Psalm 23 & Luke 15:1-10

#doyouknowhimtelford the Good Shepherd

Across the borough of Telford and Wrekin, the churches are joining together in asking the question, “Do you Know Him”. We’re asking it of ourselves, and of those around us. As part of this we are going to spend a couple of months, in our Sunday services, exploring different aspects of who Jesus is, so that we can get to know him better, and so that we are better equipped to introduce him to our friends and families. I have to confess that we didn’t quite get our act together for St Catherine’s and we missed the first week – if you want to catch up on that you can look on the usual Facebook or Youtube channels for last week’s All Saints service and skip through to my sermon on Jesus – God and flesh. But, we’re with the programme now – and we’re picking it up with do you know him – Jesus the Good Shepherd, and with Jesus’ story about some sheep and their shepherd.

I wonder where you see yourself in this story. Which character do you identify with most strongly? Let’s think about who’s here. There’s the flock – content in the care of the shepherd, grazing away, perhaps snuggled up companionably in the lee of a hedge, maybe having a little gossip about that tearaway who keeps running off and getting in trouble. There’s the shepherd, who cares for his flock like a family – knows their names, their funny habits – protective but also a bit exasperated that they are somewhat woolly headed at times. And then there’s the wandering sheep, the lost sheep, the found again sheep. I wonder where you see yourself in this story.

Perhaps the emotions of the different characters are familiar to us. The concern of the shepherd when he realises that one of his sheep is missing. I remember a couple of occasions when we lost track of one of our children at playgrounds – our levels of concern rose as we realised that they weren’t where we thought they were, we started searching, the concern and even fear building as time went on. And then, the relief and joy when we found them.

What about the emotions of the wandering sheep. Perhaps initially the excitement of something new, of going where it’s not meant to be going, the relief of getting away from the crowd. Then, perhaps, a growing realisation that it didn’t really know where it was, or more importantly, the way back. Fear and anxiety growing, perhaps even despair.
And then the relief and joy when the shepherd appears and carries it back home. I wonder which of these emotions and feelings we share at the moment. I wonder where you see yourself in this story.

In Psalm 23 we read the reflections of a shepherd on these ideas. He was a shepherd who became a King, but he started out life as a shepherd, out on the hills, looking after his father’s sheep. He knew what made for a good shepherd, because he’d been one. Through his life, David experienced many of the situations and feelings that we’ve been talking about. He knew what it was to be comfortable, in a good place with God, secure as one of the flock. He knew what it was like to shepherd, both sheep, and people as a ruler and King. He’d watched as some of his children had wandered off and rejected him and his faith in God. He’d gone after them, and been heart broken when they hadn’t returned. He himself had wondered off, most famously after Bathsheba, and knew what it was to get lost and to be found and brought home.

Throughout all these experiences, he had seen the love of God, and poetically describes it as the care of a shepherd. He reflects on the provision, protection, and permanent care that he has received from God. God’s provision is complete – David lacked nothing he needed – all the peace, quiet, refreshment, and guidance that David had received he attributes to God. David believes that God has protected him in the darkest places, and from the fiercest enemies. As we know from David’s story this included, at times, Goliath the giant, King Saul, and his own son, Absalom. David had been through the mill, been in danger many times, and saw God’s hand at work in protecting him in all those situations, just as he had protected the sheep from bear and lion as a boy. David has had such experiences of God’s care, that he comes to believe that it is permanent – it continues beyond this earthly life – I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.

With those reflections in mind, let’s return to Jesus’ parable. Firstly, let’s pay attention to where Jesus is, and who he’s talking to. We don’t know exactly where Jesus was, but we know that he was teaching and that “tax collectors and sinners” were gathering round him. From the complaint of the religious leaders we can infer that they were having a meal together. From the fact that Jesus ends each of his three parables with a party happening, we might even draw the conclusion that Jesus it was a lively meal. The Pharisees and teachers of the law were not happy about this, and they were muttering to themselves and each other – mutter, mutter, grumble, grumble.

Jesus tells this story to them. To all of them – the tax collectors, the sinners, the religious elite, the educated and educators, the bystanders and the crowd. It draws everyone in, it speaks to every walk of life and experience of faith. Jesus tells this story to us, and invites us to see ourselves in it.
It seems to me that Jesus is exaggerating for comic effect. A hundred sheep was a lot in those days.

Most subsistence farmers would have had a hand full of sheep – to have a hundred you’d have to be seriously wealthy, and would probably have someone to look after the sheep for you, it would be unlikely that someone rich enough to have a hundred sheep would look after them himself. Even more unlikely is the suggestion that he would be daft enough to leave ninety-nine sheep unguarded in the field and go off after one that is missing. (in fact if someone had a hundred sheep it might be sometime before he even notices one was gone) Much more sensible would be to guard the ones he had and write off the lost one to the wolves. And who throws a party for a sheep. More common is to BBQ a sheep for a party.

But that is not what this shepherd does. Even though he’s rich, he looks after his own sheep. Even though he has many sheep, he still knows them all. Even though it might not look sensible, he cares for each one enough to search for them when they’re lost. And when he finds the lost one, he throws a party to celebrate.

God is even richer than the richest sheep owner, and he looks after his sheep even more carefully. He has more sheep than the biggest flock, but still he knows every single one. God’s foolishness is wiser than human wisdom and so God searches out the lost. God never wants to devour us, but loves to party when the lost are found.

And of course, because Jesus is God, everything that is true of God is true of Jesus. In John’s gospel he says, “I am the good shepherd” and later on in Luke’s gospel he says, “The Son of Man came to seek and save the lost.” Jesus is the good shepherd who came to seek and save the lost. In his life, teaching, death and resurrection he shows us God’s provision, protection, and permanent care at work. He cares for and knows every one of his flock individually.

Sometimes that care and shepherding isn’t comfortable. Sometimes we find great relief and comfort in the idea that someone is looking for us, and looking out for us. But what about the discipline and medical treatments that a shepherd administers to the flock? We like the idea of the shepherd’s crook beating off the wolves, but aren’t always so keen on finding it around our own neck, pulling us back on course or away from things we want to do. Still, we can rest secure in the fact that Jesus is the good shepherd who knows us and calls us by our names.

Do you know him?

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