Sermon for Carillon – October 8, 2017 The Good Shepherd
Hear the words of the Lord in John 10:11-18.
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.
I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.” May the Lord add his blessing to the reading and hearing of his Word. Amen.
Our reading of the 23rd Psalm today is a sacred reminder of our Shepherd’s love for us and the care he extends to us. It reminds us too that we are like sheep, who need a shepherd to tend to us and guide us into safety and good pastures. Many artists have used this imagery to express their understanding of Christ. The pictures we see painted of Jesus with the lamb in his arms is one of my favorite images of the Lord. Let’s focus on the aspects of Christ’s character that define the Good Shepherd – vigilant, caring, nurturing, and protecting. Shepherding is not such a common practice among us today as it was for the people in Jesus’ day. It is hard work. It demands one’s full attention. Sheep can get into trouble pretty quickly if they are not watched and protected.
Shepherding is demanding, hands-on, physical work, as well. It requires constant vigilance, maintaining visual contact with the sheep, and attention to the flock’s physical needs collectively, and to each of its members individually. Sheep are animals that require a lot of care. They have to be fed, watered, guarded, penned, moved from pasture to pasture as seasons and climate require, groomed to manage parasites and pests, sheared, cared for as they breed and birth and care for lambs, and more. Poor care will result in loss of value and income to the Master and shepherd. The Good Shepherd has a commitment to protecting each and every one in his care from harm. The shepherd will even lay down his life for the sheep, investing in them whatever it takes to keep them healthy and to protect them from harm. The authority that a shepherd is able to exert over a flock comes from the shepherd having developed strong relationships with the flock in which each one comes to trust and listen to the directions of the shepherd. The authority of the Risen Lord, the Good Shepherd over his flock, comes from knowing his sheep by name, caring for them, and putting his own life on the line daily to protect them. They know the Shepherd is the source of their provision and protection. Jesus says in this Scripture, too, that his “flock” includes people not in “this fold”, the believers to whom he was speaking at that moment. He says these other sheep from another sheep pen will hear his voice too and become one with this flock. All people are God’s creation and have the invitation extended to them by the Good Shepherd to be a part of his flock. Jesus is speaking among his disciples and in the hearing of the Jewish Pharisees. They dismissed his words as the raving of a lunatic! It was this reference to the non-exclusive nature of God’s kingdom that they objected to so strongly. Even back to his first sermon in the Nazareth synagogue right after his baptism three years earlier this was the point that most incited his Jewish listeners.
Recently someone sent me a video in which several people were invited to walk up to a fence and call out to some sheep who were grazing. The shepherd of the flock had taught these people his call. Each one stepped to the fence and belted out the shepherd’s call with all the authority they could muster. The sheep never twitched an ear when three different people came to the fence and called. Then the shepherd stepped up to the fence and called out a single call and all of the sheep looked up and came running. Jesus iterated the fact of this connection between the shepherd and the sheep again and again in his teaching, reinforcing the metaphor he was sketching for his disciples….recall that his disciples were fishermen, not sheep herders! They may not have been as well informed about the connection between the Shepherd and sheep as Jesus. Remember that Jesus, too, as a direct descendent of King David, whose life included a significant period of time as a good shepherd himself, likely cherished these images of David as a Shepherd from the Psalms. I can imagine Jesus and his disciple crew walking along with him and Jesus asking a shepherd they met along the way to call his sheep as an in-the-moment life lesson. Like the video I watched, I can imagine that Jesus could have even asked the disciples to call the sheep before the shepherd himself called them to make the point!
Phillip Keller grew up in Africa as the son of missionary parents. He traveled extensively throughout the world as a nature photographer and agronomist. He wrote thirty-five Christian books with earthy, agrarian-culture perspectives including the best-seller “A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23”, published in 1970. In relating to Jesus’ metaphor of us as sheep, Keller writes:
“Always men are searching for safety beyond themselves. They are restless, unsettled, covetous, greedy for more — wanting this and that, yet never really satisfied in spirit.
