This interactive sermon was given by Rev Deborah on Sunday 7 May 2017. You can watch it here. Alternatively, the text follows below.
After the sermon, some Sunday School Singers sang “The Lord’s My Shepherd” (Psalm 23) – words and music by Stuart Townend.
This sermon was for an all age family service. Sheep were hidden around church, including one ‘stuck on the cliff edge of the pillar!’ Psalm 23 was visually represented on the window sills around church and as part of the sermon I walked round each one to explain their meanings.
Today is known as good shepherd Sunday – in fact I think that word has got out. We seem to have an influx of sheep here with us today. They are all over the place. If you can see one or are near one can you bring it here to me?
So what makes a good shepherd?
The shepherd knows his sheep individually. Firstly there is a relationship between the shepherd and the sheep. The shepherd knows his/her sheep and the sheep know the shepherd. To this day in the Middle East a shepherd can go into a crowded sheepfold, call out his own, one by one, naming them and they will recognise his voice and come to him. After all, the shepherd spends most hours of most days in their company. He knows their individual characters, markings, likes and dislikes. The fact that the shepherd knows them by name and the sheep know his voice, implies a deep bond, attachment and connection.
All our sheep here are named and known by the shepherd
- The brother and sister, Woolley and Jumper
Jesus is the good shepherd. He knows each one of us by name. We are all u(ewe)nique and to God, bea(ewe)tiful.
The shepherd feeds the sheep
The shepherd leads the sheep to green pastures where there is plenty to eat. Let’s put our sheep in the pastures.
(Put sheep in the pasture)
Jesus is the good shepherd. He provides our daily food both physically and spiritually. Indeed, shortly, we will be breaking bread and wine will be shared as God feeds us spiritually.
The shepherd looks after his sheep and heals them
Some sheep struggle. When the flock reaches the green grass, they are pushed aside by their stronger neighbours. They cannot get to the best grass. The shepherd is always there to watch. He knows what is happening and gives them special attention.
Sometimes sheep get injured. A sheep, on a steep, rocky hillside may slip, break its leg and be unable to get up. The shepherd comes over to see what is wrong. He bandages the leg and carries the sheep back to the flock.
(Put bandage on a sheep)
Jesus is the good shepherd. He watches over us and tends our wounds. He gives us healing, wholeness and peace.
The shepherd leads the sheep.
The shepherd has a greater knowledge and understanding the sheep. He knows the landscape in a way they cannot. He is aware of both sources of sustenance and of danger that they do not know. He is able to plan and anticipate in a way that the sheep cannot. The shepherd is trustworthy, loyal and caring. He leads the sheep. Because the sheep trust the shepherd, they follow him.
Jesus is the good shepherd. He leads us in the ways that are right. We, the sheep, follow Jesus because we trust him.
The shepherd protects the sheep.
One of the roles of a shepherd is to protect the sheep from theft, injury, attack by wild animals, loss by separation from the flock, and disease.
The shepherd seeks out the lost sheep.
Sheep can wander away from the flock and get lost or get into danger. The good shepherd climbs the hillside steadily, systematically searching. The shepherd can out his life at risk. At last the sheep is found and brought back home to the security of the flock.
(Oh no we have a ca-lam-ity Rambo is has got lost again. Rambo sheep the lost sheep is rescued.)
Many times we have strayed away and realised that we are lost. Always, Jesus, the good shepherd, comes looking for us and finds us.
The role of the shepherd can be summed up by the well-known Psalm 23. It reminds us that God sustains, provides and cares for his flock. In many ways Psalm 23 describes a journey that God overseas and guide. Let’s go on that journey.
(Go to the windows and walk around Psalm 23)
The Lord is my shepherd I shall not want.
A good shepherd loves his sheep. For him there is no greater reward, no deeper satisfaction, than that of seeing his sheep contented, well fed, safe and flourishing in his care. That’s what his life is all about, and he gives everything he has to it.
From early dawn till late at night the good shepherd is alert to the welfare of his flock. He gets up early in the morning and goes out first thing to look over his flock.
Throughout the day he looks over his flock to make sure everything is all right. Even at night, he sleeps with “one eye and both ears open”, ready at the least sign of trouble to get up and protect his sheep. ‘He that watches Israel neither slumbers of sleeps.’
Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives his life for the sheep.” John 10.
He makes me lie down in green pastures.
It’s not easy to get a sheep to lie down. A strange thing about sheep is that they will refuse to lie down unless they are
- free from all fear
- there is no tension between members of the flock
- they are not aggravated with flies or parasites
- they are free from hunger
It is the shepherd who must see to it that his flock is free from any disturbances. Sheep are very easily frightened but nothing quiets a flock of sheep more than seeing their shepherd in the field with them.
