Posted on Wed, May 17, 2017
May 7, 2017
4th Sunday in Easter
Gospel Text: John 10:1-10
Jesus the Good Shepherd
‘Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. 2The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. 3The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.’ 6Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.
7 So again Jesus said to them, ‘Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. 8All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. 9I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. 10The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.
The Divine Shepherd
A Psalm of David.
1 The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;
3 he restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths
for his name’s sake.
4 Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I fear no evil;
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff—
they comfort me.
5 You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
my whole life long.
How many of us have Psalm 23 memorized? I would bet you have parts of if memorized. We mostly hear it at funerals, but I am sure bits and parts of it are always accessible in the forefront of your mind. It is not surprising we oftentimes choose Psalm 23 for funerals, and we may think we are choosing it for the sake of our loved one. As we have put together so many memorial services, we may say, “So and so, would love this song, or this prayer, or this poem or dance,” And I am sure you would be correct, but we need to remember that according to the Easter Promise and our Baptism, our loved one, is presently now within the fold of Jesus, the Good Shepherd. Our loved on is in the best place possible… that means when we choose that special Bible verse, poem, dance, or song, deep down we are really choosing these words for our own comfort. The purpose of a memorial is to comfort the living and begin the process of healing for the living. We do this by celebrating a life, but at a funeral we mostly allow the essential meaning of a memorial to be a confession of faith, and proclamation of the Gospel, the Good News of the Good Shepherd to be the central message.
Psalm 23 is a song, according to tradition, composed by King David who was indeed a shepherd as a boy, and intentionally choose the imagery of God as the Good Shepherd, and we are like the sheep of God’s fold.
The beginning and end of the Song are like wonderful bookends, “1The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” And “6Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long.” These are the words of comfort because they highlight that promise Jesus gave to the disciples in Matthew 28, “And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”
These words and so many other words and promises of scripture are so important to hold close to your heart and mind. I woke up today to a beautiful view of Koko Crater in the morning sky, but I also know of a friend that let us know that her brother, about the same age, was struck down by a sudden stroke, and of course the request for prayers goes up. Also during the week a pastor colleague requested prayers because he son was swept away in the Mississippi River in MN. Two tragic events that came suddenly and tragically. We request prayers because we are calling out to our Good Shepherd to save us, guide us, comfort us, give us wisdom and peace. We call out to our Good Shepherd, because our faith confirms to our heart that our Good Shepherd, the Creator and our Savior are One.
King David himself had some “difficult” times, many he brought on himself, but others that came upon him. I am sure he drew from his memories as a shepherd boy watching over sheep in long ago Palestine, a time when there were lions and other major predators in that region.
“2 He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; 3he restores my soul.”
Friday night at our Mindfulness class, so many times we heard people tell us how tired they were. Tired from work, tired from care-giving, tired of all the noise and information that seems to bombard us all the time. Notice that David rejoices that God MAKES him to lie down in green pastures, and he LEADS me to still waters, thus it is God removing him from the pressures of the day and forcing him to rest so that our soul can be refreshed. Of course the sheep want to find that green pastures, but what about the poor shepherd always working for the sake of his always hungry and bleating sheep?
The Good Shepherd knows what we need, that is why we have a Sabbath, a day to be refreshed through scripture, the Gospel, prayer and song.
“He leads me in right paths, for his name’s sake.” We have a choice, to follow in the discipline of Jesus, or not. We have the choice to live according to faith or not. It takes faith to stand with the poor, find shelter for the house-less, defend the stranger and alien! But that is what we are called to do. Jesus is very clear about that, and the reason is simple, when we walk the path of grace, justice and mercy, then the goodness of God, our Good Shepherd, is made known to the world, and we are the ones who feel blessed! We don’t just feed the hungry for fun, we do it because it is a blessing for all, the clients and the volunteers.
4Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff — they comfort me. You can define evil for your self. David is speaking very clearly about a rod and staff, the tools or weapons a shepherd would use to defend the sheep, and keep them safely together, but David is making it clear that he is thankful that it is God who will do the defending. God’s strength and prowess are to be trusted much more than his own abilities. This is a statement of humility.
“5You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.” He prepares a feast before my enemies. Notice our “enemies” are not held back, chained back or caged. They still stand before us, they may even surround us, but God is right next to us, and it is God who is our host preparing for us the best meal, more than a meal, a feast that is for us to enjoy and be filled. The metaphor is that our enemies do not go away, but 1. God is with us even in the midst of our enemies 2. Our enemies cannot touch us BECAUSE OF THE PRESENCE and PRESENCE OF GOD 3. God’s gift is satisfying and abundant!
In my humble career of studying, teaching and living out the message of God’s faithfulness which is the Good News nested in the words of the Bible, almost every faith community that I have studied in scripture is living as refugees, persecuted in a dangerous land, considered ‘aliens’ or even as ‘resident aliens,’ living under occupation, slavery, or exile. Can you imagine how important the words of the Song are to this new faith community/movement called Christians? Think of the book of 1 Peter.
The only stories of God’s people living in luxurious times of plenty and military power, are also living with the prophets warning God’s people of turning power and glory into idols that lead us away from our Good Shepherd. Think about Jeremiah.
I remember stories of when Presiding Bishop Mark Hanson and our past Bishop Murray Finck were traveling in Israel/Palestine and came upon the wall that was created to separate the Palestinians from the Israelis. As they approached the wall they asked the bus driver to stop the bus, and they walked to the base of the wall. The wall is massive. About 30 feet tall, solid concrete, with watch towers and armed guards at the very narrow entrances. Some of us have been there. The Bishops touched the cold concrete and began to offer prayers of lament. A wall is a structure symbolizing division, fear, and the desire to live in ignorance and and fear. The wall is the perfect symbol of sin.
When we pray or sing Psalm 23, we say these words from our need to be comforted and made whole again, we are confessing the righteousness, the faithfulness, the mercy and the power of God. The act of reading this Psalm identifies us as the People of the Way of God under the watchful eye of a powerful and merciful God; it identifies us as well as comforts us. It is not just a psalm for funerals, but the psalm is to be memorized and recalled all through our day, in time of need and plenty, as well as a reminder to give thanks for God’s eternal and ever present faithfulness and mercy.
“1The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” And “6Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long.”
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