St. Augustine of Canterbury Anglican Church
Bishop Peter F. Hansen
Sermon for the 2nd Sunday after Easter, April 18, 2021
“I am the good shepherd; and know my sheep, and am known of mine.”
THE GREAT AMERICAN Western is a unique art form that depicts a civilization when our forefathers tamed this wide and unsettled country. It’s a good vs. bad, black hat white hat drama that pits one lone man against a gang of cutthroats, settling everything with bullets. The hero isn’t perfect, often chased by his own shadowed past, surviving by a quick draw to defend innocent, trusting settlers who can’t stand against the wicked men because they are sheep, sheep beset by wolves. It takes a shepherd to protect the townspeople, and our quiet hero is that shepherd.
We think of shepherds in a bucolic way: their peaceful souls, the picture of calm, a life of ease. That’s a Hallmark® card. One of the best-known shepherds in Scripture became the warrior, King David. As a teenager, he brought food for his brothers bearing arms against the marauding Philistines. He heard the giant Goliath challenging Israel to send a man to fight and settle all scores. It’s the classic Western, set in ancient Israel. David’s heart burns. “If nobody else will go out and teach that uncircumcised heathen a lesson, it’s got to be me!”
They laughed at him. He sought King Saul’s permission. Saul said, “You can’t fight a giant. You’re a boy, he’s an experienced soldier and killer.” David’s response surprised the king. “Your servant keeps his father's sheep, and when a lion or a bear would steal a lamb from the flock, I went after it, struck it, delivered the lamb from its mouth, and when it rose up, I grabbed its beard and killed it. Your servant has killed both lions and bears; and this Philistine will be like one of them, having defied the armies of the living God.” 1 Sam 17:34-36 David knew that God would win the day. God only needed one willing, and fairly skilled, Hebrew.
He’d killed a lion and a bear. Boys even today do that in certain African tribes as a test of manhood. You use yourself as bait, and when the charging animal leaps on you, you plant your spear in the earth and raise it so animal’s heart will come down on it. Or else just grab it by its beard and stab it. David’s destruction of Goliath was like that, the smooth river stone in the giant’s forehead. Crack. Dead. David kept the giant’s sword as a trophy.
Now that’s a shepherd. He tends defenseless sheep and must face what threatens them, then oppose it. David knew God was a shepherd and he wrote: “The Lordis my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters… I will fear no evil; For Thou art with me.” Psalm 23 David, like a Western hero, was such a shepherd.
He went on to lead his people against many foes. His last foe was his own son. There aren’t always happy confrontations. There can be desolation: the smoke clears, and it’s bittersweet because so many had to die to achieve peace.
Jesus is our shepherd. He says so. We sheep know His voice. We follow Him to green pastures and still waters that greet us on the way. He knows our names. The image doesn’t exclude danger or enemies. Our shepherd has a rod and a staff. The staff is the familiar crooked branch that hooks wayward sheep and brings them back. Its bottom the shepherd sharpens to prod the sheep along. Ouch! That’s sharp!
The other item is the rod. It’s a club, weighted by a burl at one end. This rod is to smite the wolf, or bear or lion or human rustler when they come to eat lamb. Jesus says, “The thief does not come except to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come that they may have life, and that they may have it more abundantly. I am the good shepherd.” John 10:10-11
Jesus and David are one of a kind. Their sheep are precious to them, so much that they would give their lives to save them, or die trying. There is no guarantee of success when facing a lion in combat with clubs or slings or knives. A lion is a killing machine. What David and Jesus knew was that God was going to deliver them in combat. David knew it before he faced his giant. Jesus knew it before He faced the Cross. But Jesus had to die before He could enjoy His victory. For that reason, we know we can trust Him. He really does love us. He loves us that much. And He says, “I lay down My life that I may take it again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of Myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again.” v. 17-18
Jesus knows sheep from goats. He speaks of people in shepherd-speak. We’re either sheep or goats. The sheep care for others and in tending to them, they align themselves with the shepherd and do these things for Him. “I was naked and you clothed me…” Matt 25:36
A good lamb needs to know a few things in order to make the grade and find him or herself in the shepherd’s vale on that great day coming. You take some notes now in your hearts, okay? There will be a test.
