Ezekiel was a prophet whose oracles span a period of twenty two years from 593 to 571 BCE, which was the time when Jerusalem and the temple were destroyed, the monarchy came to an end and about 10,000 people were sent into exile in Babylon. Ezekiel was a priest who was part of the exile. His book comprises warnings of calamity followed by promises of restoration. Just as the calamities came to pass so too would the restoration. The oracles in chapters 1 to 33 are the warnings of what would happen because Israel, its leaders and people had failed to live up to the covenant but included in the book was a recognition of individual responsibility. The people who suffered did not do so purely because their ancestors or neighbours had failed. They too had to bear individual responsibility for outcomes and had to accept the need for a fundamental change of heart. The relationship of a shepherd with his sheep is also a theme of the book and in chapter 34 we have the point where subject changes from warnings of destruction to promises of restoration and as it progresses it becomes clear that the restoration is not only for God's special people but also for foreign nationals who accept his word. Chapter 34 has many important messages. First there is condemnation for the leaders of the country who have allowed the destruction of the nation. “Ah you shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep?” In one respect this blame could appear to be unfair because the middle east at that time was in a state of great turmoil, much as it is today. Egypt and Assyria were the two aging super-powers who were in decline while the emerging power, Babylon, was moving onto the scene to take advantage of the chaos. The destruction of Israel could thus be seen as a simple casualty of war. However, the leaders of Israel had been actively politicising to try to take advantage of the situation and this action had brought them into the middle of the conflict. If they had adopted a neutral stance and concentrated on following God's law they might have survived intact. Additionally, the destruction of Jerusalem happened at the end of a long siege during which the leaders of Israel (the shepherds) had the opportunity to recognise that as Plan A was not going well they should perhaps adopt a Plan B. Unfortunately, they did not do this as is also acknowledged. “You have not strengthened the weak, you have not healed the sick, you have not bound up the injured, you have not brought back the strayed, you have not sought out the lost...So they were scattered because there was no shepherd; and scattered they became food for wild animals … Thus says the Lord, I am against the shepherds...” From verse 11 onwards God promises to act as his own shepherd and collect up his sheep from “all the places to which they have been scattered … I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries and will bring them into their own land.”. These verses are interesting because they imply that God's people are scattered over a wide area whereas at the time they were located in the city of Babylon. From a Jewish viewpoint it could be suggested that they look to the future diaspora and could be taken as justification for the current situation in Israel. From a Christian, new testament, viewpoint they are taken to mean that God will care for all of his people Christians as well as Jews and this interpretation is supported by the later reference in verse 23 “I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd.” This is a clear reference to the coming of Jesus, the messiah and good shepherd who was the descendant of David. But while God is initially going to act as a shepherd to his sheep and later send another shepherd to watch over them, not everyone is going to enter into the flock without a reckoning for individual past actions. As I mentioned earlier this book acknowledges individual responsibility as a contributing factor to the state of God's people and from verse 17 onwards we hear that God will judge them. “I shall judge between sheep and sheep, between rams and goats.... I will judge between the fat sheep and the lean sheep.” Throughout the world and throughout history some people have always had the good fortune to be born into better circumstances or places than others, for example, we often acknowledge how lucky we are to be living in Cygnet and not another place. However, God is not going to judge people because of the luck of their birth but because of their subsequent actions “Because you pushed with the flank and shoulder, and butted at all the weak animals with your horns until you scattered them far and wide. I will save my flock, and they shall no longer be ravaged and I will judge between sheep and sheep”. This judgement is very important and was repeated by Jesus in the gospel reading where the sentiment was the same even if the words and example were different. In the gospel Jesus talks about the final judgement in the terms used by Ezekiel “...he will separate the people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats and he will put the sheep on his right hand and the goats at the left...” and the basis for the separation and judgement will be the way we as individuals treat the hungry, the naked and the stranger. We should not push them out of the way, or ignore them or blame them for their problems. In fact we should love them as our neighbours and respond as if they were Jesus himself. Do we always do this? If Jesus was to walk in right now how will those of us sitting here today stack up in this judgement? This thought brings me to the question of the relevance of this reading and others in the book for today's Christians. Do the oracles have any relevance to us today? I think that the answer yes, in fact they may have more relevance to us in 2017 than they might have had in … I was going to say 1917 but as people then were caught up in the “war to end war” they might have understood the early prophesies of destruction and found great comfort in the prophesies of restoration, so let's just say they might have more relevance during some historical periods than others. The bible commentary1 that I consulted has the following to say about the relevance of Ezekiel's work to today's readers. The political situation of the people of Israel at that time was obviously quite different from that of today. Yet behind the political specifics we see a complicated society burdened with familiar, messy issues: uncertainty about the future, international upheavals; religious pluralism; institutional corruption; faith in turmoil. Modern society has its own idols, false prophets, corrupted sanctuaries, decadent institutions and national bigotries. They have different names but the words of Ezekiel can still apply to them. There is a danger in applying to today too precisely what happened two and a half millennia ago, especially when familiar place names occur (particularly Israel). Nevertheless the general outlines of societies problems is so similar today that the principles can be easily applied. Society and God do not change. And what are the principles that still apply? Whether we look at the words in Ezekiel or Matthew the message is the same. We have a responsibility to ensure that we are good sheep who do not head butt our fellow believers or unbelievers out of the way so that we may have good or better lives: we should instead be people who feed the hungry, cloth the naked and welcome the stranger but that can be very hard today's world. The 2016 census has revealed that fewer people in Tasmania acknowledge having religious belief than 1 New Bible Commentary. Ed Carson, DA; France RT; Motyer JA; Wenham G. Intervarsity Press, Nottingham, England. 2015 in any other state. We can therefore assume that in Cygnet we have a lot of work to do to to spread the message of salvation and that we will probably find that it is very hard to do. One problem that we may have to face is that people are generally very polite. Its not so much that we have to head butt the weaker sheep out of the way or that we fail to provide support for the stranger or those who need it, its more that people do not think that they need any help or support. There are many people in Cygnet who think that their lives are complete and they do not need anything else. Their response to the 2016 census would have been that they had no religious affiliations and did not need them. Unfortunately, this is not a modern problem. In a minute I will to read a poem by GA Studdert Kennedy who lived from 1883-1929, it is titled When Jesus came to Birmingham. We could substitute Cygnet as the place as it shows the difficulties that we as a church need to overcome before we can convince modern people that there is a need for them to reconcile with God. Ezekiel spoke of the clear need for the scattered sheep to be gathered in under the care of a good shepherd and both Ezekiel and Jesus put the responsibility for achieving this end on those of us who are already within the sheep fold. The need to for us to accept the need to make disciples is one that we have been concentrating on for the past year. Some of us may feel that we are no nearer now to resolving the question of how to do this than we were a year ago but if we keep it at the forefront of our prayers and go about our daily lives with open minds and eyes I am sure that Jesus will present opportunities to us. It will then be our responsibility to grasp them. I will leave you with the poem.