Good Shepherd

2021-04-25 – Year B – Easter 4 – Good Shepherd Sunday
The Rev. Carrie M. Klukas
Ezekiel 34:1-10; Psalm 23; 1 John 3:1-10; John 10:11-16

Lord Jesus thank you for your guidance and profound love for us. Thank you for coming after us when we are lost and giving us yourself. Thank you for the way that you are so willing to lead us to good things. Help us to run to you, to receive your direction and to be filled with your great and profound love. In your name we pray, Jesus. Amen.

Today is Good Shepherd Sunday and our passages are ripe for direction, correction and a resetting of our vision of Jesus as the Good Shepherd. Today we begin in the Ezekial passage in which Jeremiah is challenging the shepherds and calling out the bad ones from the good. While these words were originally for the shepherds of Israel I believe that they can be for us as well today since the words of God are timeless and for all the ages. In recent years we have had a surge of significant evangelical leaders and catholic leaders alike who it has come to light have mistreated their people. They are or were shepherds who have taken advantage of their sheep and have brought significant damage to their people. In the Catholic church they are in the process of dealing with huge widespread pedophelia scandals dealing with layers upon layers of shepherds who have significantly hurt the children sheep. In the evangelical church we have had leader after leader being brought out into the light from there sexually broken lives. Leaders who seemed to teach theologically sound doctrine and powerful exposition of the scriptures have been found to be taking advantage of the brokenness in other people’s lives for their own advantage. Our world today is in need of as much correction as it was during the biblical times. The admonition given in the Ezekiel passage should bring us to a place of humility.

I believe that God is trying to cleanse his church and bring about reform to protect those in it both children and adults. In our own tradition in the Anglican Church of North America we have sought to learn from the brokenness seen in the wider church. We have implemented a sexual misconduct training for all clergy and lay people serving in the church. The vision is to educate all of God’s people in the protection of others and not allowing a chance for darkness to come into the church. The church should be a safe place for all people, children and adults alike. The sexual misconduct training is not supposed to be run or organized by the clergy but rather a lay person in order to create checks and balances for everyone at the church. Most of the scandals in churches are brought about by the clergy or pastoral team and the hope is to create more people with the knowledge of good and evil to challenge the Shepherds in the church and each other. If ever you hear or see something that concerns you speak up and do not let it go. You might be the one to help another person. 

 If ever you see a child on our property going off by themselves encourage the child to go back to their parent’s or adult who brought them. If ever you see a child going off with another adult feel free to ask if their parent’s know where they are. A person who is not the parent of a child should never be entering a bathroom alone with another child. If you are a parent you are responsible for knowing where your children are at all times. I completely understand how hard that can be but teaching your children that they will be safe if they stay close to you is very important. We say all the time to our children that we can not help them unless we can see them and know where they are. And as a church we can help one another by reminding our children to stay close to their family. It truly does take a village to raise up children and we need to do so in a way that encourages each other to stay out in the light. 

If you see two adult individuals meeting on our campus engage them in conversation and encourage them to meet out in the open. If you are going to meet with someone alone at the church please instead meet in a more open public place such as a coffee shop in order to put yourselves in an open place where others can see you. Our Bishop of our diocese does not meet in an office with people anymore. Instead he takes up residence at a restaurant table and stacks his appointments one after the other in a highly public place. Christians are called to be people who walk in the light and who put themselves in places of openness and transparency. Sitting outside on a bench where others could easily see you is another option. But going behind a closed door and meeting is inviting speculation on your time with the other person plus there is no one else to vouch for what happened. Meeting in groups of at least three people is a much safer option. 

Unfortunately there will always be people who seek the position of shepherds in order to gain access to people in order to take advantage of them. Some of them realize what they are doing and others just make one wrong decision after another leading to horrible choices that always involve the breaking of many people’s hearts and trust of others and of God. Recent research has shown that 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys have been sexually mistreated before they are 18 years old. This number is considered rather low since few boys will ever report mistreatment until over the age of 50 and we know that far more girls are mistreated then reported. If you have been hurt in any of these ways seeking out healing prayer can change the way you move through life in relationship with others. We know that humans will often act out ways in which they were mistreated towards others even when they know it is wrong. Sin has a way of begetting sin. We do that which we know is wrong or perhaps we have been taught and trained wrong thinking and never learned the right way to think. One such truth is that every person has the right to their own body and no one has the right to touch you without your permission.  

What we do with our lives and the lives of others completely matters to God. He longs to see His people live upright godly lives that are free from the bondage of sin and brokenness. In our 1 John passage today we heard that anyone who is in Christ is not supposed to be continuing on in their sin but rather coming to the Father who can heal them and help them to stop sinning. Yes it is true that we will all sin for the rest of our lives for we are not perfect or infallible but rather we will constantly be on a path to healing and wholeness if we follow Christ and choose him. If you look at your life and see the same exact place of sinning or failure ask Jesus to change you. We have too long for him to change us to move forward. Walking with Christ means our hearts are supposed to be soft to Jesus and open to what he wants to heal in us. If we open our hearts and ears to him He will always show us what He wants to change in us or to have us let go of in our life in order that we can experience more freedom. With the pandemic has brought a great deal of anxiety, depression, and a sense of languishing or not quite thriving. Our awareness of these emotions is an opportunity for the Lord to work in our lives. I believe that the Lord wants to use this time in our history to clean our hearts and to open us to His healing power. Perhaps a lot of the isolation is meant to be used as a time of healing, reflection, and space for growth. Pre-pandemic most of us ran from event to event not making much time for reflection or nuding from the Lord.

