The Good Shepherd

2022-05-08 – Year C – Easter 4 – Good Shepherd Sunday
The Rev. Carrie Klukas
Acts 13:14b-16, 26-39; Psalm 100; Revelation 7:9-17; John 10:22-30

Lord Jesus remind us that you have us in the palm of your hand and you will not let go of us. Remind us that those who call upon you can find our salvation, restoration, and hope in you. Remind us that you are our good shepherd. In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.

Chris and I bought our first home shortly after seminary. It was one of the oldest houses in the valley and it was a wooden sided farmhouse built in 1873. It was originally one of the first farms in the area, however it had turned into a neighborhood over time. Our direct next door neighbor was repairing the wall that our two yards shared and found horse remains in the wall. Over the life of the house people would add on to the house as was needed. Eventually a youth pastor lived in the house and decided his stamp on the house was going to be a large stained glass window with three parts. The center panel was ten feet tall and had Jesus standing in the middle of a field holding a sheep. The two outside panels were eight feet tall and had sheep looking up to Jesus. Every day I walked up and down that stairs looking at these windows. Every morning I awoke to colored light spilling across the floor of my bedroom beckoning me to come and gaze upon Jesus. That house was a blessing and reminded me early in my ministry to look upon the Good Shepherd. 

Even with such astounding beauty I would often forget who was in control of my life and who was leading me. There were times when I would become full of anxiety and worry for the necessity of my life. In that period of time we were beginning our family and I was stepping back from leading my own churches. I had been called, trained, gone through a rigorous process, poured into, and set apart for the work of ministry. We were profoundly in debt with student loans which consumed our budget. And I was turning away opportunities to bring in an income in order to provide a place of peace and beauty for our children. We struggled significantly to live and at times I would forget my Good Shepherd. God in His goodness and mercy does not give up on us when we stumble, get afraid, or forget to look to Him. Jesus comes after us and waits for us to hear him and to see him. Jesus provides opportunities for us to look up and see His provision. Jesus gives us mercy and grace when we flounder and do not appear to look faithful. Jesus says today that those who hear his voice will know him. It is possible to learn to hear the Lord. It is possible to forget your way and to be found by the Lord and drawn close again.

Many of you know we have two dogs, Levi the big black lab/shepherd, and Ziggy the smaller hound dog. If any of you have ever driven past our house, been on the phone with either of us, or been on a zoom call with us you have probably heard Levi the big dog. Levi has from the time he was eight weeks old been anxious, aware of everything, and quick to respond to anything he sees. Levi notices every person that walks by, every squirrel that enters his domain, and every lizard that scampers along the fence. Levi is always on and always quick to bark. He barks so loudly that it is hard to believe he can hear anything else. For the last two years we have all worked together to train Levi. Even the smallest members of our house can get this rambunctious young dog to wait patiently by the open door. After two years of training I can be in the kitchen with a direct line of sight through the house and into the backyard. When Levi begins his crazy barking over a squirrel I can now call His name and I see almost instantly his ears perk up in response to his name. He knows his name and he knows that means he is supposed to do something. This is how Jesus is with us even with all the noise and all the chaos of a busy house of a family of eight this young dog has learned to hear his shepherds. Jesus wants us to hear him like Levi hears us. Jesus wants us to allow ourselves to be trained by Him to know his voice. 

No matter how long you have known the Lord it is hard to hear God at times. There may even be times in your life when you, even if you love Jesus dearly, struggle to hear Him. Mother Teresa is one of the most powerful saints in our modern time and she went through a seriously long time not hearing God. She kept on the work of ministry, and the work of the church and yet she couldn’t hear Him, towards the later years of her life she begged for her letters in which she admitted this to her spiritual directors to be destroyed. The letters were not because her advisors felt it would help so many people to know this as well. If that is you, if you feel far from God and unable to hear Him then you can take comfort in her life. Read books about her life.

The Good Shepherd longs to see your face before him, it doesn’t matter your age, gender, or where you are in your journey with Him. Jesus longs to see you turn your eyes to him. The scriptures say that Jesus delights in seeing us come to Him. Today is Good Shepherd Sunday in which we turn our hearts and minds to the love of Jesus and how he wants to bless us and care for us. In the Easter season we need to be reminded that Jesus comes to the skeptics, like Thomas. Jesus comes to Peter and reconciles himself with the wayward and those who deny Him. Jesus comes to those so preoccupied with their own lives, concerns, and worries and waits with them. Jesus is always present if we want Him to be. Jesus will always come to you even in the places in your life that have happened a long time ago. You can ask for prayer and ask for healing and ask for His presence in those dark scary places in your life. Jesus always comes and always responds to us. 

Jesus says his sheep know his voice and follow His way. To be a sheep in the fold of the Good Shepherd means that we are to follow in God’s ways. We are to trust His leading and guiding in our lives. If you are here in this church or watching online then God wants you to follow him. Perhaps during the last few years you have fallen away from Jesus. Perhaps you have grown used to watching online, come back, come back to Jesus, come back to His church. God longs for us to come close with our Good Shepherd. God wants us to gather together and learn from each other. God wants us to be a people who are about His ways and about His kingdom work. God wants us to be people who train ourselves in righteousness and raise up others to do so as well. Following God is meant to bring us freedom, peace, and joy. His way is gentle, loving, and present to us. 

