The Lectionary Lessons for today are dedicated heavily to the message about The Good Shepherd.
As Americans, few of us are acquainted with the skills of caring for animals, other than perhaps a cat, a dog, or a bird. Some few of us are ranchers who tend animals, and a few of us are farmers who are acquainted with caring for animals; hardly any of us would call ourselves a Shepherd or a Shepherdess.
Jesus proudly calls Himself, "The Good Shepherd" in one of the selected Scripture portions for today from the Gospel of John, the 10th Chapter.
Jesus understood Shepherding as a middle Easterner and as a Jew, whose historic roots were firmly rooted in the culture of living from the resources of the earth by way of agriculture and animal husbandry, and taking care for the needs of the animals.
Jesus understood Shepherding as King David described it in the 23rd Psalm.
I have referenced, for this presentation, two persons who have taught me a few facts about Shepherding in the Middle Eastern Style.
The first one is a lady I heard at Lake Junaluska, in the mountains of North Carolina. A group from Christ Church in Chapel Hill went there for a week of rest and spiritual refreshing.
It was on Thursday of that week and I was tired from the heavy schedule of Vespers and training classes; I almost decided to not go that evening, and upon arriving, I wished I had stayed in my room.
The speaker for the evening sat in the Pulpit Chair waiting to be introduced; quite frankly she did not favorably impress me as a speaker of powerful presentation. She was a very thin lady and was dressed in dull brown, her hair was dull brown, and she was the about the age I am now, which does not overly impress the youthful; but hear me, I have always been grateful that I attended that service.
I would tell you her name, except that I don't remember it, but of all the sermon presentations I heard that week, hers is the only one I remember; she taught us about the Mid-Eastern Shepherd as both David and Jesus would have understood it by the words of the 23rd Psalm.
The second reference mentioned is available to you if you care to read it in its entirety; the address is, www.antipas.org/article/shepherd_psa23_01.html
If you care to download the entire booklet, it is free and permissible to do so.
The authors name is Phillip Keller. He is knowledgeable of the subject because he was a shepherd of sheep, and is familiar with the meanings of the methods cited in caring for the sheep, and about the common problems shared by the shepherd and the sheep as described in the 23rd Psalm.
When Jesus states, as He did in the 10th Chapter of John, that He is a Good Shepherd, He knew what He was saying to us, so now let us prepare to learn some of those facts, so that we may be encouraged and comforted, and informed about how our Good Shepherd takes care of us.
But first, I would like to give you a few Sheep Facts as I have learned about them from some on-line sources: The National Geographic, "One Kind".org, and Angela McKenzie-Jakes, from Florida A and M University.
Sheep have good memories, contrary to what we often hear about them.
They have good problem solving skills.
Sheep are independent from birth.
Sheep tend to be stubborn and self-willed, but some are shy and timid.
Male sheep are called ram or buck; female sheep are called ewe or doe, and baby sheep are called lambs.
A mature sheep consumes about 3.5 to 4 pounds of food each day.
President Woodrow Wilson's wife had sheep on the front lawn of the White House because they kept the grass in good order.
Christopher Columbus brought sheep to America in about 1493. By 1698 America was exporting wool.
There are over 40 breeds of sheep in the U.S. and more than 900 breeds world-wide.
Angela McKenzie-Jakes says that if you ever see a sheep on its back, "Please lend a hand," sheep cannot roll over to get onto their feet by themselves, they are not designed that way.
There are other sheep facts, and some of those will upsurge in our consideration of the 23rd Psalm.
While we may not shepherd sheep, nearly everyone us either do now, or will later, perform the duties and work of a shepherd.
Pastors are shepherds and Parents are shepherds. If we have a supervisory position, then we are also a shepherd. A Shepherd is one who has both authority and responsibility for one or more persons. Leaders within the Church or the Community, civic and political, perform shepherding. Shepherding is a place of authority and responsibility. So how do you or I shepherd, and do it well?
There are two methods of shepherding, one is "herding" of the flock, and the other is the personal, often hands on attendance to the flock.
This is Mother's Day, and soon Father's Day will be recognized also. Happy Mother's Day! and Happy Father's Day! to the Fathers also, since as a visiting speaker I will not probably be here next month.
As we journey through the message for today about shepherding and what it involves, and about Jesus as our Good Shepherd, will you please ask yourself, as a parent, "How do I shepherd my little sheep? Am I an attentive protector and, guide or, am I a herding shepherd?
Herding shepherds use horses and dogs and whips to keep the flock in the place they desire for them to be. They are concerned for the flock, but in an impersonal way that is more concerned with the "obedience" of the animal than for the animals personal and emotional welfare.
Those who shepherd, and those who enjoy the benefits of being shepherded, must all learn to cooperate, and in doing so be blessed.
Psalm 23: verse 1; "The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want."
