Aloha Friday Message – May 9, 2014 – The Good Shepherd

1419AFC050914 – Good Shepherd Sunday

Read it online here, please.

John 10:7 So Jesus said again, “Amen, amen, I say to you, I am the gate for the sheep.”

Psalm 23:5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.

John 10:11 I am the good shepherd: the good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep.

John 10:14 I am the good shepherd, and know my sheep, and am known of mine.

A Sunday School teacher decided to have her young class memorize one of the most quoted passages in the Bible; Psalm 23. She gave the youngsters a month to learn the passage. Little James was excited about the task but, he just couldn’t remember the Psalm. After much practice, he could barely get past the first line.

On the day that the kids were scheduled to recite Psalm 23 in front of the congregation, Rickey was really nervous! When it was his turn, he stepped up to the microphone and said proudly, “The Lord is my Shepherd, and that’s all I need to know.”

This Sunday is the fourth Sunday after Easter and in churches of many denominations it is called Good Shepherd Sunday. The readings for that Sunday include Psalm 23 and John 10:1-16. I’ve provided those links so you can have them open as you read this. Better still, though, dust off your Bible and set it beside you as you go through this. Let’s begin with Jesus being the gate or door to the sheepfold (another word for it is sheepcote).

SheepDoor01In this drawing you can get an idea of how a shepherd might protect his sheep by being the door or gate to the sheepfold. Most sheep folds were constructed of low stone walls, unroofed (although sheepcotes were sometimes sheds with roofs), and quite often circular. The shepherd could lay across the threshold or entrance of the holding pen and that way anything (or anyone) coming or going would literally have to pass by him. It was quite a security system. The shepherd was that gate and, one might also say, the gatekeeper (see verse 3).

The gatekeeper opens the sheepfold for the shepherd. In much the same way, the Holy Spirit opens the Church (the sheep and sheepfold) for the shepherd (The Word) to lead and protect. The sheep obey the shepherd who has conditioned them to know his voice. They know when that voice speaks there is safety for it is the shepherd’s leading that takes them to graze on verdant slopes and rest by running waters which are always fresh and clean rather than stagnant puddles and ponds. The shepherd values his sheep, so much in fact that he names them and calls them by their names much like we name our pets. But for shepherds in Biblical times – and most likely even today in herds not run by agribusiness – sheep are not just pets, and yet are more than just livestock. The sheep provided wool, leather, meat, and a sacrificial victim for important feasts and rites. Shepherds invested time and effort in caring for the sheep because they were a major component of their lives. They took care of the sheep because they needed the sheep; to fail to take care of them would be to abandon them. Scripture uses the imagery of sheep and shepherd to describe the relationship between Israel and Jehovah. Sheep are the most-mentioned animals in the Bible – at least 200 times – and the shepherds are often mentioned with them.

Do you remember who the first shepherd was in the Bible? Turn to Genesis 4:1-2Now Adam slept with his wife, Eve, and she became pregnant. When the time came, she gave birth to Cain, and she said, “With the Lord’s help, I have brought forth a man!” Later she gave birth to a second son and named him Abel. When they grew up, Abel became a shepherd, while Cain was a farmer. Able was also the first victim of murder in the Bible. “Tending flocks” was usually a lonely job. One solitary shepherd might tend to a dozen sheep or several hundred sheep. Sheep are fairly obedient – although we tend to think of them as dim-witted and unwise – but they are easily spooked, too. When they are frightened their tendency to bolt makes it difficult to keep them under control. That is why the familiarity between the shepherd and the flock was so important. The shepherd definitely needed the sheep, but most certainly the sheep needed the shepherd even more. They depended on each other.

MyShepherdWe also tend to think of sheep being driven, like other domesticated herd animals. But sheep are better led than driven. The shepherd is at the head of his flock. He knows what they need, goes where they are going and gets there before them. If they are going to the sheepfold, he enters first. If they are leaving, he exits first. If they are going to pastures for grazing, he finds those pastures. The sheep follow only the shepherd; they run from strangers; they panic when attacked by carnivores like wolves or lions. They form a sort of attachment to the shepherd – something like we do with our pets – and they are contented to remain in that relationship.

When the Psalmist says, “The Lord is my Shepherd, I lack for nothing” he is saying that he is in a one-to-one relationship with God. God needs him and he depends on God. God loves and cares for him, and he in turn loves and serves God. God gives him peaceful contented rest and renews his strength through healing. As a shepherd, God led David (and leads us, too) in the ways of righteousness; his own righteousness and goodness keep us nurtured and safe and shows us the goodness of a holy life. Even in the worst of times, David knew (and so should we) that God would protect him from his enemies and strengthen him and his allies. His protection will be effective and generous.

In fact, God’s generosity affects everything about David’s life (and ours). In the temporal things, God grants David such wealth and prestige that his enemies can only stand afar off and wish they could have it a tenth as good; David has the assurance of hope and protection. God has anointed him (and us) with a kingly consecration. At banquets the heads of guests were anointed with fragrant oil – sometimes  the feet were also anointed – and that served as a sign of the wealth of the host and of the richness of his welcome to his table. In David’s song, he says his cup runs over; there is such an abundance of blessing that he cannot contain it all and so the blessings run from his life to the lives of others. God’s generosity is so superabundant that David’s generosity becomes more abundant (as should ours). David also understands that the abundance of those blessings of grace and faith and salvation is not just a one-time occurrence; it is continuous – so continuous that it is eternal.

When we see the term “The House of the Lord,” or “of the House and lineage of David,” we know that the word house means family. David states “I will dwell in the House of the Lord.” David is part of God’s family; so are we – by adoption in Christ Jesus. Because of our Good Shepherd, we are called by name to follow his Word and to dwell with him forever in the last and highest sheepfold – Heaven. Many are called; few are chosen. Only those who answer that call know the voice of the Good Shepherd. Our Good shepherd leads us out of the sheepfold of evil in this world and calls us to follow him to verdant pastures and running waters – a life of blessed peace and joy without fear, without suffering, without death. He has lain down his life for us and – even better – he has taken it up again. So also shall he take up our lives. Psalm 95:7-8For he is our God, and we are the people of his pasture, and the sheep of his hand. O that today you would listen to his voice! Do not harden your hearts, as at Meribah, as on the day at Massah in the wilderness!

We belong to the Good Shepherd, the Great Shepherd, but we also depend on other shepherds in our day-to-day lives. Our Pastors, Priests, and Rabbis are also part of God’s abundant generosity, part of the richness of his Table. The foretaste of that Banquet we receive at the hands of these consecrated and ordained ministers is what nourishes our spirits and makes our joy overflow while the enemies of God can only watch from afar. On this Good Shepherd Sunday, take a minute to [1] thank God for the Shepherd who laid down his life for his sheep, and [2] thank the shepherd of the flock where you worship for the generous gift of their lives for your benefit.

Whatever, whenever, wherever, whoever, however, if ever, forever — at your service, Beloved.

Please remember in your prayers all of those called by the Shepherd who have refused to follow the Word spoke by the Holy Spirit – particularly TO, MC, SM, and all those whose lives are filled with the enemy’s poisons, deceits, and empty promises.


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About Chick Todd

American Roman Catholic reared as a "Baptiterian" in Denver Colorado.

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