God wants us to use healing prayer to be set free from our sins. God wants us to go to others, let them hear our story, and simply lift us up to the Lord. God wants to pull the sheep close to him so that He can provide for them and love them. This icon of the Good Shepherd brings me such clarity in my life. God is our good good Father who gave us His Son to redeem us and to draw us close to Him. For we are all like the sheep who sits upon Jesus’ shoulders each one of us can be that close to Jesus hearing His heart speak to our heart. Hearing His voice of love, correction, and healing power to change us and to set us free from our continual sins. Shepherds are to remember that we are on the shoulders of Christ leading the other sheep to the Great Shepherd. Good shepherds are never to block the other Sheep from Jesus either in their words or actions. For if we do we shall stand before the great Judge and reap what we sow. For what you do in this life matters and you do not know when your time on the Earth will end. So you and I can not expect to have more time to clean ourselves up before our time ends. 

We only have the moment we are in, the day we find ourselves in, and nothing more. Each new day I wake up I try to thank God for a chance to choose him in the day. I try to remember that I have been given the moments I am in inorder to become aware of Him and to bask in his presence. The Good Shepherd longs for us to draw near and to feel His mercy, grace, and love. We are not lovely or holy or put together well but rather sinful broken people who need a Savior to rescue us and to put us upon His shoulders and experience His love. God’s love despite the condition of your heart is so great that he longs to advise you to heal your broken heart and to give you a rest. Do you judge others? You need a Shepherd. Do you always know what to do in your life? You need a Shepherd. Do you know everything that will happen to you and when? You need a Shepherd. 

Jesus tends His sheep with love and care. Jesus seeks out his sheep with an intensity that shows his great love. He will come after you, he will send people to you to care for you. When you come to be in a Christian community and make yourself known to others by working beside each other, sharing meals, or just sharing your heart or life story then you can come in contact with those who could care for you in a time of need. As our family has walked among you these four years you have often been the hands and feet of Jesus to us by ministering to our practical needs through the birth of our child and our multiple miscarriages. You have cared for us as Jesus would care for His beloved Sheep. Jesus longs to do that for you as well. Jesus longs to provide comfort, sustenance, and presence, you and I are not alone. 

Jesus’ tenacity to come after us and care for us and never give up on us is something that makes no sense in the world that we live in. How often do we give up on someone or some cause because we do not see good fruit or progress? For many years of gardening this is how I was, I would see a plant stalling out or covered in some unidentifiable parasite (at least I didn’t know what it was) and I would pull it. I figured it was done for anyway and needed to be taken out before it spread. One year I planted tomato plants just outside our sunroom window in hopes that It would grow up in front of the window and the kids could watch food grow as they played with their toys. Everything was growing great and then some white webby thing started growing on them and eating them up. I got busy with life and left them and felt guilty about not cleaning them out. Low and behold many months later I realized they had started growing again and making more fruit. I stood amazed in front of them and thought how many times do I miss out on growth because I quickly give up or get impatient. 

God’s timing is not ours. God as our Shepherd sees the world and our lives in an eternal way. Living close to the Shepherd allows us to have the ear of the most high King. When you feel like giving up or not doing the right thing, or cheating on the task at hand or exploding and walking away the Shepherd can help you. When we allow Him Jesus can change us in beautiful and transformative ways. We can become more loving, patient, caring, thoughtful, gentle, and self-sacrificial. We can think of others more than ourselves and offer our time and attention to serve others. We can accept people more as who they are and not who we want them to be. We can make space for people in our lives. 

About nine years ago the Lord gave us a mantra for my management of the family and household and it was, “Less stuff, more people!” In a time when we were paying off large amounts of debt I felt the Lord encouraging me to let go of the stuff and embrace simplicity. As we sold many of our things and gave away others I felt calmer and the house became more peaceful. It is not always easy to get rid of things but if we are not using them and have no intention of doing so then sharing them with others may be a better solution. When we learn to open up our hands with our physical objects in our lives then we can learn how to open our hands to God to be used for His good purpose. Trust me it is not always easy.Once during our extremely tight financial years one of the children wanted to give away a small toy to another child and I froze up and didn’t want to give it away. Sometimes when you live an intentionally frugal life you can become stingy or function from a scarcity mindset in which you don’t want to give anything away for fear that you wouldn’t have it when you need it. However a Shepherd mindset is not to fear and share openly and He will provide everything that you need. The Lord is a Good Shepherd and can be trusted to provide. 

When we follow the Shepherd he will show us how to live so that we can have calmer and more peaceful lives. Jesus longs to give us His sheep lives that reflect Him and bring His glory into the world. How might God want to stretch you and change you for His glory? How might God want to bring you closer to Him? Perhaps you can’t quite imagine being on the shoulders of Jesus. Perhaps you feel not ready or not good enough to be that close. I have a secret to share none of us are worthy enough but He delights in showing us mercy. The Good Shepherd wants to draw you close, carry you, and speak tenderly to you. He wants to love you, will you let Him? 

If you know him and love being on His shoulders perhaps He is calling you to follow Him in some new stretching way. Perhaps you are called to lead a small group? Perhaps you are called to offer your time and talents to the church. Perhaps you are called to reach out to those who are in need. What adventure does God have for you? How does He want to lead you and how are you called to follow Him? Your Shepherd hears you and sees you and longs to walk with you. Do not fear come to Him and receive His love and mercy and what He has next for you. For He will do the good work in you. To God be the glory, now and forever. Amen

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