“The Good Shepherd”
Psalm 23 and John 10:11-18
26 April 2015
The Rev. Todd R. Goddard, pastor
West Walworth: Zion & East Rochester United Methodist Churches
Lord, my shepherd, there’s nothing I lack.
In fresh pastures you let me lie down;
You lead me beside quiet waters;
You restore me to life.
In order to show who you are
You guide me in paths that are right.
Even walking through dark valleys,
I have no fear of harm.
For you yourself are with me;
Your rod and staff reassure me.
Right in front of my foes,
You lay out a feast for me.
You anoint my head with oil;
My cup is overflowing.
Goodness and love pursue me
Every day of my life;
God’s house will be my home
As long as I may live.
(Translation by Gary Chamberlain, “The Psalms, A New Translation for Prayer and Worship,” The Upper Room, 1984.)
John 10:11-18 (NRSV)
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 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. The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own 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 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. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. 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.”
So often we all go through the motions.
The daily grind wakes us, feeds us, and sends us off to school or work.
We drive in cars or ride in buses that retrace the same worn paths.
We rotate our menus to give a sense of change,
But really, we eat the same predictable foods and drink the same drinks.
Routines pass us from one moment to the next
And, for the most part, routines keep us content.
Paydays come and bills go.
A new semester begins, even before the ink is dry on the former.
One grade begins to look like every other.
If it wasn’t for the occasional holiday,
Seasons would come and seasons would go without us taking notice.
Even holidays take on a well-worn comfort:
Mom always stuffs the turkey.
Dad always brings mom roses.
Fourth of July becomes sausages on the grill, or bust.
Like sheep, mindlessly nibbling at the grass of the field;
Head down, intent on one thing,
Too often our comfortable, well-worn routines become blinders
That prevents us from seeing wolves approaching.
The playing field God sets for us
Is cleared of dangers,
Like a Good Shepherd who would remove poisonous weeds and snakes
Before allowing his flock to graze.
We have grown so accustomed to God’s grace
That when we drink from still waters
We forget that it was the Good Shepherd
That steered us away from the dangerous, turbulent waters
That, had we lost our footing, could have swept us away.
By God’s grace and benevolence
We truly lack for nothing.
Yet, even in our world of comfortable routine
Supplied by more than we need,
Wolves still approach.
Dangers quietly grow.
Evil sets its deadly traps and waits patiently for the first sign of weakness.
Change is forced upon us
And the transition can spiral us into crisis.
I believe the twenty-third Psalm
Is so popular at funerals
Because society recognizes this tenuous balance
Between life and death:
The telephone call from the hospice nurse,
The spouse frantically waiting to spill the news
And hold you in their arms when you pull into the driveway,
The dreaded walk and knock on your front door
By a police officer or an MP.
The twenty-third Psalm is as personal
As that spiked blood sugar,
The sudden onset of chest pains,
Or the headache and numbness that strikes out of nowhere.
Wolves pounce when they get the chance
And it is only the Good Shepherd that can protect.
His rod and his staff
Not only guides us,
But can protect us as well.
Our Psalmist for today
Was writing song lyrics for our Hebrew ancestors
To sing in worship.
Let that sink in for a moment.
The Psalms were contemporary music
For the Church before it became the Church,
Between 500 and a thousand years before Christ.
Be it David, or some other Hebrew author writing in the style of David,
The author of the twenty-third Psalm
Recognizes the delicate balance we all face
Between the comfort of routine daily life
And the danger of sudden, unforeseen crisis, trials, and transitions.
The Psalmist recognizes that worship
Is where real security lies.
“Worship is the sphere where God’s protection is most readily available.”
(Soards, Dozeman, McCabe, “Preaching the Revised Common Lectionary,” Abingdon, 1993.)
Worship protects us
Because this is where God abides.
In ancient days
The Temple actually provided sanctuary;
Protection from arrest, judgment, or incarceration.
This place is called a sanctuary for a reason.
It is in the sanctuary
Where perpetrator and victim could come together
For healing to take place.
Scripture was proclaimed.
Psalms, like our Psalm today, would be sung.
Repentance could be made,
And plans for reparations could be initiated.
Sanctuary is a place where
The torn fabric
Of a broken society and severed relationships
Could be repaired and re-sewed.
Healing and new life comes
From God above in the context of worship,
Of fresh pastures and still waters.
This is where life is restored
By the Good Shepherd.
“I am the Good Shepherd,” Jesus teaches us today.
“The Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”
Jesus laid down his life for you and me.
When we are up to our eyeballs in alligators,
When wolves recoil and attack,
When blood is spilled on the cross of Calvary,
Jesus lays down his life to save our lives.
“I am the Good Shepherd” Jesus repeats.
“I know my own and my own know me.”
Know Jesus, because Jesus knows you.
The same God who created you
Knows how many hairs are created on your head.
Just as the Heavenly Father knows His beloved Son,
So too, does Jesus, our Good Shepherd
Know you and me.
No greater love is there
Than the love of the Good Shepherd
Who laid down his life that we might live.
The darkest valleys eventually give way
To abundant planes of harvest and plenty.
Emerging from life’s darkest valleys
Is the Good Shepherd’s heavenly banquet
Where we can rest and repose,
Our heads will be anointed,
Our feet will be washed,
Our bellies will be filled,
And our cups will overflow.
The take away message
From scripture and from the Good News for today is this:
Christ, our Good Shepherd,
And, by his sacrificial blood,
And, by his eternal love,
Jesus will see you through every danger, toil, and snare.
Surely goodness and mercy
Are in the future of those
Whose confidence is in the Good Shepherd,
Of those who follow his voice,
For it is with these faithful with whom He abides.
Has become our eternal dwelling.
Let us sing of His praise
Forever and ever.