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The Voice

January 1, 2018

In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth. . . And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light” (Genesis 1: 1, 3).

The Scripture lessons this week hearken back to the beginning of time as we begin a new year, reminding us of the power of God’s voice to generate and to regenerate—to create and to re-create—to reform us, to change us.[1]  This meditation is not about the televised singing competition, The Voice.  It is about The Voice—God’s Voice.

Moses recounts the power of God’s voice to create: “In the beginning God created the heavens and the earth . . . And God said, ‘Let there be light,’ and there was light” (Genesis 1: 1, 3).  The power of God’s voice to create is evident in the first three verses of the Bible. We have a tendency to skip over the fact that God spoke creation into being.  Our computing devices will transcribe our spoken words into a writing, or turn on the lights or appliances in our homes.  But human beings will never be able to speak a sun or a moon into existence. God’s words literally lit up the world.  He brought light to a dark world. Let him bring light into the darkness of your life this year.

John begins his Gospel by describing the Word as God’s agent of creation, the source of God’s message to his people: “In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was with God in the beginning. Through him all things were made . . . “   John 1:1-3.  God not only spoke light into existence—he spoke all of creation into existence.  His Voice not only created the sun and the moon, but also the sky, the land, the stars, all plant life, and all living creatures (Genesis 1: 3-25).

David gives us seven separate examples of the power of God’s voice: “The voice of the Lord is over the waters . . . powerful . . . majestic . . . breaks the cedars . . . strikes with flashes of lightening . . . shakes the desert . . . twists the oaks and strips the forests bare” (excerpts, Psalm 29: 3-9). Not only is the Lord’s voice powerful, but “The Lord is enthroned as King forever. The Lord gives strength to his people; the Lord blesses his people with peace” (Psalm 29: 10 b-11). God is not dead and he is not going away. He who has the power to speak creation into being is the King of the universe forever.  Imagine–the God of the universe who spoke light into our dark world, the Alpha and Omega, the eternal God, cares about you and me.

The Voice was present at Jesus’ baptism: “Just as Jesus was coming out of the water, he saw heaven being torn open and the Spirit descending on him like a dove. And a voice came from heaven: ‘You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased’” (Mark 1: 10-11). This King, who was present at Jesus’ baptism was present at your baptism, and will continue to renew you and give you strength. The same Voice is present for you today through his Word and through the Holy Spirit.

Paul tells us that we are brought into the family of God through the Sacrament of Baptism.  We are resurrected through our baptism to a new life with Christ: ”Don’t you know that all of us who were baptized into Christ Jesus were baptized into his death? We were therefore buried with him through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life . . . Now if we died with Christ, we believe that we will also live with him.” (Romans 6: 3-4, 8).

God doesn’t only reveal himself in the powerful and miraculous ways as he did when he created the world, as he does in nature, or as he did at Jesus’ baptism.  He revived, renewed, and regenerated us at our baptism.  Jesus cleansed us in the Sacrament of Baptism, and brought us into new life with him.  The Voice spoke to our souls at our baptism to regenerate us.  We were born anew.  And the Voice still speaks to us today, to strengthen and to encourage us. We experience God as we mediate on his Word. We hear God’s voice in our hearts and souls—the “still small voice” (1 Kings 19: 12) that Elijah heard after fleeing to Mount Horeb. Listen for The Voice.  Hear it in God’s Word.  Write it on the walls of your heart.  Let it sink deeply into your soul.  Let it refresh and renew you.  God’s voice, that calmed the storm, will calm your soul.  One way to connect with God is by praying the centuries-old Jesus Prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”  Amen.

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

[1] The Scripture texts for the Baptism of Our Lord are Genesis 1: 1-5; Psalm 29; Romans 6: 1-11; Mark 1: 4-11.

God’s Perfect Timing

December 26, 2017

But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship” (Galatians 4: 4-5).

