4 Easter

The Rev. Mary Grambsch

Your Word is a lantern to our feet and a light upon our path.  In the Name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.  AMEN. 

I hope you were listening closely to the gospel lesson today, and I hope you noticed a theme emerging; today is Good Shepherd Sunday.  Now, I know that probably none of us have ever met a shepherd, after all, New York City does not have many openings for work as a shepherd.  I have seen many, many depictions of Jesus as the Good Shepherd in classic art works and in cartoon and children’s artwork as well.  When I was in Sunday School there was a large poster of Jesus standing on a grassy hillside, with a baby lamb on his shoulders.  The sun was shining and he looked kind, and gentle, and calm.  The sheep had gathered around his feet, looking up at him adoringly, with (and I’m not kidding) smiles on their little faces.  They looked clean, and well fed, and happy.  A little bit of paradise right there on our Sunday School room wall.

When I was a little older, I got the chance to take care of a tiny flock of two sheep on my grandfather’s farm.  Those sheep were not particularly clean, in fact they were downright muddy, and they did not gather around me and look up at me with smiles on their faces.  They generally ran away from me, and never came when I called, and kicked at me when I tried to grab their fleeces and guide them into the sheepfold.  I must admit, I didn’t much look like Jesus, the Good Shepherd either.  I was usually dirty and scratched from pulling the sheep from the brambles, often on the verge of frustrated tears, and I certainly did not think calm, happy thought about those sheep.  Originally, their names were Flossy and Fluff, but after the first two weeks or so, I started calling them, Shut-Up and You-heard-me.  If they knew my voice, they certainly didn’t listen to it at all.

Many times in our world things don’t turn out to be like we imagined them to be.  There are some sunny meadows, yes, but there is also a lot of pain and darkness.  Jesus is not just a Shepherd for us in the sunlight, but also in the nighttime and dark places of our life.  In times of grief and danger many people turn to the 23rd psalm for comfort.  This beautiful psalm is one of the few psalms that people know by heart:

The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures;
He leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul;
He leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his Name’s sake.
Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death,
I will fear no evil; for thou art with me;
Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies;
Thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
And I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.

People who turn to this psalm are not looking for the happy Jesus, standing on a hillside of the Sunday School room poster, they are looking for the Good Shepherd who knows about danger, and sorrow, and pain.  The Good Shepherd who will walk with us in the “valley of the shadow of death,” the one who is unafraid and strong, to shield and soothe our hearts from the harsh reality of evil and death. We need this wise and loving Shepherd, the Shepherd who always hears the cry of his sheep.

Perhaps, the crowd of people who gathered around Jesus as he walked on the Portico of Solomon, also knew that they needed a Shepherd.  They were looking for a Messiah and king to lead them to a political victory over the Roman occupation of their homeland.  They said they wanted a direct answer about Jesus’ identity, but truly they only wanted one answer – that Jesus would lead a bloody rebellion against the Roman government and throw them out of Israel.  Jesus responds to them by talking about sheep!  They wanted to talk of warfare, and instead Jesus tells them about the security of God’s love.  Jesus had tried, by words and actions, to show them just who he was, but because it was not the answer they were looking for they would not and could not believe in Jesus.

Jesus told them that they were safe and secure because of his love for them, and that nothing would ever be able to take them away from his love.  He even said that not only were they safe in his hand, but indeed, everyone, including himself, were safe in God’s hand.  Jesus refused to meet their expectations and was uncompromising in his message about his mission.  Jesus is a gentle and kind Shepherd, who would risk everything to rescue a single lamb, but he is also the smart, shrewd, wise Shepherd who knows just what kind of trouble his sheep can get into on their own.  When we are facing real trouble in our lives, whether illness, a death of a loved one, fears about the future, worry about a child or whatever weighs upon your spirit, we want a tough, smart Shepherd to be present with us, to walk with us in the dark valley.

This is the good news of the Easter message; that our Jesus our Good Shepherd, is not just the Lord of light, but is also victorious over the darkness and dark valleys as well.  Jesus battled the forces of death and darkness on the cross and won against them.  He rose from the dead to lead us, as a Shepherd, out of death into life eternal; to be with us always even in the dark and painful parts of our life, to fulfill the promises of God, to transform and redeem us as his people and give us an abundant and joyful life.  Our Good Shepherd spreads a cloth on the table of life for us and fills it with abundant blessings, our cups filled to overflowing, and brings us, in the end, to dwell with him forever.  AMEN.