Our role as the royal priesthood of believers and under-shepherds of Christ is not to further scatter the sheep, but to gently encourage them into the heavenly fold of our Chief Shepherd.
This verse I just read from Psalm 23:1 is put this way in the Message, "God, my Shepherd, I don't need a thing. You have bed me down in the lush meadows. You find me quiet pools to drink from, true to your word. You let me catch my breath and send me in the right direction." (Psalm 23:1-3, MSG)
All the different ways that this Psalm has been used and translated in all of its different forms, it still speaks to each of us, a word of comfort and encouragement and strength. And it becomes like one of the greatest affirmations of faith, of the people of God in both Christianity and Judaism, and becomes... It speaks to us with such grace and comfort as the Lord's prayer gives us, the many blessings of God as the whole Bible might describe to us. And it's a part of our funeral liturgy at the grave side especially, to use to comfort those who mourn, like the beatitudes, to insure us of everlasting life, everlasting relationships that take on new and different forms as our relationships continue, but the love that binds us together is eternal and it has no end.
This is brought out so beautifully in the few words of Psalm 23. We should follow this great Shepherd, and we look now and see that the Shepherd... We identify this Shepherd as Jesus himself. But prior to Jesus, everybody saw this as our heavenly Father being our Shepherd. And we see Jesus and our heavenly Father as one, along with the Holy Spirit as the Holy Trinity. In the gospel reading, one verse says, "And Jesus, when he came out, saw much people and was moved with compassion toward them because they were as sheep, not having a shepherd. And began to teach them many things." That's the example we should follow. Just like a couple of weeks ago, we talked about when Jesus went to Nazareth, His hometown, He went around trying to teach people and help people and heal people, but there was such hostility and such polarization and division.
Follow Jesus, the Chief Shepherd
And Jesus, when he came out, saw much people, and was moved with compassion toward them, because they were as sheep not having a shepherd: and he began to teach them many things. (Mark 6:34 KJV)
We're all familiar with those ideas to this day, that it became hard for Him to really even help anybody. But His response to that was to go around and teach people and heal them and help them. That was His response, unlike the response that a lot of times, people call for today, and not only today, but back then, too. Religious people have this tendency to do the exact opposite, to shun and reject anybody that won't accept what they say or do, or that doesn't help out or doesn't become a part of their vision or their work, whatever it may be, for better, for worse. But in the Bible, in the gospel reading, it doesn't say that He had contempt for these people who were like sheep without a shepherd. No, it says He had compassion for them. And it doesn't say that He condemned them for their lack of faith and knowledge. His response was to teach them many things.
And it certainly does not say that Jesus drove them off for any reason. As the passage unfolds, the events that follow His looking out and seeing everybody as sheep without a shepherd. He taught them. He gathered them. He appreciated them gathering around and looking for Him. They were drawn to Him and He seemed to enjoy them, to bring them together in various ways. He loved them. And then even as it goes on as next week's gospel reading describes, He even took a... He fed them. He took a meal that would be maybe a little bit meager for one small family. And He blessed it. And He multiplied it until it fed over 5,000 families with plenty leftover.
True Shepherds Love the Sheep
And I will set up shepherds over them which shall feed them: and they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed, neither shall they be lacking, saith the Lord. (Jeremiah 23:4 KJV)
Contrast that with what... A lot of times, people I think misinformed or less informed, or perhaps even with ulterior motives, like to project, when they drive people away from the church, when they drive people away from faith, when they drive people away from this closeness that we experience in Christ. That's just the exact opposite. So we can follow their example and scatter the sheep. Or we can follow Jesus' example and bring everybody together in love, encouragement and support and appreciate who we are, who each other is. Love one another as Christ has loved us. True shepherds, that's what they do. True shepherds love the sheep. Through the prophet Jeremiah, God spoke and said, "I will set up shepherds over them, which shall feed them. And they shall fear no more, nor be dismayed. Neither, shall they be lacking, saith the Lord."
I always kind of feel like a pause and a time to just let that sink in, whenever I come across those words, "thus saith the Lord." And then it kind of seems like that means it's not... It's something to listen to. To me that sounds like it's something to take notice of. This is God's view. The prophet Jeremiah also wrote this in the beginning of the passage we heard today about how false shepherds scatter the sheep and drive them away. "Woe be unto the pastors that destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture, saith the Lord." I kind of like the idea better in some of the other translations. It hits me a little softer and spreads the blame out a little further, than when I use the word pastor, when I'm occupying that particular office.
And so, but it's there. It's of like, if the shoe fits wear it, I guess. Deal with that. And we have to listen and be careful with that, because the, "Woe," or the warning is to those that would scatter and destroy the sheep, in contrast to how Jesus does of nurture them and love them and bring them together. True shepherds bring the sheep together and feed them and nurture them.
Remember at the last breakfast, when Jesus, after the resurrection, came in with some of the disciples, fixing all the breakfasts and then he said to Peter, "Do you love me?" And three times he asked that question and three times, Peter responded, "Lord, you know I love you." And the three times Jesus said, "Feed My sheep, feed My people." We love the shepherd. We love the sheep the shepherd loves. I often like to say that what better tribute can we give to anybody than to love the people they love. What better honor and glory can we give to Jesus than to love the people Jesus gave His life for because He loved them so much. We're sent. We're all sent to cast out all fear, as the apostle put it. Apostle John said, "Perfect love casts out all fear."
