EASTER IV, May 2, 2004
I SHALL NOT WANT
What I know about sheep and shepherding (real sheep, that is), you could stick in my navel and still have room for a, well, a lot more!
My only experience with sheep was highly limited. My father, a pastor, was visiting a sick woman and I went along with him because there were children my own age in that family. This family raised sheep. It was lambing season. One of the ewes had rejected her lamb and the family was bottle feeding the newborn. Another lamb was sick and in the house to be cared for.
The stench of those animals, the smell of wet wool still on the hoof, the worms at home in the "live" wool was overpowering! I didn't enjoy the visit at all.
I have heard/read about other characteristics of sheep that are as unflattering as my experience with them, and if even partially any of it is true, we have indeed an outstanding shepherd and we shall not want.
However, the crux of the matter is: is Jesus our, yours, my shepherd? Do we listen to his voice, follow him? If we do not listen and understand his voice, then we are not of his flock and he is not our shepherd. And we shall always be wanting and found lacking in what we need to live.
The occasion for the words of Jesus written by John the Gospel writer was the festival of Dedication. Really the festival of the rededication of the temple there in Jerusalem. Some 150 years before, that temple had as its center a statute of Zeus, the supposed supreme God of the Greeks. The great family of the Maccabees that finally become militarily strong enough to rid the land of the Greek invaders, had literally cleansed the temple of that abomination, that idol. They had relit the fires of the great candlestick, and the festival in late December became our Hanukkah.
The air at the time of our narrative for today was filled with thoughts of victory, freedom, and the return of native Jewish leadership again. While the temple was again fully dedicated to God, the land had been lost again. This time to the Romans, with their awful brutal, heathen practices which came all too close to this holy place, this magnificent colonnaded temple of God. 40 years in the building, glorious by any standards. But now subject to heathen powers.
I suspect those who asked Jesus the question: "How long will you keep us in suspense, Jesus? Are you going to be our rescuing King, the promised Messiah?" felt like many of the Iraqi do about Americans. Will one of the leaders be the one to rid this holy land of the invading Americans? (Remember that the land of Palestine in the Near East, was as Iraq is today.)
That's what those around Jesus wanted: freedom the invader; freedom to live without fear, foreign domination, political musclemen who always wanted every penny in taxes they could extract and who were present everywhere.
I haven't experienced that myself, ever. I did see part of the movie, Gone with the Wind again the other night. The fear of the Yankees coming, the unbridled force of those Northern soldiers, their brutality to all they conquered reminded me of what these Jews wanted--freedom, restoring the old ways and old days.
And what do we want from Jesus? Do we want America, which one of the best selling authors of our time said on a national TV program, that God had raised up at this time as his voice among the nations of the world, to be victorious over all terrorists and enemies of the church?
Are we looking for a Jesus who will fulfill all our wants, our necessities, and our dreams, our expectations of the good life, and our dreams of what a good life would be?
Over 80% of all Americans expect to have eternal life after death. With or without Jesus, as the one who gives it, they expect it. Is that us here today? We just cannot imagine not having a wonderful life ever?
And from what and to what has Jesus, the Good Shepherd called you? He made you his own by rescuing you from the temptation to go where things are greenest, like Lot, Abraham's nephew did when he chose the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah as his place to live? Has Jesus rescued you from the way of death when we thought drugs, booze, sexual immorality of every and all kinds, chronic lying and deceiving was really living? Has he pulled you to the place where you hear who has kept you from being a whore to all the vices and pleasures of this world, which include over indulgence in pleasure, purchases, and pride of possessions?
Has he become hope when there was no hope, freedom from burdens you know would crush you, peace from turmoil within and without? That voice of the one who has called you to trust him is the one of the Good Shepherd who laid down his life for you, for me, for all on the cross. He gave up his life so you and I could have it. Then he rose from death to tell us all he said was true. His words, his promises, his love for us and all people, his acceptance of people of every kind, his leading us and giving us eternal, never-ending living with him--all true. What a voice to hear and to follow!
Jesus did miracles; he does miracles in your life: have you seen them? Do you believe they come from the gracious hand of the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ? Do you see how wonderful it is that we, who were once scattered, once lost, once without a change are recovered, given light in the darkness of our despair, and are given the life forever in this assembly, this house of the Lord, the holy, catholic, apostolic church? Do you see God the Father's hand in that
Jesus and the Father are one in their love for the sheep, in their opposition to death and evil, one in their determination to bless the sheep with indestructible life, one in their power to free and enliven. Jesus is the perfect expression of God in our world. Jesus is the word of God, so that whoever has seen or heard Jesus has seen and heard God. Indeed, as Jesus says: "the Father and I are one."
And in that world, in his flock, whether it is the valley of shadows of death, whether it is the enemy who wants to feast on the sheep, whether it is personal straying or wandering from the flock of the Great Shepherd of the sheep, you and I shall not ever be in want. Say it together, please: I shall not want. Amen.
Walter W. Harms, retired pastor