Pastor Michael Frye:
This Sunday in the church year is always known as “Good Shepherd Sunday,” for obvious reasons:
The 23rd Psalm is our Psalm for the Day, and our Gospel lesson begins with Jesus’ words:
“I am the good shepherd.
“The shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”
In language that recalls the twenty-third Psalm, Jesus describes himself as the shepherd who cares for his sheep.
He is willing to die for them, and he is able to overcome death for them.”
Who in this world doesn’t need to hear those assuring words?
A little girl who was learning the 23rd Psalm began by saying:
“The Lord is my shepherd; that’s all I want.”
Okay, so she got a little confused on the wording, but her theology was on target.
To have Jesus as our shepherd is our greatest blessing; it is all that we need in order to navigate throughout the day with the assurance that we are loved and cared for.
With his assuring words, Jesus reminds us that a good shepherd would go so far as to lay down his life to protect those under his charge (just as Jesus died for us on the cross).
You and I can rest assured that Jesus’ commitment to us is to be our ever-watchful shepherd.
The nineteenth-century Bible scholar, George Adam Smith, wrote of his encounter with a shepherd in the holy land.
The man showed him the enclosure that housed his sheep at night.
It had four walls, with one way in.
Smith asked, “this is where they go at night?”
The shepherd responded; “Yes, and when they are in there they are perfectly safe.”
“But there is no door,” Smith replied.
“I am the door,” the shepherd replied.
“What do you mean you are the door?”
“When the light has gone and all the sheep are inside, I lie in that open space, and no sheep ever goes out but across my body, and no wolf comes in unless he crosses my body; I am the door.”
Now, this shepherd was not a Christian, he was speaking from an Arab shepherd’s perspective.
And even to this day, shepherds in that region, whether they are Arabs, or Jews, or Christians will say the same thing.
Jesus spoke to the crowd in terms that they surely understood; but Jesus also set an example with his own life for those who believed in him to follow.
Jesus’ disciples modeled their own ministries after that of their Good Shepherd.
In fact, the very word “pastor” comes from the Latin noun which means “shepherd.”
In all my years of ordained ministry I have perceived myself as shepherd to the congregation that has extended to me the call to service, and I take that role very seriously.
But ordained ministers are not the only ones who Christ has called to be shepherds.
That responsibility lies with all who are called by God to minister to the needs of God’s people – and that includes each of you.
You may never have thought of it that way, but it is true.
Pastor King Duncan tells this story:
One day a man stopped in a convenience store to get his newspaper.
He noticed that the store owner had tears in his eyes and kept looking out the window, so he asked what was going on.
The store owner said:
“Do you see that bus bench over there?
“That woman comes there every day around this time.
“She sits there for an hour knitting and waiting.
“Buses come and go, but she never gets on and no one ever gets off to meet her.
“So, the other day, I carried her a cup of coffee and talked with her for awhile.
“Her only son lives a long way off.
“She last saw him two years ago.
“He is married now, and she has never met her daughter-in-law or her new grandchild.
“She told me, ‘It helps to come here and wait.’
‘I pray for them as I knit little things for the baby, and I imagine them in their tiny apartment, saving money to come home.
‘I can’t wait to see them.’ “
As the store owner was finishing his story, the man saw three people get off the bus and greet the woman.
It was the son, his wife and their small child.
The look on the woman’s face when this small family fell into her arms was one of pure joy.
“I will never forget that look as long as I live,” he said.
The next day the man returned to the convenience store.
Before the owner could say anything, the man said to him, “you sent her son the money for the bus tickets, didn’t you?”
The store owner looked back with eyes full of love and a smile.
“Yes, I sent the money.”
Then he repeated his statement from the day before, “I’ll never forget that look on her face as long as I live.”
The store owner had walked in the sandals of the Good Shepherd.
He had watched over and fed one of God’s lambs so she would know the joy of that family reunion.
That is the spirit of discipleship!
That is what this world needs so much more of!
Every time one gives a couple hours’ time serving in the soup kitchen on Thursday, he or she is walking in the sandals of the Shepherd.
Every time a Stephen Minister or a member of the congregation takes the time to visit with a member or neighbor to bring comfort and companionship, he or she is walking in the sandals of the Shepherd.
Every time someone gives a weekend for a mission trip to restore the home of an elderly or destitute person, or spends time helping to build a house for habitat for humanity, he or she is walking in the sandals of the Shepherd.
Visiting those who are incarcerated in prison for Kairos Ministries?
Walking in the sandals of the Shepherd.
Greeting visitors to our worship services; tending to the nursery or children’s church; serving as worship leaders, or lay assistants for worship services; providing leadership for the ministries of this congregation to its members to our community – walking in the sandals of the Shepherd.
Tenderly welcoming and caring for the stranger in spite of the differences that could create a barrier – that, sisters and brothers in Christ, is walking in the sandals of the Shepherd.
In the First Letter of John, we heard these words this morning:
“We know love by this, that Jesus laid down his life for us – and we ought to lay down our lives for one another.
“How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?
“Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.”
We are, at one and the same time, both sheep to the Good Shepherd, and shepherds to the Good Shepherd’s flock.
Remember and learn from Jesus’ exchange of words with Simon Peter on the lakeshore as he prepared to ascend to his Father in heaven:
“Simon, son of John, do you love me more than these?”
“Yes, Lord, you know that I love you.”
“Feed my lambs.”
A second time, he said to him, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?”
“Yes, Lord, you know that I love you?”
“Tend my sheep.”
He said to him the third time, “Simon, son of John, do you love me?”
Peter felt hurt because he said to him the third time, “Do you love me?”
And he said to him, “Lord, you know everything; you know that I love you.”
Jesus said to him, “Feed my sheep.”
Simon Peter, a man who had denied knowing Jesus three times just weeks before was now being challenged three times to show his love for Jesus by feeding his sheep.
How many times do we need to be challenged by Jesus’ words: “If you love me, feed my sheep?”
God calls us to open your hearts and minds to the call of our Good Shepherd to walk in his Sandals.
Now, If you happen to be one of those sheep who feels lost, alone, or fearful amidst the struggles of this world, share your fears and concerns with one who cares and who is willing to show you the way back to the shepherd’s fold:
Hold onto Jesus’ words:
“I know my own, and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father.
“I lay down my life for the sheep.”
Let those words be your consolation that Christ, the Good Shepherd is watching over you always.
In the name of Christ, the Good Shepherd, and for his sake.