Psalm 23 & Revelation 7:9-17
Mr. Peter Bates, Minister of Music, preaching
“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want” (Ps. 23:1)
Words of comfort shared at funerals and memorial services of countless believers. But these words of comfort are for the living, not the dead. Every person is a gift from God. We come from God at birth. We are cleansed through baptism, we live a span of years, we die, and then we return to God; full circle. But today I want us to focus on how we get through that span of years.
Today is the fourth Sunday of Easter. It is also the day in the church year known as “Good Shepherd Sunday”. Jesus came from God, He was born, baptized, lived a span of years, He died, was resurrected, and then returned to God. In John 14:2 Jesus says, “In my Father’s house there are many dwelling places. If it were not so, would I have told you that I go to prepare a place for you?” Jesus is the “Good Shepherd”. Let’s examine what it meant to be a shepherd in biblical times.
Taking care of sheep and goats was thought to be a lowly job, because the shepherd lived with the sheep out in the fields 24/7 for weeks on end. If a lamb was not able to keep up with the flock, the shepherd carried it on his shoulders.
While others thought little of shepherds, God loved them so much that they were given the dignity of being the first to hear the good news of the birth of Jesus, the Lamb of God. Jesus, our Good Shepherd, took on human form and became one like us in all things but sin.
During the day, a shepherd lead his sheep to the greenest pastures that he could find while he kept close watch over them to protect them from preditors. The good shepherds loved their flocks so much that they would put their lives in danger for their sheep.
Shepherds named the sheep in their flocks. In the morning they would call their sheep by name and if any of them were missing, the shepherd would leave the other sheep to go looking for the lost one. In Luke 15:4, Jesus said, “Which one of you, having a hundred sheep and losing one of them, does not leave the ninety-nine in the wilderness and go after the one that is lost until he finds it?”
Jesus Christ, our Good Shepherd, constantly watches over us, protecting us and leading us. Just as good shepherds put their lives in danger for their sheep, Jesus, our Good Shepherd, loves us so much he gave His life for us.
If we are going to be true disciples of the Good Shepherd, we must forget ourselves completely and be totally dedicated. Jesus calls us to love one another unconditionally with self-less love. In John 10:11 Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd. A good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep”
I’m sure many of you are familiar with Mary Stevenson’s 1936 poem, “Footprints in the Sand”. Listen to these poignant words, which she penned 80 years ago:
One night I dreamed I was walking along the beach with the Lord. Many scenes from my life flashed across the sky. In each scene I noticed footprints in the sand. Sometimes there were two sets of footprints, other times there were one set of footprints.
This bothered me because I noticed that during the low periods of my life, when I was suffering from anguish, sorrow or defeat, I could see only one set of footprints.
So I said to the Lord, “You promised me Lord, that if I followed you, you would walk with me always. But I have noticed that during the most trying periods of my life there have only been one set of footprints in the sand. Why, when I needed you most, you have not been there for me?”
The Lord replied, “The times when you have seen only one set of footprints, is when I carried you.”
As a Christian people, we are to imitate Jesus by trying to live our lives just as he did, as best we can. When we are not able to keep up, Jesus our Good Shepherd, does not leave us behind; rather out of His love for us, He carries us, even though we may not recognize it at the time.
Sometimes people feel they’re getting left behind by their church. They don’t think that it matters whether they come or not. In time, they get out of the habit of coming and they don’t feel missed. Right now, some of you may saying to yourself, “I wonder where so-and-so is? I haven’t seen them in weeks.” To which I would respond: go home this afternoon and call that person. Lift them up on your shoulder, tell them you have missed them; find out why you haven’t seen them. Perhaps you can be their shepherd and carry them back to the fold.
Let me elaborate: I’ve been here so long now that it’s hard to remember life before Covenant, but in my former parish, a lady came into the narthex before a Sunday service. A choir member, thinking she was new, welcomed her to the church. She indignantly told him that she had been a member of that church for 25 years but stopped coming several years ago, because when she was sick the only person who called was the pastor. She felt that since he was being paid to care about her and no one else called to find out why she hadn’t been in church, her “friends” in the congregation really didn’t care, so she decided not to bother coming. Your call to someone you have not seen in church can make a huge difference for that person, giving them a sense of belonging and their own self-worth.
Jesus, the Good and Glorious Shepherd came Down to earth from his heavenly home. He led his sheep; he fed his sheep; He carried his sheep; and we need to follow the example that He has given us. We all can and should be shepherds to someone, no matter what our ability. This church is just like a flock of sheep. Our pastors, Rob, Adele, Feleti and Jeff are our primary shepherds; feeding you spiritually week after week.
Members of the choir are shepherds. They lead you, the congregation, musically during the singing of hymns, service music and special anthems, helping to feed your soul. People that prepare and serve your lunch are shepherds, helping to nourish your bodies. People that work in the Rising TIDE after school program are shepherds to the hundreds of children that participate in those programs. People who work in the office answering phones, proof reading, sorting, copying, and helping visitors at the window, are shepherds too. I could go on and on citing the hundreds of ways we can all be more like Jesus the Good Shepherd. There are so many untapped opportunities to become a shepherd in this particular flock of sheep.
Shepherds – and again I say, we should ALL be shepherds – are just everyday people doing ordinary things, which in God’s hands become extraordinary. Never under-estimate the worth of the work you do for this church in the name of the Lord. God takes our small tasks and magnifies them.
“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.” (Psalm 23:4)
To be a shepherd also means to be vigilant in protecting your sheep against danger. Shepherds carried a wooden staff to guide the sheep and ward off wild animals intent on stealing the sheep away from the shepherd and killing them. Jesus carried His cross to give us life and destroy the power of Satan, who seeks to take our eternal life by stealing our soul away from God.
In our society we face many dangers to our well-being. It is very difficult for Christians to wander through a culture of death without the assistance of our Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ. To help us stay together for protection, Jesus, the Good Shepherd, has given us the Church to lead us to what is good and to protect us from what is evil.
We also wander away from Jesus our Good Shepherd through the darkness of sin. But Jesus was sent by the Father to pay the price for our sins through His death. Good Shepherd that He is, Jesus continues to call us back when we wander, calling us by name to live in service of God by serving others. Jesus is indeed our Good Shepherd.
Revelation 7:16, that was read earlier says, “for the Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of the water of life, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
Let us pray…Lamb of God, Shepherd of this flock, help us to be the shepherds you need us to be, leading others to a closer relationship with you, the Good and Glorious Shepherd, in whose name we pray. Amen.