May 7, 2017 – Shepherd us, O Lord

Easter 4   May 7, 2017   Psalm 23, Psalm 100, Ezekiel 34:1-6,11-16, John 10:1-16 Shepherd us, O Lord *********************************************************** Vermont, where I used to live, was more-or-less Sheep Capital of America, before the civil war… Till the sheep market soured…and most Vermont farmers switched over to milking cows… More recently, over the past half-century, sheep have made a modest come-back…I’ve got three or four sets of Vermont friends who raise sheep….Which I mention because… The bible was written mostly by people who lived close to the land. The bible’s full of stories that rely on agricultural images and examples… But times  keep changing, and.. I’ve been remembering visiting a monastery in rural Wisconsin once – and hearing a monk there from New York City, talking about being sent to the garden to pick carrots for supper… And not being able to find any. He went back, told the cook, “I can’t find any carrots. Are you sure we have some?” “They told me,” he confessed, “Carrots grow in the ground…(Not on trees.)” And I’m guessing most people know sheep don’t grow on trees… But I’m also guessing the concepts of God as shepherd and God’s people as the sheep of his pasture are metaphors that have become more difficult for many Americans… And I’ve been remembering once when our daughter Rohi was six years old and we were getting ready for bed. Reah was sitting close by Rohi’s bed, looking thoughtful. I asked Rohi, “What’s mommy thinking about?” She glanced over and said, “Mommy is thinking about life.” Reah and I laughed, and I asked Rohi, “So – what are you thinking about?”  Without missing a beat she replied, “I am thinking about the Old Testament.” We laughed some more… But our six-year-old got me thinking about how… Of course we should start thinking about any New Testament passage with thinking back to the First Testament… Where we find the first part of The Good Book chock-full of shepherds – Abel –  Abraham – Isaac, Jacob and sons – Moses – King David of Psalm 23 fame – all of them shepherds… And… Many of us know and love Psalm 23. We said it every morning when I was  in grade school (back in the dark ages). We always print the words of the psalm in funeral bulletins, but anytime I look around I see many saying it without looking at the words… From The Lord is my shepherd I shall not want… All the way to Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever… Psalm 23 is beloved spiritual-comfort-food… And of course we have Jesus, Good Shepherd of all the sheep. A wonderful Chicken-Soup-for-the-Soul-spiritual-comfort-food-image. (We’ve got a beautiful stained-glass window portrait of Jesus holding a little sheep (in the Bourne church/right over here). Dottie featured that window in a sermon here a year ago.) And in John’s gospel – Jesus says he knows his sheep, his sheep know him, and he lays down his life for his sheep… building on the shepherd imagery of Psalms 23 and Psalm 100… But I can’t help noticing – we’ve also got some bad shepherd imagery today. As Jesus, the Good Shepherd who lays down his life...

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