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"From the Pulpit" - April 20, 2024

Updated: Apr 23

"From the Pulpit" - reflections on the weekly texts, from Pastor Greg at Living Lord Lutheran Church in Vero Beach, FL

John 10:11-18

[Jesus said:] 11“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. 14I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. 16I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. 17For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. 18No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.”  our gospel for this Sunday - Good Shepherd Sunday

"Thank Goodness It's not Me!"

I both dread, and welcome this Sunday - the 4th Sunday in Easter. Good Shepherd Sunday. Dread because when John uses the term "hired hands" when talking about sheep, flock, and the shepherd. Many clergy, including myself, see the term "hired hand" as a reflection on us, who claim to be...shepherds.  You know, the shepherd of the flock - the congregation?  Jesus says here, essentially, that the hired hands aren't the shepherds. The hired hands don't own the sheep. The hired hand runs away when the wolf comes (when danger is at hand, in other words.) The hired hand doesn't really care for the sheep at all.  Ouch!  And here I thought I was a shepherd of sorts.  Oh well.

To get a better sense of how God might see "the hired hands", or those who claim to be the shepherd of their sheep, we have to look at Ezekiel, Chapter 34. Listen to what the prophet has to say about (would be) shepherds, below. Each Good Shepherd Sunday, I can't read the gospel from John without first reading this text from Ezekiel.  It brings the whole shepherd thing into clearer context for me, a pastor. Here it is below. Take time to read it:

 34 The word of the Lord came to me: 2 Mortal, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel: prophesy, and say to them—to the shepherds: Thus says the Lord God: Ah, you shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? 3 You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fatlings; but you do not feed the sheep. 4 You have not strengthened the weak, you have not healed the sick, you have not bound up the injured, you have not brought back the strayed, you have not sought the lost, but with force and harshness you have ruled them. 5 So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd; and scattered, they became food for all the wild animals. 6 My sheep were scattered, they wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill; my sheep were scattered over all the face of the earth, with no one to search or seek for them. 7 Therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: 8 As I live, says the Lord God, because my sheep have become a prey, and my sheep have become food for all the wild animals, since there was no shepherd; and because my shepherds have not searched for my sheep, but the shepherds have fed themselves, and have not fed my sheep; 9 therefore, you shepherds, hear the word of the Lord: 10 Thus says the Lord God, I am against the shepherds; and I will demand my sheep at their hand, and put a stop to their feeding the sheep; no longer shall the shepherds feed themselves. I will rescue my sheep from their mouths, so that they may not be food for them.  from Ezekiel 34

Ouch, and double ouch!  You see, the thing is, I know clergy who are just like this (above.)  Maybe even I'm like it at times. Or maybe all the time. Failing to bring back the strays. Failing to feed the sheep. Failing to strengthen the weak and bind up the injured. Scattering the sheep because of something I did or said, or didn't do or say.  Daring to think that I'm the good shepherd when I know that I'm indeed just a hired hand.  I have clergy friends who are in prison (that's right!) for inappropriate behavior with a minor in their congregation. I have clergy friends who have been removed from the pulpit because they violated boundary issues with one or more of their congregants. We all have horror stories like this, unfortunately.

But, I also welcome this Sunday - Good Shepherd Sunday, precisely because the words of Jesus help me realize that I am NOT the good shepherd. That I am NOT Jesus. That I am NOT God.  In reading both of these texts each year, I realize that I'm just a hired hand in God's realm. Maybe an important one, but just a hired hand. There is only one Good Shepherd. And it's not me.  It's not any of us. I secretly wish that we could remember these two texts EVERY Sunday. As a reminder that we indeed, need a shepherd. One who will seek us when we're lost.  One who will lay down (and indeed, has laid down) his life for us. One who will not run when trouble surrounds us.  One who will gather us sheep up in God's time.

Let us give thanks both for the clergy who serve us faithfully, and without thought of personal gain. Let us give thanks that, called by God, they do their best to be a "good shepherd" to those to whom they are called. Let  us give thanks that we have a shepherd who is near to us, who is (hopefully) accessible in times of need, and who keeps watch over his or her flock as best they can. Jesus, the great shepherd of the sheep. Jesus, the gatekeeper.

But let us not forget that even the best of us are indeed, just hired hands. That there is only one Good Shepherd. And that is the one who indeed laid down his life for the likes of you and me - Jesus the Good Shepherd. Amen? Amen!

"Shepherd Me, O God"

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