By contrast the simple Christian, the humble person, the Shepherd’s sheep can stand up proudly and boast. “The Lord is my Shepherd — I shall not want.” I am completely satisfied with His management of my life. Why? Because He is the sheepman to whom no trouble is too great as He cares for His flock. He is the Rancher who is outstanding because of His fondness for sheep — who loves them for their own sake as well as His personal pleasure in them. He will, if necessary, be on the job twenty-four hours a day to see that they are properly provided for in every detail. Above all, He is very jealous of His name and high reputation as “The Good Shepherd.” He is the owner who delights in His flock. For Him there is no greater reward, no deeper satisfaction, than that of seeing His sheep contented, well fed, safe and flourishing under His care. This is indeed His very ‘life.’ He gives all He has to it. He literally lays Himself out for those who are His. He will go to no end of trouble and labor to supply them with the finest grazing, the richest pasturage, ample winter feed, and clean water. He will spare Himself no pains to provide shelter from storms, protection from ruthless enemies and the diseases and parasites to which sheep are so susceptible. No wonder Jesus said, “I am the Good Shepherd — the Good Shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.” And again, “I am come that ye might have life and that ye might have it more abundantly.” From early dawn until late at night this utterly self-less Shepherd is alert to the welfare of His flock. For the diligent sheepman rises early and goes out first thing every morning without fail to look over his flock. It is the initial, intimate contact of the day. With a practiced, searching, sympathetic eye he examines the sheep to see that they are fit and content and able to be on their feet. In an instant he can tell whether any are ill or if there are some which require special attention. Repeatedly throughout the day he casts his eye over the flock to make sure that all is well. Nor even at night is he oblivious to their needs. He sleeps as it were ‘with one eye and both ears open’ ready at the least sign of trouble to leap up and protect his own. This is a sublime picture of the care given to those whose lives are under Christ’s control. He knows all about their lives from morning to night. In spite of having such a master and owner, the fact remains that some Christians are still not content with His control. They are dissatisfied, always feeling that somehow the grass beyond the fence must be a little greener. These are carnal Christians — one might almost call them ‘fence crawlers’ or ‘half Christians’ who want the best of both worlds.”
The Lord desires to be, and will be, our Shepherd if we will let Him. He wants to lead us, but we must stop kicking against His leading. He wants to give us a hope and a future, but we must stop setting your own course. He wants to give us peace, but we have to learn to rest and stop struggling to make things happen in our own wisdom and strength. He wants to lead us beside still waters– a quiet place, a refreshing place– but we have to let go of pressing in our own direction. He wants to supply what we lack, but we have to stop scheming ways to make things happen in our life. He wants to bless us, but we have to stop making our own plans and following our own heart’s desires.
There can only be one shepherd. A sheep can’t shepherd themselves. Sheep don’t know what is best. Sheep don’t have a concept of what lies ahead. But the shepherd does. We don’t have to try to figure it all out, we don’t have to take the lead, we don’t have to try to make things happen, we can have love, joy,peace, rest, victory, grace, hope, and abundant! It all comes when we recognize our role in relation to our Shepherd and stay within it -not trying to be our own shepherd, but following, Jesus, the Shepherd of our lives.
When we know the Good Shepherd and know ourselves to be sheep in need of the Shepherd’s care, when we remain in the fold with the Shepherd, we have his care and protection. This is the Good News that Jesus’ physical life on earth and his resurrection demonstrated to us. He showed us the reality of what a Good Shepherd is and does. But what about the care and protection of the flock after Christ’s Resurrection and Ascension? He was no longer physically present to provide the protection and reassurance. How was the small flock to feel secure, grow and flourish?
We can look to the Apostles’ actions after Christ’s resurrection to see how well the flock fared. Beyond the character of Christ in his role as our shepherd, we look also at the focus on the authority of Jesus that he imparted to his disciples.
In Acts, the record of the early church’s beginnings we read in Acts 4:5-12 about a challenge to the early church, when the religious leaders wanted to know where the Apostle’s authority came from to heal a lame man. Here is how the Apostles reveal the source of their authority and power: “The next day the rulers, the elders and the teachers of the law met in Jerusalem. Annaias the high priest was there, and so were Caiaphas, John, Alexander and others of the high priest’s family. They had Peter and John brought before them and began to question them: “By what power or what name did you do this?”
Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: “Rulers and elders of the people! If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a man who was lame and are being asked how he was healed, then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed. Jesus is “‘the stone you builders rejected, which has become the cornerstone.’ Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to mankind by which we must be saved.”