When you talk to people who have had successful careers or have special talents, they often say that timing was a key factor in their success. Whether it is the introduction of the iPhone or FaceBook, or any one of hundreds of recent inventions and innovations, the timing of bringing the product, app, or idea to the public is crucial. Knowing how to swing a bat or golf club is a learned skill, but the body must respond to changed circumstances in split second timing. A dancer’s timing is critical. A joke can fall flat if the comedian’s timing isn’t perfect. Reading musical notes not only involves playing the correct note, but understanding how long to hold it. Cooking is an art that involves critical timing elements; fresh, delicious food can be ruined by poor timing when it is cooked.  Timing is everything.

God’s perfect timing is the underlying theme of this week’s Scripture texts.[1] Sunday is the last day of the year—an appropriate time to ponder God’s timing. It’s a good time to look back and consider what he has done in your life in the past year, and to look forward to what he might do in the coming year.

Isaiah sets the table when he describes the Messiah who is to come.  The Messiah is the one for whom the people will wait.  He explains that as a couple carefully dresses for their wedding day, so God has carefully prepared his Son, the Messiah (the bridegroom) for his saving work, that will bear much fruit.  The reference to “I” throughout the text refers to the anointed one—the Messiah: “I delight greatly in the Lord; my soul rejoices in my God. For he has clothed me with garments of salvation as a bridegroom adorns his head like a priest, and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. For as the soil makes the sprout come up and a garden causes seeds to grow, so the Sovereign Lord will make righteousness and praise spring up before all nations (Isaiah 61: 10-11).

Isaiah was one of many who prepared the Jewish people for the coming of the Messiah. The timing of his arrival was the basis for much speculation, but Scripture tells us to be patient, and to wait on the Lord.

Psalms 111 through 118 are called the “Hallelujah Psalms.” Hallelujah means “Praise the Lord.” In Psalm 111, we are encouraged to praise the Lord, and to trust in God’s wisdom: “The fear [reverence] of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom; all who follow his precepts have good understanding” (Psalm 111: 10).  Trusting that God’s timing is perfect is part of expressing reverence.

Simeon was a man who had learned to revere and trust God’s Word. He believed that the Messiah was coming.  And he was excited about the timing of this great event, because “It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die before he had seen the Lord’s Messiah (Luke 2: 26).  Following the Spirit’s direction, he went to the temple at the same time that Mary and Joseph had brought Jesus to present him to the Lord, as required by Mosaic law, and met the child, Jesus. “Simeon took him in his arms and praised God saying: ‘Sovereign Lord, as you have promised, you may now dismiss your servant in peace. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the sight of all nations’” (Luke 2: 28-31). These verses are called the Nunc Dimittis (meaning “Now you dismiss”), and are traditionally included as part of the liturgy in liturgical churches.[2]

Paul later explained that God’s timing was perfect: “But when the set time had fully come, God sent his Son, born of a woman, born under the law, to redeem those under the law, that we might receive adoption to sonship” (Galatians 4: 4-5).

What are you waiting for? Are you waiting for a job? To be healed? Are you waiting to be reconciled with a loved one? For a rift to be repaired? For a relationship to be restored? Are you waiting for a seemingly never-ending tough period in your life to be over? Trust in God. Trust in his perfect timing.  If you aren’t rescued quickly from your difficulties, you will be assured and comforted by his Word and by his ever constant presence. Wait on the Lord, trust that he always has your best interests at heart, and that his timing is perfect. Happy New Year!

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

[1] The Scripture texts for the First Sunday after Christmas are Isaiah 61:10-62:3; Psalm 111; Galatians 4: 4-7; Luke 2:22-40.

[2] The main liturgical denominations are Catholic, Lutheran, and Episcopalian.

The Christmas Promise

December 18, 2017

Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever (2 Samuel 7:16). “No word from God will ever fail.” (Luke 1: 37)

The most important promise ever made and kept was made to King David during his reign in the 10th century B.C.: “Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever (2 Samuel 7:16).   It was the Davidic Covenant commonly understood throughout the ensuing centuries to be God’s promise to send a Messiah to his people through David’s lineage.

