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									A Different Kind of Bailout
Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24 and Matthew 25:31-46
November 23, 2008
Rev. Donna Claycomb Sokol
Mount Vernon Place UMC, Washington

        Our Congress has been spending a lot of its time in the bailout business. Last month, the
Troubled Asset Relief Program provided $700 billion to shore up struggling banks and
industries. Through this legislation, over $125 billion has been given to our nation’s biggest
banks while an additional $125 billion has been given to smaller banks and other banking
programs. In addition, over $40 billion has been given to rescue the American Insurance Group.
It was believed that this money would make a difference. Many believed that the bailout of
banks on Wall Street would also help to bailout ordinary people trying to make ends meet on
Main Street. But, nothing seems to be happening yet. Stocks continue to drop. Stores continue
to close. Individuals are still losing their job or finding a hard time getting a job.
        The bailout has worked to keep some businesses open, assuring that there will be plenty
of money for expensive executive trips to spas and holiday banker bonuses with more zeros on
the end than most of us make in a year, but there is still need for more.
        The big three automakers want a bailout.
        Individuals who are doing fine with their mortgages and individuals who have fallen
behind on their payments want a bailout.
        Big banks want a bailout and little banks want a bailout.1
        Where is our bailout?
        Why are you helping them and not helping me?
        But what have you done for me lately?
        These questions have been asked since time began.
        Ezekiel becomes God’s spokesperson while Israel is in exile in Babylon. The Israelites
are in a time not unlike our own – a time of great distress. Earlier, in verse 33, the people have
asked the very question many of us have asked in recent weeks, “how then can we live?”
        With everything changing, how then can we live?
        With the stock market dropping, how then can we live?
        With our homes decreasing in value, how then can we live?
        No doubt, the Israelites want a bailout. They very much want to go back to where things
were – to a place of comfort and peace – a place of steady growth and more than enough.
        Gordon Matties describes the community to which Ezekiel belongs, “In Ezekiel’s world,
superpower politics and small-scale ethnic nationalism were buttressed by idolatrous practices
that legitimized military alliances, violent crimes, and oppressive economic policies.”
        Ezekiel has his work cut out for him. A new day needs to dawn. And, the answer to their
question, “How then can we live?” is not exactly what they were expecting. Quick solutions
cannot be tossed to them just as billions of dollars cannot fix an auto industry that has been
behind for decades. Systemic changes are needed. The people must go back to the core – to the
heart – of who they are – a people whose “identity declares the Lord’s righteousness and justice
among the nations.”2

    Gordon Matties in the New Interpreter’s Bible, 1153

         Ezekiel is called to bring together that which has been torn apart. Through Ezekiel, God
seeks to bring about restoration and renewal. Exile has been anything but fun. Things have not
been going well. People are wondering where God is and why God has not protected the people.
But, part of the problem lies with the people. The people of God must be transformed so that the
community can be transformed. If the weak are going to be cared for, the spirits of the desolate
raised, and peace created in the land, then the people must change their ways.
         Chapter 34 begins with Ezekiel speaking a harsh word of judgment upon the shepherds.
The shepherds have been feeding themselves. They have been taking care of themselves –
growing fat while failing to feed the sheep. They have ruled with harshness instead of caring for
people. And as a result, the sheep have scattered – the people are all over the place.
         But God does not leave the sheep scattered and alone. God does not leave the Israelites
hungry and injured. Instead, God provides a plan – a plan to bring about a new kind of king – a
new kind of shepherd.
         God himself is coming to search out the sheep. God is going to rescue those who have
been scattered. God is going to bring them together and feed them with the best pasture possible.
God will seek the lost, bring back the strayed, bind up the injured, and strengthen the weak. If
people are willing to obey, then what has been lost – wholeness, blessing and the covenant
relationship – will be rediscovered.
         Today is Christ the King Sunday and marks an end to both ordinary time and the
liturgical year. A new year in the church’s cycle begins next Sunday with Advent, the season of
waiting and watching. The official time to get prepared – to be prepared – starts next Sunday.
And yet, our passages assigned by the lectionary this month have given us plenty of food for
thought about how best to wait.
         Throughout this month, we have been taught what it takes to be a holy people – a people
set apart – a people who are becoming like Christ. Throughout the month, we have been taught
time and again that it is not about us – but it is about God. It is not about our acquiring more and
more – but it is about making sure that everyone has enough. It is not about our needs – it is
about the needs of our neighbor.
         Last night, Craig and I were watching Diane Sawyer’s interview on 20/20 of the woman
who was former New York Governor Elliot Spitzer’s escort. The woman being interviewed is
the woman who Governor Spitzer was arrested for hiring at the Mayflower Hotel. She is now 23
years old, and she told a portion of her story on last night’s program. After she told about the
past, Sawyer asked about her future dreams for marriage and family and the woman said, “I
absolutely hope to be married one day. I hope that someone will come and take all of my broken
pieces and make them whole again.” The young woman is waiting for a man to come and do this
for her – for a man to come and heal all of her brokenness. But Craig immediately turned to me
and said, “She needs Jesus.”
         And, Craig is exactly right.
         God created us and made us good – each one of us and every living thing. But then we
messed up. We went our own way. We fed ourselves and took care of our own needs. We
became broken people living in a broken world. Things were in dire straights. But God did not
leave us alone. Instead, God sent a bailout. God rescued us from darkness through the gift of
God’s son – one who came and taught us how to live and how to love. He lived a life of binding
up the broken – of reaching out to people who no one else wanted to touch. He brought together
the broken pieces of life and made them whole. And, because of his life, death and resurrection,
he is still binding up our brokenness. Jesus is the only one who can bail us out – bail us out of

