The focus of Psalm 23 and gospel reading for today is the Good Shepherd.
A shepherd tells his dog to go count the sheep…So the dog goes out, comes back a little later. Shepherd says: “How many sheep you count out there? “Dog says: “40”.
Shepherd says: “That’s not possible, I only had 38 to begin with!”. And the dog goes: “Yeah but I rounded them up”.
A shepherd is tending to his flock of sheep…when suddenly one of them goes running off. The shepherd goes looking for it and after the entire day of frolicking, the sheep comes up to the shepherd and says, “I’m ready to go back with the sheep now”. And so, the shepherd takes her back to the sheep. The next day the same thing happens. The sheep runs off and after spending the whole day looking for her, the sheep comes up to him near dusk, tugs on his pants and says. “I’m ready to go back”. The shepherd stands there for a second not responding so the sheep says a second time “take me back to my fellow sheep”. And so, the shepherd leads her back.
The third day the sheep AGAIN runs from the flock and once again the shepherd gives chase. This time when the sheep comes back it says, “I’m ready to go back to the flock now”. Again, it says “I’m ready to go back! Let’s go!”. The shepherd seems not to be listening so finally the sheep bleats out “Hey shepherd lets go. Take me back to the flock.!” The shepherd replies “Be quiet! I herded you the first two times!
Did you hear about the shepherd that got into trouble for showing up late? He didn’t seem to lose any sheep over it though.
Jesus says: My sheep hear my voice and they follow me. There are two things going on here, one from the communicator and one from the one being communicated to. Jesus speaks to us in various and assorted ways. He speaks to us from the written Word. He speaks to us from the spoken Word. He speaks to us through sermons. He speaks to us through each other. He speaks to us in the silence. He speaks to us in the noise. He speaks to us in customized ways so that you can recognize that voice. Perhaps the voice will come in a quiet whisper as it came to Abraham. Perhaps it will come in a loud thunderous voice as it did on Mount Sinai to the congregation following Moses. Perhaps it will come in a dramatic way as when Paul was knocked off his horse by that voice. Perhaps it will come in a gentle quiet way like it did to the two disciples walking on the road to Emmaus after the resurrection of Christ.
Perhaps that voice will come at a time when your ears are perked and anxious to listen to the words of God. Or, perhaps it will come at a time when you don’t really want to listen to God. There is no rule about how God speaks to us, but there is this truth. God does desire to speak to us. Jesus says: My sheep will know my voice. When Jesus speaks what does the gospel say is our responsibility? My sheep know my voice, and I know them and they follow me.
They follow me. We might not be good followers, because we have choices to make, and sometimes we make the wrong choices and we get lost. Kind of like the little piggy that goes to market and can’t find his way home, and cries out in dismay; wee, wee, wee,wee, I’m lost and I can’t find my way home. But Jesus is tuned into your GPS navigational system.
He knows where you’re at, even when you go your own way because you don’t really want to listen to God right now. I’ve done that before, haven’t you? I know God is speaking to me but right now, but I do not want to listen. I will listen later, but not right now.
Or maybe you do want to listen, but you’re not sure God wants to talk to you right now. It’s like you don’t feel that you and God are on good talking terms right now. Maybe you feel too embarrassed, guilty or too ashamed to imagine that God even wants to speak to you. Maybe that big man upstairs in the sky that carries a big stick is mad at you! That is the worst theology I have ever heard. First, there is no big man upstairs that carries a big stick. And, Jesus came to set you free and give you liberty and life, not to lay a guilt trip on your shoulders.
God loves you just the way you are. Do you know that the rule of grace never changes? Do you know what the rule of grace is? I would argue this in any coffee shop, pub or any other place where people are willing to talk about God. The rule of grace does not change. We are saved by grace, not by our good behavior or good works. (Ephesians 2:8) We are not saved by how good we are or by how wonderful we are in our Christian endeavors. Or, because we have made mistakes, we might think that we are not worthy to hear God’s voice right now. Or maybe you might be thinking, what makes you think I’m going to do any better in the future? Look at my track record. I’m just not a trustworthy person, and I do not deserve the love of God. You ever thought those thoughts. I have. It’s a lie from the pit of hell.
The rule of Grace does not change. And that rule is this: You are saved by the love of God. And that means right now, just the way you are, regardless of how you have been in the past or how you will be in the future, or even how you are right now. He loves you right now, just the way you are, and that love is eternal, it will never go away or change. It may be the only static thing in your life, but you can depend on it not changing ever. You are safe and secure in God’s love, even though we do not always make the right choices. As the old gospel hymn says: Yesterday, today forever, Jesus is the same. All may change, but Jesus never. Glory to His Name, glory to his name. All may change, but Jesus never, glory to His name.
My brothers and sisters, Jesus loves you. Take this to heart and listen closely and make no mistake about this. You have eternal life. You will never parish. As the scripture says: Oh, grave where is your victory? Oh, death where is your sting? (1 Corinthians 15:55) With Christ we have conquered death with eternal life. Jesus says no one will snatch them out of my hand. Nothing, absolutely nothing will separate us from the love of God. (Romans 8:38-39)
Heaven on earth? “How on earth can this be heaven when there’s so much hell around me and in my life?” That’s a good question. And, I want you to know that I’m listening to that question. How can there be heaven on earth when terrorists blow up innocent children, women and men. When people break into sanctuaries, synagogues, mosques, temples, churches and other public gatherings and shoot people randomly Almost every day we are hearing about new atrocities. How can that be? I don’t know the answer to that. But I do know this.
During what can be described as “hell on earth”; you can find heaven on earth. At the end of the day, at the end of the sorrow, at the end of the dark tunnel there is light. There is the presence of God waiting, a presence that supersedes the body and the mind, the love of God that caresses the soul and takes it into the bosom of our God. When you feel alone, you can experience the presence of the Spirit in your heart, a presence that is closer that a brother, sister, mother or father…a dear friend. Jesus wants to remind you that He is your dear friend. Grant us so perfectly to listen to your voice that leads to eternal life now and forever.