Christmas is a celebration of the fulfillment of God’s promise to David and his greatest gift to mankind: the birth of the Messiah.[1]  Using Google Maps, we can “see” a bit into the future.   Our computing devices can estimate our arrival at a given place to within a few minutes. But when God made his promise to David, he could see all of the events and people over the centuries that would bring that promise to fruition. God could see in one sweep, the moment of Jesus’ birth in Bethlehem and beyond. God’s view is over the millennia, not over the course of a few hours. Our view is limited in scope. His is limitless.

The psalmist explains that God’s plan to send a Messiah through David’s line springs from his great love for David and for his people: “I will sing of the Lord’s great love forever . . . I will declare that your love stands firm forever . . . I have made a covenant with my chosen one, I have sworn to David my servant, ‘I will establish your line forever and make your throne firm through all generations . . . I will maintain my love to him forever, and my covenant with him will never fail. I will establish his line forever’” (Psalm 89: 1-4, 28-29). His love for us is boundless and limitless, which is why he kept his promise.

Jesus’ lineage to David can be traced through both Mary and Joseph. Jesus’ biological link to David through Mary is found in the third chapter of Luke, while his legal claim to the throne through Joseph is documented in Matthew. Jewish genealogy was patriarchal, and for that reason does not mention Mary in either Luke or Matthew, but Mary’s father is believed to have been Heli, mentioned in the Luke genealogy (Luke 3: 23). When the angel Gabriel visited Mary before she conceived, he told her that she would give birth to a son who she should call Jesus. He promised that “He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end” (Luke 1: 32-33). When Mary questioned how this would all take place, the angel told her that “No word from God will ever fail” (Luke 1: 37).   We know that God always keeps his promises, and that he will love us forever: “God’s love never fails” (Psalm 136: 1,2).

Paul reminded the church in Rome that Jesus’ life and death was consistent with the prophecies of old: “The message I proclaim about Jesus Christ [is] in keeping with the revelation of the mystery hidden for long ages past, but now revealed and made known through the prophetic writings . . . so that all the Gentiles might come to the obedience that comes from faith” (Romans 16: 25-26).

Jesus, God’s Son, is our connection, our bridge to God. The curtain in the temple was torn in two when he died, symbolizing our ability to approach God directly.  We cross the bridge to God through faith. We are ushered into his presence through faith. We are surrounded by his warmth and love through faith. We are guided and helped by the Spirit who inhabits us through faith. This Christmas, thank God for keeping his promise to send Jesus, his beloved Son, to us as his messenger of love in the form of a babe in a manger.

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

[1] The Scripture texts for the Fourth Sunday in Advent are 2 Samuel 7: 1-11, 16; Psalm 89: 1-5; Romans 16: 25-27; Luke 1: 26-38.

The Opening Volley

December 11, 2017

The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.” 1 Thessalonians 5:24

In his book, The Day the Revolution Began, N. T. Wright asserts “The resurrection was the first visible sign that the revolution was under way.”[1] But the revolution actually began three years earlier, at the beginning of Jesus’ ministry, when Jesus read from Isaiah in his home synagogue. He read: “The Spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind, to release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor “ (Luke 4:18-19, quoting Isaiah 61:1-2 a).[2]

Jesus fired the opening volley of the revolution when he “. . . rolled up the scroll, gave it back to the attendant and sat down” beginning his homily with the first salvo: “Today this scripture is fulfilled in your hearing” (Luke 4:21). The congregants gasped, because they understood what he was saying–that he was the Messiah. The people were furious! When he left the synagogue, they followed him, intending to throw him off a cliff. But Jesus walked through the crowd with authority and never returned to Nazareth. Jesus is often depicted as a milquetoast, namby-pamby, “soft” philosopher type. He was anything but. While his intellect was unparalleled, he was also a physically strong man. He was a carpenter by trade—more a construction worker-type than a maker of furniture–who didn’t shy away from controversy. He started the revolution when he fired the opening round in that synagogue.

Paul tells us that “The one who calls you is faithful, and he will do it.” (1 Thessalonians 5:24). Jesus keeps his promises. While he walked the earth, he was a man of his word.   Jesus was no victim in his crucifixion. He knew it was coming, and he fired the first shot to begin moving the events toward the crucifixion. He was in control of the events. He made them happen. He fired the first shot in Nazareth and his aim and timing were perfect. He hit his intended target and the revolution started. He is a God of his Word.

