“I am the Good Shepherd.” We think of Jesus as our Good shepherd, our personal shepherd, and he is, but he is also the shepherd of the world. He is the shepherd of creation, the shepherd of animals, the shepherd of birds and insects, the shepherd of forests and grasses, and of the earth itself. He is the Good Herdsman, the Good DNR official, the Good Forester, the Good Farmer, the Good Gardener, the Good Environmental Protection Officer.
We need him. We need Jesus to care for us personally, intimately, and strongly. That’s what a shepherd does.
I heard a story about two men who were out duck hunting one cold Fall day. One of them owned a boat, and they spent a good day together. They got a few ducks, and at the end of the day, they pulled their boat onto shore and walked back to the car, carrying the guns, some ducks, and a few of the decoys. They had another load or two left in the boat. When they got back, they saw that when they had been walking back to the car, the boat had slipped back into the lake and was floating down the shore. They walked fast, and started running, but the boat kept drifting farther out into the lake. Eventually, they realized that one of them had to bite the bullet, strip out of his jacket and second layer of heavy pants, and head out to sea. At that point, they looked at each other with question marks in their eyes, wondering which one was going to jump in, until one of them said, “It’s not my boat.”
That’s the difference between Jesus, the shepherd, and the hired hand. It’s Jesus’ boat. We’re Jesus’ boat. And he’s ready to do the dirty work. Jesus is the one with skin in the game.
Some time ago, I was very busy, a lot of my friends were struggling with very hard issues, and I knew I couldn’t fix anything. I was complaining to a friend of mine, and she said, “It’s like the little boy in the story of Jesus and the fishes. You only have so many fish, and there’s a lot of need, but it’s not you that multiplies the fish. You just give what you have, and know that the rest isn’t up to you.”
Later that night, she sent me a picture of Jesus, the crowd of people, and the boy with the plate of fish. Jesus was looking up, praying, with his arms outstretched. I texted back, “Yes, that’s me rolling my eyes and saying to God, “More problems? You’ve got to be kidding!” She responded, “Uh, No. That would be Jesus praying. You’re meant to be the little boy. Maybe that’s part of the problem.”
And she was right. That’s what Jesus was telling us. He is the Good Shepherd. He cares about us, because we are his own. We’re this close.
So, I started thinking about that. Is it really true, that he cares for us like that? And I wondered about Terri, dying so suddenly this week. I don’t doubt for a moment that Jesus was with her, but exactly how does that work? I didn’t know the circumstances of her last two or three days. Was Jesus really being a Good Shepherd to her and her family during this time?
As I thought back, I know Terri called Carol asking for a ride to church last Sunday. As it turned out, we cancelled because of the blizzard, but still, she knew that people here were happy to give her and Steven a ride. And we loved them enough, we shepherded them well enough, that they wanted to come. They felt at home. Throughout the afternoon, she had some back pain, and as the night came on, it got worse, so that about 11:30, she knew she needed to go to the hospital. She called her mother, and she took her there. It kind of reminds me of the picture of Jesus carrying the little sheep to safety.
Her mother called me on Wednesday morning. I know that in the two days between Sunday and Wednesday, the doctors and nurses cared for her as well as they could, and they shepherded her through the time when her body was beginning to die. Somewhere along the line, a doctor or nurse or chaplain suggested that the family gather to say their goodbyes. Her mother knew that her relationship with God, and with our church was important to her, so she called me and asked me to come. When I asked if I could let everyone know, Nancy said, ‘Oh yes, they would appreciate our prayers.” Before I left for the hospital, I put it on our Facebook site, and I called several members of the Bible study group, who said they would call others. As I was leaving, I checked Facebook, and several people had already said they would be praying. Lots of caring, kind shepherding going on!
When I got to the hospital, it was obvious that Terri was physically unresponsive. We read a little bit from Romans 8, which says that Absolutely nothing can ever separate us from the love of Christ. Nothing physical, nothing spiritual, nothing in the past, nothing in the future, nothing in all of creation. And that’s all true. I reminded her that God is as close as the breath in her lungs, the beat of her heart, and the blood in her veins.
When I began telling everyone about the funeral, they started volunteering to bring bars or cake, to come help set up, to sing, to print the funeral bulletin.
Where was the Good Shepherd in this story? Was he or she part of Terri’s last days, part of her dying? As I reflected on the last three days in this woman’s life, and in the life of this church, I see a lot of shepherding.
I read a great article in the Opinion Page yesterday. It said that in a time when we see rudeness and immature behavior in the lives of many political leaders in public offices, it is easy to get a little depressed. But she said we have as many or more leaders whose public honesty and virtue are great examples. She held up the example of the Southwestern pilot who guided her plane to safety after an engine exploded last week, and a district judge, who treated everyone with respect and fairness, even when some of them tried to be influential and pushy. She ended up concluding that “we have no shortage of admirable Americans in public life who know its not all about them. They are decent, dignified, and gifted at their jobs, and they let their performances speak for themselves. Look in …offices, firehouses, police stations…there are men and women who have spent decades striving to do their jobs well and to do their institutions, families, and country proud.” (Jennifer Rubin, Washington Post reprinted Start tribune 4/21/18).
In the story of the little boy sharing what little he had, which was just a couple of fish, and then Jesus multiplying it to meet the needs of the people, my friend reminded me that we each just do what we can. God takes care of it.
And when I look at How God takes care of it, whether it is the Good Shepherd in action in personal relationships, neighborhoods, acts of caring and justice in our city, state or world, or when I see the Good Shepherd alive in actions of caring for creation, I see the Good Shepherd in the lives of each of us. Amen.