When I understand how the Good Shepherd conducts Himself; when I understand that He lays down His life for me as His sheep, I have all confidence that I shall not want. (A sheep might, however, find itself in want upon some occasions, I will mention that a little later.)
There are two ways to die or "to lay down our lives." One way is to die physically and one is to live a life of self-sacrifice; according to Paul, we die daily in the giving of ourselves to the Lord, by denying our fleshly desires to be engaged, when they are contrary to God's Word.
We die to ourselves as a father, or mother, or a grandparent, uncle, aunt, foster parent or whomever, when we sacrifice ourselves to give care and sustenance to a child, or elderly person, or other person who is needy and unable to take care for themselves.
It is not a onetime sacrifice that does the trick, it is day by day engagement until many years of our life is used in the completion of the privilege to present to the Lord a healthy person, who will then begin the art of good shepherding for other newly born sheep.
"I shall not want" because the Good Shepherd is overtly aware of my needs and planning ahead for my needs.
The provision for my assured needs is somewhat contingent upon my keeping myself under the watchful eye of the Shepherd. If I wander off the path of righteousness into areas not provided or prepared for me by my Good Shepherd, there may be dangers that will prevail over me while I am wandering, but certainly the possibility is there while I am out on those paths not prepared for me.
If we find that we have needs, which the Scripture's say we will not, then we might ask if we are close enough to "see" the Shepherd of our souls, so that we graze in the places He has prepared for us, where there is nothing to harm us that is beyond His rod or His staff.
Verse 2; "He makes me to lie down in green pastures,"
Sheep are hearty consumers of the green grass and even after having eaten to its fill, how nice to lie down in the soft grass of plenty; the experience of the sheep would be one of confidence and assurance of abundant provision when once again it becomes hungry.
"He leads me beside the still waters,"
To be lead by available water is not really what the sheep need; sheep are fearful of running water that babbles and makes noises, therefore the good shepherd leads them by "still waters" where they may drink all the water needed without fear or disturbance.
"He restores my soul." (V. 3)
These three proclamations are applicable to our experience with The Holy Spirit as He opens up the Word to our hearts and minds and spirits.
The Word of God is referred to in the Bible as both Bread and Water. The New Testament Epistles advise us to daily "renew our minds by the washing of the Water of the Word."
We are nourished for life, and for living life, by the in taking of the Word of God, and we are washed, cleansed and renewed in our minds by its effect on our lives, and therefore we have peace, joy and comfort.
However, if the sheep wander off from the shepherd and do not have the constant needed provision for food and water, they can hardly survive alone. Sheep are not able to exist alone among the other wild animals.
"He leads me in the paths of righteousness for His Name's sake."
We know what the "paths of righteousness" are according to God's Word. Those are the paths where the blessings of the Lord are in abundance for our needs. Those are the paths where we are being compliant with God's Righteous Requirements; they are the paths over which The Good Shepherd is ever present to provide for us, and to protect us.
"For His Name's sake;"
God is careful to watch over His reputation, His character does not allow for less. His avowed love for us necessitates that He "never leave us or forsake us." His all consuming love for us, as His creation, gives Him satisfaction and great pleasure to be our constant Attendant in providing all that we need; that is how He is and He is true to His nature.
V.4 "Yes, although I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,"
The Scriptures are so multifaceted in their application to a variety of explanations and certainly this is one of those proclamations by which we can make more than one application.
In truth, of our "time" of physical death, the Lord will be in attendance and He by His death on The Cross, has removed "the sting" of death for us and has released us, saved us, from the penalty or curse of The Law. So that there will be "no evil to fear." Even in that table, or experience, He has gone ahead of us to prepare for our comfort.
But there is also the same protection for us as we walk physically in our living "through the valley of the shadow of death." He is likewise there in the troubled times and we can place our confidence in Him that He is The Faithful Shepherd, Whose "rod and staff" are there to comfort us with both protection and discipline.
Those who know say that sheep will often see a clump of good green grass on the other side of a briar patch and being a bit greedy, they lunge into the briars to get the food. Sometimes they wander off the path and may perhaps fall into the water, or fall off a cliff; in instances such as these the shepherd has both a rod and a staff to assist him in helping the sheep regain a safe position. The Rod and The Staff are the tools of the Shepherds trade.
The Rod is a tool of defense and may be hurled at a predator thinking to attack the sheep. The Rod may also be used to tap the sheep gently on their sides to remind them to walk in the safe place.
The Shepherds Staff is the well chosen tool of a shepherd upon which the shepherd himself or herself, rests their weight. The Staff, with its curved top is used to rescue a sheep that has become entangled in briars, or who has fallen into a ravine or into the water. The shepherd also uses the Staff to pick up a lamb to return it safely to its mother for feeding, so that the mother will not reject the lamb because she does not associate the different smell with her baby.
