4th Sunday of Easter/Good Shepherd Sunday
April 22, 2018
“Getting to Know Your Shepherd”
Grace, mercy, and peace be and abide with you all in the name of our living Savior and Shepherd Jesus. The basis for the sermon is the well-known Psalm 23 spoken earlier in the service.
My dear friends,
This summer I will celebrate being a pastor for 15 years and being your shepherd – your pastor – for 4 years. Since August of 2014, I have been your shepherd in this place to help you do the ministry God has called us to do and to train you in the ways of righteousness. You called me to come and preach/teach the Word of God, forgive/retain sins, and rightly administer the Sacraments which I have tried to do. But how much do you really know about me? Well, how about you get to know me a little better by playing a game we’ll call “Getting to Know Your Shepherd.” Okay, question #1: Where was your shepherd born? (A: Lincoln, NE). Question #2: From where and in what is your shepherd’s college degree? (A: Bemidji State University in English). Question #3: What is your shepherd’s favorite football team? (A: Nebraska Cornhuskers). Question #4: What was your shepherd named in high school? (A: Most Outstanding Senior). Finally, question #5: how many grandchildren does your shepherd have (A: 3). Well, all that information is well and good, and I’m glad you know some stuff about me, but I’m not always going to be a part of your life. Knowing that, today would be an especially good day to get to know your Shepherd, but not me.
Psalm 23 is so familiar, so comforting, so recognizable, so memorable. That’s probably why everyone almost knows it by heart. David points out that the Lord is our shepherd. Some of the impact of that statement is immediately taken away because you see quite a few less shepherds in 21st century America then in the ancient Near East; when was the last time you saw a shepherd leading a flock of sheep along Tamiami Trail or anywhere for that matter? But I think we still get the point. Just as a shepherd cares for the flock and all of the flock’s needs, God cares for every human need: spiritual, emotional, and physical. Our Good Shepherd provides everything that we need in this life, but usually one of three things happens. #1 – we fail to recognize that those gifts come from Him. Or, secondly, when smoke and bullets and screams fill the air we believe that the Good Shepherd wasn’t there to help bind up the wounded who lay in pools of their own blood clinging to life in the valley of the shadow of death.
The third thing that can happen is that we focus on the things that we want, but do not necessarily need. As selfish people we think we know what we NEED: flawless security, perfect health, nurturing relationships, abundant material possessions, and a constant Facebook presence in which our every word is adored by the viral masses. I hope you’re picking up on the sarcasm; I’m laying it on pretty thick. But is that the way reality is? Nope. The awful string of school shootings this past academic year reminded us that we are not always safe in human terms; the best laid plans of mice, men, and administrators are only so helpful if someone is bent on hurting you. Prescription drugs, that are supposed to be there to help us, are abused at an alarming rate; our collective health is FAR from perfect. Are all of our relationships with all other people nurturing and healthy and filled with vitality? That’s rich. Nobody in this country can make up their minds whether they should stand or kneel for our national anthem or whether teachers should carry guns or how open our borders should or shouldn’t be, and I’m not suggesting I have the answers.
But when the smoke clears, when the sirens fall silent, and when the wailing ceases, we remember we have a Good Shepherd who is ALWAYS THERE in order that you and I shall not want. That doesn’t mean we will never have desires, but instead Psalm 23 reminds us that all of our needs will be met. Your Good Shepherd leads you. He leads you to green pastures and still waters in order that you may be restored on the right path…the path you NEED…the path of righteousness.
Yes, there are plenty of times that we, even as the flock led by the Good Shepherd, walk through the valley of the shadow of death. Let’s not kid ourselves…this world is a frightening place. I’m not talking about the fear of having a cavity filled or that nobody “liked” your pictures on Facebook. This is a dangerous place; we have all buried ones we have loved and lost because death is the ultimate consequence for all sinners. Some lives are cut shorter than others, and I don’t know why. But I do know this. Even in life’s most frightening situations, we can always – ALWAYS – be confident of God’s guiding presence. Indeed, when God the Good Shepherd is with us, the valley of the shadow of death is one of the paths of righteousness. What I mean by that is that every day we draw the breath of life, we are always one bad turn, one misstep, or one poor decision away from death. But even in the midst of death, we are God’s forgiven and loved sinners. As His faithful flock we follow Him, encouraged by Him, comforted by Him, guided by Him. In life’s ups and downs, not even death itself can take us away from the forgiveness and love and grace of the Good Shepherd.
Additionally, the Good Shepherd prepares a table before you…and that table is here before you. It is here that you are nurtured by the Shepherd’s Word. It is here that you are fed by the Shepherd’s body and blood. It is here that the Shepherd gives you His most precious gifts…the Means of Grace: His Word, Baptism, and the Lord’s Supper. Every time you skip church you are denying the Good Shepherd a chance to give to you from His rich table of Word and Sacrament. Makes skipping church in the summer seem less appealing, right?
Finally, you and I not only know the Shepherd’s blessings in life, but we know we will live with Him forever in heaven. Because of your Lord, your Savior, your Shepherd Christ Jesus crucified, dead, and raised, you and I will be able to dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Heaven is a place prepared for you (John 14), purchased for you, won for you, waiting for you.
In Hebrews 12:1-3 the author encourages us to “run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the perfecter of our faith, so that you may not grow weary or fainthearted” (ESV). As one who competes in a race, you don’t get to pick the course or conditions (hot/cold, wet/dry, uphill/downhill) and sometimes our life race is down-right tough. One of the greatest aids you have at your constant disposal is prayer. Pray for our nation and our leaders. Pray for our church, our school, and one another. And be encouraged, whether I’m here or not, that you know the Good Shepherd and, as a result, by faith you will dwell in the eternal house of the Lord which is the perfection of heaven…forever.