The leaders who had Peter arrested for healing a lame man and for proclaiming the resurrection of Jesus demanded to know by what authority he acted.
Peter boldly proclaimed it was by the power and name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, and that all salvation there is comes through him. Peter had learned well where power resided – in the name and by the authority of Jesus Christ. He and the other Apostles boldly proclaimed Jesus’ name and not only held the small flock together, but began to extend the reach of the Gospel and grow the flock of believers. The Good Shepherd gave the example and established his authority. His followers, as faithful undershepherds, followed the example and received and operated under his authority and in his name, as Christ had directed them to. And the Good Shepherd’s flock grew and flourished. And he continued to guide and protect them.
And so we see the tender, loving, nurturing, and authoritative character of Christ reflected in his role as the Good Shepherd. We also see how his followers’ boldness arises out of the authority granted to them in the name of Christ. Further, we look at what this means for us as believers now. What is the status and condition of the flock today? How is it identified, nurtured, and expanded? Each of us, believers in Jesus Christ, is part of the “flock”. Each of us is called to be in ministry, faithful undershepherds, in the name of Christ, serving others for the sake of the flock, caring for the valuable flock of the Master. We can help one another, with the power and authority that is ours in Christ, as we identify and serve the flock in which we’ve been given a shepherding role. We can identify concrete steps to live out our role, helping others come to know and trust the Good Shepherd among the people in our lives during this week.
John, the beloved disciple who lived the longest of all of the Apostles, had probably the best perspective on how the Good Shepherd’s flock would be sustained, provided for, and grow. He had watched it during his lifetime that extended well into his 80’s. 1 John 3:16-24 tells us this:
“This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence: If our hearts condemn us, we know that God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. Dear friends, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have confidence before God and receive from him anything we ask, because we keep his commands and do what pleases him. And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. The one who keeps God’s commands lives in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.”
John, Peter, and the other Apostles experienced the presence of God Incarnate in the life of Jesus as he walked with and taught them during his three years of ministry in the physical realm of earth. They also experienced the presence of the Holy Spirit in their lives after Jesus’ Resurrection and Ascension. Today the Holy Spirit is the continuing source of power and authority for the flock of believers. We, too, by our obedience continue to live bound together with Christ…..enjoying his provision and protection, with access to his power and authority.
We learn to be good and faithful undershepherds, caring for one another as Christ has cared for us. Submitting to the authority of Christ by obeying his commandments leads us to love in truth and action, laying down our lives for one another in service, in example, in encouragement, in teaching, in intercession, and through whatever other spiritual gifts, talents, or skills we’ve been given that are necessary to keep the flock together and safe.
I have watched several news reports this past week of the life-saving, self-sacrificing spirit of people who put themselves in harm’s way in Las Vegas last week as a crazed rampaging murderer shot at the crowd from his perch high above them at an outdoor concert. There were people who surrounded loved ones to protect them for the hail of bullets. There were brave souls who raced into danger to drag wounded people to safety. There were people who administered first aid wherever it was needed, not even knowing if they were still in danger of being shot. These people have the instincts of a shepherd….they are living examples of denying one’s self for the sake of others. These are people with the heart of a shepherd.
We are the Master’s sheep. He is still among us through the power of his Holy Spirit and he has given us to one another to love and serve one another in his name and by his example.
How is our flock doing today? Do we feel his presence in our lives in the power of the Holy Spirit among us, individually and collectively when we gather together? Do we feel at rest, safe in his love and care? Are we able to live at peace among other believers because his Spirit is present with us? Do we trust fully in him in the midst of difficulty and danger? And do we trust that he is at work even in the lives of unbelievers?
We can if we keep our eyes on the words of the 23rd Psalm, claiming for ourselves the promises that God gives us there.
We will not be in want for the things we need.
He will lead us safely to places where we can rest and be refreshed.
Even though we may be in fearful circumstances, even near to death, he is with us.
He comforts us.
His provision is sure even in the face of oppression and is abundant.
We can know his goodness, mercy, and security and safety forever.
Our Good Shepherd does not leave us alone to fend for ourselves. He is always present and is always caring for us. He knows that we are no match for the dangers of the world without his care. The promise the Good Shepherd, to be with us always, was sealed for us by his life and by his Word. Be at peace this day knowing that you are safe in the arms of the Good Shepherd, now and always. Amen.