One Flock, One Shepherd
CRE Jane Shelton
4th Sunday of Easter
Psalm 23; John 10:11-18
We often hear Psalm 23 recited at funerals. However, when I was in my twenties, I was handed a book entitled “The 23rd Psalm”. It was in this book that I came to realize this scripture doesn’t just speak to us at a time of death, but on the contrary, it speaks to us in our everyday journey of life.
While we often confuse our wants and needs in such a materialistic society, Psalm 23 shows perfectly that God provides everything we need.
When we think of Jesus with his flock, we think of these scenes, like here in our stained glass window, but today I want to invite you to see another picture.
Picture for a moment, Jesus walking among the people of his beloved Galilee where he spent most of his life teaching. Jesus standing on the hilltop while the people who listened gathered around him. Imagine, you are in this scene. Are you seated or standing. Do you have an ear tuned in to his voice, hanging on every word, or are you distracted by the whispers you hear behind you, the ripple of the waters as they hit the sand below, or perhaps the cry of someone in the crowd longing to be healed.
Now imagine this same picture, but instead of people below Jesus, there are sheep. The image of Jesus standing with a staff in his hand, holding up the other, or maybe carrying a sheep in his arm while looking out over the others.
Which of these two images are you most familiar whenever you hear the phrase, “The Good Shepherd”?
For many of us, it is the image of Jesus with the sheep that comes to mind whenever we hear the phrase “The Good Shepherd”. We all grew up with them…pictures of Jesus in the fields with the sheep around his feet, or Jesus carrying a sheep with a couple more at his feet. Or perhaps you’ve seen the photo with Jesus bent over the single, lone sheep, leading us to believe he has found the lost sheep.
We often hear, we are the sheep, but because we see the images of the sheep and not ourselves, I wonder, do we really relate to the message.
Let me draw your attention to the front cover of your bulletin this morning. Here is a picture of Jesus, the One Good Shepherd, leading his flock, his disciples. This picture is a great representation of how God sent Jesus to us as the One Shepherd to lead us to the understanding of the message of hope…a message of a God of mercy and love….a shepherd full of love and compassion that brings understanding to God’s people, the one flock. So who is the One Flock?
After Jesus was crucified, rose from the dead, and ascended into heaven, he instructed the disciples to take up his cross, be the shepherds to continue the good news, to bring others into the one flock so that all can be led by Jesus. In my Friday Journey with Jane Bible Trivia, we referred to a scripture in Luke where Jesus “opens the minds of the disciples so they might have understanding of the scriptures”. He wanted them to understand the message of the prophets of the Old Testament had been fulfilled, and also understand that now the message of the good news needed to be continued from generation to generation to all people and nations.
Upon ascending into heaven, Jesus no longer walks this earth, yet while his Spirit still leads us, it was up to his disciples and now us to become his shepherds. Jesus uses our voice and our feet and hands to bring others into the one flock as his work is revealed through us.
In continuing the work of Jesus, our focus should never drift from our purpose to include everyone in the one flock.
Jesus didn’t see black or white or red or brown. It is the news, politicians and political groups, and our own prejudices that distract us from this reality. Jesus saw only his one flock. The flock in need. When I hear political groups speak of injustices for their personal gain, it saddens me because my mind immediately goes to the children who are being abused and killed, and how are these children being helped? Many surviving are being led astray by hatred, guns, violence and drugs instead of being brought into the flock of the One True Shepherd where they can be shown love and compassion.
We are called upon to love everyone in the flock, and to find the lost ones and bring them into the flock. If we don’t bring them in while they are young, how will they know the difference between the One True Shepherd and the wolves waiting to devour?
While attending the Flint River Presbytery meeting a couple Saturdays ago, we listened to Rev. George Haugen, pastor of Edgewood Presbyterian in Columbus. He spoke of him and his wife’s upcoming mission journey to Iraq, and how they would be working alongside doctors and other missionaries to bring the message of Jesus to the Kurd Sunni Muslim community who live in a community of tents outside the northern city of Dahuk. A community displaced by the Sadem Hussain regime that experienced unspeakable genocide and death of their people. In addition to this refugee camp, they will also be assisting the Yazidis and Syrian Kurds in refugee camps where even more have been experienced genocide, death and displacement.