Like sheep, we also are easily frightened. We live in an uncertain life. Any hour can bring disaster. And generally, it is the unknown, the unexpected, that frightens us most. But nothing quiets our souls like knowing that our Shepherd is near. Suddenly things are not half as black nor nearly as terrifying.
Let’s contin-ewe to the next scene
He leads me beside still waters, he restores my soul.
Sheep need water to survive. And they will not drink from noisy, turbulent water. They require a well or a slow-flowing stream, “still waters”.
Jesus made it clear that the thirsty souls of men and women can only be fully satisfied by coming to him. “If any man thirsts, let him come to me and drink.” (John 7:37). Our Shepherd leads us beside the still waters where he restores our souls.
There is an Old English shepherd’s term called a “cast” sheep. This is a sheep that has turned over on its back and can’t get back up again. All the sheep can do is lie on its back, with its feet flaying frantically in the air. If the shepherd doesn’t arrive within a short time, the sheep will die. The shepherd will search for the sheep, turn it onto its side and rub its legs to restore its circulation and then lift it onto its feet. After a while the sheep will stumble and stagger and then eventually walk steadily and surely. That’s how our Lord treats us. We stumble and fall and become helpless. Our shepherd is patient, tender and helpful in getting us back on our feet. We only need to see how Jesus restored Peter’s heart after his denial. He restores our souls.
There are times when we to be beside still waters and allow God to tend to our soul. A rewriting of Psalm 23 by Toki Miyashina illustrates this.
- The Lord is my pace setter, I shall not rush,
- He makes me stop and rest for quiet intervals,
- He provides me with images of stillness, which restore my serenity.
- He leads me in ways of efficiency, through calmness of mind, and his guidance is peace.
- Even though I have a great many things to accomplish each day – I will not fret, for his presence is here.
- His timelessness, his all-importance will keep me in balance.
- He prepares refreshment and renewal in the midst of my activity, by anointing my mind with oils of tranquillity.
- My cup of joyous energy overflows.
- Surely harmony and effectiveness shall be fruits of my hours,
- For I shall walk in the pace of my Lord, and dwell in his house forever.
He leads me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake
If sheep are left to themselves, they will continue to graze the same hills until they turn to a desert waste. They will gnaw the grass to the very ground until even the roots are damaged. They need a shepherd who will lead them to good grazing area. We are a lot like sheep. As humans, we prefer to follow our own fancies and turn to our own ways. “All we like sheep have gone astray, we have turned everyone to his own way.” (Isaiah 53:6). Our Lord leads us in the paths of righteousness, setting an example for us.
Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: For you are with me, your rod and your staff comfort me.
There are going to be valleys in life for all of us and at some point in our journey we must all cross the valley of the shadow of death. Both in the valleys of life and in that last journey our Lord is with us.
In the Middle East the shepherd carried only a rod and a staff. The rod is the main weapon of defence for the shepherd himself and his flock, driving off predators.
The staff, a long, slender stick with a crook or hook on one end, would be used to guide sheep along a new path, through a gate or to get a sheep out of trouble. The power, authority, might and guidance of the Lord are our comfort.
You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies.
You anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
In many places of the world the high plateaus of sheep pasture are called “mesas” which is Spanish for “tables”. It is thought that psalmist is saying ‘the pastureland has been prepared.’ Prior to taking his sheep there, the shepherd will check the area for predators, snakes and poisonous weeds. Our Lord has gone ahead of us. He has already been “tempted in all points like as we are.” (Hebrews 4:15). He has known our sorrows and endured our struggles in order to help us through.
It is no coincidence that on the ‘table’ there is the oil that was blessed on Maundy Thursday – for baptism, for healing and the oil of Chrism. In baptism we are anointed with the cross of Jesus, reminding us that he have been called and chosen. He are his sheep.
Surely your goodness and love will follow me all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.
No matter what happens our Lord cares for us as a good shepherd. Goodness and love will follow us and we will dwell in the house of the Lord.
A famous actor was once the guest of honour at a social gathering where he received many requests to recite favourite excerpts from various literary works. An old preacher who happened to be there asked the actor to recite the twenty-third Psalm. The actor agreed on the condition that the preacher would also recite it. The actor’s recitation was beautifully intoned with great dramatic emphasis for which he received lengthy applause. The preacher’s voice was rough and broken from many years of preaching, and his diction was anything but polished. But when he finished there was not a dry eye in the room. When someone asked the actor what made the difference, he replied “I know the psalm, but he knows the Shepherd.”
As we reflect on Jesus, our good shepherd, the Sunday School are going to sing a modern version of psalm 23, ‘Because the Lord is my shepherd’ by Stuart Townend.
Psalm 23 has been set to music many times. Here are a few favourites: