Good Shepherd Sunday 2018
Ezekiel 34:1–10, Psalm 23, 1 John 3:1-10, John 10:11-16
1991, I think it was the end of the summer in ’91 or ’92, and you must know, I grew up on Lookout Mountain, anybody here been to Lookout Mountain before?
Okay. Well, if you’ve been up on Lookout Mountain you know there’s a Georgia side to the mountain and there’s a Tennessee side to the mountain, and in the middle, right at the Tennessee Georgia state line there’s the only traffic light in Lookout Mountain, and it’s a blinking red light. In fact, I don’t even think they have it there anymore, I think it was too much maintenance to change that light every ten years, but there’s a blinking red light, and it’s important to the story, and I’ll tell you why in a minute.
I had some friends that lived on the Tennessee side. We lived on the Georgia side, and we schemed … It was the summer of ’91 or ’92, I can’t remember, doesn’t matter, but we decided that we were going to sneak out every single night of the summer. It was kind of this pact. We even had a name for our group, it was called the midnight ramblers, and we would go out and you could hear, the group from Tennessee would get together, and they would converge, and the group from Georgia would converge, and we would sing a song, and you could hear in the distance the other midnight ramblers coming, and then we would be singing, and you could hear, and then we would meet at the blinking red light.
Now, here was the … The goal of the night was to get the police department from the Georgia side and the police department from the Tennessee side to converge, and if we got all four police cars there, it was an incredible night.
Now, I must tell you, in those days police officers were not war veterans, usually. They were very old, very overweight. And, so, the goal was to get all four cars there, and to get into a foot chase, or, like, you know, a pursuit. And, so, what we would do is usually involve fireworks and other things that I’m not going to go into detail here because it’s not appropriate, but we would basically light cars up.
Like, when they would come past midnight, and they’d come, we’d start shooting off bottle rockets and roman candles. We were just trying to get them to call the police in order to have a good chase.
Well, it was great, and we actually … I think we accomplished our mission of sneaking out every night of the summer, and it was so successful that we said … You know, we said, we’re going to continue this on through the school year, and just for weekends. At least one night of the week we’re going to sneak out, and scare people, and get the police to chase us.
Well, there was one night in particular where we had gathered a bigger posse than we had ever gathered before. We had people not from the area that had spent the night with us. We were all staying at my buddy Mitchel’s house. And, so, we have … I went to a school called McCallie, and they were dorm students, so they’re kids from all over the country that would come to the school, and you could check them out on the weekends, and if the parents checked out and were okay.
And, so, we were all at Mitchel’s house spending the night, and Mitchel was really smart. This was back when you had landlines, before cell phones, and whenever we would sneak out we would all take our phones off the hook, so that if they did get a call, you know, it would just be busy and it wouldn’t get through to our parents to wake them up to let us know that we were in trouble.
So, this night in particular we were out and it got really out of hand. In fact, there were things that went down that we still don’t talk about today, it was so intense. But something different happened this time. I think the police had gotten wise. They were sick of running after us.
And, so, unbeknownst to us, and a lot of friends that we had with us that weren’t familiar with the terrain and the territory, we were lighting up cars, one of the cars was actually a police officer. We were sticking a roman candle in his window, and it was going … It got out of hand.
Well, all the sudden a black van pulls up, the doors open, and all these … I don’t know if they were cadets. I don’t know if they were sheriff’s department. I don’t know who they were, but they jumped out of this van, and they were not the fat old men that we were used to. These dudes were for real, and so we all scattered, ran through the woods, I mean, nearly falling off cliffs. We were running for our lives.
The good news was is that this was our home. This was our territory. We knew it like the back of our hand. However, some of our friends didn’t know this territory like the back of their hand. However, we all made it. We thought we were totally clear. We got home to Mitchel’s. We were telling the stories. I mean, this was a night that was going to do down in infamy. We had beat whoever it was that was trying to get us in the woods.
