Acts 4:5-12; Psalm 23; 1 John 3:16-24; John 10:11-18
The Shepherd. What a wonderful image for a good and loving Savior, our Lord Jesus Christ. A shepherd is a sentinel, a watchdog, a wise sage who knows the ways of the land and the world, even if he is not very well educated, in the eyes of the world. He does not abandon or leave the sheep; for they are like members of his own household. A shepherd is a nomad, one who is not rooted to one place but knows the stars, and moon, and the movements of the seasons. A shepherd knows that there is another place he must lead the sheep to, if they are to continue grazing and growing. But above all, perhaps, the shepherd who lays down his life and takes it up again, for the benefit of his sheep, brings us all together as one community, in one life and love, under His most loving care.
I came across a story recently of Odin the sheepdog? He lived with the Roland Hendel family on their farm in northern California. His owners said that Odin, a Great Pyrenees, was a wonderful sheepdog (they actually raised bottlenecked goats) who chased off coyotes and other dangers, and never left the goats until his sister, Tessa, came to relieve him every morning. Odin had the Nightwatch. When the flames of the great Tubbs fire came sweeping down on his property in October of 2017, Roland and his family knew they had to leave their farm. Odin refused to leave the goats and nothing the family could do would dissuade him. So, the Hendels made the difficult decision to leave Odin and they watched him disappear in the mirror as they pulled away. They barely made it out of their area alive, with the fire consuming some cars as they tried to make their escape. The sobbed, when they finally reached safety, knowing nothing could survive the inferno.
When they were allowed back to their home, everything was destroyed: outbuildings, house; everything, even some trees were still burning, though the fire had passed. Yet, suddenly, the goats appeared and made a beeline for the family. And behind them, pushing them along, was Odin. He was limping on his right leg, his whiskers had melted, had some small burns and singed fur. Apparently, he had adopted several baby deer, who had become separated from family during the fire and had clung to the big dog. Many were inspired by Odin’s courage and perseverance during the fire. – adapted from Synthesis, April, 2018
Today is Good Shepherd Sunday, as always on the 4th Sunday of Easter. And these readings tell us that we are lead, guided, protected, and blessed by the presence of a God who simply will not leave us, let us go, or stop loving us. I think there is no greater passage that demonstrates this than the beloved Psalm 23. Let’s take a look.
“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 paths of righteousness for His Name’s sake.”
My Lord Jesus, the Good Shepherd, gives to me of the abundance of His grace, love, and mercy. He is present to me. And if I will allow Him, my Shepherd will lead me to places of renewal and rest.
“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.”
My Lord, the Good Shepherd, he is not only a guide when I am feeling confident and rested, but when I am broken and wounded, when I am weak and lost. And even when I go through the greatest trials, even when death comes near…He will not leave me, because He is the Good Shepherd.
“Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies;”
Even when I am persecuted, forced to live or work or struggle with those who would do me harm, discard me as worthless; even when I am in the midst of those who not only have hope but would stamp out mine…even then, Jesus, the Good Shepherd, has a place for me, a place of love and hope, at His table.
“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 forever.”
And we go back to the abundant love. Not only is God present, but in Christ He is present in such a way that I am overwhelmed. God washes over me and seeps into ever crack and crevasse of my heart and gives me the eternal promise that not even death can separate me from the good shepherd who shattered death so that we could be together; so that He would be with us always.
The promise of the good shepherd is also one of unity, of togetherness, not only to be with God in Christ but to be with each other. Some would say that Christians make some pretty exclusive claims; not that we are alone in this. Peter today declares of Jesus, “There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.” Jesus has reinforced and given this teaching as he says, “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.” And he says, in the good shepherd story, “I am the true gate. Those who enter by another are thieves and bandits.”
And some Christians have used this over the millennia to say that all who do not claim Jesus as Lord are outside the scope of His grace and are to be discarded, or even persecuted. Jesus does make a pretty exclusive claim, as the Risen Son of the Living God. But, listen to what he says: “I know my own [sheep] and my own know me … I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold [flock]. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So, there will be one flock, and one shepherd.”
Jesus’ claim is inclusive to all who are sheep of the world, all who are children of God, which is all of us. Jesus intends that we all belong to Him, regardless of who we are and where we have been. He is the one who loved all, even enemies, so much that he laid his life down for them, because all are his family, his beloved, his sheep. In the parable of the Good shepherd, Jesus, the good shepherd leaves the 99 sheep who are safe, secure in where they should be, in order to find the one lost one. And when he finds that one lost sheep he brings that child back to and calls his neighbors, so that they can rejoice. So, we are never separated because we are different, rejected by others, not beautiful enough or hopeful enough, or the right this or that. We are all called to hear the voice of the good shepherd to whom we belong.
And Jesus is about unity, about togetherness, because he not only wants the individual sheep to come to him but wants us to come to each other, in Him. He who laid down His life and picked it up again means for us all to be together. Jesus calls us with the gentle, reassuring and loving voice of the shepherd to come to home. Home for us, with God in Christ, in this life, is comprehending and experiencing the presence of God in all its fullness. Let us trust the good shepherd who will lead us, guide us, and longs to make us his and each other’s.