To follow God’s way means that we must fall in love with Him and know His character and mercy. To follow in God’s way we must read our Bibles to learn the story of God’s people. If you do not read the Bible every day I would encourage you to try reading just three or four lines. Then try a few paragraphs, then try whole chapters of the Bible. A little from the Old Testament, Psalms, Proverbs, and the New Testament gives you a wide breadth of detail of the character and mercy of God. You begin to see that the people of the Bible are not perfect but rather sometimes really messed up. You can begin to see the profound love the Father has for His people. You can hear His great love for you and your family. You can not know God’s way without listening to the Bible. Social media meme’s should not be the sum total of our understanding of God. Short quips or quotes can not sustain us or minimal devotionals can not reveal the fullness of God and what it means to follow Him. We must go after the study of God as if our life depends upon it. We must seek out materials to read, learn, and become more like God. To be a follower of Jesus means that we are supposed to give substantial attention to our own development in the faith. If you are an adult you likely have access to materials to learn from. The library is my best friend. I can not afford all the books I read in a year. If I need a book my library does not have my awesome librarians help me sign up for an interlibrary loan. They help me acquire so many Christian books that broaden and expand my understanding of being a follower of Jesus. If you can read then you can learn about God. If you are a child your parents are called on by God to share their love of God with you. Parents we are to raise up our children in the faith. Canon Chris and I are in the trenches with you seeking to do something that at times we feel like we do not know how to do.    

Jesus says today that He will give those who are His sheep eternal life. When we choose to follow the Lord and give our whole selves to Him to do His will in the world then we will be close to Him forever. The scriptures say that when we die we will be in the presence of God forever seeing Him face to face. The Revelation passage today reminds us of the glory of heaven where we will bask in praise, honor, and glory of God forever. Heaven will be a place where we will weep no more and be without pain and suffering. When I was a young child my mother used to remind me that in heaven all this earthly discomfort will come to an end. And as a person born with a cleft lip and palate I underwent many surgeries, painful ear infections, countless dental procedures, teeth pulling, and rounds of braces. Most of my youthful years were spent weaving in and out of numerous painful experiences and yet the hope of an eternity with God remained beautiful and hopeful to me even as a young child. I can not remember a time in my life when I wasn’t aware of God as a loving being in my life. In an eternity with God we get to leave behind our earthly painful experiences and revel in God’s beauty, goodness, and love. As a sheep in Jesus’ fold we are promised to be drawn near to Him forever.  

Jesus promises that nothing can snatch us out of the hand of God. I think of this icon that you are seeing on the screen. The image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd with a sheep across His shoulders. Jesus has the sheep over his shoulders and I believe that nothing could remove the sheep from Him. Jesus is the victor of heaven and earth. He conquered sin and death in the resurrection and reigns at the right hand of God the Father. If the one who was at the creation of the world says that nothing can snatch us away from the Father then we can rest in that comfort. Nothing that has hurt you or no one who seeks your demise can separate you from the love of God. Death is not the end for us. Even if someone were to kill us it is not our end, we will continue on in glory in the sanctifying presence of the Lord where sin, pain, and death are no more. The dark experiences of this world will be no more and we can rest in goodness, mercy, and peace. The Good Shepherd has the power and authority given to Him from God the Father. Our safety and forever soul rests in the hands of the Creator of heaven and earth. 

Sometimes in our earthly walk we can be overwhelmed with what is going to happen. Whether it’s something personal like our job, our career, our potential marriages, or the health of our children. Or perhaps it is social in our group of friends, family members, or in our local community. Or perhaps it’s global like the war in Ukraine or impending threats on our country or on other countries around the world. My desire for you today is that you would know that Jesus is big and in charge. Jesus promises restoration, the end of pain and suffering. God knows all things and sees all things, He has a plan and we do not always or really ever need to understand it. The Good Shepherd is the one who leads us and cares for us and provides for us. Shepherds love their sheep; they are everything to them. If a sheep dies they lose the income from that animal and any hope of future offspring. Shepherds love their animals and seek to care for them with their own sacrificial lives. Jesus is your Good Shepherd and longs for you to see Him carrying you upon His shoulders. I would encourage you this week to spend time sitting with Jesus and asking Him to show you how he carries you. Ask Him what it means to be in His arms. For some of you this may be easy and for others it may be challenging to think of God being so close to you. 

We are going to take time now to sit quietly and look at this icon or picture of Jesus with the sheep on his shoulders. I would encourage you to listen closely to your body. Pay attention to how you feel in your physical body. Does it make you feel tense in your body thinking of being so close to Jesus? Or do you feel tension releasing from your body? Are your shoulders tight, jaws clenched, or uncomfortable? Listening to our bodies can help us understand where we truly are with Jesus. Lots of us have been taught to love Jesus and to follow Christian ways of being. However many people are very uncomfortable sitting still in front of our Lord. Perhaps you have gone through something very difficult and feel abandoned by God. Perhaps you struggle to believe He cares about what happens to you. Perhaps you can’t believe He would truly accept you. The great liar wants to keep us far from God. However the lover of our souls wants to draw us near, speak tenderly and show us the way to eternal life. 

So we are going to take just a few minutes to sit together as a church and look at this picture of Jesus. Let Him speak to you. Soften your heart to Him and try looking for Him in your life.  

My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand. To God be the glory now and forever. Amen

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