To Be Led By The Good Shepherd

Surprise!  My blog got a little makeover this weekend.  My sweet sweet Jon came out to Rehoboth on Friday and went through the arduous process of moving me to a self-hosted platform.  I’m SO glad he was willing to do this for me.  The design and the details of blog design are fun, but the tech-y stuff is just so over my head.  I would have cried if I tried to figure it out myself.

There is still some work that needs to be done around here, but I did want to get myself back up and running so I could share my sermon and some fun stuff that happened this weekend.  Be patient and please let me know if you come across a broken link or something that looks wonky.

Here is this morning’s sermon!  I felt like God was preaching to me as I was writing it.  Definitely something I needed to hear/write/preach …

xoxo

***

Sarah Weaver
Rehoboth Congregational Church
Rehoboth, MA
April 26, 2015

John 10:11-18

To Be Led By The Good Shepherd

“I am the good shepherd.”

This passage, found in the gospel of John, immediately follows the healing of the blind man. After the healing had been investigated and Jesus had answered to the Pharisees, Jesus tells these two parables.

“I am the good shepherd.”

Jesus wastes no time in these parables. From the very beginning he is clear: Not only does he compare the love and compassion and care that he feels to that of the love of a shepherd to his sheep, but he takes it one step further; he calls himself a good shepherd. The Greek word for “good” in the original text is “kalos” – it means a good that inspires[1]; a good that is ordered and noble and true and faithful and praiseworthy.[2] There is a deep intimacy to the metaphor in this parable that goes beyond a shepherd simply leading a flock of sheep around a field.

For some reason I was having a hard time coming up with an illustration for this morning’s sermon. I always try to find a way to relate whatever I am preaching on to my life in some way or another, but, truth be told, I really just know nothing about sheep.

So I decided to take a drive around Rehoboth. I thought that perhaps if I ventured out in our “right to farm community” I would be inspired by the agricultural landscape of our town and come back with a story that calmly and serenely illustrated the tender love of a flock being led to safety.

My illusion was shattered when I turned down Miller Street and saw a cow chasing a chicken around a field.

Not really what I had in mind.

Although – here is the thing: Most days, what do our lives really look like? Do they look calm and serene? Do we feel like we are part of a flock of sheep that is calmly and carefully being led by a shepherd? Do we feel like our lives are orderly and rhythmic and could grace the front cover of New England Living Magazine?

Or do we feel like we are a chicken being chased around a field by a cow?

Life is very rarely picturesque and serene. Life is real and imperfect. It tends to be chaotic at times. It is unpredictable and scary. Much like the wolf that runs after the sheep, we all face real and hard challenges in our lives. We find ourselves facing a scary medical diagnosis, a difficult situation at work or at home or a conflict that we are unable to resolve. We feel alone in the world, like no one else can understand what we are going through and that we have to figure it out by ourselves. When all we want to do is stop and breathe, everything keeps moving so fast and we cannot keep up.

And, you know, even when things are okay, chaos still finds a way of sneaking into our lives. Bills need to be paid, laundry needs to be folded, snow needs to be shoveled, grass needs to be mowed, bathrooms needs to be cleaned, work needs to be done – and you know what? Every morning you have to wake up and start all over again.

Even when life is easy, life is hard.

But this morning’s scripture tells us that we do not have to walk through life alone. We have a shepherd leading us, a good shepherd. We have a true and faithful and praiseworthy shepherd leading us. We have a shepherd that not only leads because they have to, but because they are divinely inspired to.

In scripture, Jesus points out that a shepherd is different from a hired hand.

The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away.[3]

There is a true sense of belonging to what Jesus is saying. We belong to something so much greater and more powerful than we could ever understand. Jesus is not just saying that he will lead us; Jesus is saying that by leading us, we will never ever be alone. Jesus is not just saying that he will protect us; Jesus is saying that by his protection he will lay down his life for us.

