Good Shepherd Sunday
The Baptism of Saylor Mauk
May 12, 2019
Psalm 23; John 10.22-30
+ Today is a special day. It’s special of course because we are celebrating the baptism of sweet Saylor of course.
And it’s doubly special because it is also Good Shepherd Sunday. It’s Good Shepherd Sunday because of this wonderful reading we have in our Gospel reading for today, as well as our reading from Revelation, and, of course, the very familiar 23rd Psalm
But, every year we celebrate Good Shepherd Sunday without really thinking about it. How many times in our lives have we heard this psalm or the story or references to the Good Shepherd? For the most part, we just don’t even really think about it. After all, shepherds are just not a part of our modern lives.
Are there even shepherd anymore? I’ve never met one. Have you ever met one?
Yes, still, when we really think about this image—of God being our shepherd—it still, weirdly, resonates for us.
We kind of get it. And we are comforted by it. And it still does have meaning for us.
God as Good Shepherd. It’s a great image for God. In it, we encounter the compassion of our God.
Certainly, for the people of Jesus’ day, this image of the Good Shepherd is probably one of the most perfect images Jesus could have used. They would have understood what a good shepherd was and what a bad shepherd was.
The good shepherd was the shepherd who actually cared for his flock. He or she looked out for them, he watched after them. The Good Shepherd guided the flock and led the flock. He or she led the flock to a place to eat.
It’s a wonderful way to try to describe God’s goodness to us. This image implies that God really—legitimately—cares for us and loves us.
This is an important aspect of the role of the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd didn’t feed the flock. Rather the good shepherd led the flock to the choicest green pastures and helped them to feed themselves. In this way, the Good Shepherd is more than just a coddling shepherd. He or she is not the co-dependent shepherd. The Good Shepherd doesn’t take each sheep individually, pick them up, and hand-feed each one of them. Rather, the Good Shepherd guides and leads the sheep to green pastures and allows them to feed themselves. The Good Shepherd also protects the flock against the many dangers out there. He or she protects the flock from the wolves, from getting too near cliffs, or holes, or falling into rivers or lakes.
She or he cares for the flock.
And that’s VERY important.
Let’s face it, there are many dangers out there. There are many opportunities for us to trip ourselves, to get lost, to get hurt. If we follow the Good Shepherd, if we allow ourselves to be led by him, we realize that those pitfalls are difficult, yes, but they don’t defeat us.
Of course, the journey isn’t an easy one. We can still get hurt along the way. Bad things can still happen to us. There are predators out there, waiting to hurt us. There are storms brewing in our lives, waiting to rain down upon us.
But, with our eyes on the Shepherd, we know that the bad things that happen to us will not destroy us, because the Shepherd is there, close by, watching out for us—caring for us. We know that in those bad times—those times of darkness when predators close in, when storms rage—he will rescue us.
This is what we are looking for in our lives—a savior, a protector. We are all longing for someone who will comes to us and rescue us from all the bad things of this life. And not just Superman who sweeps down from the skies and pulls us out of danger, and then just nods to us and flies away. We long to have this protector, this defender know us and genuinely care for us.
That’s what makes the Good Shepherd so special. The Good Shepherd knows his flock.
“I know them and they follow me,” Jesus says in today’s Gospel reading.
If one is lost, he knows it is lost and will not rest until it is brought back into the fold. This is the kind of relationship we have with our Good Shepherd. We are know God because God knows us. God knows us and calls us each by our name. And loves us for just who we are—no matter who we are.
The Good Shepherd reminds us that we don’t have some vague, distant God. We don’t have a God who lets us fend for ourselves. We instead have a God who leads us and guides us, a God who knows us each by name, a God who despairs over the loss of even one of us.
We have a God who knows us and loves and cares for us. All these are important images, vital images to explain the relationship God has with us and we with God.
I just came across this great quote from Chad Bird
We have a God whose goodness and mercy chases us and seeks us out. A God whose goodness and mercy follows us wherever we go and whatever we do.
But the Good Shepherd doesn’t end there. This isn’t just about me as an individual and God.
The image of the Good Shepherd must be taken and applied by anyone. Any of us who follow Jesus are called to be good shepherds in turn. We must love and love fully those who around us. We must care for those people who walk this path with us. We must look out for our loved ones and even our enemies, we must respect the worth and dignity of all people, and we must shepherd them in whatever ways we can in our own lives.
Again, this is not easy, especially when it seems we are lost at times, when we are falling into the traps life sets before us, when our alleluias during this Easter season feels cold and lonely.
But, that’s the way God works, sometimes. Sometimes, God’s works through our brokenness and helps us to guide others in their brokenness. Sometimes the best Good Shepherd is the one who has known fully what a lost sheep feels like, who knows the coldness and loneliness of being that lost sheep.
So, on this day in which we celebrate the Shepherd who leads and guides, whose goodness and mercy chases us, let us not only be led, but let us also lead. On this day that we look to the Shepherd who guides, let us be guided and let us guide others. And let our alleluia on this Good Shepherd Sunday, even if it is a cold and lonely Alleluia, still be an Alleluia nonetheless. Let it be the sound we make, even in the cold and lonely places we sometimes find ourselves in. And let us, in that place, know that, even there, we are still experiencing the amazing glory and all-encompassing love of God.