In the end, even those who crucified him understood who he was: “Pilate had a notice prepared and fastened to the cross. It read: JESUS OF NAZARETH, THE KING OF THE JEWS. . . The chief priests of the Jews protested to Pilate, ‘Do not write ‘King of the Jews,’ but that this man claimed to be king of the Jews.’ Pilate answered, ‘What I have written, I have written’” (John 19: 19-22, emphasis added). Pilate understood that the Jewish leaders thought the sign would mislead the people into believing that he was the Messiah, but Pilate refused to change the sign. The sign was written in three languages—Aramaic for the resident Jews, Latin for the Romans, and Greek for foreign visitors. Mark’s gospel records that after Jesus breathed his last breath, “The curtain of the temple was torn in two from top to bottom. And when the centurion , who stood there in front of Jesus, heard his cry and saw how he died, he said, ‘Surely this man was the Son of God.’” (Mark 15: 38). Many of those who had opposed him finally recognized him for what he was—the Son of God.

Never doubt God’s power.  Jesus, the son of a carpenter, who turned the world upside down when he started the revolution that day in Nazareth, was the Messiah, the Son of God who came to save you and me.  Greater than all the prophets before him and all of the saints and revolutionaries after him who upended the religious establishment of their day, Jesus did not leave us alone and adrift. He left his Spirit with us. He set an example for us.  He taught us how to empty ourselves of our ego[3] so that we can fill our souls with his Spirit.  Jesus did not fire the opening volley of the revolution for naught. He started the revolution to free us from our sin.  And he left his Spirit with us to guide us.

As you make your way through this holy season, empty yourself of your ego, to make room for the Spirit.  Empty yourself of your concern about what others think of you. Empty yourself of thoughts of what you need to buy to keep up with your neighbors. Empty yourself of the accolades and promotions you hope to receive.  Empty yourself of thoughts of the money you want to add to your coffers.  Empty yourself of thoughts of the grand gifts you plan to place under the tree, and fill yourself with his Spirit. Being filled with the Spirit is the best gift you will ever receive.

The Holy Spirit does not come empty-handed. He brings gifts of wisdom, understanding, prudence, courage, knowledge, reverence, and awe of the Lord.  Open the door of your heart to the Holy Spirit, the bearer of gifts of inestimable value–as well as of peace, hope, joy, and love.  Merry Christmas!

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

[1] N.T. Wright, The Day the Revolution Began (2016) HarperOne, p. 4).

[2] The Scripture texts for the Third Sunday in Advent are Isaiah 61: 1-4; 8-11; Psalm 126; 1 Thessalonians 5: 16-24; John 1: 6-8; John 19-28.

[3] It has been said that “ego” is an acronym for Edging God Out.

Hurry Up and Wait

December 4, 2017

With the Lord a day is like a thousand years and a thousand years like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping is promise, as some understand slowness. Instead, he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3: 8-10).

A few years ago, my husband was scheduled to check into the hospital at 6:30 a.m. to be prepared for surgery.  We were up at 4:30 a.m. and out the door 30 minutes later to miss the Los Angeles morning rush hour traffic. We arrived at the hospital at O-dark thirty, well before the check in time. We waited. And waited. And waited, checking in periodically with the staff to make sure that he wasn’t dropped off the list. We were told that an emergency had come up, and his surgery had been delayed. He was finally called six hours after our arrival, at about the time we were supposed to be leaving the hospital after his surgery.  He finally went into surgery at about 3:00 p.m. I was notified about 8 p.m. that he was out of surgery and would be staying in the hospital overnight.   He was in recovery for a few hours, and I was finally able to see him in his room at about 11:30 p.m.— more than 17 hours after our arrival.

The phrase “hurry up and wait,” usually associated with the military, took on new meaning that day for us. Waiting for Jesus is kind of like that. We wait patiently, for hours, weeks, months, years for him to come and attend to our needs. Where is he? When will he heal us or our loved ones? When will he deliver us from a tyrant? Will he answer my prayers for a job? When is he coming?

