(Good Shepherd Sunday)
“I LOVE YOU.”
Each sheep is precious to the shepherd. He knows each sheep personally. He was there when it was conceived, and at the moment it was born. He knows its parents, and its genetic make-up. Each lamb is different with its own name and each recognises and responds to the voice of their shepherd.
This is the way God knows us. Each one of us is different. We each have our own unique DNA (unless we have an identical twin!). We have different personality traits, and different gifts and abilities. We too have a Good Shepherd. We are all precious to him- there’s no favouritism or heirarchy. The Good Shepherd is prepared to fight for his sheep and protect them from all evil.
Jesus fights for his people. There are three evil enemies who would attack us and leave behind only skin and bones.
Firstly, there is the evil within us that would destroy us. Like an evil virus in our computers that would cripple us and leave us empty. A symptom of this evil might be a bout of depression. One sees no way ahead. One feels helpless. One gives up on the future. But the Good Shepherd is always out in front. He knows the way ahead, even when we don’t. He knows the way and will lead us through anything that comes. Jesus is the way ahead.
Jesus knows we need times to rest and recuperate. He leads us to rest in the green pastures, during our times of grief and sorrow. A time of sickness when he reaches out to us through the caring hands of doctors and nurses can also be a time of rest. He gives us these special times of rest, because he loves us.
He can give us rest from guilt. Jesus gives us a peace of heart and mind the world can’t give. Perhaps there is a particular sin we are ashamed of. We try and keep a lid on it so no one knows about it. We hide it deep inside ourselves. We repress it. And the Good Shepherd knows all about and he says in love, “You are too weak to overcome it. It will destroy you. Give it to me and I will fight it. I’ll cover it over and wipe it away with my own blood.” So he makes it disappear from God’s eyes. We can all have a clean sheet and enjoy a time of rest from our guilt. Enjoy the green pastures of life he has led us to.
So the Good Shepherd deals with our first enemy – our sin and guilt. Out of love He cleans it up so we can run as smoothly as a brand new computer!
The second enemy is the Evil One. He wants to separate the sheep from their Shepherd. He wants to put something or someone else in front to lead us astray. If Jesus is not out in front leading us on, then who or what is? Could it be what others think? Could it be our status, urging us on to impress others. Is it Popularity? Or maybe it could be the latest fashions. Sheep follow one another! They love to follow the rest of the mob.
The Good Shepherd assures us we will get all the food and clothes we need. We can trust him, like lamb relies on the shepherd for food, and a safe place to sleep.
It is the Evil One’s work to separate us from the Shepherd’s voice so we don’t hear the words of Jesus. How does he do this? The Evil One comes in disguise, dressed up as a sheep. We might have friends whom he uses to separate us from the Good Shepherd. They get us far enough away in life from the Shepherd so we don’t hear his voice, his tender loving call, or his words of warning.
The scary thing is that just like we don’t see an evil virus coming in an email, we also don’t see the enemy, or his cunning, or see the wolf behind the sheep’s clothing. But Jesus does. Jesus recognises the Evil One and takes him on. We aren’t a match for the evil powers and forces that would lead us astray, separate us from Jesus, and destroy us. We are hardly aware of them, they are so well disguised. But Jesus recognises them and knows them. He fights the evil and cunning ones for us. He warns us.
When we stay close to Jesus we are safe. There will be times when we think we don’t need a shepherd at all. The Evil One will also assure us we are safe with him. He comes with his lies to entice us to leave Jesus and follow someone or something else. He will promise us the world, just as he offered Jesus the whole world. But Jesus knocked him back. Jesus is out in front. Out of love and care He invites us to follow closely behind him so we will be safe.
Thirdly, there is the evil of death. It is natural that even the mere thought of dying can frighten us. We avoid talking about it. We don’t know what is on the other side.
Jesus knows the other side. He comes from there. It is his home. He came to visit us out of loving care and concern, like a Good Shepherd. “Don’t be afraid!” he assures us. He rules over there too. In this world he had no place to call his own home. The other side is his home and he wants to take us there to be with him in safety.
Jesus leads his sheep home in the evening, through the dark valleys of the shadows of death. Jesus puts his arms round us. If necessary he picks us up and carries us over the line, like a shepherd carries a tiny lamb: the way you might carry a pet that you love to a place of safety at your own home.
It is not death that we need to fear. It is being cut off from Jesus, on the other side. If that happened we would be unloved, forever. Never accepted, never satisfied. We would have no name and no love. We’d be helpless and completely under the power of evil. Being separated from God is what hell is.
Jesus fights death and destroys its power to separate us from our Good Shepherd. Death can’t separate us from God and his love.
It is God who is love. His love is even greater and deeper than a mother’s love. God has designed mothers to love us too, no matter who we are. “I Love You”. We need to hear those words from our mothers and our families. But most of all we need to hear it from our God.
May the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, guard our hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.