Sunday, April 21st, 2024

Under the Protection of the Shepherd

Christ is risen, Alleluia. He is risen indeed.  Alleluia. Grace, mercy and peace are yours from God our Father, through our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen. Let us pray. O Lord, send forth your Word into our ears that it may bear fruit in our lives, in Jesus’ name. Amen. “The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.” Those are familiar words. I bet if Family Feud asked 100 people to quote something from the Bible, those words, the opening to Psalm 23 would definitely be on the list somewhere. Maybe even the number one answer. Because it seems like everyone, Christian or not, knows the biblical imagery of Jesus as our shepherd. And the image usually goes something like this. A warm, lazy summer afternoon. The sun is shining. Maybe you can hear a brook trickling in the background somewhere. The bees buzzing around the flowers while the birds are chirping in the distance. And then there’s Jesus, always just standing there. Maybe holding a little lamb in his arms. Probably smiling. Maybe even laughing, just enjoying the moment. Kind of makes shepherding look like the job to have. Makes the life of a shepherd look pretty plush. The Lord is my shepherd, and he’s sitting back, soaking in the rays, just loving every minute of it. Leading me beside the still waters. Making me to lie down in green pastures, restoring my soul. It’s enough to make anyone want to be a shepherd. The problem is, it’s not reality. It’s not what being a shepherd is actually like or was actually like in the days of Jesus. When our Lord calls himself the Good Shepherd, the imagery he’s trying to call to mind is something quite different. You see, shepherding in those days was not as easy as pastoral art would lead us to believe. Definitely wasn’t just sitting around in the sun while your sheep safely graze. The life of a shepherd was actually quite dangerous. It is not for the faint of heart. One of the main responsibilities of the shepherd is to protect the sheep. Protect them from predators like wild dogs, lions coming down out of the mountains. And so, the shepherd carried a staff, not as a walking stick, not as something to lean against in the heat of the day. No, it was a weapon. A weapon to fight off those who would try to eat his sheep. So, the shepherd was a warrior of sorts. Just think of David. David, a young shepherd boy able to stand up against the Philistine Goliath. Much like bull’s eyeing womp rats on Tatooine prepared Luke Skywalker to take out Death Star, David’s training with a slingshot, his experience as a shepherd, prepared him for battle against a skilled warrior. He was able to slay the giant with the stone because David was a sniper with a slingshot, an accuracy he had developed with that weapon as a shepherd. He had to be accurate when protecting his sheep because if he missed, one of his sheep died. And if his sheep died, the shepherd gets in trouble. So, because he was a shepherd, David was also a warrior. He was not sitting there taking naps, soaking in the rays while his sheep basically took care of themselves. Being a shepherd is hard work. The hired shepherd, the hired hand is surely skilled and capable. But he’s not like David. Because David was protecting his father’s sheep, David was protecting his own sheep. He was sure to do everything possible, everything necessary to keep them safe. For the hired hand, however, when things get tough, he runs away. The hired hand has no real interest in the sheep. If a lion picks off one of the flock, that’s no skin off his back. They’re not his sheep. It’s not his family at risk, it’s not his children or his children’s children who will be affected. If the hired hand loses too many sheep to the lions, to the wolves, he’ll just get a different job. The hired hand has no real reason to protect the sheep. His desire in shepherding is simply to make his job as easy as possible. And fighting a lion, well, that’s not easy. So, the hired hand epitomizes the cliché, when the going gets tough, the tough get going, in the opposite direction. When the lion attacks, the hired shepherd becomes a lion himself. Cowardly Lion, one who flees the scene like in The Wizard of Oz, diving head first out the window, just trying to save his own skin. That is the hired shepherd. He too flees like a coward when the sheep are in true danger. The sad thing is, we sinful people often prefer the hired hand over the true shepherd. We sinful people prefer to entrust ourselves to the hireling, someone who has no vested interest in our well-being, rather than entrusting ourselves to the actual shepherd. We prefer the hireling because we want control of our own lives. We can manipulate the hireling, for we pay his salary. We’re tempted to find someone for ourselves. Someone who will tell us the things we longed to hear, rather than someone who will actually guide us, actually protect us by speaking the truth of God’s