This week’s Scripture texts[1] explain the importance of waiting on the Lord. Last week we discussed how the Israelites had been waiting for centuries for the Messiah. Isaiah tells us that we must be patient, for we are on earth for a short time, like the grass, but the Word endures forever: “The grass withers and the flowers fall, but the word of our God endures forever.” (Isaiah 40: 8).  But Isaiah assures us that he will come with power and might and will take us into his arms, as a shepherd cradles his beloved sheep: “The Sovereign Lord comes with power, and he rules with a mighty arm, . . . he tends his flock like a shepherd. He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.” (Isaiah 40: 10-11).

The psalmist confirms that God will revive and restore us through his love: “Restore us again, God our Savior . . . Will you not revive us again, that your people may rejoice in you? Show us your unfailing love, Lord, and grant us your salvation.” (Excerpts, Psalm 85: 4-7). He promises that “The lord will indeed give what is good, and our land will yield its harvest. Righteousness goes before him and prepares the way for his steps” (Psalm 85: 12-13).   John the Baptist was the one who prepared the way for Jesus, the Messiah: “And so John the Baptist appeared in the wilderness, preaching a baptism of repentance for the forgiveness of sins. The whole Judean countryside and all the people of Jerusalem went out to him.” (Mark 1: 4).

We have tendency to try to hurry things along.   We hurry up to decorate the house for Christmas after Thanksgiving, and wait a few weeks for the Christ child. We are impatient. We don’t like to wait in line in a store or wait for a traffic light to change. We want things to happen now. Like children, we see the gifts stacking up under the tree, and look forward to the Christmas teas, events, parties, and dinners with great anticipation.

Yet, it is good to be reminded, even for a few short weeks, that we are lucky to be blessed with extra time to wait. Peter tells us “With the Lord a day is like a thousand years and a thousand years like a day. The Lord is not slow in keeping is promise, as some understand slowness. Instead, he is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.” (2 Peter 3: 8-9). We are lucky that the Lord gives us more time. He is patient.

The Nazarene carpenter who was born in Bethlehem as foretold of old, was the one of whom John spoke: “After me comes the one more powerful than I, the straps of whose sandals I am not worthy to stoop down and untie. I baptize you with water, but he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit.” Mark 1: 7-8. And so it happened. We were not left alone. Jesus left us the best gift of all—his Spirit, to remain with us forever.

Sometimes I hear people say that they can’t wait for Jesus’ second coming. But there is no need to wait; he is here. He left his Spirit with us. You are not alone. You are not waiting by yourself in the hospital waiting room. You are not alone when you are waiting for the jury to come back on your case, waiting to hear about the job you applied for, waiting for the test results you are anxious about, waiting for the difficult person in your life to treat you with respect, waiting to see whether you will have enough money this month to cover your bills, or waiting for anything else causing you anxiety. He is there. You are not alone whatever your circumstance. He is there, waiting patiently for you to come to him. God will never bump you down on his list. He isn’t delaying his second coming. He is just being patient with you—and in the meantime, he sent you the gift of his Spirit to guide, comfort, help, and love you.  Turn to him and let him do his job—guiding, comforting, helping, and loving–and enjoy being in his presence during this holy season.

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

 

 

[1] The Scripture texts for the Second Sunday in Advent are Isaiah 40:1-11; Psalm 85; 2 Peter 3: 8-14; Mark 1: 1-8.

Saved!

November 27, 2017

Restore us, O God, make your face shine on us, that we may be saved” (Psalm 80: 3).

This Sunday is the first Sunday of the church year, and the first Sunday in Advent. Our lectionary studies this year will focus on the fast-moving gospel of Mark, written by one of the younger disciples. As we begin the new church year in the weeks leading up to Christmas, the focus is on Jesus, the heart of Christmas.

We pick up Jesus’ story this week as he is entering Jerusalem for Passover.[1] The city streets were crowded with people who had come to Jerusalem for Passover, one of the three great feasts, remembering the exodus of the Israelites from Egypt where they had been enslaved for 400 years. The theme of this week’s Scripture texts is the oppression suffered by the Israelites over hundreds of years, and their high expectations for the Messiah, who they were counting on to return them to self- rule.