Well, as soon as Mitchel got home we all got in bed, and he hung up the phone, it immediately started ringing. And he picked up the phone, and he said, “Yes, can I help you?” He said … No, the first thing he said was, you know, “Who is this? It’s 3:00 in the morning, what are you doing calling my house?” And he said, “Sir, this is Officer Johnson with the Lookout Mountain Police Department, I need to speak with your mother. And he’s like, “What kind of sick joke is this?” He said, “Don’t be … Quit calling my house,” and hung up the phone.
It immediately called back, and he said, “Son, I’ve got two police cars outside your house right now. You need to go get your mother now.” And it was at that point that we knew we had no other option. And, so, we surrendered. Mitchel went and told his mom, and the rest is, maybe, a story over lunch this afternoon, of what actually happened.
As I meditated on the scripture for this morning, and Doug alluded to it earlier, there’s a theme that’s running through all of our scripture for today, and that is of our God as a good shepherd. You know, as someone who’s new to Anglicanism, I was, from a pastoral perspective, I’ve always thought, man, what a great, really, pressure off whoever the priest is, because they don’t have to come up with, like, this series of sermons and, like, topics. It’s always there for you. You know what scripture you’re going to be preaching on.
Well, it was great until this one landed on me, and I don’t know if ya’ll are aware of this, but we don’t have a lot of shepherds in our culture today, other than Peter, probably, knows a lot about shepherding, just because he knows a lot about everything. But there’s not a … You know, there’s not a place to go to sit down with a shepherd and really pick their brain about, you know, tell me about shepherding today, you know, now how it’s different from when you were a little boy or whatever. So, it really … It was a little bit harder than I anticipated, because this topic is not one that we deal with a lot today.
So, here’s what I want to do today. I’m hoping to do my best, and to take a stab at a few things. One is to make some observations, as I’ve kind of dug into this topic and done some research and study, and then to try to make some correlations for us and our relationship with God. I’m going to be throwing out just a lot of questions, and my hope in doing that is that God’s spirit will come alive in us, and that these questions will turn into him meeting us in these places that we would examine our own souls to see where we are and where we’re going.
So, I’m going to ask a question at the beginning, and I’m going to ask it at the end as well, and the question is this, and I think it’s the overarching question. Will you allow Jesus to be your shepherd?
You know, sheep are a lot like adolescent boys. They’re dumber than dirt, for the most part. They are ruled by their physical desires, what’s directly in front of them, and it oftentimes gets them into grave danger.
And again, as I was delving into this idea of shepherding, I kept returning to the psalm for today, and psalm 23, and if anyone knew what it was to be a shepherd it was the author of this psalm, it was David. You know, he was the one who was out tending the family’s flock while his brothers were all in line waiting to see who would be the next kind after Saul. He was kind of like the Rambo of shepherding. I mean, he’s the guy that killed lions, and bears. I mean, he was a shepherd of all shepherd.
And, so, as I was reading over psalm 23, I thought, man, there’s no better way than for us to hear from a shepherd than to look at David and psalm 23. And unlike the religious leaders that Jesus was talking about in John 10, and the passage in Ezekiel, David was an actual, good shepherd. One that was willing to lay down his life for his sheep.
So, again, I want to spend the majority of my time this morning focusing on David’s reflection of God as the good shepherd, and to start asking ourselves the questions. You know, if we’re able to say, like David, that God is indeed the good shepherd. I’ll also mention, as well, due to time, that I’m not going to drill down on all the versus in psalm 23, I’m just going to kind of pick and choose. I’ll mention all, but I want to really, to dive down on some of them in particular.
I also am going to give you heads up, and for some of you this may be a little bit of heresy, I’m going to be using a translation, a paraphrase of the scripture, as we already read one of the versions today of psalm 23, I thought of doing a different translation so that we might make a little more sense, or maybe even come a little closer to home.
Eugene Peterson, who was the author of the message of the paraphrase, it’s interesting, there’s a great interview on YouTube with U2, the … Bono, the lead singer of U2, and Eugene Peterson on the psalms in particular, and it was interesting to hear how the message even came to be, and it was through Eugene Peterson being a good shepherd to his flock and his congregation, and what he would do is when people in his congregation had something that was going on with them that they needed prayer, they needed counsel, he would go to the psalms and see, you know, what is it that my heart is feeling towards this person right now, or what specific situation do they have going on.
