4th Sunday of Easter
Grace, mercy, and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ! In the name of Jesus, who is our ultimate Good Shepherd, dear friends in Christ,
Today is Good Shepherd Sunday and on this day we focus on that beautiful image that Scripture uses over and over again to illustrate our relationship with God- we are sheep, He is the Shepherd. Since I’ve never actually worked with sheep, everything that I know about sheep is what I’ve read or been told. But apparently, if a sheep is going to feel secure enough to lie down to rest there are at least four requirements that need to be met: First, because sheep are so full of timidity, they will refuse to lie down unless they are free from all fear- no danger, no predator, no threat. Second, because of the social behavior of sheep, they won’t lie down unless they are free from friction with other sheep. Third, if the sheep is tormented by flies or parasites, the sheep won’t lie down. And Lastly, the sheep will not lie down as long as they feel the need to find food.
Well, what is it for us humans? What do we need in order to live a life of quiet rest? What is it that makes you feel safe? As a parent there are plenty of times when my children get scared, they get scared of a noise in the night, a thunderstorm, the dark. Apparently, psychologists will say that it’s actually god for children to get scared at times because it gives them opportunities to develop their ability to trust in those who will keep them safe.
But it’s not just children or sheep that get scared, is it? We live in a world where there are people who know a lot of technology and they would like nothing less than to steal your personal information. We live in a world where we have to be very careful to know exactly where our children are and not let them go just anywhere. We live in a world where natural disasters can reek incredible havoc and death, like in Japan. We live in a world where we could easily face cancer, stroke, heart-attack, or some other kind of sickness or disease.
So how do you rest securely? What do you do to feel safe? Always make sure that you have a cell phone on you so you can call somewhere in any emergency? Get a security system for your home? Make sure that you have a large enough financial nest egg just in case? Only buy a car with the best safety rating? What do you do to rest securely?
But the reality is, no matter how much YOU do to make yourself secure and safe, there’s always something. There’s always something beyond your control that can threaten. You can’t control the economy, you can’t prevent your body from aging, you can’t even control how the person driving in front of you is going to drive their car. There is always something beyond our control. What do you do? How do you feel safe and secure in a world like this?
Well, perhaps, it’s not all bad that we get scared. Maybe it’s not a bad thing when what scares you leads you a little closer to the one who has promised to keep you secure, to keep you safe, to let nothing snatch you out of His hand.
Ezekiel was a prophet of God called to deliver God’s Word to a people who probably didn’t feel very safe in the world. Because the majority of the Israelites had turned away from God, trusted in idols, lived in terribly immoral ways, God allowed the Babylonians to invade, plunder, kill, and devour the land of Judah. The people had lost everything they knew. They were exiled to a foreign land. Their rich, beautiful, promised land and their beloved city of Jerusalem and their temple was left in ruins. They were probably not feeling very secure in a foreign land. And yet, God sends a message of hope to them. Look at this incredible promise! God speaks in incredible imagery here picturing ultimate rest in terms they would have appreciated: a covenant of peace, rid the land of wild beasts, they can live in the desert and sleep in forests in safety, showers of blessing, trees bearing fruit, ground yielding crops, people will be secure in their land, break the bars of their yoke, no longer plundered, no wild animals devour them, live in safety, no one will make them afraid, provide them a land renowned for crops, no longer victims of famine and here’s why: “Then they will know that I, the LORD their God, am with them and that they, the house of Israel, are my people, declares the Sovereign LORD. You my sheep, the sheep of my pasture, are people, and I am your God, declares the Sovereign LORD.”
Yes, the Israelites would eventually return to their land, but this is talking about something far greater than that. The Israelites returned to their land, but what God is telling them here is that He is going to provide for His people a security that is better than the best thing this world can imagine. This was fulfilled when God sent the Good Shepherd, Jesus. You see Jesus suffered the worst punishment so that we could have a covenant of peace with God. Jesus bore the yoke of your sins so you might be totally free from slavery to it. Jesus was secured to a cross with nails so that you would be secured to Him forever. Jesus died and rose again so that you might enjoy the showers of God’s blessing no matter what. He assures you that He will use even the bad stuff of life for good- to lead you closer to Him.
Sheep are skittish animals and they need a lot of conditions in place in order for them to lie down and rest. But, as I’m told, there’s really nothing that helps a sheep feel secure than the presence of their shepherd. When their shepherd is with them, that’s when they’re safe and secure.
The other week we had pastor’s conference and this pastor’s conference is designed for the pastor’s family to attend as well. The kids always enjoy swimming at the hotel pool. When I had some free time I went with them and I was holding our 2 year old David. As I was taking David around in the pool I led him out to the deeper end and kept telling him let’s go deeper and deeper. As the water rose higher and higher he kept clinging closer and closer to me getting more and more scared – even though at the deepest point of the pool I could easily stand up. If David was able to analyze the situation, though, he would have realized there was no reason for his fear. Anywhere in the pool was too deep for him, even in the shallowest part of the pool he could have drowned. His safety anywhere – whether at 3 feet or 5 feet depended on his dad.
Perhaps there’s times in your life when you feel like you’re “out of your depth.” When things happen beyond our control. Our temptation is to be afraid and scared. But here’s the truth: You’ve never been in control. We’ve always been held up by the grace of the Good Shepherd, and that never changes. Our Good Shepherd is never out of his depth- no matter where we are in the pool- even if it might feel that we’re deeper than we’ve ever been before.
What is it that makes you feel secure and safe? Look at what God tells you: “You are my people, the sheep of my pasture, I am your God. Even though you walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I am with you, you will dwell in the house of the Lord forever. Jesus is your Shepherd who meets every need, brings comfort in the midst of every trial and trouble, who never leaves you alone, who went through life and death first for you, so that you know that when your time comes he will be there waiting to welcome you into life everlasting. No matter what the wilderness of life is that lies ahead for you- your Shepherd will keep you safe and bring you safely to the perfect pasture awaiting you in eternity. Rest securely in your Good Shepherd. Amen.