Who the shepherd?

I, am the Shepherd

A sermon for the 4th Sunday after Easter by Mother Katie

You may have come here this morning expecting to hear about dragons but I am going to tell you about sheep.

That is because we would ordinarily have the scouting groups with us but sadly due to COVID that is still not possible. However, I am finding with all the things we lose to COVID restrictions we gain something too if we look for the opportunity.

So this morning is an opportunity to focus on Good Shepherd Sunday – which has always been there as the alternative in the lectionary to celebrating St George.

Now I think we can be a bit out of touch with the world of sheep and the imagery that Jesus is using today – the nearest we might normally get to a sheep is family petting farm or the sort of stuffed animal I might give my puppy to play with.

Unsurprisingly we see them as pretty and cuddly and cute.

They also appear to be quite sturdy and strong little things. My puppy is currently able to make quite significant chew marks on most toys – but I’ve given him his sheep and the sheep has so far won with barely a scratch!

But that is how out of touch we have become to the imagery.

For when Jesus talks of us as sheep he talks with the wisdom of the real shepherd and the shepherd knows the hard truth and not just the romantic or commercial ideal.

And the real truth is that despite appearances, sheep are rather fragile creatures – who need regular feeding, rest and temperature control – you have to get their environment just right in order for them to thrive – sheep are naturally defenceless to predators and prone to parasites – they are nearly always short sighted and yet despite not being able to see properly they have a tendency to walk off in the wrong direction – and need constant guiding if they are to remain safe. Oh and sheep are really dirty. A cat can clean itself and so can a dog to a degree – a bird will take a bath – and a bear jump in the river. But the sheep gets dirty and stays that way – until the Shepherd cleans it.

And that is why we are indeed like sheep.

Sheep – who need a shepherd who knows us by name – and will give everything he has to lead us to green pastures – where we might be safe, and fed and grow to be all we could be.

Psalm 23 is the set Psalm for the church liturgy today – and it is one of my favourite Psalms – setting out for us all the promises of walking with the Lord as our Shepherd – and reassuring us that if we allow this to happen – we shall not want.

And this morning I want to pick just a couple of those things out for us to think about.

Psalm 23 says:

He Makes me lie down in green pastures,

He leads me beside the still waters.

Interesting fact – sheep don’t actually sleep very well – counting sheep for the insomniac is counting animals who would heavily empathise if they could.

Sheep are lucky if they have a good Shepherd though because the Good Shepherd knows that sheep need to rest…..in biblical times sheep were lead through the land by the shepherd – and if they were not rested often they would not make the journey they needed to complete – which was often over difficult terrain – and exhaustion would make them vulnerable to all sorts of things which could harm them – including disease and attack from other animals.

Most animals find it really easy to rest – our cats literally sleep anywhere – and the puppy will suddenly drop into a deep doze the minute he is exhausted. Some creatures even hibernate – taking whole seasons to rest.

But for sheep, it isn’t so easy, to properly rest everything must be just right with the world. Sounding familiar to any of you? For sheep to rest there must be no predators, no tension in the flock, no bugs in the air, no hunger or thirst, everything has to be just so – just how they like it – just how they want the world. Or anxiety will keep them up.

Unfortunately for sheep – being a bit challenged on a few fronts – they can’t make everything just so themselves – they need help. They need a shepherd – they rely on him to help them sleep.

Without a Shepherd sheep can’t find proper rest – and neither can we.

And our Good Shepherd offers us perfect rest – both eternally – but also now so that we are stronger for the journey.

And he provides refreshment too – the Psalm says he leads me by still waters.

In still waters a Shepherd can offer his sheep water to drink – and the chance to be cleansed from all the dirt they manage to get themselves in….still waters have the power to restore us.

So this week my message is rather simple – I urge you to find rest in green pastures and still waters to restore your soul. I guess for each of us – being individual sheep – how that looks might be very different. But it could just meaning taking time to stop and sit in the garden or a park with a drink!

But however you choose to find green pastures and still waters – make sure most of all you find the Shepherd and stay close. For if we will stay close we have a Good Shepherd who can provide us with all we need – and help us complete the journey of life strong in him.