And, so, he would take a specific psalm, and he would translate it as close as he could to the original language, into modern day words, and it was … He was trying to help his congregation learn how to pray, learn how to interact with God through the psalms. So, keep that in mind as we’re going through the message, that honestly, Eugene Peterson and the message itself is really an attempt to be a good shepherd.
Before we dive in, I’m just going to ask all of us to pray that God would open our hearts. Father, I do pray that the words in my mouth, and the meditations of all of our hearts would be pleasing to you. God, we ask and invite your spirit to awaken in us those places that need to be illuminated. God, would you use your scripture and your servant, David, this morning to show us who we are and who you are. Lord, we love you, and in Jesus’ name we pray. Amen.
So, we’re going to jump right in, God, my shepherd, I don’t need a thing. So, a shepherd’s job was much more than just hanging out with sheep all day watching the clouds roll by, you know, seeing what shape we can make out of the clouds. It was a much bigger endeavor. Under the leadership of one shepherd a flock of sheep might suffer hardship, might starve and be attacked by the many dangers that lingered in the wilderness around them. Under another shepherd they would flourish. They were sought after. They were purchased. Called by name. Cared for, fed, and protected.
David, in a sense, here is boasting, and he’s saying God is my shepherd, and much like Jesus talks about in John 10, he is a good shepherd. A good shepherd that goes to great lengths to make sure his flock is well tended from early morning, throughout the day, and all night, they are under a watchful eye of a shepherd. David proclaims, I don’t need anything. All my needs are met.
So, my first question this morning is, do we believe this? Can we say with the same certainty of David that we have all we need? You know, I feel like we live in a culture and we’re surrounded by advertising, by everything around us that we need more. We need the next greatest thing in order to be happy. You know, we need to have the same things that our neighbors have. There’s this continual bombardment of needing more.
And one of the things that we have done as a family with varying degrees of success, which mainly means we’ve had little to no success, but sitting around the table at night and being able to say things that we’re grateful for. Things in the day that happened that made us laugh, or that we were grateful for, and it was all … It’s all in an attempt to be able to kind of fine tune the art of gratitude. To slow down, to say thank you for the things that we have been given. It’s amazing, and I think if we all slow down and think about it, we all have pretty much all that we need.
You have bedded me down in lush meadows. You find me quiet pools to drink from. As I was reading about sheep I came across a source of a guy, and he’s actually a current day farmer in the Middle East, of where Jesus grew up and lived, and he said in order for sheep to lie day, that four requirements must be met.
The first one is they must be free from all fear, which, for sheep, is a pretty big task. They’re pretty skittish animals. Number two, there must be no tension between members of the flock. Number three, they must not be aggravated with flies or parasites. And as I was reading about this, they would say that flies would get in the nostrils of sheep and lay eggs, and that these larvae would just, as you can imagine, would be incredibly bothersome to sheep, and it would drive them crazy. And then, number four, they must be free from hunger.
So, the shepherd had to make sure all of these things were true to the flock before they would lie down and get rest in order to be healthy, in order to get what the shepherd needed from the sheep. It is also true, this is interesting, that a sheep would die of thirst before drinking from fast moving water. That they were so skittish that the sound of the water over the rocks would scare them, and they wouldn’t get near it. So, they must be led to gentle streams before they’ll drink. Apparently sheep are easily scared to the shepherds spend a lot of their time caring for the sheep by leading them to these places where they can be fed and rested.
So, there’s a few things that came up, to me, in these four things that must be done, and the first was, what is our fear? What are we afraid of this morning? And maybe even deeper, what are our core fears? What are those things that are keeping us from experiencing God’s goodness?
I meet with a group of guys on Wednesday mornings, and one of the things that came up this Wednesday were … Was this idea of core fears, and as I was even articulating some of my fears, one of them was in preparation for this morning was this core fear I have of being found out. Does anybody have that fear of being exposed as being a fraud?