Currently under Roman rule, the Israelites were ready to be free of years of oppression by foreign powers. Except for the six year blip during the Maccabean Revolt (166-160 B.C.), they had been under foreign rule for hundreds of years.

The psalmist pleads with God three times to restore them so that they could be saved: “Restore us, O God, make your face shine on us, that we may be saved” (Psalm 80: 3, 7, 19). The Israelites were under Assyrian rule when Asaph wrote this psalm. The psalmist confirms that God is our only hope of salvation. He is the only one who can truly set us free.

The freedom-seeking theme is continued in Isaiah. Isaiah pleads with God to “come down” to free them from the Assyrian threat. The expectations for the Messiah were great. He would rid them of their earthly foes and would set the record straight: “Come down to make your name known to enemies and cause the nations to quake before you! For when you did awesome things that we did not expect, you came down, and the mountains trembled before you” (Isaiah 64: 2-3).

The Passover crowd was at a fever pitch of excitement in remembering their ancestors being set free from their Egyptian rulers when they saw Jesus riding through the streets on a donkey. The significance of Jesus riding a donkey was not lost on this Scripturally literate crowd. They were familiar with Zechariah 9:9, when Zechariah predicted that the Messiah would arrive on a donkey.   Already imbued with a patriotic fervor, the people hailed him as the conquering Messiah who would rout out the Romans and return Israel to home rule. “Those who went ahead and those who followed shouted, ‘Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!. Blessed is the coming kingdom of our father David. Hosanna in the highest’” (Mark 11: 9-10). Hosanna is a Hebrew expression that means “Save.” They were greeting Jesus as their conquering hero who would save them from the Romans, their most recent oppressors.

But the popular hysteria over the Messiah is quelled by the time that Paul writes his letter to the Corinthians. They knew by then that the Messiah was not sent to conquer earthly armies, but instead, to win hearts and souls for eternity: “God is faithful, who has called you into fellowship with his Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.” (1 Corinthians 1:9).

The Israelites were thinking too small. They were focused on how the Messiah would free them from earthly tyrants. But God’s plans are eternal. His plans for us are not limited by time. We need to work for justice to the best of our abilities, but life on earth will never be perfect.  Jesus was born to set our spirits free in this life and in the next.  Remember that when you are persecuted, harassed, slandered, or discriminated against by tyrants in society, in your workplace, or elsewhere on account of your race, religion, gender, your competency, or for any other reason.  Remember that God’s plans for us are not limited by our human minds or by the small minds of bullies.  We are free to worship God in our hearts and minds. We are free to love him and to follow him whatever our circumstances—whatever our position in life.  He has loosed the chains of eternal oppression and set us free.  Celebrate that freedom this Christmas season.  Celebrate the fact that God has his eye on you and has saved you.  Jesus, your Savior, is your most precious Christmas gift.  Merry Christmas!

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

[1] The Scripture texts for the First Sunday in Advent are Isaiah 64:1-9; Psalm 80:1-7; 1 Corinthians 1:3-9; Mark 11: 1-10.

Sheep May Safely Graze

November 20, 2017

I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign Lord. . . I will place over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he will tend them; he will tend them and be their shepherd. I the Lord will be their God, and my servant David will be prince among them.” (Ezekiel 34: 15, 23-24).

Sheep May Safely Graze, an aria by J.S. Bach, was played as my candlelighter brothers lit the candles, Bob and his groomsmen entered the church, and the bridesmaids, flower girls, and ring bearer slowly made their way down the aisle at our wedding.  This calming, pastoral piece of music came to mind last spring as we traveled through the verdant green Tuscan countryside dotted with sheep quietly grazing.  It was a picture of peace and contentment.  The cars, buses, and trucks whizzed by and the planes droned overhead, yet the sheep, confident of the shepherd’s protection, grazed contentedly.  We, like the sheep in the pasture, should be content and at peace in the knowledge that God is in control and will take care of us.  It is as our Good Shepherd would have it.   He knows the burdens we bear, but he assures us that he is with us always. He will take care of us and see us through the most challenging times of our lives, and will carry us to the green pastures beyond this life.

