15 Jul The Good Shepherd
The Rev. John C. Brink
July 15, 2018
Ezekiel 34: 10-16
My sister-in-law Tracey, Betsy’s sister, is a teacher’s aide. After spending many years raising two great boys, she missed everyday contact with kids, so it seemed like a good fit. Her special assignment in her second-grade classroom is giving much-needed attention to kids with autism and learning disorders. Many of the kids in her class face everyday challenges at home, living in tough neighborhoods and sometimes difficult family situations.
I remember her telling us about checking the backpack of one young boy well into the school year and realizing that every paper sent home to his parents was still in the backpack, untouched and unread. He’d been squirreling food in there, too, because sometimes there wasn’t enough at home, and the backpack had turned moldy. Tracey didn’t ask any questions, she simply provided him with a new backpack provided by the school. Another boy didn’t have a toothbrush at home, and Tracey could see that his baby teeth were in bad shape. She brought a toothbrush and toothpaste for him to have at school.
At first, Tracey wasn’t sure she could make it in this job. She was frustrated. She found it hard to feel she was having an impact in her students’ lives when there was so much outside of school that seemed to work against any progress made. She certainly wasn’t in it for the money.
Tracey’s a great photographer, and she started taking beautiful portraits of the kids during field trips and other events. As she studied the faces and especially the eyes of these beautiful children, she realized her job was to shepherd them through their school day, offering care, support, a friendly smile, even a bit of love. Tracey realized if she could help make the school day the best it could be, that was enough. She didn’t need to parent the flock, she just needed it tend it. And as you can imagine, the kids absolutely love Mrs. Shea.
Tracey may not perceive her caring ministry the way I do, and she might not express it in the same way, but she is doing just what Jesus calls us to do. She has created the community church of care and concern in her school. In this scripture, Jesus calls us to be the ones to open our hands and hearts to others, to care for them, to welcome and protect them, no matter how the journey is managed and completed. As Jesus, the good shepherd, led and taught us with His life, no one is passed…no one is unworthy. So, we can say and see the gospel of Jesus Christ is alive today.
The Gospel of John is different from the others. Matthew, Mark, and Luke are called the synoptic gospels, in that they are similar in flow, content, and presentation. Many think the synoptic gospels share the same view and were written at around the same time. They seem to report events in Jesus life and time. But the gospel of John relates the story of Jesus and quotes Him as if we are there. today’s scripture, which is one long quote of Jesus speaking, reflects the lengthy debates Jesus engaged in with those who opposed Him.
In one of the most familiar and gentle, loving metaphors of Jesus, John presents Jesus as the Good Shepherd. John puts a bit of a spin on the message as he contrasts Jesus with the hired hand. It’s clear that the hired hand does not have a long-term investment and interest in the welfare of the sheep. Listen to the 23rd Psalm, the King James version;
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.
When Jesus says He is the good shepherd, he is making a radical statement. Saying “I am” meshes His mission with God’s purposes and work in the world. Here Jesus alludes to the God of Moses, who identified Himself as “I am.” Jesus makes it clear that He is God’s servant and obedient to God’s Works.
Secondly, when Jesus says he is the good shepherd, his use of the word “good” means more than that. In the Greek translation of the word, Kalos, it also means sound, noble model, true, and faithful. But Jesus is far more than these wonderful definitions of Him. Jesus embodies power, strength, sympathy, kindness, and mercy.
In Ezekiel 34:10-16, God first assumes the duties of the shepherd – the one who feeds, leads, guides, protects, and seeks his lost sheep. Truly, Jesus the Good Shepherd knows His sheep personally…and calls us all by name. By His own declaration, Jesus takes up God’s Mission and links Himself with God’s redemptive work in the world. Jesus claims and shows us His very Life and Work are an act of obedience to God. No sacrifice is too great for His sheep.
I don’t mean to be too critical of the hired hand, but this message is about Jesus as the one who commits His life to the care of the sheep…and we are the flock of sheep.
Jesus does far more than watch the sheep. He gathers us in, as the hymn goes. In this gospel of John, it seems it is those who hear, see, and believe in Jesus who form the flock of faithful, needy sheep. But the door to the gathering with Jesus is wide open for the “others” of the day…then and now – sinners, lepers, women, Samaritans, tax collectors, and more.
Jesus is concerned for the individual welfare of each sheep. He knows us by name. By gathering all his sheep into one fold, he is intends to have us care for one another as shepherds as best we can with the gifts He has given us. There is intimacy and security in this vision of community.
Today we create virtual communities on the internet and in chat rooms. It’s easy, and we can avoid a face to face revelation of who we really are. Not so with Jesus. He offers Himself to form an authentic and holistic community of believers. It is hard to keep the energy and flow of openness and peace. We are sometimes hesitant and fearful.
Jesus assures us our fears are real and that there is an alternative. Today’s text speaks off both Dangers and Protection, but our concerns and anxiety can be relieved, because we have the One who knows us and call us by name, is willing to die for us and is our constant Companion…the Good Shepherd, Jesus.
This gospel message from John makes it clear that the work of gathering the flock belongs to Jesus and God. We are to provide a space where all are welcome and we can continue the work Jesus began. The community that John envisions is open and celebrates its diversity as a gift from God. I can’t help thinking that this open community includes all immigrants, young and old, seeking safe and appropriate entry into our country. I hope this vision will inform our country’s leaders’ decision making in the days ahead.
John envisions many churches united in their loyalty to Jesus, gathering at the table Jesus showed us existed right in our midst. This table is where the Good Shepherd offers us the bread of life and the cup of blessing for our lives …all prepared for us by the Shepherd. And most importantly…ALL the Lost and Lonely, Weary Sheep ARE WELCOME.
He must have considered the United Churches of Christ as the hub for His gathering the lost and weary sheep into the fold.
In the beauty of the 23rdPsalm, there is no concern of who we are or what group we are in…there is a prayer of thanks and assurance that, no matter our place in the world, no matter our presence and power, we are cared for and protected by the Good Shepherd. Yes, like the sheep of Jesus the Good Shepherd; we can lie down in green pastures. For each of us, the green pastures of life are different and just as valuable to each of us, no matter how we got to our present fields of life. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, by blessing us with the Holy Spirit, is with us in our lives, to watch over us, to walk with us, to offer us the protection of love and trust that we are truly known and loved by God, Our Creator, and by Jesus, The Good Shepherd, our brother and Savior.