In the Name of the Father and of the + Son and of the Holy Ghost.
If we were to make a list of strong animals that list probably wouldn’t include a sheep. We think about lions, bears, eagles, sharks—school mascot namesakes—but not sheep. Contrary to what we’d like to think of ourselves, God never calls us any of those animals. He calls us sheep. Hardly a funeral goes by where we don’t hear those beautiful Words, “The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want.” Isaiah reminds us that “we all like sheep have gone astray.” Ezekiel comforts us with the Lord’s promise, “I Myself will search for My sheep and seek them out.” And Jesus Himself reveals Himself as “the Good Shepherd” who “lays down His life for the sheep.”
We like to focus on the Shepherd side of this image of the Good Shepherd, but not the sheep. But it’s good for us to step back and consider sheep for a minute. Sheep are vulnerable. They cannot defend themselves against predators. They need to be in a flock for safety. They need a shepherd to take them to clean water and green grass or else they will eat a field bare and leave themselves without anything to eat or drink from polluted water and die. They need that same shepherd to be willing to risk everything, even his very life to protect them.
And it is revealed to us that Jesus is our Shepherd! Ezekiel told us what Jesus would do for His flock: “As a shepherd seeks out his flock on the day he is among his scattered sheep, so will I seek out My sheep and deliver them from all the places where they were scattered on a cloudy and dark day.” Jesus wouldn’t rule from afar. He wasn’t a business farmer, sitting behind a desk while someone else cared for the sheep. Jesus promised to be “among His scattered sheep” in order to gather them and bring them to safety. And Jesus goes even farther, as the Shepherd becomes a Lamb, as we sing in the Easter Sequence: “The Lamb the sheep has ransomed: Christ, who only is sinless, reconciling sinners to the Father.”
So Ezekiel continues: “I will seek out My sheep…I will rescue them…I will bring them out from the peoples…I will feed them…I Myself will be the Shepherd of My sheep, and I Myself will make them lie down…I will seek the Lord, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak.”
Why? Because we, the sheep, always get ourselves into trouble. We stray and wander. We delude ourselves into thinking that we are safe from wolves. We are vulnerable and easily lured by false promises of security, not realizing that the one luring us is the wolf disguised in sheep’s clothing. We are straying sheep who need to be returned to the Shepherd and Bishop of our souls.
And the One who does that is the Good Shepherd, God Himself, the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world. He comes among His sheep to ransom us, to lay down His life for our sake. The hireling, the one who is just in it to make a buck, doesn’t care about the sheep. He knows that he can get another job somewhere else or that a new flock of baby sheep will come and replace whoever was lost. But the Good Shepherd, the One who owns the sheep, sees the attacks His sheep endure and He fights the attacker, the old evil foe, and absorbs his attacks Himself rather than allowing His sheep to be devoured. A hireling would rather throw a sheep to the wolf to appease it, but Jesus Christ throws Himself at sin, death, and the devil and lets them do their worst to Him, even enduring death, but all to destroy them and their effects on His flock.
The Good Shepherd knows His sheep. We are not accidental, we are not incidental. He is our God, and we are the people of His pasture, the sheep of His hand. We are under His care and His protection, the whole reason He came, to lay down His life to save us. It may not sound very complimentary to be called a sheep, but being a sheep is the ultimate comfort! Lions and bears and eagles and sharks are predators. They survive by killing others. But those aggressive animals don’t have any protectors, any caretakers, anyone willing to lay down their life for them. Sheep may seem dumb or helpless, but they have the greatest life of all. Sheep have shepherds, people who name them, care for them, lead them to the best grass for grazing, the coolest water for drinking, the calmest shade for sleeping. And we don’t just have any shepherd, we have the Good Shepherd, God in the flesh, who leads us to His green pastures, His still waters, His table spread in our sight, His eternal rest. God Himself is watching over us, the Shepherd and Bishop, not only of our bodies and earthly life, but also of our souls and our eternal life.
To protect His sheep Jesus gathers us into a flock, an assembly, a Church. And in the safety of His holy Church He waters us with Holy Baptism, feeds us with Holy Communion, and calls us all by name, proclaiming to us the Good News of the forgiveness won by His death and resurrection. Here He calls and knows us each by name, as individuals Baptized one-by-one into His flock, each one valuable to Him.
In this flock He leads us through all our days, guiding and protecting us, showering us with every good gift, with everything needful. His goodness and mercy go with us all the days of our life, and because of them, because of His forgiveness, we will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
The peace of God which passeth all understanding keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.
Sermons from Mount Olive
Mount Olive follows the historic one-year lectionary (series of readings).