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Ezekiel 34,11-16, Ephesians 1,15-23 - God Mighty Strength ~1

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DATE:    November 24, 1996 

LITURGICAL CALENDAR:   Eternal Life Sunday

OT TEXT:  Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24 

NT TEXT:  Ephesians 1:15-23

SERMON TITLE: I. God's Mighty Strength

                              II. Assurance of Eternal Life

HYMNS:  MH 84; MH 312; When He Cometh (insert); MH 395

SPECIAL MUSIC:  The King of Love my Shepherd is;

                                 For all the Saints who from their Labors rest

MAJOR RECENT EVENT: Death of a Child (Natalie)




God's Mighty Strength

Today we celebrate the lives of our loved ones who have passed on into Eternal Life. And as we look at the congregational family there are those who are no longer with us. In remembering and celebrating the lives of those who have gone before us we renew our hope and our anticipation of the eternal life that awaits us at the end of our earthly journey. This is the hope of those who have built their faith on the foundation of Jesus Christ, that one day we will rise up with Christ unto everlasting life. And every earthly sorrow will be transformed into heavenly joy and everlasting peace.

Mohammad Ali, former heavyweight boxing champion denied that he attempted another comeback at the age of 39 just to stay in the spotlight.  He said, "If I just wanted that, wouldn't I take the 125 college lectures offered me?  Wouldn't I just go to Times Square and walk a block and stop traffic?  I Ain't worried about the spotlight. I Ain't worried about money. I Ain't worried about all the heavyweights today who can't fight. I Ain't worried about nothin' but being immortal."

And Woody Allen is credited with these words: "I don't want to achieve immortality through my work. I want to achieve immortality through not dying."

A few years ago in one of my courses at University we had a guest speaker from the St. Boniface Hospital who works with terminally ill patients. In an excercise, to help the students get in touch with our own mortality, he asked us about our own fears concerning death. I was surprized that most students expressed similar sentiments to those of Mohammad Ali and Woody Allen. Someone said, "I'm not affraid of dying or even of suffering a slow and agonizing death. But, I'm afraid that I will not be remembered by the people who have shared my life after I've died."

A related sentiment is also expressed by those who are left behind when they say that they're afraid of the loneliness. At the funeral we get all the support we need. It is after the family returns from the gravesite that the realisation hits hard, "What now? I'm alone. I'm forgotten. Will anyone remember me in a week or a month?"

When we deal with the loss of a loved one we need some reassurance that things will be alright. We need something tangible to build our future hopes on. We feel weak and vulnerable. And we look for some reassurance. Some ray of hope. A word of comfort that doesn't assume to have the answers to life's toughest questions.  A word of grace from God.

In those times we find strength and comfort in the presence of our Good Shepherd, and in the empathy and love of friends and family who have dealt with grief and loss. We search for a path that will see us through the valley of death towards a bright and hopeful new day.

Years ago, Dr. Arthur John Gossip preached a sermon entitled, "When Life Tumbles In, What Then?"  He preached this sermon  the day after his beloved wife had suddenly died.  He closed with these words:  "I don't think you need to be afraid of life.  Our hearts are very frail, and there are places where the road is very steep and very lonely, but we have a wonderful God.  And as Paul puts it, ''What can separate us from His love?  Not death,'' he writes immediately.  No, not death, for standing in the roaring of the Jordan, cold with its dreadful chill and very conscious of its terror, of its rushing, I, too, like Hopeful in Pilgrim's Progress, can call back to you who one day in your turn will have to cross it, ''Be of good cheer, my brother, for I feel the bottom and it is sound.''

That is the kind of reassurance that we need. Someone has touched bottom and has found it to be sound. When our hope is built on the great Shepherd of the Sheep, we are assured that help is never far away. God hears our cry and He will answer quickly.

The scripture text from Ezekiel 34 points out that God is our Good Shepherd who will lead us in a time of need. The prophet Ezekiel wrote this book in the context of the fall of Jerusalem in 586 BC and Israel's exile to Babylon as a judgment against Israel and its leaders. After being informed by the Lord that Jerusalem was under siege and would surely fall (Ez. 24), Ezekiel was told that his beloved wife would soon die. The first part of the book of Ezekiel speaks harsh words of judgement and the day of God's wrath.

However, the tone of the book changes drastically once news was received that Jerusalem had fallen. After Jerusalem's fall Ezekiel's message turned to the Lord's consoling word of hope for his people -- they would experience revival, restoration and a glorious future as the redeemed and perfect kingdom of God in the world.

In the the first part of the Prophet Ezekiel's writings it would be easy to draw the conclusion that God is out to get his people because they have turned their hearts away from God. However, instead of saying, "I told you so" the prophet Ezekiel paves the road to a better understanding of who God really is. God demonstrates to His people that He is the Good Shepherd. He is the One that they can trust in the time of need. God Himself, the Good Shepherd, promises to restore the joy of His people. God will take care of his flock and lead them to new hights.