The result as described in this very passage from Jeremiah is that "they shall be fruitful and increase." What a wonderful promise. The people that we love in the name of Jesus, we can watch their lives grow in the love and knowledge of Christ. We can watch the relationship grow, not only our relationship with them, but theirs with God. And we can love them, and we can encourage them, feed them, strengthen them in whatever ways that we can. And we will see this promise come true. That those people we love will be fruitful and increase. They will be people who also are able to extend that same love and blessing to the people around them.
We Each Have a Place in God’s Eternal Future
Now he’s using you, fitting you in brick by brick, stone by stone, with Christ Jesus as the cornerstone that holds all the parts together. We see it taking shape day after day—a holy temple built by God, all of us built into it, a temple in which God is quite at home. (Ephesians 2:21-22)
We each have a place in God's eternal future. In the passage from Ephesians, this is how it says in the message translation, " Now he’s using you, fitting you in brick by brick, stone by stone, with Christ Jesus as the cornerstone that holds all the parts together. We see it taking shape day after day—a holy temple built by God, all of us built into it, a temple in which God is quite at home." What a beautiful expression that Paul wrote there to this church at Ephesus and through them to our church here at Briensburg today, and other churches, of course. But we're not other churches, so we'll take what he writes for us, that each one of us and everyone that we connect with, as we make those connections, it is in this imagery like this building, with the bricks that hold it all together and all of the mortar and everything that goes into this building, it's like each one of us being a component of this sanctuary building, only it's spiritual and God lives within us and among us in this eternal spiritual house not made with hands.
Paul gives it a lot of different other ways. Other people in the Bible and give us other ways, but they have the same... With all the different imagery, it communicates the same message, whether it's a body or a building, or however we communicate, it is that we are all a part of this. We're part of this tapestry, this puzzle. We're a part of whatever other imagery we communicate that of being the one, even though we're many, even in the sacrament, we speak of one bread but that many of us are a part of that one loaf. And everybody is supposed to be a part of that. Everybody was made to be a part of it. Nobody was made to just be destroyed or cast away. Everybody was made to be a part of this work of God.
There's a Wesley hymn that begins with this verse:
Come sinners to the gospel feast.
Let every soul be Jesus' guest.
You need not one be left behind
for God hath bidden all mankind.
No one has any right to edit the guest list that Christ has sent out to all of humanity. Ours is not to turn anyone away. Ours is not to quench the spirit. Ours is not to reject those whom Christ has not only accepted, but invited. Ours is to feed. Ours is to nurture. Ours, it is to encourage and to strengthen each other and all of God's people, as together we minister the spiritual gifts to the world and extend to everyone else the same invitation we ourselves have accepted.
Jesus gave us this wonderful comfort in John 14, that connects so well, even with the 23rd Psalm that we reflect on today. "Let not your heart be troubled. You believe in God. Believe also in Me. In my Father's house are many mansions. If it were not so, I would have told you. I go to prepare a place for you. And if I go and prepare a place for you, then I will come again and receive you unto myself, that where I am, there you may be also." And whither I go, you know, and the way, you know." Heaven is the eternal home that God has provided for everyone.
Heaven is the Eternal Home God has Provided for Everyone
I know that your goodness and love will be with me all my life; and your house will be my home as long as I live. (Psalm 23:6)
The Psalmist said, "I know that your goodness and love..." -- this is from the Good News Translation, as it concludes Psalm 23, "I know that your goodness and love will be with me all my life and your house will be my home as long as I live." We not only dwell in that house, we are part of that house. The house is not complete until all the proverbial stones are in place. God doesn't want anyone left out in the cold, or as some people like to say, in the heat. God doesn't want anybody cast away. God wants everybody to take their place and work their part and be their part. Through the 23rd Psalm, I hear God's say that God's goodness and mercy will follow us every day of our lives. We will be at home with each other in God's own heaven for all eternity. I'd like to close with this hymn by James Montgomery.
Pour out thy Spirit from on high;
Lord, your assembled servants bless:
graces and gifts to each supply,
and clothe us with your righteousness.
Within your temple when we stand
to hear your truth you taught, may they,
Saviour, like stars in your right hand
true pastors of the churches be.
Wisdom and zeal and faith impart,
firmness with meekness, from above,
to bear your people on their heart
and love their souls with your own love;
To watch and pray and never faint,
by day and night strict guard to keep;
to warn the sinner, cheer the saint,
nourish your lambs, and feed your sheep;
Then, when our work is finished here,
in humble hope our charge resign,
when the Chief Shepherd shall appear
O God may we and they be Thine.
Each one of us has people to whom we actually are ministering this spiritual gift of pastor and teacher, along with whatever other gifts we may have as primary gifts, and however we may think of those spiritual gifts. Each one of us also is a pastor to somebody. And we're invited to join together in this prayer, for the Lord's spirit to be poured out on us, that we might be the under-shepherds that bring people together in love, that others may be driving apart.
In the name of Jesus, Amen.