Saturday, April 25, 2015

Walking with the Good Shepherd

Psalm 23; John 10: 11-18

Today is a Good Shepherd Sunday. In the Gospel text Jesus describes himself as the good shepherd, in contrast with the hired hand. Since at least the time of David, the image of the shepherd has been used to describe God’s relationship with God’s people. So, let’s begin talking about the good shepherd by looking at the Psalm and its description of who God is.
God is our Lord. With God the shepherd in charge, we will not need anything.
God gives us plenty to eat and drink. God calms the stormy waters for us. God leads us into places of peace.
God puts our spirits back into balance when we are in distress or dismay. With God as our guide, we obey the commandments and form a strong bond with God.
God is right beside us when our lives face challenges. God goes before us and behind us, protecting and comforting us.
God pours out abundance for us in the presence of evil. God claims us for God-self.
God offers us mercy and goodness and forgiveness every day, and we are welcome in God’s house forever.
So, God the shepherd provides us with all we need, protects us from evil, forgives us when we stray, and tries to keep us in covenantal relationship.
… Jesus’ description of himself as the good shepherd gives us a similar and yet stronger image of God as the shepherd. His focus here is not on providing for our needs as much as being our protection against evil.
The good shepherd stays with the sheep to protect them, unlike the hired hand who runs away from danger.
The good shepherd has a personal connection with the sheep, knowing each of them by name.
The good shepherd accepts new sheep into the fold, making the fold larger and larger, yet only one fold.
The good shepherd obeys the command of the Father, the Great Shepherd, we might say.
The good shepherd is willing to give up his life for the sake of the sheep.
… Jesus calls himself the good shepherd as a strong contrast to the designated shepherds of the Jewish people, the Priests and the Levites and the Pharisees. In the previous chapter, Jesus has healed the man-born-blind. This man has all sorts of trouble making people believe that Jesus healed him, that he is not a fraud.
It is clear, as the story goes on, that the truly blind folks are the leaders, the man’s friends, and even the man’s parents. The current shepherds of the people are failures; they fail to see that they are not taking good care of the flock. They are not willing to give up their lives for their flock. Jesus, the good shepherd, is. Three times in 8 verses Jesus makes it clear that he willingly gives up his life for his sheep. He willingly dies, for us his sheep.
… We are all under-shepherds for Jesus, called to care for his flock as he would. We are called to use our own particular gifts for feeding the hungry sheep; protecting oppressed sheep from harm; adding more sheep to the flock. We do this in so many ways as individuals and as a congregation.
Key Club is the High School version of Kiwanis. A high school teacher supervises the activities of the youth, helping them learn leadership skills, the value of service to others, and the importance of making connections with around the area and throughout the state. Kim is the High School Advisor for the Dunnellon Key Club.
The Kiwanis Club Mike and I belong to sponsors the Key Club at Crystal River High School. On Friday evening, I watched Dana shepherd her Key Club members through a meeting to celebrate the past year, thank the current leaders, and install the new leaders.
Dana knows all her students by name, knows their gifts and talents. She guides them year after year into learning the how-tos of leadership and the joys of helping others. She brags about each of the youth in her flock. Dana is a good shepherd, as is Kim (but I haven’t seen Kim in action to brag about her in the same way).
… Yesterday those of us gathered for the Pinelands Conference meeting heard from Kelly, who is on staff at Interfaith Emergency Services in Ocala. She described the way Interfaith tries to partner with their clients to transition them back into productive lives. They offer them emergency food, offer training in money management, getting and keeping a job, and obtaining permanent housing. Interfaith collects and distributes food and clothing and personal items. A number of agencies in Citrus County do the same thing – Family Resource Center, SOS food pantry, and the Path, for example. Such organizations try to be good shepherds for their particular flock.
… This weekend, the ELCA sets aside time to lift up the ELCA Malaria Campaign. Here’s a story about how our contributions to the Malaria Fund enable us to be good shepherds to families in Africa.
Maya is less than a year old. Her father, Mike, couldn’t have been more thrilled when Maya was born. But he was also scared. Mike knew of many little children who never made it to their fifth birthday. “Two years ago, close to where I live in Chinsapo, Malawi, a baby girl was born. So beautiful and charming was this little angel with her babyish smile and pink cheeks,” Mike remembers. “One day the mother noticed something strange. The baby was shivering and the body temperature was rising. The baby would not stop crying.”
The little girl had malaria—a preventable, treatable disease caused by the bite of an infected mosquito. When she passed away she was only three months old. To most of us in the United States, mosquitoes are nothing more than a nuisance. But in Malawi and many parts of Africa, just one bite from a mosquito could transmit malaria and lead to death.
By providing mosquito nets, medication and comprehensive health education, the ELCA Malaria Campaign is working to eliminate deaths from this disease—for good. By sleeping under an insecticide-treated mosquito net, Mike, baby Maya and the rest of the family have stayed healthy for almost a year. And so have many other families in the community.
But that’s not all. “The money which would have been used for medical bills [to treat malaria] is now used for other things. It helps me and my family save money.” With savings and good health, the future looks bright for baby Maya.
We are called in many ways to be Jesus’ under shepherds, giving our lives in service to those around us. For whom are you a shepherd?

In return, who is your shepherd? We are good at shepherding others, but not always so good at letting ourselves be shepherded. Yet in order to have a healthy relationship with Jesus our shepherd, we must allow him to guide and comfort and protect us. We must be willing to let him lead us into green fields and still our stormy waters. We need to remember that we are not alone, when we have the good shepherd in our lives.