Complementary Text: Matthew 18:12-14
Preaching Text: Ezekiel 34:20-31
+ Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ, in the unity of the Holy Spirit. Amen. +
Tonight we’re going to talk about what it means to be fat. Now, before anybody starts getting nervous – myself included – don’t worry. This is not a sermon about the excesses of Thanksgiving. I think you’ve already heard that one before, possibly from me, and while that might be an important message for another day, it’s not my focus this evening. What I’d like to get at is what the prophet Ezekiel was talking about when he referred to some of the people as “fat sheep” and others as “lean sheep” and indicated that God was preparing to judge between them. In case it wasn’t abundantly clear from the reading, let me just point out right off the bat that in Ezekiel’s mind there was no such thing as a “sheep” that could claim to be living “fat and happy”. If you were to choose between being a fat sheep and a lean one, it’s pretty clear that things are going to turn out better in the end for the lean ones. So, what exactly is going on here?
Well, Ezekiel is in the middle of a series of prophecies in which he indicts the leaders of Israel, accusing them of being false shepherds, and creating conditions for injustice and inequality among the people. Some folks benefited from those conditions, and ended up doing pretty well for themselves. Others found themselves on the wrong end of the equation, and the consequences were not good for many of them. Ezekiel describes those lean sheep as being scattered and ravaged by the fat sheep, who butted them with their horns and pushed them around so that they would miss out on the bounty of God’s provision.
This evening’s reading makes clear, however, that a situation like that cannot be sustained forever, because God’s will for justice, equality, and abundant life for all of God’s people cannot be thwarted. So the Lord declares that a new day is dawning, a day in which the false shepherds who allowed things to go so wrong would be replaced by one shepherd. That shepherd was to be no one less than a servant of the Lord who would feed and guide all the sheep under the terms of a new covenant of peace and establish a new flock in which slavery would end and fear would give way to safety and security.
As Lutheran Christians, this description points us directly to Jesus Christ, the great shepherd of the sheep who was sent by God to reconcile the world to himself and bring about peace between God and humanity. He was also sent so that we might examine our hearts and minds and consider whether we are living like fat sheep or lean ones. In other words, do our words and our actions reflect our belief in the promises of God? Do we live as though we have been showered with blessing, or are we trapped in a mindset of scarcity that leads us to lash out at others? Do we speak in ways that reveal our understanding that God is God and we are not, or do we join our voices with the chorus of the nations and rain down insults and curses upon our brothers and sisters? Do we spend our time rejoicing in the freedom that is ours in Jesus Christ and extending that freedom to others, or do we contribute to systems that keep people under the yoke of oppression?
It’s not easy to be a lean sheep, but our text this evening reveals that God in Christ has promised to be our shepherd, even if it means seeking us out to bring us back into the fold. We worship a Lord whose will is a world saturated with showers of blessing, a community that lives in safety and security, an earth in which hunger and pain will be no more. On this Thanksgiving Eve, let us bless God for the wondrous things that we have seen and heard and received in Jesus Christ. Let us thank the Lord for the promise of a world restored and a community reconciled. Finally, let us pray that we might surrender our lives each new day to our Good Shepherd, so that in everything we say and do we might lead others to give praise and thanks to our righteous and merciful God. Amen.