“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

 

Psalm 23

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.”

 

Prayer.

 

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.

Through worship

Repentance could be made,

Forgiveness exchanged,

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 sanctuary,

Of security,

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:

Be assured!

Be confident!

Christ, our Good Shepherd,

Knows you,

Protects you,

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.

God’s house,

God’s sanctuary

Has become our eternal dwelling.

Let us sing of His praise

Forever and ever.

Amen.