Sunday, 20 November 2011

Survival of the fattest?

Title slide
Only pigs with 14 teats should be used for breeding…

Huh? Well that got your attention…

Why do you think that is?

[ask]  [won’t have enough for all their babies]

Ok here’s another question from animal husbandry…

Sheep slide
How many teats do sheep have?…
no farmers are allowed to answer…


But what if a ewe gives birth to three lambs…well usually there’s a good farmer around to hand feed the spare lamb or put them on another mother….

But…what about animals in the wild? …what happens when a wild pig has 15 piglets…or a ewe has triplets…in the wild? Are there some offspring which have a greater chance of survival than others?

What about the runts who have no chance of shoving their stronger brothers and sisters out of the way
to get a drink…

well they might die of starvation
survival slide
Some people would call this… survival of the fittest…
and many take it for granted as a law of nature
as nature’s way…only those fit enough to live to breeding age survive…thus ensuring the strength and success… of the species. 

This isn’t exactly what Darwin meant… by natural selection …but never the less…the idea that survival of the fittest is some sort of natural law… seems to be deeply accepted… even extended by some people…
to the social and economic order…

You’ll might hear people say …the successful and wealthy make it because they’re hardworking strong and intelligent…and the poor are poor… because they are either constitutionally weak or lazy or stupid…and people will say ‘well its survival of the fittest isn’t it?’

Still others make survival of the fittest into a faith thing…those with the strongest faith are more blessed with happiness and wealth and success…some countries that think they’re a Godly nation…believe themselves to be blessed with wealth and power…thinking it’s only the heathen who live below the breadline…
without providence from God…

Natures law…Black and white…
take it as read…as true as two plus two equals four.

But what if we were to hold this so-called folk wisdom up to the light of scripture?
would it follow automatically that what we think is natural law… is also by definition ….God’s law…
That somehow on God’s high country sheep station … the runts of the litter are just abandoned by the divine shepherd…just written off as
unavoidable and predicable loses… of the puny…
are the weak and the vulnerable sheep just collateral damage  in God’s paddocks…so the sleek and the fit can survive and thrive?

Israel slide
With these questions in mind let’s hear again Ezekiel’s prophetic word to Israel’s leaders …as they enjoy their captivity in Babylon…as the well fed guests of the royal family

Ezekiel tells them…The word of the LORD came to me: “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel;
tell them: ‘This is what the Sovereign LORD says:

Woe to you shepherds of Israel who only take care of yourselves! Shouldn’t the shepherds take care of the flock? You’re happy to live off them…eat their cheese, wear their wool and slaughter the choice animals to feast on… but you don’t take care of the flock.

You don’t strengthen the weak or heal the sick or bind the injured. You don’t bring back the strays or search for the lost. In fact…you rule them harshly and brutally. That’s not leadership at all…so they’re scattered because there’s no shepherd…and become food for wild animals. My sheep have wandered all over the mountains ... over the whole earth…and no one searched for them.

Therefore, you shepherds…you leaders…you guys with the responsibility for the flock…because this isn’t how things should be…as surely as I live… I’m against you and will hold you accountable… for what’s happened to my flock. In fact I’m going to remove you from the job

You’re just like the predators out there in the fields …I’m going to rescue my flock right out of your mouths …and from now on…I’m going be their shepherd myself
I’ll look for them and take care of them myself and
I’ll rescue them…I’ll save them…
from all the places they’ve been scattered. [pause]

Is it survival of the fittest on God’s high country sheep station?

Not by a long shot… right away we hear in Ezekiel…
that God’s flock won’t be neglected nor abandoned in the wild… to fend for themselves…at the mercy of predators

What’s natural in God’s economy
is God removes the shepherds who allow such neglect … what’s natural is that God steps in to carry out a search and rescue mission himself
everywhere the neglected sheep are scattered

Slide words
I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord GOD.

Do lost and frightened sheep lie down…no…
Do hungry sheep lie down…no….