What stuck with me upon hearing Rev. Haugen is the two scriptures he read the first from Matthew 28:18-20:
And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
And the second from Revelation 7:9-10:
And after this, I looked, and there was a great multitude that no one could count, from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages, standing before the throne and before the Lamb, robed in white, with palm branches in their hands. They cried out in a loud voice, saying, “Salvation belongs to our God who is seated on the throne, and to the Lamb!”
As Rev. Haugen explained, these scriptures remind us we are to bring all people and nations the message of Jesus.
In his presentation, Rev. Haugen provided that there are 1.5 million Kurds, and only 150 are followers of Christ, and the number of nations that have yet to hear the message of Jesus are around 5,000. Not 5,000 people, but 5,000 nations!
It was in this presentation by Rev. Haugen, that I realized exactly what our scripture means when it speaks of the lost sheep. Maybe they are lost because they have not yet heard that they too are a part of the one flock waiting to be gathered into the loving arms of our precious, Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, the one Shepherd.
It also reminded me how we take forgranted the very blessing of knowing who Jesus is, and that we fail to continue to gather the lost sheep around us.
We don’t have to leave this nation to realize there are many children today not being brought to church and not being told who Jesus is, and more importantly that are not being shown the love of Jesus.
The image of a Shepherd reminds us that God is especially concerned about those at risk and those who are vulnerable. Sheep are lost without the vigilant care of their shepherd. And we have many children hear in our nation and coming into our nation that are dismissed because they don’t live around us so it doesn’t concern us, or because they are considered a problem rather than sheep in need.
There is a myth that sheep are dumb animals, but on the contrary sheep are not dumb, as some have theorized. In her sermon, “The Voice of the Shepherd”, Barbara Brown Taylor tells of an acquaintance who had actually grown up on a sheep ranch and could dispel the myth that sheep are dumb. It was actually the cattle ranchers who started that rumor, because sheep do not behave like cows. Cows are herded from the rear with shouts and prods from the cowboys. But that does not work with sheep. If you stand behind sheep making noises, they will just run around behind you. They actually prefer to be led. Sheep will not go anywhere that someone else — their truest shepherd — does not go first, to show them that everything is all right. “Sheep seem to consider their shepherds part of the family, and the relationship that grows up between the two is quite exclusive. They develop a language of their own that outsiders are not privy to.”
As Jesus says, “I know my own and my own know me”. He points out that the shepherd’s voice is key. Jesus said it so clearly, “Follow me.” And he wasn’t just saying follow me, but also do what I do.
Jesus showed his flock that he gives his life willingly. He lays down everything for his sheep, so that he may give them hope in his resurrection.
Why does the shepherd look for the lost sheep? Because that one lost sheep makes up the whole. Left alone, it will surely be devoured, but in the flock, one becomes a part of the whole. The sheep stand together shoulder to shoulder in one flock led by the one shepherd. This creates a flock that is safe and secure, because while they lean upon each other, just like we do, they are safely led by the One Good Shepherd. This is the very essence of our survival in our life’s journey.
While we may wander and get lost on our journey, Jesus’ voice will always bring us back. When other voices seek our attention and lure us from the flock, Jesus is there to bring us back into the fold.
As sheep, or as our bulletin cover reflects, as people who are followers of Jesus, we feel secure just to hear the voice of the one true shepherd. Through that reassurance, we in turn may allow the Shepherd’s voice to speak through us, and reach out with open arms as we encounter the lost and hurting on our journey through life. May we never be distracted and lose sight of the ones who are truly the ones in need, and where and how we can help them.
To God be the glory, we are one flock, led by one shepherd!
*Cover Art found at https://media.freebibleimages.org/stories/FB_Jesus_Questions_Peter/overview-images/008-jesus-questions-peter.jpg?1538657749, free image.