He is the shepherd and you are sheep. That means Jesus is Lord and God, and you are not. This may seem obvious, but many of us say He is Lord, and still live as though running the universe depends on us. We watch the clock, make demands, try to run things. But in truth, we’re only empowered when God works through us, doing His will through our hands, words, and service. It’s His world, and we are His sheep. Our worry, our impatience with others, setting our own goals, going it alone—these are the marks of the Western maverick. He goes alone. He’s nothing like a sheep. You must be sheep and obey the Master’s voice.
You shall not want. Surely every day has its needs to fill, but look: not one of you is starving. America is a land where no one starves, except being lost in the wild or illegally imprisoned. You have clothes, a car, a home, income, provision. It may not be all you desire, but God has given you these. You earned it, maybe, by working. But Who got you the job? Cause and effect bring you back to God, no matter how you may claim credit. God gives good things, especially in this fair land. Enjoy it and say, Thank you, Lord.
He gives you rest. After eating sumptuously, lie in the soft grass and be at peace. Americans rush here, there, early, late, always doing, always burning time. We don’t think we’re worthy unless we fill our calendars with appointments and hurry from one to the other. Take a breather and see how you harm yourself. God wants you to enter into His rest. Heaven is rest. The Kingdom of Heaven is here. Of course, there’s work to do, but God also wishes you to rest your mind, and at times your body. The lilies of the field don’t work, yet God dresses them royally.
The shepherd restores your soul. Your soul needs restoration, and in all honesty, we realize our souls are beat up, haggard, guilt-driven, and sore. That’s why we are here this morning. It’s too much to bear alone on your horse, riding into the sunset. The protagonist never gets his soul healed; he just rides off wounded. Jesus wants you healed. He reaches out His hand to you, gives you His body and His blood to feed on, and that’s so much better than food for your body. It restores your soul. The words of absolution give us such relief, knowing that although He knows everything we’ve done amiss, He receives us back again.
Jesus sets the path. You don’t know the story of your life, how it has led you to this day for a purpose, and that purpose will be borne out if you keep following Him. The path may turn left, or right, or go straight ahead. It passes through some rugged country, and in that path, you may face danger and sorrow. He never leaves you. But you must stay with Him, in His will. That’s righteousness: the will of God. It looks a little different for every one of us, because His will is personal. But it is the same for us all in many details. We have to walk close to Him and not let sin betray us away.
We are mortal. Death is out there, and its shadow darkens our way at times. Many people are terrified by death every minute, staving it off with bright activities or liquor or work or crowds of others. But although you and I are led through that valley, and even though our bodies will lie there, cold and still, one day, you and I will never die. Jesus said that. Believe in Him and you will live. Walk on. It looks like an end, but it’s a beginning, merely a change. A change for the better.
His rod and staff are always there to protect us, and though they are correctives to us, we can be sure He cares as He pulls us away from the cliff’s edge or pokes us on. That scary club beats up only our enemies and they will lie at our feet, vanquished. Let God’s power and authority comfort you.
The table is set, groaning with good food. The goblet runs over with wine. The enemy watches as you feast, and he can’t interfere. He’s lost you. Feast with Jesus: it’s His pleasure to entertain you. It’s His high feast as well, a celebration of His Resurrection. Enjoy.
The Anointed One has anointed your head in Baptism and Confirmation. This seal marks His flock, a gentle brand on those that are His own. Never doubt it: this mark signifies His Holy Spirit lives in you, life to your spirit, wisdom to your mind. You are a holy people, a precious flock. The Lord is your shepherd. You shall not want.
Jesus said “other sheep I have, which are not of this fold: them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one flock, and one shepherd.” We are fortunate, being His flock this day. There are others that belong. Where are they? You are invited by our shepherd to open a door for others to come, by service, love, and sacrifice for them. They will want to know your secret. Humbly tell them. It’s for the love of our shepherd that we also love them. Wet, scared, and untamed, they need the shepherd too.