“The Benefits of Having a Shepherd”

Sermon – 04-25-21 – Easter 4 – Cycle B – Good Shepherd Sunday
Scriptures: Acts 4:5-12; Psalm 23; 1 John 3:16-24; John 10:11-18
Sermon Title: “The Benefits of Having a Shepherd”

Lots of people are available to guide us or help us or go to bat for us but they are not called shepherd. We could think of them as shepherds but who wants umpteen shepherds. I am thinking of bankers, lawyers, doctors, parents, children, sisters and brothers or neighbors or aunts and uncles, employers, teachers, counselors. All of these people have a good place in our lives but their advice sometimes clashes or they don’t really know us or they themselves are not as knowledgeable as they think they are or they are not in a good place themselves.

But then again, who wants a shepherd. We picture a rugged looking individual; becoming that way by being outdoors in all kinds of weather, talking mostly to sheep and maybe other shepherds. And if we have a shepherd to guide us, does that make us sheep? If we happen to be a person who enjoys being with stimulating people, can we find a lively sheep who might be an extrovert just like we are. On the other hand, if we are natured to be alone, maybe we are the one sheep who nibbles our way to the edge of the cliff and we fall over the edge to be caught on a small bush of some sort. Sheep have a reputation of being rather low in intelligence. They really do need a guide.

On the other hand, we are far superior to sheep. Look at all the scientific knowledge we have acquired and applied to inventions of all sorts. So, we can invent vaccines to combat viruses, we can accomplish lifting a helicopter on Mars. But, while we are inventing cars that don’t need drivers, we can’t get it right about loving people. What does this have to do with sheep anyway? Sometimes we are so busy killing each other one way or the other that we lose the secret to having a good life.

Am I saying that it would be good to have a sheep’s life? Maybe there could be a good compromise between having a sheep’s life and the rat race in which some of us run. By the way, do rats have shepherd rats or are they each on their own to survive?

If it is true that rats do not have shepherd rats, compare that to the people you have seen in the news around the world. Which persons look like they have a shepherd and which people look as though they never even had a parent, let alone a continuing shepherd? To which persons am I referring? At first, I was thinking of the forlorn hungry children and adults who have no good, safe, green pasture. No shepherd for them. Why not? Then I thought of the angry looking people or the stone-face people who have all sorts of tricks up their sleeves that affect millions of people. Did their shepherds leave them as orphans? Who stole the shepherds of this world?

Did the rich people steal the shepherds? Did the politicians steal the shepherds? Did you and I steal the shepherds? Maybe shepherds are like money. The rich people have 99% of the shepherds in their mansions and the 99% other people have 1% of the shepherds. Is that how it works? We need to buy shepherds? Well let us set each other straight! Our shepherd bought us! How much did he pay? His life. John 10:15b, “I lay down my life for my sheep.”

What does lay down my life mean? When Jesus says it, it means he willingly died on the cross. In John 10, Jesus is saying that he has the freedom, the free will, to walk away from the cross without hanging on it. He is saying this before he traveled to the cross. He knew. Jesus knew what was ahead. As much as Jesus anticipated the agony, he knew the plan was to offer salvation – that is eternal life – to everyone who chooses it. But this Shepherd Jesus also knew that on the other side of the cross would be the resurrection. Instead of being the shepherd of a band of followers, he is now the shepherd of anyone in the whole world who chooses to be a sheep in the flock of Jesus.

Again, why would I want to be a sheep instead of a rat in the rat race? Or why would I want to be a sheep instead of a person who frolicks to parties and exotic places, seeking the fun that the world markets itself as having? Why do I want a guide instead of being a self-explorer? After taking a turn at experiencing the pleasures of this world, I long for the safe places, I long for the still water beside the deer who pants for that same refreshing, calm water.

Having Jesus as my Shepherd means that when I am injured, Jesus will be with me immediately. When I have walked myself into a tunnel of difficulty, Jesus with his rod and staff appear in front of me and say “Whoa! Let’s change direction!” Let’s walk in the paths of righteousness. When I am depressed in the dreary time of the year and deadlines are heaping themselves upon my head like a ton of snowflakes, my shepherd appears out of nowhere and my soul is refreshed and restored while I wait for the first chirp of a robin and the first daffodil.

As Psalm 23 rolls off our tongue and through our thoughts, we get to the table part. You know the table that the shepherd prepares for me. It is a mystery table. First, will I be alone with the shepherd enjoying the beautiful fruit and the wine from the grapes. The yummy loaves of bread from grain, and all the varieties of cheese from the earth brought to heaven or do cows and goats live in heaven? See, we don’t know these things.

Maybe, I will not be alone with the Shepherd Jesus at this table. Who else will be there? Do we need to take turns being at that table? Is it a once and done pleasure? What about those enemies? Are they seated with us or are they standing around the table watching? We could very well be one of the enemies. Surely, I have hurt people in my life. Will I be one of the enemies? Oh, Shepherd Jesus, restore my soul. Forgive my mistakes. Lead me in the paths of righteousness. May we all be seated around that table while no one is an enemy. The shepherd can make us all friends.

Will there be an opportunity in heaven to lay down our lives for each other as we read in 1 John 3, “We know love by this, that Jesus Christ laid down his life for us – and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.” Do I need to run into a burning building, do I need to take a chance walking on thin ice, do I need to dive into stormy waters to save someone? Or . . . am I laying down my life for someone by caring for my family day in and day out? by visiting the lonely, providing clothing for people who need it, taking a meal to a hungry person or hundreds of meals to hungry children?

I can feel the oil on my head; I can see my cup never empty, always full. I hear the Shepherd’s voice. I know that voice. It is my comfort and my hope. Yours too. Amen

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