I will shepherd my people


Sermon for July 18th, 2021


Jeremiah 23:1-6
Psalm 23 
Ephesians 2:11-22
Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

Jeremiah has some harsh words for the shepherds of Israel this morning, and rightly so. Because the people have gone so far astray through terrible, inept and unholy leadership, there are hard times coming to God’s people. I don’t have time this morning to go through the whole Book of Jeremiah, but let me just say that through much of the book, the Prophet Jeremiah paints a very dark picture about what is about to happen in the land. It’s a tough read, and Jeremiah has some tough words for faithless shepherds. But in the midst of these dire warnings and tough words is a promise. 

God says to the shepherds: YOU may have failed, but I will not. Not only will I appoint new shepherds for me people, but I myself will be a shepherd. I will shepherd my people. I will look for the lost. I will gather people in. I will appoint new shepherds. 

Do you remember last week how I said that our God reveals himself to us? Well, he is doing that today in this passage. God is giving us a glimpse here of who he is. God raises up and appoints shepherds, that’s true, but it is only to share in his work, because it is really God that is the shepherd. 

Some shepherds fail, yes that’s true, but God does not abandon his people. If you read the rest of Jeremiah you will see how God is sometimes abandoned by his people, but God is never the one that walks away. God’s people may get lost; God never does. And people are never so far gone that God can’t find them. There are tough words from Jeremiah about the present state of affairs, but within those words is the promise that God is prepared to do something about it. 

When Jesus looked out on the great crowd, what did he see? Sheep without a shepherd. People that were lost and suffering. People that had likely put faith in leaders that had led them astray. People that were oppressed and mistreated. Jesus saw all of this and he had compassion on them. He taught them. He laid hands on them and healed them. And…he appointed some new shepherds, his disciples, and he sent them out with instructions to do the same. 

That is our God at work folks. 

No matter what valleys of death our faithless shepherds may lead us into, we always have a good shepherd who will lead us right back out of it. God hasn’t just done this once, or twice. Our God has done this many times, because this is who our God is. 

If we keep reading in Jeremiah this morning, the prophet goes on to say: 

Therefore, the days are surely coming, says the Lord, when it shall no longer be said, “As the Lord lives who brought the people of Israel up out of the land of Egypt,” but “As the Lord lives who brought out and led the offspring of the house of Israel out of the land of the north and out of all the lands where he[a] had driven them.” Then they shall live in their own land.

What Jeremiah is saying there is that the days are coming when we won’t just look back on God saving us from Egypt, we will also look back on God saving us from this. Whatever this is. The God who led our ancestors out of Egypt is going to lead us out of this too. The God of Moses is the God of Jeremiah and that is the same God that we believe was incarnate in our Lord Jesus Christ. When Jesus’s followers looked back on Jeremiah’s words they thought “surely this is the righteous branch from David” that Jeremiah was talking about. Surely this is God shepherding his people again.

We believe that’s true. God was shepherding his people in Jesus. And God is still doing it. Because that is who God is.

There was an Episcopal priest in Connecticut at the end of the 19th century, who died a very young man, just 35, but before he died we wrote this poem about how we often don’t experience God shepherding us until we are in the deepest valley or the darkest night. His name was Robert Clarkson Tongue and the poem is called “When the tale of bricks is doubled.”

When the tale of bricks is doubled,

“Moses comes,” the Hebrews say

When the night has grown the blackest

Comes the long expected day;

When our cares have grown so heavy

That we scarce can bear the load,

Then a hand is stretched to help us

On our weary road.

When the tale of bricks is doubled,

As our cares and wants increase,

Comes a double share of courage,

Though the battle may not cease.

Though the fight may rage the fiercer,

And the fiery darts be whirled,

If we will but call for succor,

We may face the world.

When the tale of bricks is doubled,

When oppression bows us low,

Comes a Moses who will free us,

Break our fetters with a blow,

And if we will truly follow

From the black Egyptian night,

He will guide us, He will lead us,

To eternal light.