And even as I’m standing up here talking, I mean, I think it was so good for me to be able to articulate to these guys, man, I’m just, I’m scared to death of being … You know, getting up in front of people and preaching, and then realizing, I really am not that smart. I don’t know that much about this. So it’s good for me to even articulate that now, as I stand in front of you.
But what are you afraid of? What are the fears that keep you up at night? In fact, I was dreaming, last night … This just came to me. I was dreaming that I was standing up here, and I had my script, my sermon written down, and I looked down and I realized it was, like, a draft that I had worked on earlier, and it was all pencil, and I was looking down and it was … And even worse, it was algebra, of all things, and I was like, how? What am I doing? And, so, I got Katie to go out to the car, and she brought in another one, and it was a different one even still. So, even as I stand up here this morning, there’s a sense of fear. I wonder what your fear is this morning.
The second question that arises is, is there conflict going on right now in the relationships that you are in? And I would even say, you know, it’s really cool to be a part of a church that is small, and growing, and to be able to know people, and eventually to know the things they’re struggling with and going through.
But I would say, you know, we’re at a great point in the growth of our church even to be able to pay close attention to those conflicts, you know, within the body of Christ. What are those things that we’re already, even though we’re only a year old, as we are trying to interact and make this church something that would be pleasing to God, what are those places that we’re already realizing there’s conflict? What are the parasites that have attached to our souls? What are you addicted to? What are our tendencies? Where do you go when life gets too hard? What do you do to escape?
And maybe even more important is the followup question to that last question, who knows these things about you? Who are you letting into these places in your heart, and in your life, and your mind? These secret places, these parasites that will drive us crazy.
Again, what are you hungry for? Our culture is so full of things that are bombarding us. Things that are vying for attention, things that are telling us that will fill us up, that will make us full. Is our attention and energy focused on getting the next thing? Or attaining the next goal for our careers or for professionally or personally? What are those things?
True to your word, you let me catch my breath. You send my in the right direction. There’s a fascinating commentary on an old English word here called cast, and the idea of a cast sheep, and apparently it’s a thing that happens frequently with sheep is they fall on their backs and they can’t get back over, it reminded me, like, of a turtle, you know, when you flip a turtle on it’s shell and it can’t get back.
But when sheep get really afraid, they can fall over on their back, kind of pass out, and when they do that, they sometimes bleet, but he said they always kick frantically in the air, and many times they die in this position because they can’t get back up, they lose circulation in their legs, they can’t breathe, and then they die. This particular commentator said that this is what Jesus was probably referring to in the parable of the 99 sheep. The shepherds were constantly having to keep count of their sheep to make sure one was not cast and in need of rescue.
How many of us have wondered away, and find ourselves on our backs, flailing helplessly? I love the picture of the tender and patient shepherd that goes looking for the lost sheep in order to turn him over, to rub his legs, to restore his circulation and then pick him up and get him back to safety. I’m sure all of us in this room can recount times when we have run from God only to find ourselves on our backs in need of help, afraid of what would happen if we returned to God and to others, like the prodigal son fearing what would happen when he returned home.
How about us today? How about you? How many of us, this morning, are in need of a good shepherd finding us and flipping us back over? Even when the way goes through Death Valley, I am not afraid. When you walk at my side, your trusty shepherd’s crook makes me feel secure. How many of us, right now, feel like we are walking through the valley of the shadow of death? I know that there are several of us in this room who have struggled or are currently struggling with health issues that have forced us to face this question head on.
As many of you know, this has been a really difficult year for me and for our family with the death of a lot of loved ones and close friends, and whenever you experience death of a loved one, I feel like, for me anyway, it brings up all those fears, all those questions, the unknown of what happens at the moment of death, and what really happens afterwards.
You know, it was only a few weeks ago we were in Easter season, and Good Friday, and, you know, the thing that always brings me comfort is … I was listening to a sermon a couple weeks ago, I was actually talking about this, the … You know, when Jesus experiences the absence of the Father. You know, my God, my God, why have you forsaken me? And he’s the only one that ever has to experience that. That even though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, he is with us.