Phillip Keller was a shepherd in East Africa. He recounts that “Any shepherd who is a good manager always bears in mind one objective: It is that his flock may flourish. The continuous well being of his sheep is his constant preoccupation. All of his time, thought, skill, strength and resources are directed to this end.” [1] Just as a shepherd oversees his flock with a watchful eye, so does our Good Shepherd keep watch over us.  He wants us to be safe and to flourish.

In this the last week of the church year, the Scripture lessons focus on the one who was predicted to become and did become the perfect shepherd.[2] The texts remind us that Jesus, our perfect shepherd, was born in the line of David, as had been prophesized.

More than 800 years before David became king in 1010 B.C., Jacob predicted that the Messiah would be born of the line of his son, Judah (Genesis 49: 10-11). After David ascended to the throne, God instructed Nathan to deliver the news to David, the former shepherd: “Now then, tell my servant David,This is what the Lord Almighty says: I took you from the pasture, from tending the flock, and appointed you ruler over my people Israel. . . When your days are over and you rest with your ancestors, I will raise up your offspring to succeed you, your own flesh and blood, and I will establish his kingdom. . . . Your house and your kingdom will endure forever before me; your throne will be established forever.’” (Excerpts from 2 Samuel 7: 8-16).

In the next century, Ethan, a contemporary of David’s son, Solomon, wrote Psalm 89 confirming the Davidic covenant. In the ensuing centuries, God raised up prophets to remind the Israelites of the promised Messiah, from the line of David: Hosea and Isaiah (8th Century B.C.), Jeremiah (7th Century B.C.), and Ezekie1 (6th Century B.C.).

Ezekiel was one of a long line of prophets and Biblical patriarchs who foretold that the Messiah would be born in the line of King David.  Ezekiel lived in the 6th century B.C. during the Babylonian captivity, and as both a priest and a prophet, ministered to the needs of his fellow Jewish exiles in the streets of Babylon, near Bagdad, in current day Iraq. Conjuring up the imagery of the shepherd, Ezekiel writes that God told him to report the following: “‘For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: ‘I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. 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 . . . I will tend them in a good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel will be their grazing land . . . I myself will tend my sheep and have them lie down, declares the Sovereign Lord . . . I will place over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he will tend them; he will tend them and be their shepherd. I the Lord will be their God, and my servant David will be prince among them.” (Ezekiel 34: 11-12, 14-15, 23-24).  The Messiah who would be born of the line of David, would be the perfect shepherd, God’s only son.

The psalm continues the imagery of God as the shepherd: “Come, let us bow down in worship, let us kneel before the Lord our Maker; for he is our God and we are the people of his pasture, the flock under his care.” (Psalm 95: 6-7).

Like the sheep in the pastoral setting in Tuscany who safely graze under the watchful eye of a vigilant and caring shepherd, we find peace when we rely on the perfect shepherd to lead us to still waters, to provide and care for us.  And we are asked to pass on his care for us to those around us.  Jesus, the perfect shepherd asks us to feed the hungry, give water to the thirsty, invite strangers into our midst, provide clothes to the needy, and visit the sick and those in prison (Matthew 25: 37-45).  Jesus makes it very clear that giving lip service to our faith is not enough. We are required to pass on the blessings we have received to others: “Truly, I tell you, whatever you did not do for the one of the least of these, you did not do for me.” (Matthew 25: 45-46).

God is the Good Shepherd who tends his flock with a watchful eye.   When you cry out to him, he is there to carry you, to comfort you, to save you from the certain destruction that would befall you if you were left to your own devices. And he will guide you to shepherd others as he has cared for and shepherded you. Listen to the shepherd’s call and follow him.

Diane Cieslikowski Reagan

[1] Keller, The Shepherd Trilogy: A Shepherd Looks at the Good Shepherd, (1970) Zondervan, p.228.

[2] The Scripture texts for the 25th Sunday after Pentecost are Ezekiel 34: 11-16, 20-24; Psalm 95; 1 Corinthians 15: 20-28; Matthew 25: 31-46