The Sunday Sermon: Pray for the shepherds – Look to the Good Shepherd.
+ In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
Well, every year in our three year readings cycle there is a Sunday given over to the theme of Shepherds. We commonly call those particular days “Good Shepherd Sunday” because very often we find in our readings Jesus telling us and reminding us that he is the Good Shepherd who keeps watch over his flock.
Today is that day in our lectionary cycle and I’m wondering if I missed something because I don’t know about you, but I didn’t hear Jesus say anything about “I am the Good Shepherd.”
Today, Lectionary Year B – Proper 11, might rightly be called “Bad Shepherd Sunday!”
Each of our readings addresses the image and motif of God’s flock and the shepherds he has appointed over it. The job of any shepherd is to lead and guide the flock out to pastures of the LORD, where it may graze and be nourished and be blessed; to guard the flock from predators who would come to harm the flock; and to guide it back to a place of safety.
Throughout the history of Israel, God gave his people leaders who were to shepherd his people in his name. They were to guide the flock into the way of God; to guard it against unfaithfulness; and to bring them finally into the safety of God’s salvation. As it turns out with everything that we human beings get our hands involved in, not everything went according to how God desired.
The shepherds of God failed in their duties. Rather than gathering the flock, the scattered it, destroyed it, and drove the chosen people away. Over and over again in the Gospels, we hear Jesus criticize the Pharisees and Sadducees for laying heavy burdens on God’s people, while they themselves refuse to lift a finger.
As he looked upon God’s people he saw them as sheep without a Shepherd and his heart went out to him. He would be their shepherd and we would be his people.
And so we rejoice because Jesus is our shepherd. He is the one who leads us beside still waters and into green pastures, the joy and blessedness of God.
As God had done in the past, Jesus did when he ascended to the throne. He appointed ministers, who would shepherd the people of God in the Church. Those are the Apostles, and their successors, the Bishops. That’s why Bishops carry that crozier (that walking staff), shaped like a shepherds crook. It reminds us of two things:
One, that they have been appointed to shepherd the flock of Christ, to watch over it, to guard it, and to lead them to Christ, who is our salvation.
Secondly, it reminds us of our one true shepherd, Jesus, for whom those bishops work.
And as we remember the one true shepherd, the Good Shepherd of our souls, we are also reminded that although Ministers of God’s Church, the Bishops and Priests, and Deacons, are called by God to be his ministers in that Church, they are still human.
They, indeed we, are but an image, an imperfect image of the Good Shepherd. While we strive to show forth Christ in our day-to-day lives, and in our ministrations to God’s people, we too are human, sinners in need of the Grace and redemption of God.
As a minister of God, and representative of the Bishop, from whom my ministry comes, I want to say to you this:
Though I am a priest, chosen by God and given grace to carry out God’s ministry among you, I will from time to time fail you. I will fail to represent Christ the Good Shepherd in your midst.
And when I do, as I have done from time to time in my own life when the ministers of God have failed me, I want you to remember that it is Christ Jesus who is the Good Shepherd of our souls.
The worldly leaders of the Church will fail- it’s part of our nature which like everyone else’s is in need of saving grace and redemption by our Lord.
When we fail you from time to time, pray for us. Rather than having it come to you as a surprise, say “I was wondering when it would happen.”
Neither the Church nor your priest is your savior. All of us have one savior, and one Lord, and one Good Shepherd.
This morning, clergy and ministers around the world are hearing the warnings given through Jeremiah “Woe to shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture.” And we are mindful of the high calling that God has placed upon us as those called to minister to the Flock of Christ.
And we, or at least I am mindful of the fact that I can’t do this thing called ministry which God has called me to without your support, which means your graciousness, mercy, and forgiveness in my shortcomings and your prayers.
Please, never forget that as your priest, who leads you in worship; who tries to teach you the will of God; and who tries to tell you of God’s love for you – as your priest, I need your prayers – I need you to pray for me, that I may accomplish what God has put me here to do. And that job is first and foremost to point you to the Good Shepherd, Jesus our Lord, who with the Father, and the Holy Spirit, is One God, now and forever. Amen.