There’s a great book, I actually saw it back there still, it was the lent book that Henry [inaudible 00:23:48] wrote, or that’s this compilation of his writings, but there was a great passage in there one day about dying, and I wanted to read it to you, just a quick quote that really resonated with me.
He says, “Dying is trusting in the catcher, and you think of the trapeze artist, of two people swinging. To care for the dying is to say, don’t be afraid, remember that you are the beloved child of God. He will be there when you make your long jump. Don’t try to grab him, He will grab you. Just stretch out your arms and hands, and trust, trust, trust.”
You serve me a six course dinner right in front of my enemies. You revive my drooping head. My cup brims with blessing. Your beauty and love chase after me every day of my life. I’m back home in the house of God for the rest of my life.
Your beauty and love chase after me, what a great image. What’s your perception of God’s view of you? And for me, if you’re like me, it depends on what’s been going on lately in my life. Is he angry? Is he disappointed in you? Is he frustrated? Or do you have a view of God who is chasing after you like a wild lover? Is he pursuing you? Is he crazy about you? How does your good shepherd view you?
I don’t know that there can be a much more important question than that this morning. What is our view of God and how he sees us?
So, my hope is that some of these questions have stirred God’s spirit in you, and that you might respond to Him. And then two things occurred to me over the past week as I was doing two totally unrelated things, and I think it helps nicely as I close out this homily.
And the first is this, in Genesis, after Adam and Eve had sinned, and they’re hiding, you remember, and then God is coming, pursuing them like a good shepherd, coming after them in the garden. Do you remember what his first words to them are? You don’t have to answer, but you could. He says, “Where are you?”
A friend of mine, years and years ago, taught me this exercise that we did within a small group, and it was called our red dot, and it was, the whole idea was based on a directory in a mall, or at a bus station, you know, when you look at a map and you see the red dot that says, “You are here.” And I would encourage all of us, this morning, as God is calling out, “Where are you?” I would encourage all of us to be able to start to try to articulate that. Where am I? I am here. Whether it’s emotionally, spiritually, physically, where are you this morning?
So, kind of reviewing the questions of where are you this morning, do you find yourselves boasting and celebrating in the fact that God is your shepherd and that you have all that you need? Are you struggling with parasites that are at war in your mind and your body that are trying to take you away from the green pastures and quiet water of God’s promises to those who feed on him? Is God’s spirit prompting you to tell him where you are so that he might be able to address those things?
Or maybe he’s inviting you to talk with other people about where you really are, and what’s going on inside of you, so that you can physically know that you’re not alone. Are you being made aware that you have wondered off and are lost from the rest of the flock? Are you flailing on your back in need of intercession of the shepherd to turn you over and restore your soul? Are you in need of an intimate lover this morning who is pursuing you, who loves you for who you are, and not for what you can do for them?
My encouragement from Genesis is to start by just being honest, and telling your good shepherd where you are. The truth is, he’s pursuing each of us right now.
In order for my beginning story not to be totally unrelated, I have to revisit the point, and to point out that I felt like was so obvious from the beginning, and it’s this, we’re not sheep. Yes, the Bible is full of imagery of we, like sheep have been led astray, you know, each to his own way, but the fact is we are humans, and we are, once we get through adolescence, we are more … We are smarter than sheep, hopefully. But we are stubborn, and we have the ability to say no. God gives us the freedom to say no to him when he comes looking for us.
I feel like so much of this relationship of shepherd and sheep hinges on our willingness to surrender. To surrender to his goodness, to his mercy, and for a lot of us this is painful, this idea of trusting that God is good, and trusting our lives to him is a scary process.
In conclusion, my prayer is that this sets us up for what comes next in our liturgy. Through our confession of our faith, we once again acknowledge who we are who he is, and we surrender. Through our prayers for the people, and our own confession, we cry out to God, telling him where we are, and that we are in need of a good shepherd to save us. And finally, if we have any doubt left on how good he really is, he invites us into the remembering of his death, burial, and resurrection. The good shepherd, in the ultimate act of humility and sacrifice, actually becomes the sacrificial lamb, and lays down his life for the sheep, for you, and for me.
Lord, here we are. We trust you with our lives, we surrender, have your way with us. Amen.