Sermon

Ezekiel 34:11-16

With God, We are Never Lost

Dr. Keith Wagner

 

One of my most terrifying moments was the time I lost my grandson. We were shopping with our daughter and I told her I would watch our three-year-old grandson while she and my wife shopped. We were in the Dayton Mall. I took my grandson by the hand and we strolled down the main mall area. It was crowded and we were looking at all the Christmas decorations and widow trimmings. Something got my attention just for a few seconds, and in an instant my grandson was gone. I looked everywhere, but couldn’t find him. I was in a panic but remembered the women had said they were going to the shoe store.

I ran as fast as I could to find them and told them that I had lost our grandson. The three of us immediately went out into the mall area. At this point I was sure that my grandson had been kidnapped. Frantically, I asked every person I saw if they had seen a little boy. A few seconds later (it seemed like hours) my daughter said, “I think I know where he is,” with a mother’s confidence. Sure enough, he was in a children’s apparel store, watching a video. “It’s his favorite place to go when we come to the mall,” she said.

As it turned out, my grandson was never lost. He had just slipped into a place that was totally familiar to him. But, for a long time after that I was reluctant to have any responsibility for watching my grandchildren. I didn’t feel qualified. However, that episode taught me that there is someone greater than ourselves watching over us. Although it appeared that my grandson was lost, he was actually never lost at all.

The message of Ezekiel the prophet was that the people of God are never lost. “As shepherds seek out their flocks when they are among their scattered sheep, so I will seek out my sheep.” God is like a good shepherd, caring for his flock. Regardless of their situation God always knows where they are.

Some people will say, “But where is God when I am hurting or scared? Where is God when I can’t find my way? Where is God when I am surrounded by darkness?”

First, we have to admit that we are lost. Unfortunately our pride and/or stubbornness prevent us from letting others know that we need help. In the book, Chicken Soup for the Woman’s Soul, Cathy Downs, shares the story of her father. He was an old-fashioned country preacher. He could spout verses from the Bible in his little Baptist Church and make his listeners tremble.

One afternoon, Cathy, and her father were driving down a dirt road to visit some elderly ladies in the church. Cathy had just received her new third-grade reader. As she was reading she came to a word she did not know. She held the book up to her father so he could see it. He mumbled something about not being able to read and kept on driving. She spelled the word, but her father said nothing. Angrily, Cathy said, “Can’t you read?”

Her father pulled the car over to the side of the road and turned off the ignition. “No, Cathy, I can’t read.” He reached for her book and announced that he couldn’t read anything in the book. Painfully, he began to describe his childhood, how he spent his time working on the family farm never having time to go to school. Since he had two handicapped brothers, he had to do most of the chores. Because he spent so little time in school, he eventually dropped out. Unfortunately he never learned to read.

He seemed ashamed and saddened not being able to help his children with their lessons. Cathy listened as her father shared the darkness of his childhood. She finally asked, “But, father, how could you say all those scriptures in church?” He explained that her mother had read the Bible to him and he memorized all the important verses. Cathy vowed at that moment to teach her father how to read. And, before he died he read the entire Bible. Cathy was so inspired by her father she chose a career in teaching.

God always finds us but we must be willing to release our pride and cry out for help. God will hear our cries of despair and pain. Pride holds us back. Embarrassment does too. Sometimes folks are ashamed of the fact that they must rely on others for assistance. Since we live in society which prides itself on “self reliance” we are conditioned not to reach out and depend on others when we can’t find our way.

Not only does God find those who are lost, God provides a safe haven for those who are rescued. “I will bring them into their own land…..I will feed them with rich pasture.” God resurrects us from our places of darkness and gives us back our lives.

A SERMONWRITER SUBSCRIBER SAYS:

“I really appreciate your work and have begun to enjoy sermon preparation for the first time.”

This past week our area teachers held a workshop at the church. One of teachers told me that she has a friend who was a principle in New Orleans. She and her family left two days before Hurricane Katrina. All they took with them was a few changes of clothing, thinking they would return in a few days. Unfortunately their home was completely flooded. They lost everything, including two automobiles. There nothing to return to. Their home was in total ruin. To make matters worse the school system was completely shut down. Not only did they not have a house, but also she had no job. The family temporarily stayed in Baton Rouge where many other hurricane escapees had fled to. There they set up temporary schools and the former school principle got a job in the school library. They had lost everything, but the disaster totally transformed them. They still had each other and they decided to make a new life for themselves in Baton Rouge.

With God we are never lost. God is the great shepherd who watches over us. God leads us to safe pastures, away from the darkness.

Jesus understood himself as the “Good Shepherd.” In John (chapter 10) he said, “I am the Good Shepherd, I know my own and my own know me and they know my voice.” We can’t expect to be found if we aren’t listening. The voice of Jesus is a familiar one, but we are so distracted and busy listening to other voices, we don’t always hear that forgiving, comforting, reassuring voice of hope.

When Howard Henricks was growing up he had a reputation of being a troublemaker in the classroom. As a fifth grader he was feeling very insecure, unloved and angry at life. On several occasions his teacher, Mrs. Simon, said to him, “Howard, you are the worst behaved child in this school.” It was a difficult year for young Howard and the words of his teacher were stuck in his head. But, somehow he managed to be promoted to the sixth grade.

The next fall Howard was sitting in a new classroom with a new teacher, Miss Noe. She was taking roll call and when she came to Howard’s name she said, “Howard Henricks, I’ve heard a lot about you,” looking at him and smiling. But then she continued, “But I don’t believe a word of it.” For the first time in his life, Howard believed in himself. He had a heard a voice of hope and encouragement. From then on Howard was greatly interested in his schoolwork and he worked as hard as he could for his new teacher. It was a life changing event that led him from the darkness to a safe pasture. (from As Iron Sharpens Iron, Howard Henricks, Moody Press, Chicago, 1995)

Not only is God the good shepherd, God places good shepherds in our midst. And it is people of faith who model themselves after the good shepherd and become good shepherds themselves.

—Copyright, 2005, Dr. Keith Wagner. Used by permission.