There is a story of a custom among the shepherds  of the Alps.  In the summer time when the grass in the lower valleys withers and dries up, the shepherds seek to lead their sheep up a winding, thorny, and stony pathway to the high grazing lands. The sheep, reluctant to take the difficult pathway infested with dangers and hardships, turn back and will not follow. The shepherds make repeated attempts, but the timid sheep will not follow.  Finally a shepherd reaches into the flock and takes a little lamb and places it under his arm, then reaches in again and takes another lamb, placing it under the other arm.  Then he starts up the precipitous pathway.  Soon the mother sheep start to follow and afterward the entire flock.  At last they ascend the tortuous trail to green pastures.  The Great Shepherd of the sheep, has richer and greener pastures prepared for us and He wants us to follow.

God leads us with wisdom far beyond our ability to comprehend. When He reaches into our midst and picks up a lamb, he doesn't do it to hurt us, but rather to lead us upward where the air is clear and nourishment for our souls is rich. God leads us with mighty strength and wisdom.

Choir Song: The King of Love my Shepherd is

Assurance of Eternal Life

The King of Love, our Good Shepherd, leads us not only through the hard and difficult days in this life. He is also not only interested in giving pet-answers to the enduring questions of our souls. Our Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ leads us heavenward -- towards our everlasting home and eternal life. Jesus Christ has brocken the sting of death on Easter morning. He has gone into the deepest depths of human and divine suffering to claim victory over death.

Before the second World War, there was a grave in Germany sealed with a granite slab and bound with strong chains.  On it an athiest had inscribed, "Not to be opened thoughout eternity."  Yet somehow a little acorn had fallen into some crack, and its outer shell "died."  Years after, everyone saw a hugh oak tree which had completely broken up the slab, still having the inscribed arogant words.  The new life of the acorn had openly displayed the power of life.

Jesus' resurrection from the dead has openly displayed the power of God's reconciling love. The Apostle Paul wrote to the Romans (6:4-5): 4 We were therefore buried with him (Christ) 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. 5 If we have been united with him like this in his own death, we will certainly also be united with him in his resurrection.

And in Ephesians 1:18, 18 I pray also that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened in order that you may know the hope to which he has called you, the riches of your glorious inheritance in the saints, 19 and his incomparably great power for us who believe (namely the power that raised him from the dead). That is the hope and the promise of everlasting life.

One of the last conversations that I had with my own grandmother dealt with her eternal security. Although she had believed in God all her life, and although she had taught her own children and grandchildren about the unfailing love of God, when she saw her final hour drawing near she realized that all her dedication and hard work in the church and in her faith community could not assure her eternal security. We had a long heart to heart talk about the fact that God's promise of salvation holds true, not because of who we are and what we have done for Him, but because of who He is and what Christ has done for us on the cross of Calvary. When I said "Goodbye" to my Oma I knew that the next time I see her will be in God's eternal home.

For me, as for the Apostle Paul, the assurance of eternal life is what keeps me going when life's trials and doubts seem to cave in on me. You see, as those who follow the Good Shepherd we not only guess and wish for a better time in heaven. Rather, we firmly believe it to be a fact that one day God will call us home to be with Him, and our loved ones who have died in Christ, for all eternity. This assurance does not take away the pain of standing at the open grave of someone we have loved so dear. But, for me, it puts life and death questions into a more meaningful perspective.

As we remember our love ones who have gone to be with the Lord, we are urged by the Word of God to consider our own life and our eternal dwelling place. We are urged to make a choice between life -- everlasting life in Jesus Christ -- or death. If we have an agenda with God -- be it doubt about His faithfulness and love; be it our own arrogance or rebellion; or be it uncertainty about our eternal security -- we need to settle our affairs with Him. God extends to each one of us an invitation to place our lives into His care.

I'd like to close with a story of faith in the assurance of everlasting life. Some years ago, radio evangelist Charles E. Fuller annunced that he would speak the following Sunday on "Heaven." During that week he received a letter from an old man who was very ill.  Here's a part of his letter:  "Next Sunday you are to talk about 'Heaven.'  I am interested in that land because I have held a clear title to a bit of property there for over 55 years. I did not buy it. It was given to me without money and without price. But the donor purchased it for me at a tremendous sacrifice. I am not holding it for speculation, since the title is not transferable. It is not a vacant lot. For more than half a century I have been sending material out of which the greatest architect and builder of the universe has been building a home for me, which will never need to be repaired because it will suit me perfectly and will never grow old. Termites can never undermine its foundation for it rests upon the Rock of Ages. Fire cannot destroy it. Floods cannot wash it away. No locks or bolts will ever be placed upon its doors, for no vicious person can ever enter that land where my dwelling stands, now almost completed and ready for me to enter and abide in peace eternally without fear of being ejected. There is a valley of deep shadow between the place where I live in California and that to which I shall journey in a very short time. I cannot reach my home in the City of God without passing through the dark valley of shadows. But I am not afraid, because the best friend that I ever had went through the same valley alone long, long ago and drove away all the gloom.  He has stuck by me through thick and thin since we first became acquainted 55 years ago, and I hold His promise, never to forsake nor to leave me alone. He will be with me as I walk through the valley of the shadows, and I shall not lose my way when He is with me.  I hope to hear your sermon on Heaven next Sunday from my home, but I have no assurance that I shall be able to do so. My ticket to heaven has no date marked for the journey -- no return coupon -- and no permit for baggage. Yes, I am ready to go and may not be here while you are talking next Sunday, but I shall meet you there some day. 

Indeed, we shall meet again... someday...

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