I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak. Ezekiel 34:16
Jesus said, “What do you think? If a shepherd has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray?” Matthew 18:12
When I read the texts from Ezekiel I feel at least a bit convicted. The reason God promises to bring back the strayed and bind up the injured sheep is because the shepherds God had placed over them had failed to do their job. They had not cared for the sheep as they should have. They had focused instead on their own comfort, and wellbeing rather than on the people put under their care.
Any conscientious and honest pastor will admit the same shortcomings. We have all failed to do all we possibly could to care for God’s people. We’ve missed the phone call, forgotten a phone message, and perhaps even ignored a pesky Extra-Grace-Required person’s incessant requests (grumbling?).
When we pastors lead the congregation in confessing our sins before God we are not just leading the congregation for the sake of cadence. We’re not merely speaking strongly so that people know when to pause or what to emphasize. We’re confessing our sins with the congregation. That’s one of the reasons I particularly love the confession and absolution in the order of Compline service where the pastor or leader confesses his sins to the people, and receives absolution, before receiving the confession of the people and absolving them of their sins.
It is also one reason I love the ultimate message of Ezekiel: God will not let his people go un-gathered. He will search for his sheep and seek them out. That’s just what he did. Jesus came to seek and to save the lost. His comments, however, are not only a comforting promise to us who recognize our sins, they are a strong indictment of those who think they are not lost and who have actually scattered God’s flock by their self-righteousness.
There is only one thing worse than a pastor who has failed to do all he can to gather God’s flock. That is one who has failed and in self-righteous arrogance refuses to acknowledge his sin and by his sanctimonious attitude prevents the repentant sinner from finding grace at the foot of the cross.
I am thankful to be able to go to the foot of the cross, and I welcome you to join me there.