But when sheep are have enough and feel safe...they will lie down…by the still waters and rest

That’s the natural way in God’s paddock… God will seek out the lost and the stray, and bind up the injured, and strengthen the weak… [pause]

Now of course Ezekiel knows those who hear this oracle will see themselves as either one of the flock
or one of the shepherds…the leaders…

And if your one of the neglected flock …you’re going to be hearing a lot of hope in this oracle aren’t you…
but if your one of the leaders… one of the shepherds…
you’re going to be feeling like God’s getting at you big time …and that’s not the end of it…there are repercussions!

And here it gets really interesting in the original Hebrew … God says
slide words
I’m going to destroy the fat and the strong
by feeding them…with justice.

There are repercussions…for the bad shepherds…

as far the oracle is concerned  in God’s paddocks…
the shepherds are just another badly behaved part of the flock…not a more advanced species…so the oracle continues… this is what the Sovereign LORD says…
not only will I be the shepherd… I’ll be the judge too… between the fat sheep and the lean sheep.  Why?

Sheep butting slide
Because you shove with flank and shoulder, butting all the weak sheep with your horns until you drive them away…that’s not the way it’s supposed to be in my paddock whether you think its natural or not
thus sayeth the LORD.

I will save my flock…and they won’t be plundered and longer. I will judge between one sheep and another.

And how will God accomplish this does the oracle say…

Slide words
I will place over them one shepherd, from my servant David, and he will tend them; I the LORD will be their God, and my servant David prince among them. I the LORD have spoken.

Jesus slide
And here is what this Messianic age will look like …here’s what will be natural in the Messianic Age to come …and now because of the beauty and majesty of God’s promise…I’ll read directly from Ezekiel …

“‘I will make a covenant of peace with them and I will rid the land of savage beasts so they may live in the wilderness and sleep in the forests… in safety.

I will make them and the places surrounding my hill
a blessing. I’ll send down showers in season; there will be showers of blessing. The trees will yield their fruit and the ground will yield its crops;
and the people will be secure in their land.

They will know that I’m the LORD,
when I break the bars of their yoke
and rescue them
from the hands of those who enslaved them.

They will no longer be plundered by the nations, nor will wild animals devour them.

They will live in safety,
and no one will make them afraid.

I will provide for them a land renowned for its crops, and they’ll no longer be victims of famine
or bear the scorn of the nations.

Then they’ll know that I, the LORD their God, am with them and they are my people.

Israel slide
What questions does this oracle of God from Ezekiel ask of us…

Who are the shepherds in our own story…within each family …each church…each community…what about the shepherds of our nation and the global economy.

How can we as the Body of Christ …how can we tell if their farming methods are those of God?

What word of prophesy might Ezekiel speaking directly to you?

Do you hear words of hope or words of challenge.

In every prophetic word… we listen for two things… hope and …challenge… 
without both our understanding is incomplete.

We can let the words fall off us like water off a ducks back…or we can drink deeply from them…

We can dismiss them or we can allow God to address us through them… we can allow them to work on us…
to work in us…to read our lives and our choices

In the lead up to this election, Church Leaders from seven major denominations including
our Moderator Peter Cheyne… have called on all political parties to acknowledge their shared responsibility as shepherds of Aotearoa New Zealand… to provide a just share of society’s wealth and resources for all our citizens, especially the most vulnerable.

This includes …the church leaders say…adequate income for everyone, fair taxation policies, access to good health care, affordable housing, and provision for sustainable living.

“These are not privileges, they point out, but part of the common heritage of humanity…made in the image of God. Social welfare is part of a greater picture
of social, economic and environmental priorities
and decisions about spending. Caring for others makes us better people and strengthens our community.”

This pre-election statement says …
It’s not every day church leaders join together with a collective voice. But bringing ethical questions to the proposals of political parties is critical

Like Ezekiel’s oracle…our church leaders ask:

Sheep and goat slide
How are the most vulnerable …faring in this society?
How will particular policies affect them?
What decisions will be made about land?
How efficient is our economy…
in producing wealth and income and ensuring its benefits are shared with all citizens?”

Do we have strong, safe communities and
well-protected children, and is the taxation load shared
fairly and proportionately…across all sectors of society.

Sounds a bit like Ezekiel’s oracle on conditions on God’s high country sheep station…don’t you think?

And our church leaders are urging all kiwis
to think about our values, especially during the Election. and then consider what direction we think our Government should take

to ensure a fairer future for all New Zealanders.”

Let us pray