {Ezekiel 34:20-22, NRSV}

A shepherd’s job was not easy. It required strength, it required courage and it required a bold declaration and expression of love for their flock. The Hebrew people knew this. They understood what Ezekiel was trying to tell them. God was fighting for them. God was stronger than the crisis that they were experiencing. And God was never going to leave their side.

This morning is Reign of Christ Sunday. It is the last Sunday in the Christian year; a new year begins next week with the first Sunday of Advent and our Hanging of the Greens worship service. Some traditions refer to this Sunday as Christ the King Sunday. It is a time when we reach the end of one year in the church and – before the hustle and bustle of the Advent season inevitably begins – we give thanks for the all powerful, all willing and all encompassing love and power of Jesus Christ. We remember and give thanks for that moment in time when God broke through our imperfect humanity and made visible the invisible signs of his perfect grace. We give thanks that Jesus lived among us, but more so we give thanks that Christ now reigns above us.

We give thanks for the love of Jesus Christ: our brother, King and Savior; the Son of God; the alpha and omega; the beginning and end. We give thanks for a God that loves us so much that he would live and dwell among us, that he would be humbled in the midst of our imperfections by his death on the cross and that he would sustain us, even when we stumble along our journey.

We give thanks for the story of a faith that is still being written, for a God that is still revealing himself and for the great cloud of witnesses that were and are committed to sharing and living out the Gospel of Jesus Christ in their lives.

We, too, give thanks for a shepherd that fights for us, that is stronger than whatever life throws at us and who will never leave our side.

In today’s reading from the New Testament, Paul proclaimed to the church in Ephesus that God’s extravagant shepherding love had been proven through the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ; that we, as a human race, had been given a tangible sign of God’s immeasurable power; and that the world would never be the same.

God has put this power to work in Christ when he raised him from the dead and seated him at his right hand in the heavenly places, far above all rule and authority and power and dominion, and above every name that is named, not only in this age but also in the age to come. {Ephesians 1:20-21, NRSV}

Paul saw that the Ephesian people were part of the great Christian mystery that was still unfolding and he was thankful.

I have heard of your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love towards all the saints, and for this reason I do not cease to give thanks for you as I remember you in my prayers. {Ephesians 1:15-16}

Paul saw a new generation of Christian disciples emerging and for that he gave thanks. He gave thanks that the church in Ephesus was one of commitment, courage and belief in the great shepherd. And he prayed that this commitment, courage and belief would only be strengthened as the people in Ephesus came to know Jesus on a deeper level; Jesus – their brother, King and Savior; the Son of God; the alpha and omega; the beginning and end.

Part of being Christian means standing behind the bold proclamation that God is doing something spectacular in our midst. It means letting go of the things that are pulling us down and quieting our lives so that we can hear God speaking to us. It means not being afraid to acknowledge Christ above others and to live a life worthy of the sacrifice that he made. It means trusting – even in our darkest of moments – that God is fighting for us.

As you gather with your family and your friends this week, I invite you to pause and allow yourself to really soak up the moment of pure thanks that this holiday gives to us. Be grateful for the life that you are living and for the privilege of being a blessed child of God.

Give thanks to our shepherding God for reminding us through the life, death and resurrection of Jesus that we can overcome death to find resurrection, war to find peace, hatred to find love and tragedy to find hope.

This is what God is fighting for. This is what God fought for 3,000 years ago when Ezekiel stood before a broken Israel and this is what God is continuing to fight for today as I stand before you on this Reign of Christ Thanksgiving Sunday.

Happy Thanksgiving, my friends! Have a safe and wonderful celebration! May it be a time of celebration, renewal and great thanks.

Thanks be to God!

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