The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want. Surely the images portrayed in this morning’s Bible readings give us a clear picture of what its like to be lovingly cared for by Jesus, the greatest shepherd that walked this earth. Not surprisingly, this - the fourth Sunday in Easter - is called Good Shepherd Sunday – and coincides with Mother’s Day. How appropriate! So, this morning, I’d like to reflect upon and honour the special qualities of those – who like Jesus - have helped to gently guide, and shepherd us down the right paths of our lives.
What are the qualities of the Good Shepherd? In the New Testament, we are given story after story of how Jesus dedicates his life to the ‘lost sheep’ of Israel. He travels with his sheep (the disciples) from one region to another as the seasons changed; caring for his sheep and willing to lay down his life for them. As a result, the sheep have great confidence in their shepherd. Scripture tells us: they recognize his voice, obey his commands, and they follow wherever he leads them. The close relationship that the shepherd has with his sheep is their life-line.
Although we have evolved, over the centuries, and consider ourselves to be intelligent and sophisticated human beings able to exercise a free will, we are more like sheep than we care to admit! We still need shepherds to get through life! How often have you gotten caught up with yourself? … oblivious of everything except the plot of grass that surrounds you ..lost perspective of what’s really important, in the big picture…until a shepherd came along, pulled you up with its staff, and set you back on your feet? (and all because you thought that the grass was greener on the other side)! Chances are, if that shepherd hadn’t brought you safely back into the fold, who knows what predators would have gotten a hold of you. Although the story is ancient, it fits every generation.
I have had the good fortune to be shepherded by many strong women, beginning with my Mother and my eldest sister. Each have supported and nurtured me in their own unique way; they were there for me when my life hit a down-ward spin, or when I cried out from my darkness. I have also been blessed with a strong circle of contemplatives and clergy who have shone lights down new paths for me, or gave me a gentle push – or words of encouragement - to urge me forward. It has led to new discoveries: both arid planes and green pastures, but more important, to a better understanding of myself and to discern the voice of Jesus. So, the good news is: you don’t have to be a sheep farmer to reap the benefits of a shepherd!
Shepherds come to us in all parts of our life and are a God-given gift. When we are nurtured and gently guided by these earthly shepherds, we learn of what it means to have Jesus showing us the way; to follow the truth, and enter more fully into life. Who are the good shepherds in your life? What greener pastures have they led you to? Perhaps, they have raised you up when you’re your life has come tumbling down? … loved you, despite your irritating habits and blind spots?
Like the Good shepherd, we are called to care for each other. We are of one flock and we are not meant to go through life alone. That’s a comforting thought, don’t you think?...especially for us single folk, or those who – as we get older – end up living on their own. Unlike sheep, following may be counter-intuitive to many of us. However, it is what we are called to do because we belong to each other. But, first, we need to be able to recognize the right shepherd to follow. In other words, we need to learn to discern Jesus’ voice from the false ones.
As we walk together - here in the community - we look to the sheep in the flock who already know the Shepherd’s voice – both lay and clergy. This helps us to gain knowledge, confidence, purpose, and hope. We put our trust and faith in them to guide us. It’s not an easy task to discern the voice of the Good Shepherd on your own – there’s a lot of tricksters out there that complicates things. There are the voices of ego, consumerism, greed and competition, addictions… which can all lead to false hope and promises. We must be on our guard! We must not give way to the voice that tells us: I am not enough; I don’t matter; or that I matter more than anyone else. This will lead us down the wrong path. Instead, the voice of the Good Shepherd is heard in prayer and in the reading of Jesus’ word; it calls us to follow with love, knowing that we are totally safe in following him. It is the voice that is comforting to follow in times of struggle and pain. It is a voice that, even when we don’t pause to listen, it is always there, gently calling us, to come back into the Fold.
As our faith grows, so does our willingness to follow and not always feel we need to be in charge. As we learn to trust in the voice, we also learn the ability to remain calm in those moments when maybe you cannot hear the Shepherd’s voice, as clearly as you might like.
Jesus patiently waits for our time, to enter the space of our life which is His. Jesus gathers each of us as individuals, when we are ready, one-by-one. Time with Jesus is never wasted: whether in listening to his word or just being with him in peaceful silence. It’s the key to the comforting relationship of a sheep to a shepherd, the path that leads us into the mystery and serenity of being loved by God.
But most important of all, Jesus has given us the assurance that, as one of his flock he has given us eternal life and we never will perish. He wants us to follow him so that he can lead us to safety, down the right paths, to the fullness of life; to restore our soul. He assures us that he can make all this happen if we will just take time to listen to his voice. What do you need to do, to be able to listen more deeply, to the voice of the Good Shepherd?
“To believe in Jesus is to believe in God; to belong to Jesus is to belong to God. Our security is not found in what we have or who we are but in whose we are. It is located in the faithfulness. Our most coveted relationship is formed as we put our trust in God by following the way of the Good shepherd. Our certainty is not in our hands; it comes from the One who holds us in his.”  That is why today we celebrate Good shepherd Sunday; as we recall those who have helped to guide and nurture us on our life’s journey, and to honour those who knows us and loves us. We hear the Good Shepherd’s voice and, by his grace, we follow him, helping to shepherd others – bringing them into the fold – along the way. He promises us that nothing will ever separate us from Him, neither in this life nor or in the next, nor will anyone ever snatch us from his hands. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow us all the days of our life, and we will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Amen.
By The Rev. Juanita Clark