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Following the Good Shepherd

April 24, 2021
A pavilion in a park along the Tennessee River in Muscle Shoals, Alabama.

The Fourth Sunday of Easter is traditionally Good Shepherd Sunday. This year, the 23rd Psalm is paired with Jesus’ lesson about the call of the Good Shepherd from John 10:11-18. Jesus tells the disciples who the true shepherd is and what the difference is between the Good Shepherd and the other false shepherds who act more like hired hands who run at the first sign of trouble. John is the only Gospel that clearly identifies Jesus as the Good Shepherd. In Matthew and Mark, Jesus has compassion on the people because they were like sheep without a shepherd (Mt 9:36 and Mk 6:34). However, in John we get a very clear description of the Good Shepherd and the role that this Shepherd has in the life of the community of faith. 

Not only does the Good Shepherd care for the sheep in his flock, but he also goes out to care for other sheep not from the same fold and bring them to safety. Jesus used sheep as an analogy for the people of Israel. Their shepherds, the religious authorities, had forgotten their role as shepherds of the people. Instead of caring for the people and looking out for and after them, the religious authorities were in it for themselves. 

Instead of living by the example of Psalm 23 with its example of leading the flock through dark valleys and helping them to find green pastures where they could find safety and sustenance, they left those under their care to the wolves, or in the case of Jesus’ day, the Romans. The challenge of being that shepherd is often given to pastors and other faith community leaders. I know for myself that I take the role seriously when it comes to walking with and leading whatever community of faith I have been called to serve. 

When I was in the military as a chaplain, my flock was much different from the flock that I had cared for in my first call out of seminary. I had two small, rural churches in the farming community of West Central Minnesota. These were the people that I walked with as we navigated the mountain top and valley experiences of parish life. Once I went on Active duty with the Air Force, my flock became a bit larger and was composed of a lot more variety than I had in those two churches. What was the difference? In the case of the military, much of my work was with people of other faiths or people who didn’t claim any faith tradition. This flock didn’t worship at the chapel on-base and many didn’t worship off-base either. Yet they were all supposed to be under the care of the base chaplains. This experience was eye-opening and exciting for me. Yes, I cared for the flock who attended worship services in the base chapel on Sunday; however, my parish was much larger than that. 

As I continued ministry post-Air Force, this lesson about pastoral care and shepherding came with me. Is my ministry confined to members of the church I am serving? If someone seeks me out for pastoral care or simply to ask questions, do I turn them away because they aren’t members? Heavens no! Yes, the main focus of ministry is with the flock who has called me to be their pastor. That isn’t the only focus of ministry though. I am called to be a witness to the love and grace of Jesus Christ to all whom I encounter. I don’t check membership cards. After all, aren’t we all God’s children in need of God’s tender care?

Something came to my mind as I was reflecting and studying this week in preparation for Sunday’s sermon. Are pastors the only ones who are called to be shepherds? In a word, no! There is a biblical concept called the priesthood of all believers. In the Reformed tradition we believe that while some may be called to be ordained as pastors, every member of the congregation is called to be a minister. I think this is relevant when the Church talks about  stewardship. The congregation that I serve is in the middle of their stewardship campaign.

When they think of stewardship, most members think about money and budgets. While this is an important part of the life of a church member and community, this isn’t the sole reason for thinking about stewardship. We are called to be good stewards of God’s creation in Genesis. I would say that part of that call is to be good stewards of the relationships God has given to us. 

Along with being called to be good stewards of our time, talent, and treasure; we are all called to be shepherds. Psalm 23 tells us that even when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, the shepherd is with us. For us, that means that when one person walks through the valley of any sort of shadow, we are called to walk with them. This isn’t the exclusive domain of the minister who is one person. This is the call of all who follow Christ. Believe me, there is more work than one human shepherd can possibly handle. 

In his journal from April 11th, 1948, Thomas Merton had this to say about the Good Shepherd in the Journal Entering the Silence: Good Shepherd, You have a wild and crazy sheep in love with thorns and brambles. But please don’t get tired of looking for me! I know You won’t. For You have found me. All I have to do is stay found. 

We are all that wild and crazy sheep who get stuck in the thorns and brambles from time to time. The promise of our Lord is that even in the midst of the mess we have made or find ourselves in, we are not lost. Like the parable of the lost sheep, he will seek us out and bring us back to the fold. Will you join with me as we seek to be that shepherd who searches out those in need? Are you ready to seek out the ones whom society has ignored or cast aside? If you are, then I’ll meet you amongst the thorns and brambles as we help each other to do the Lord’s work.

2 Comments
  1. thegreeningspirit permalink

    A beautiful message, Padre… I love the metaphors and the encouragement for us all to minister to others. Very inspiring….

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