Sermon for April 22nd, 2018
Wolves and Hired hands. If I wanted to, I could stand up here all day and talk about the wolves and the hired hands in the church and in our world, but what would be the point really? I am willing to bet that everyone in here could tell a story about a Foxy Loxy in your life. You all remember Foxy Loxy, who shows up at the end of the old folk tale to shepherd Henny Penny, Goosey Loosey and Turkey Lurkey right to his dinner table. The world has always been filled with characters like that, that are ready to use you and exploit you for their own gain: from politicians to the TV ad man to sadly even the preacher in the pulpit sometimes. The world is filled with examples of bad shepherds and every one of us has experienced a wolf or a hired hand at some point or another. In fact, it would be really easy to think that that is all there is; that there is no one and nothing that can be trusted; that everyone is simply looking out for number 1. It would be easy to think that, if all I did was watch the news or look at Facebook; it would be easy to become depressed, despondent and cynical if all I ever talked about or thought about were the bad shepherds and forgot that there is a Good Shepherd.
Everyone knows a bad shepherd, but not everyone knows the Good Shepherd. We are blessed because we are gathered here on Good Shepherd Sunday (as we are every Sunday) to remember and celebrate the man who said that he was the Good Shepherd. We are blessed because we are led by a man who, unlike wolves and hired hands, was willing to set aside his own self-interests, even to the point of death, so that he could save his sheep and lead them to green pastures and still waters. We are blessed because, although we know we know plenty of bad shepherds, we also know the good shepherd, and we know him to be our God, not everyone can say that.
I think it is easy to take for granted the comfort and peace that comes from being able to put your trust in something or someone greater than yourself. We live in a world where we are taught from an early age not to trust anything or anyone. As we get older, the more wolves, hired hands and bad shepherds we encounter, the less likely we are to trust; so we are left thinking that life is something we have to figure out on our own. it can all seem so hopeless, until at some point you experience or realize that there is a power in this world that can be trusted.
It comes in different ways to each of us. Some of us have an epiphany, or a moment of revelation, when for the first time we can identify a powerful unseen force working in our lives. Some of us witness great miracles. Some witness profound sacrificial love coming from another and wonder: “where could this type of love come from?” “What spirit or power could motivate a person to sacrifice their own needs, maybe even their own lives, for the love of another?” No matter how we experience it, the realization that there is a Good Shepherd and that he cares about you can change the way you look at the world.
I think that may be why the 23rd Psalm is such a beloved piece of scripture: it is an ancient revelation about the nature of God that touches us personally and gives us hope in a world that can sometimes feel very hopeless. I challenge anyone to find a more beautiful expression of faith and hope than you find in those few, simple lines of scripture. It is interesting to note, that if you look in the burial office of our prayer book, there is only one psalm that is printed in both the modern and the King James translation: Psalm 23. Even if you didn’t know any other scripture you probably knew that one. It is a word of comfort when we may feel lost or in danger. It is a reminder that the God we worship is not some distant, foreign being, but has a real personality: the personality of a loving shepherd. In a world full of dark valleys and enemies, we are being directed and guided by a force of kindness and mercy. Don’t take that comfort for granted. There are plenty of people in this world that don’t have it.
When Peter was questioned about how he had healed a man, through what power, he didn’t mince words: it was through the power of Jesus Christ. He didn’t try to take credit for it himself; he didn’t try to persuade the crowd that he had the power in his hands, or that he was the one who was trustworthy or faultless. No, he pointed them to Jesus. Jesus was the one and the only Good Shepherd. Jesus didn’t say that he was A good shepherd; he said that he was THE good shepherd. He didn’t say that he was A way…he said that he was THE way. Peter knew that he wasn’t the Good shepherd, he was probably so aware of his own shortcomings that he didn’t even think of himself as a shepherd at all, but as a leader of the church maybe he could hope to be a good sheepdog: always listening for the master’s commands, working joyfully to protect and guide the flock; that is how Peter saw himself, not as a shepherd in his own right, but as a devoted worker and follower of the one who is. Good priests and pastors know that they are not the shepherd, but hopefully they seek to obey him with a dog-like devotion. But all of us who are blessed to know the Good Shepherd have a ministry to a world filled with hired hands and wolves. We are called to show through our words and through our lives that there is a power in this world that is greater than us and worthy of our trust. There is a power that doesn’t see us as a number, or a commodity or something to be exploited, but as a beloved creature worthy saving, worth dying for. We are called to remind a broken, cynical world that there is reason for hope and there is reason for joy. Despite what our fairy tales may tell us, Foxy Loxy doesn’t win in the end; in a world filled with bad shepherds, there is one good one and we know his name is Jesus.