To live into the resurrection means to truly surrender yourself wholly and completely to the beautiful truth that we are encircled by God’s love and care every single day.

And Jesus is not saying that we need to be an orderly group of perfect followers. Jesus is not saying that we have to act a certain way. Jesus is not saying that we have to adhere to strict laws and guidelines. Jesus is not saying that God is only accessible to us within the confines of a traditional church structure.

Jesus is saying that he is a shepherd: A shepherd who meets his flock wherever they are gathered. A shepherd who leads and protects his flock no matter what kind of mischief or trouble they have found themselves in. A shepherd who knows what his flock needs, often even before they do. A shepherd who can meet those needs. A shepherd who adjusts his care as the flock are led and their circumstances change.

Do you know what the beautiful thing about our faith is? We can be the most discombobulated hot mess you have ever seen in your entire life, and God will still meet you where you are on your journey life and love and care for and protect you.

This is not something that I am guessing on; this is something I am assured of through scripture.

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.[4]
I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me.[5]

We are people of the resurrection. We live our lives knowing that God’s love is greater than any mess we can get into on earth. And we rejoice in the understanding that God meets me us where we are on our journey through life and lead us from there.

Our stories might not look perfect; in fact, they probably will not look perfect. They might not look picturesque and serene. There may be times when we feel broken, anxious and overwhelmed. There may be times when we are not whole and when we just do not have all of the answers. Life is messy, life is real and it is scary, but it is also full of real and true grace: Grace in the form of a shepherd who loves us, leads us and protects us; grace in the form of a God who creates us, redeems us and sustains us; grace in the form of a love that was so powerful that not even death could overpower it.

This is what we have to hold onto.

This is what we have to hold onto in the good times and the bad times. This is what we have to hold onto when there is light shining in the midst of comical chaos; and this is also what we have to hold onto when we find ourselves in very dark places.

This is what it means to live on this side of the resurrection.

So I learned something about sheep this week. I was reading a commentary that quoted a sermon by Barbara Brown Taylor where she explained the difference between herding sheep and herding cows.

Who knew there was a difference?

Cows are herded from the back. Cowboys shout and push from behind – oftentimes on horses – in order to move the herd of cows. But sheep, however, prefer to be led from the front.[6] And while they do have a keen sense of hearing and vision, they also have poor depth perception and therefore rely on their shepherd to walk ahead of them and lead them on a right and safe path.[7]

The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;
he restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths
for his name’s sake.[8]

God wants to lead us. God is in our midst and is ready and willing and yearning to take us by the hand and lead us along a right and safe path.

Now, this journey still may be a scary one – we may not always be able to see the whole picture, we may walk on uneven ground, we may feel like that chicken being chased around by the cow on Miller Street and we may face some real and scary challenges. That’s life.

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.[9]

And just like the shepherd ensures that his sheep arrive safely, God promises us safety and protection as well.

Whatever burdens you have brought into this space today, whatever anxiety you feel in your life, whatever pain is weighing heavily on your heart, whatever chaos you cannot control – I invite you to put it down right now. Now close your eyes and imagine God’s hand stretched out in front of you. Hear God’s voice saying, “Let me lead you.” Take God’s hand. Trust that God has prepared a path for you.

You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.[10]

And know with certainty that you are going to be okay.

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.[11]

Thanks be to God!
Amen.

***

[1] biblehub.com (http://biblehub.com/greek/2570.htm)
[2] Essex, Barbara J. Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 2, Page 449
[3] John 10:2, NRSV
[4] John 10:11, NRSV
[5] John 10:14, NRSV
[6] Blakely, Nancy R. Feasting on the Word, Year B, Volume 2, Page 450
[7] What Are The Basics Of Sheep Hearding? (with pictures) http://www.wisegeek.com/what-are-the-basics-of-sheep-herding.htm
[8] Psalm 23:1-3, NRSV
[9] Psalm 23:4, NRSV
[10] Psalm 23:5, NRSV
[11] Psalm 23:6, NRSV

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