sin, bail us out of brokenness, bail us out of death, and bail us out of darkness. Jesus is the only
one who sees all of our brokenness as something beautiful because it has been redeemed.
        So far, the government bailout has impacted those who have much. The government
bailout has been given to big banks, big companies, and big power players. Last week, the
person who was asking for more was an executive who is paid $28 million a year to run one of
our car companies.
        What is described in today’s passage is a very different scenario.
        In Ezekiel, God, the ultimate shepherd, tells us that he will seek the lost, bring back the
strayed, bind up the injured, and strengthen the weak while destroying the fat and the strong,
feeding them with justice.
        But in Matthew’s gospel, Jesus makes it clear that we are needed for this work – that the
work of God is made manifest through our hands, our minds, our hearts and our actions. We are
called to seek out and help people – not the people who are losing their millions but people who
are hungry, thirsty, naked, alone, sick and in prison. How we treat these people determines not
only whether we are disciples of Christ but also whether we are granted access to the eternal
kingdom. The people who are given access to eternal life are those who have bailed out the
people at the bottom – the hungry, the homeless, the prisoner, the stranger, the lonely and the
        Both of our scripture passages today challenge and convict me. They tell me that
discipleship is not something to be taken lightly. There are expectations placed upon those who
follow Christ – big expectations.
        We have plenty of people longing to be our leader. Our current President wants to lead
us. Our new President yearns for us to follow. The Congress believes it has a plan to bail us out;
we simply need to trust them. Plenty of people, businesses and leaders are longing for our
allegiance. But on this day, we hail Christ as King. We proclaim that Christ is the one who is in
control – that Christ’s ways are high above the earth and worth following – that Christ is lord of
        But what would it mean for us to not just say that Christ is King – but to really live as
though he is Lord of our lives?
        And what would it look like for us as the church to not only proclaim with our lips that
Christ is King but to make sure that everything that we do and say hails Christ as King?
        If Christ is King, then we want to be like Christ. And if we want to be like Christ, then
the bailout business belongs not to Congress and those with money but to us – the people of God.
        We, too, are in the investment business – we’re in the business of investing ourselves in
the brokenness of this world, trusting that God can use us to make things whole. We are in the
business of investing ourselves in the work of bringing food to the hungry and drink to the thirsty
– recognizing that there are some who are physically hungry and thirsty – people with empty
stomachs that need to be filled – while there are others who are hungering and thirsting for
something that their hefty bank accounts will never satisfy.
        We are in the business of visiting the sick and welcoming the stranger – we have the
capacity to bind up one’s brokenness by the ways in which we extend radical hospitality –
recognizing that some of the people who we welcome have been turned away by so many other
people – their jobs, their friends and sometimes even their family.
        We are in the business of clothing the naked – just last week we invited you to bring size
large and extra large sweatshirts and sweatpants so that the women at Rachael’s Women’s Center
can be clothed. A portion of what we give to this place goes to clothe young children through

the Board of Childcare. We also clothe those who have been stripped of their dignity – again,
bringing together the broken pieces until they are whole once more.
        We make commitments today – pledging to give of ourselves and our resources so that
Christ’s mercy, love and grace might be shared through this place. We commit ourselves,
offering our specific gifts so that this church might become more like the body of Christ - going
out and visiting the sick, welcoming the stranger, feeding the hungry, giving the thirsty a drink
and seeking out the prisoner. We offer our talents, trusting that the gifts God has given to us can
bring about healing and wholeness through the ministries of this church. We offer our time,
trusting that God can use our willingness to serve – to serve in this place doing work that can be
seen and work that is so often unseen but when not done, leaves gaps that are very noticeable.
We give – because God has given us so much and we are called to let our lights shine.
        And, we give financially to this place – believing that if Christ is King of this church then
this church will continue the struggle of trying to faithfully discern how best to play a role in
meeting the needs of this community, this city and this world. If Christ is King of this church,
then what we put in the plate Sunday after Sunday will enable us to feed the hungry, clothe the
naked, welcome the stranger, visit the sick, and go to the prison because followers of Christ
naturally do these things – these things are at the heart of who we are as children of the King.
And, if Christ is King of our lives, then Christ is also king of our homes, our families, our
resources and our checkbooks.
        Thanks be to God for the church’s willingness to invest in people – to see through our
brokenness and journey with us to wholeness.
        Thanks be to God for the church’s willingness to bail people out – to welcome those who
no one else would welcome and to forgive those who no one else would forgive.
        Thanks be to God for the ways in which we are fed in this place – at a table where we
remember and give thanks for the bailout provided through the life, death and resurrection of
Jesus – and at tables down the street and in our community where we realize that we are all
hungry – whether we live in a shelter or a home that is our own.
        Thanks be to God for God’s bailout – a different kind of bailout.


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