Sermon by Pastor Tim Woodard
April 26, 2015
“Are You The Good Shepherd?”
Our Scripture lesson this morning comes to us from the Gospel According to John, Chapter 10, Verses 11-18.
11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away – and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13 The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.
17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.”
God has blessed our hearing and understanding of these ancient and holy words.
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The great Robert De Niro directed a movie called “The Good Shepherd” back in 2006. It was a spy movie starring Matt Damon, Angelina Jolie and De Niro himself. This morning’s scripture lesson does not follow his story line, (although both are dramas to be sure.) A preacher by the name of George Whitfield, did however, preach on this subject in his last sermon on August 30, 1769. Within his sermon Whitfield points out that Jesus says: “I am the Good Shepherd, I know my own and my own know me.” He continues on saying: “If you ask me why Christ’s people are called sheep, I will give you what I hope will be an answer of peace. Sheep, you know, generally love to be together; we say a flock of sheep, we do not say a herd of sheep.” Whitfield affirms for us that in today’s allegory, Jesus is saying that we the “people ‘are’ to be called sheep.”
These words of this old preacher are a good starting point for us today as we begin to explore, as I believe we all want to be counted as sheep based on the parallel that Jesus uses for his Good Shepherd illustration. With this said, however, I am going to ask us all to stretch a bit. Starting with the traditional I am asking us to consider what it means to be a Good Shepherd. With this as a base, I want us to take a more contemporary, a more current look at this lesson. I am suggesting to each of us it is time to stop being the sheep and start being the shepherd! Go ahead and lift up Jesus as the ultimate example of how to be a ‘Good Shepherd’; now ask yourself: “Are you a good shepherd?”
While you mull that over, let me take you back to when I was growing up. My father’s parents had a small farm. Grandfather had cattle, milking cows, chickens and pigs. All of the adults had some responsibility for the live-stock. Let’s not forget Grandmother, she was proud of the vegetable and flower gardens; we all helped out at harvest time. And oh yes, everyone loved to pick her red and black raspberries.
There was lots to do on the farm.
My siblings and I, we gathered eggs in the hen houses, as-well-as helped with the feeding and watering. Once, I remember there was quite a ruckus about a fox getting into one of the hen houses. Someone got the shotgun. The cows had to be milked every day, and there was always feeding and clean-up duties to be done. Then there were the hay fields… lots and lots of work to be done there. The pigs, they mostly needed feeding. It took all of us to handle the vast corn fields: planting, weeding, then picking the ears of corn; not to mention the cutting and stacking of the stocks; then in the Spring to start over plowing and fertilizing the land.
Looking back, contrasting farming with the imagery of shepherding, I see an easy parallel. My grandparents were good farmers; they gave their all to running a good farm, raising the animals and nurturing their crops. They also stood as examples to all their children and us grandchildren; they were good shepherds and taught us how to be as well.
Here in our church and throughout Christianity, God through Jesus, calls pastor’s to their ‘vocations.’ Through the efforts of good pastors the people of God are properly fed the nourishment that comes from the teachings of Christ, and they help pass forward the traditions of Christians that have come before them. Thus, pastors are taught to be good shepherds. Among their many areas of responsibility pastors are called upon to visit the sick and injured. There are a good number of you here today that are good pastors in this sense, and thus good shepherds. Our Compassion Team heads this up, and from what I have witnessed a lot of ‘visiting and caring’ is done. As a result, the pastor, together with the assist of a team of willing disciples and members of this fellowship, our church reaches out to care for its membership, this community – the flock. This cycle continues as we help folks join and rejoin in the life of this fellowship. Overtime, those folks that have felt the love and compassion of Christian outreach, they also begin to give to others; they give what has been so freely given to them. Hence the healthy cycle of a vibrant church is complete and continues forward in this aspect of ministry.
The pastor, the shepherd called by God, continues to feed the community he or she is called to serve. Oftentimes, this process causes the preacher to proclaim things or set off an alarm about things that are not getting done and or ought to be done! This is much like a shepherd or farmer ringing the emergency bell, telling all hands that there is a break in the fence or a wolf hiding in the bushes! Sometimes, and in some cases, oftentimes actually, these assertions are very unpopular.
New initiatives often are!
In today’s world, the words of one’s pastor can become an embarrassment to those seeking public office. Social justice we cry out! Women’s rights, civil rights, acceptance of divergent cultures; equal or minimum pay for migrant farm workers. “Here at the Riviera United Church of Christ, we are a Christ-centered church, open to all manner of God’s people. Whether red, yellow, black or white; young, middle-age or old; handicapped or able-bodied; gay, bisexual, transgender or straight, you are welcomed and honored here just as you are – a beloved child of God’s.”
