Are you feeling a little sheepish, the sheepishness being that you long to reclaim what King David forgot he had sung: The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want. ?
The Easter Gospel calls us back to remember Jesus said, “I am the good Shepherd.” – the God among us and with us Who in human flesh becomes a shepherd for His flock of followers.
Images of Jesus as shepherd appear more than 120 times in paintings on the walls of the catacombs under Rome and in small private burial chambers. Mosaics of a shepherd with sheep decorated the baptismal font area; one shows the Shepherd-Jesus carrying a ram and surrounded by sheep; in another only the inscription above the figure remains. It is a quote of Psalm 23. (Quoted from Baptismal Imagery in Early Christianity: Ritual, Visual, and Theological Dimensions, by Robin M. Jensen, Baker Books, P. 80-81)
The Easter Gospel invites us to let those images that date back to the mid-third century move us to feel sheepish enough to say, The Lord is my Shepherd; He restores my soul!
Kenneth Bailey, a Presbyterian minister who served in the Middle East as a missionary for 40 years lived in and saw life through Middle East eyes, learned to give the word “restore” its Hebraic meaning. He says, The Hebrew original of the psalm is built on the concrete picture of a good shepherd who goes after a lost sheep, picks it up and carries it home. The sheep cannot find its way home by itself. Once lost, it crawls under a rock or bush and begins to bleat. It must be rescued quickly before a wild animal hears it, finds it, kills it and eats it. When found by the shepherd, it is so terrified that its legs will have turned to rubber and it is unable to stand. The only way the shepherd can restore it to the flock and finally to the village is to carry it home over his shoulders.
… The good shepherd (God) went after him, picked him up and carried him back to the paths of righteousness. (The Good Shepherd: A Thousand-Year Journey from Psalm 23 to the New Testament by Kenneth E. Bailey, IVP ACADEMIC, P. 66-67)
Feeling a little sheepish, sheepish enough to let God, like a shepherd come to you and me in Jesus, to “restore” us, by picking us up from whatever mire or entanglements we’ve wandered into or intentionally chosen? Do you and I feel sheepish enough to let the Easter Jesus become our saving Shepherd who has laid down His own life to save us and bring us back to a God?
Feeling a little sheepish, sheepish enough to let God, like a shepherd come to you and me in Jesus, and also say to us: “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold.
I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice.
So there will be one flock, one shepherd.”?
Andrew Roy was a missionary in China who decided to stay after the Communists takeover in 1950 and was put under house arrest. Allthrough that time interrogators made accusations that Jesus was a shepherd who left his flock to go searching for one that was lost. Communists wouldn’t do that; all that matters is the collective mass.
Andrew Roy’s response was that when Jesus, the good Shepherd, goes after one lost sheep, it is a sign of
security to the rest of the flock. Each sheep knows, If I get lost, he will come after me. But if only the flock matters, then that would mean if I get one step behind, he will leave me to die. (Psalm 23 and Jesus, by Kenneth Bailey, The Presbyterian Outlook, February 2008)
Feeling a little sheepish, sheepish enough to know that as Christians we are made to live in community where each person matters, and our flock is incomplete until those outside are welcomed inside; “other sheep” who are waiting to hear the voice of the Easter Jesus channeled through us or through an invitation to come and be with us in worship where we live for the day when the gathered church will be one flock, one shepherd.
Feeling a little sheepish, sheepish enough to let God, like a shepherd come to you and me in Jesus, to prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies?
“In the presence of TODAY’S enemies”…Kenneth Bailey reminds us that the Hebrew shepherd’s table was a
cowhide spread on the ground where God, like a woman, will prepare a meal for me to eat while powerful opponents look on, four and two-legged ones.
The setting is deliberate; it is meant say the one who is being served is a guest where, in Middle East tradition, is the one whom the host will protect and defend. “To be a guest of God in the presence of powerful enemies
quiets (all) fears.” (IBID.)
Feeling a little sheepish when the world news breaks into our life, followed by updates on murders, reports of brutality, abductions and abuse – some as close as our own town or home? Then see the grieving followers of Jesus huddled together behind lock doors after Jesus’ crucifixion and days later, when the Easter Jesus appeared to break bread with them, in that room, on the beach at breakfast, in the evening at supper. The Easter Jesus, God among us as our good Shepherd, spreading a table in the midst of whatever form fear and violence are taking, to be known to us in the breaking of bread.
Another missionary, Ben Weir, tells of his experiences after being abducted on May 8, 1984 by a radical Shiite group in Lebanon and held captive for 16 months. (From his book, Hostage Bound, Hostage Free,1987)
During his first week, alone, blindfolded and chained to a radiator in a darkened room, he decided that when Sunday came he would have his own church service, including Communion. So, Saturday night, when he was given a sandwich for supper, he saved a piece of bread for Sunday.
When morning came, he took the bread and envisioned himself with the disciples in the upper room and beyond, communing through the centuries. But he had no cup; so he let other Christians raise their cup for him. Ken Onstot carried Ben Weir’s story forward to say, “God has prepared a safe table for you, through wilderness, struggle, conflict, death.” (Sermon “Safe Table” June 3, 2012)
In this fast paced, suburbanized, urbanized day when so many people can be described in no other way than “sheep without a shepherd,” do you and I feeling a little sheepish, sheepish enough to give ourselves into the embrace of the Easter Jesus and say, “The Lord is my Shepherd!”? AMEN.