word. And so, we find someone else. Maybe it’s an author whose books you found in the spirituality section on Amazon. Maybe it’s a daytime TV talk show host who likes to pontificate on spiritual matters. Maybe it’s a smooth talker in a nice suit who uses Christian language but says very unchristian things. We find ourselves a Facebook group or a podcast or a politician, someone, anyone, to make us feel good about our sin, rather than calling us to repentance. We prefer someone who lets us follow down our own chosen path rather than calling us back to the true path, even if we’re on our way to destruction. We just don’t like to be corrected. We’re like a spoiled child. He always demands his own way. Not listening to good advice. Only listening to the words he wants to hear. He only eats candy and Doritos because he doesn’t like vegetables. But he ends up with a stomach ache. He won’t play outside because watching TV and playing Xbox is more fun. But he grows up terribly out of shape. And we sit back from a distance and observe and ask ourselves, is a parent who raises their child by letting them simply make all their own important decisions for themselves, truly parenting, truly protecting. And yet, so often, that’s how we act in our spiritual lives. We act like spiritual, spoiled brats, listening only to those voices who tell us the things we already wanted to hear, who scratch our selfish itch, but these things always come back to bite us. Because the ultimate problem is sin, and you can’t fix sin by ignoring it, or by making excuses for it, by simply explaining it away as if it wasn’t sin. No, there is only one who can protect us from the threat we actually face. That protection comes from the only true shepherd. Jesus says I am the Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down his life for his sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, he sees the wolf coming and leaves. He leaves the sheep and he flees. He flees because he’s a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. But the Good Shepherd? The Good Shepherd protects his sheep. The Good Shepherd wages war for his sheep against the evils of sin and death. The Good Shepherd uses his skills of engagement, his warrior like capabilities to fight our battle against sin, death and the Devil. Jesus, like David, comes as a shepherd into battle. And Jesus, our greater David, slays the Goliath of death with the stone of his holy precious blood and his innocent suffering and death. A stone flung from the sling shot of his perfect obedience, his complete fulfillment of God’s law on our behalf. He bears our punishment. He pays our debt. He jumps in front of the bullet for us. He lays down his life to protect you. Because Jesus is the Good Shepherd. He offers the only true protection there is. In his life, death, and resurrection, he has defeated our enemies for us. And now our Good Shepherd brings us into his flock, where he continues to protect us, continues to defend us, continues to guide us. His protection wasn’t a one-time deal. It’s not like it somehow ended when he has ascended to the right hand of the Father. No he continues to guard you. He continues to watch over you. He continues to be your shepherd. Even though it’s sometimes difficult to see, his protection is there. It protects us from the predators that would devour our hope, be it death, or grief, or despair, or persecution or shame, or any other attacker. Anything that would steal us from our Lord’s flock, he guards and defends us. He protects us from the dangerous path of false teaching, from the sinful and misguided outlooks that we are so immersed in. We live in an unbelieving world that has a philosophy all its own, and it’s always beckoning us, always inviting us to come be part of the deception. But we have a Good Shepherd who guides us down the safe path. A Good Shepherd who protects his sheep. Just like David used the tools of his trade to protect his flock, Jesus uses his tools too: the rod of his word, the voice of his pastor speaking words of Christ’s forgiveness to fend off would- be attackers, the words of his scriptures studied and prayed in your devotional lives, the light to your feet to keep you safe on his path. Instead of stones, the sling of Our Lord is loaded with bread and wine, given and shed for you for the forgiveness of your sin, for your forgiveness, life and salvation. And because we are his flock, because we are his children, the sheep of his pasture, he uses these stones to fend off the attacks of the devil, prowling around like a roaring lion, seeking to devour us. Jesus remains our Good Shepherd, and still protects us to this day. So yes, the Lord is your shepherd. We are his people, the sheep of his pasture. And we live under his care. May our Lord continue to shepherd us, to guide us, to protect us with his precious Word, throughout all days of our earthly life, and bring us safely into the pastures of our heavenly rest. In Jesus’ name. Amen.