People in public office have been timid about being the first to voice these issues of justice ‘out-loud’ when they are on the campaign trail!
Perhaps we need to be reminded, shocking as it may seem, most of the words of Jesus were scandalous to the Jewish religious leaders of that time period. Jesus’ words cried out to the hearts of an oppressed people, making those that controlled them nervous and afraid. Consider what might be uncovered and exposed for all to see, as you consider the words of our trusted religious leaders, as they dare to speak out. Hear me well… the public eye has seldom made room for the word of God. Religion is considered weak and foolish, while the noble and mighty must focus on power and strength… relying occasionally on borrowed phrases and stories of old. Seldom will you hear a public figure consider him or herself to be a sheep or a shepherd, yet they will strive to rally God’s flock all around them. However, Pastors, true shepherds put their jobs and their lively-hoods on the line for the good of their flock, their congregation all the time. Outside the safety of the Twenty-First Century and the boarders of these United States, pastors put their lives on the line – way too frequently – for the greater good!
In his writings the old pastor, Rev. Whitfield points out for us that “sheep of all creatures in the world are the most apt to stray and be lost; Christ’s people may justly, in that respect, be compared to sheep; therefore, we say, `We have erred and strayed from thy ways like lost sheep.’ Turn out a horse, or a dog, and they will find their way home, but a sheep wanders about; he bleats here and there, as much as today, Dear stranger, show me my way home again; thus Christ’s sheep are too apt to wander from the fold; having their eye off the great Shepherd, they go into this field and that field, over this hedge and that, and often return home with the loss of their wool.”
I believe that this characterization is most fitting. All around us we see evidence of God’s people and of nations, who are lost or who have gone astray. We see also, how so many of our brethren do not watch over their brothers and sisters. Oftentimes, no one within a fellowship has taken on the role of assisting the pastor – leaving one person to be the only shepherd tending the flock, as many wander about, oftentimes confused and afraid. Many need the outstretched hand, and the helpful assist of one of God’s many good shepherds. There are many that need to be led home once again. When you find yourself amongst the weeds with a tangle of thickets and briers, call out, for God knows your voice, just as you shall know God’s loving response to your needs. Pray that a good shepherd will be sent to guide you.
Many of you may need nurturing today. For that reason, let those who have now accepted their roles as shepherds assist you. And as time moves forward you shall become renewed and refreshed, at least in the spirit, thus finding some peace and serenity through God’s grace. Yes, a great many of you shall grow to be recovered and you shall grow strong, then you and I, we must embrace a new understanding; we must come to realize that once we have gone through this healing process, we need to ‘unite’ and for some ‘reunite’ with the fellowship, the flock if you will, and begin to do for others as God through Christ has done for us!
Let us pray to our God that in this way, many of us here gathered shall take on the character of the shepherd. There is so much that is needed and there is so much that we can still do. Never forget how useful your one true voice can be in a world filled with falsehoods and half-truths. Remember that each of us is a gifted and special ambassador for our God. Through our encouragement others shall come to trust in the saving grace of our God through Christ. No one amongst us, no matter how weak or small, is lacking something of profound worth that can be put to good use, just as all were able to help out and as so many tackled the tasks before, during and after the rummage sale last week. Together, your combined efforts made a tremendous difference in the outcome of that event.
Following our theme for today… Jesus is the Good Shepherd and we are his. Yes, in this allegory, we are the sheep of his fold. Staying with the definitions and assumptions put forth today… we therefore are to be all that sheep are meant to be, meek and gentle and willing to gather together. Now, commit to memory: that this is good for starters; but, this was only meant to be an illustration that parallels our relationship with Jesus in context to us his flock, his people.
Hopefully today, we have worked to move beyond this starting point – as we come to realize that it is now our responsibility ‘to be the good shepherd’.
We, therefore, must care for those that we are responsible for with all that we are; we must seek out the lost and bring them back into the fold. We must always remember that we are indeed useful and together we can do many good things for the people of God, in the name of ‘Jesus the Christ!’ Consequently, let our lives be lifted up in the name of ‘The Good Shepherd’ out of gratitude for all that Jesus has done for us! In saying this we must begin to realize that it is now time for us to accept our roles as disciples, and as disciples we are expected to carry on the work of Jesus in the world. Thus and henceforth, we have become the shepherd! Let us follow the example set by Jesus!