This is the day the LORD has made … let us rejoice in it, and be glad.
Let us pray:
O LORD our God, great is your name.
And greatly to be praised.
Lift our hearts, we pray, to Jesus.
Inspire us with your Holy Spirit.
Transform us that we might serve you with all that we are.
And all that we hope to be.
Now and forever more.
Amen and Amen!
And what he says is central to everything we know and believe about Jesus.
But where something is said is just as important as what is said.
Where is Jesus when he claims the title, Good Shpeherd?
He’s in Jerusalem.
A city full of shepherds.
Teachers and students.
This and that.
Here and there.
A lot of noise.
Hustle and bustle.
The Temple - in all of its glory.
Gold and silver.
Cedar of Lebanon.
Goats and doves and buyers and sellers and the money changers … and pilgrims … always the pilgrims ... from near and far, all around the Empire … to see the fabled city … Jerusalem the Golden … where God is present unto Israel in the Holy of Holies … and present, through Israel, unto the whole wide world.
The City of David.
A place of hopes and dreams.
Here in the center of things, a city filled with shepherds, Jesus says, I am the good shepherd … I’m not the hired hand who runs away at the first sign of trouble … I’m loyal to the sheep, and I’d lay down my life for their safety.
Everyone hearing Jesus knows the larger story … Ezekiel 34 … a withering attack on Israel’s spiritual and political leaders … they take care of themselves, and fail to care for the flock …
And a flock without a shepherd becomes unruly … fat ones shoulder out of the way the weaker sheep … “Every sheep for itself” … the heart and soul of the flock dies, for want of good leadership … Israel’s shepherds have failed, and failed badly.
Ezekiel 34 is also a promise, a promise that God will provide a new shepherd, a shepherd who won’t fail, who will do it right … who find the lost sheep, feed them, tend them, keep them safe.
Jesus is the Good Shepherd … Jesus doesn’t fail, nor Jesus run away … Jesus provides protection for the flock and leads the flock to good pasture and clean water.
With a Good Shepherd to lead, the flock is no longer unruly … no longer do the strong shove aside the weak … all the sheep are well-fed and well-tended … everyone pays attention to everyone else … no one left behind; no one excluded; all are welcomed!
The classic story … Special Olympics … the starter’s gun fires and a group of children take off for the finish line … as they run the race, one of the children stumbles and falls … all the rest of the racers stop and turn around, to pick up their fallen friend, to help him across the finish line, and they all cross the finish line together - everyone wins; no one loses … the victory belongs to all.
Such is the flock of God … under the care of the Good Shepherd.
We learn from Jesus.
As we care for one another.
Our flock may be large … our flock may be small … but all of us are shepherds.
Parents to children …
Wealthy to workers …
Workers to fellow-workers …
Friends to friends …
We are responsible for one another.
To live a gracious life.
To be the salt of the earth and the light of the world.
We forgive, because God forgives us …
We forget the wrongs done unto us, because God forgets the wrongs we do unto God ...
We seek the redemption of others, because Jesus redeems us from the powers of death …
We help others find new life, because God gives new life to us.
What we receive from God, we give unto others.
There are so many stories in the Bible about this … giving to others what we receive from God …
The parable of the man forgiven a huge debt, who turns around and refuses to forgive a fellow-worker’s small debt [Matthew 18.23-34] … Jesus makes it clear, the man’s failure to forgive the debt of his co-worker revokes the forgiveness of the master.
The wealthy employer who refuses to pay a fair wage to the worker [James 5.1-6] … like the Psalmist says: the wicked borrow and never pay back, but the righteous are generous and keep on giving.
With regard to children … Jesus says it would be better to be thrown into the sea with a heavy millstone tied around our neck then to cause a child to trip and fall.
Of course, none of us are perfect.
We drop the ball.
We fail to live up to our own expectations.
Sometimes I feel like David who writes, My sin is ever before me.
I sometimes end the day displeased with myself and frustrated by my lack of progress, Let me count the ways I flub and fail … stumble and fall …
It’s not that we need to dwell obsessively on our faults and failings, but our faults and failings are used by God to keep us humble before God … and kindly toward one another.
God allows us to fall … to fail … to sin … as a means of keeping our pride in check … lest we think of ourselves too highly.
Like Paul’s thorn in the flesh, our foibles and failings are a means whereby we learn of God’s grace … that life is grace, and grace is life.
We’re always the sinner, saved by grace.
Always the lost, found by God.
Always the blind, given miraculous sight.
Always the sheep of God’s pasture.
Always the Good Shepherd who leads us and shows us the way.
Let us, then, follow him, with heart and soul … abide in his word … take seriously his word to Peter, Feed my sheep.
Dear friends in Christ, there is much work to be done in our world … let us not tarry in the sheepfold … the Good Shepherd leads us into the mountains and valleys of the world … to serve the LORD with gladness, to lift up one another, to make this a better world … to be sure that all are fed, clothed and housed … that the voice of peace rings loud and clear in a world filled with the noise of war … that everyone has a good chance at the fulness of life, especially the children of the world … that the sheep who have much won’t have too much, and the sheep who have little, won’t have too little [2 Corinthians 8.15] … that the mountains might be brought low, and the valleys filled in … that justice roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever-flowing stream [Amos 5.24].
Amen and Amen.