I am told that if a sheep has a repeated tendency to wander off the path away from the shepherd, that the shepherd will take the sheep's leg into his hands and break it, then he will carry the sheep in his arms everywhere they go until the leg has mended. During the time of healing the sheep develops a bond with its shepherd, and is not then likely to wander off again.
"Your Rod and Your Staff, they comfort me."
They comfort me because I can depend on the Shepherd Who has vowed Himself to me to assist me in the living of my life under His banner of love for me. He will defend me from the predators, and He will discipline my waywardness with love, for my good.
V. 5 "You prepare a table before me, in the presence of my enemies,"
The shepherd of King David's day would never take his flock of sheep into a place to graze until first he had inspected the pasture carefully. The shepherd would go to the new location looking for every noxious weed and poison plant, which he would pull up and throw away. He looked for holes in the earth that may be entry/exits for rodents or snakes, and those he would plug so that nothing could harm his sheep.
It is appropriate that the pasture be called a "table" because it is the place from which the sheep eat their food. The "table" was secured, and while there may be wishful predators off to the side, they discovered quickly that the Shepherd's Rod was their certain death if they dared to approach the table.
"You anoint my head with oil"
Phillip Keller gives a wonderful description of this act of the shepherd. He explains that the sheep have a lot of problems with insects that often attack the nose and mouth of the sheep, laying their eggs and creating larvae which give the sheep not only sickness, but also great itching irritation. He said that for his sheep he prepared a mixture of tar and a mineral which he rubbed on the sheep that discouraged the insects from lighting on the them. He explained also that the shepherd carries olive oil to rub into the sheep's head and body, when there had been briars that had caused a break in their skin. The oil provided them with immediate relief and eventual healing.
"My cup overflows"
Why not? How else could it be than that the sheep would overjoyed by the good care of the shepherd?
"Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the Lord, forever!"
I often hear a t. v. evangelist who calls "goodness and mercy" the hounds of Heaven," pointing out that those two virtues are chasing us who follow the Good Shepherd, and they do so all of our lives.
"I shall dwell in the House of The Lord forever."
There is no one on earth living life, that ever plans to live anywhere else than in the "House of the Lord." None of us ever plan to be anywhere else; but to fail to plan to get there, is to fail.
In the New Testament text for today found in John Chapter 10, Jesus says to us that He, Himself, is a Good Shepherd. He would have known exactly what it meant to say that He is "The Good Shepherd." He says that "He lays down His life for His sheep." He says that His sheep know His voice and they follow Him."
I would like to read for your consideration comments by the great preacher, Charles Spurgeon, as he asks us vital questions:
"How comprehensive is the love of Jesus! There is no part of His people's interests which He does not consider, and there is nothing that concerns their welfare that is not important to Him.
Not merely does He think of you, Believer, as an immortal being, but as a mortal being also. Do not deny it. Do not doubt it. "Even the hairs on your head are numbered." "The steps of a good man are ordered by the Lord, and he delights in the way of the Lord."
It would be a sad thing for us if this mantle of His love did not cover all of our concerns, for what mischief might come into the business of our life, which did not come under the Lord's inspection?
Believer, rest assured that the heart of Jesus cares about your very basic affairs. The breadth of His tender love and care is such that you may resort to and rely upon Him in all matters; for in all your afflictions, He is afflicted; and like as a father pities his children, so does He pity you in your times of trial and afflictions and wanderings.
Do you think, Christian, that it is possible to measure the love of Christ? Think of what His love has brought, and brings to you; justification, adoption, sanctification, and eternal life. The riches of His goodness are unsearchable.
What a wondrous love He bestows upon us! Shall such a love be responded to by half-hearted love for Him? Shall He receive from us a 'cold love' in return?
Oh, my soul, tune your harp to a glad song of thanksgiving. Travel your life to your rest, knowing that you are no desolate wander, but rather a beloved child, a sheep watched over and cared for; one supplied for and defended by the Lord who named Himself your, "Good Shepherd." Charles Spurgeon
I am this morning the messenger of the Good Shepherd. He is calling your name and He wants you to respond to Him by following Him, so that He may take care of you, and provide for you, and protect you in this life, and then to take you to live with Him in His House forever.
Jesus says in John, chapter 10 that He is the Door to the sheepfold, and that there is no other way to enter. Jesus gives to us an invitation: "come to Me, all of you that are weary and heavily burdened; take My yoke upon you and learn of Me, for I am meek and lowly in heart and you shall find rest for your souls."
The invitation is "Come to Him." In fact He is standing at the door of your heart this very moment, knocking; He greatly desires to be invited into your life so that He may be your Good Shepherd.
If you have never asked Jesus to come into your life, why not say to Him now that you desire to be a sheep in His pasture, that you want Him to be in charge of your life, and you want to be the object of His love and care? It is a NOW thing to do; it is not a thing to delay.