St. Augustine of Canterbury Anglican Church
Bishop Peter F. Hansen
Sermon for the 2nd Sunday after Easter, April 23, 2023
“I am the good shepherd; and know my sheep, and am known of mine.”
THE GREAT AMERICAN Western is a unique art form that stylizes the outskirts of civilization where our forefathers tamed this wide, unsettled country. It’s a good vs. bad, black and white drama that pits one lone man against a gang of cutthroats, settling everything with bullets. The hero isn’t perfect, and often is chased by his own past, but with his quick draw he champions the innocent, timid, ill-trained settlers who don’t stand a chance against outlaws. They don’t, because they are sheep, up against wolves. It takes a shepherd to protect these poor townsfolk, and our quiet hero is such a one.
We think of a shepherd in bucolic images of nature, a picture of calm, a life of ease. That’s Hallmark ®. One of the best-known shepherds in Scripture was a boy who became King David. This youth brought provisions for his brothers bearing arms against Philistines. There he saw the giant, Goliath, challenge Israel to send him a man to fight with and settle their national scores. It’s the classic Western, set in ancient Israel. David’s heart burns. “Well, if nobody else is going out there to teach him a lesson, it’ll have to be me!”
David, as a shepherd, had killed a lion and a bear. Boys do that even today in some African tribes as a test of manhood. You use yourself as bait, and when the lion leaps to pounce on you, you plant your spear in the earth and impale it. Or just grab it by its beard and stab it. David’s slaying of Goliath was as calm and intelligent as that, sinking a smooth river stone into the giant’s forehead propelled by his sling. Crack. Dead.
David kept the giant’s sword as a trophy.
Now, that’s a shepherd. He sees defenseless sheep and he must face what threatens them, then he fights. David saw God as a shepherd and wrote our favorite psalm: “The Lord is 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 is like a Wild West hero because he is a shepherd.
David went on to lead his people against their foes. The last he had to face was his own son. Westerns aren’t always happy confrontations. There may be a sense of desolation when the smoke clears, a bittersweet taste because so many good men had to die to win peace. The tragic hero rides off like Yule Brenner in The Magnificent Seven.
Jesus is our shepherd. He tells us so. He enters in at the door to the sheepfold. His sheep know His voice. We follow Him to pasture. Green pastures and still waters greet us on the way. He knows our names. This picture does not exclude danger or enemies. That’s why the shepherd has a rod and a staff. The staff is the familiar crooked branch that hooks the necks of wayward sheep to bring them out of danger. The bottom of the staff is pointed to prod the sheep along. Ouch! That’s sharp!
The other is a rod. This is a heavy club, weighted by a burl at one end. It’s to smite the wolf, or bear or lion or human rustler, on their head 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 knew and Jesus knows (that we may not) is that God is going to deliver them in this 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
Here is the difference between a shepherd and the Good Shepherd. Shepherds have livestock for the ultimate purpose of shearing them for wool, and butchering them for meat. Not so the Good Shepherd. He gives His life up for us. He saves us by His own death. That’s how you know you can trust Him, love Him, follow Him, and remain with Him.
Jesus knows a sheep from a goat. We are either sheep or goats in the final analysis. The sheep care for other sheep and in tending to them, they align themselves with the shepherd and do it for him. “I was naked and you clothed me…” Matt 25:36
A successful sheep needs to know a few things in order to be found in the shepherd’s vale on that great day that’s coming.
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 our Lord and then act like running the universe depends on me. 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, our words, our service. It’s His world, and we are His sheep. Our worry, our impatience with others, setting our own goals, going it alone—those are the marks of the Western maverick. He’s nothing like a sheep. You must be sheep and obey the Master’s voice.
You shall not want. Surely every day has needs to be filled, but look: none of you is starving. In America no one starves, except by being lost in the wild or illegally imprisoned. You have clothes, a car, a home, income, food. You earned it, maybe, by working. But Who gave you a job? The causes and effects take you back to God, no matter how you may claim the credit. God gives you good things, especially in this fair land. Enjoy it and say, Thank you, Lord.
He gives you rest. After feasting you can lie in the soft grass and be at peace. We Americans rush here, there, early and late, always doing, always burning up the clock. We don’t think we’re worthy unless we can fill our calendars with appointments and hurry from one to the other. Take a moment and see what you do to yourself. God wants you to enter His rest. Heaven is rest. The Kingdom of Heaven is here. Of course, there’s work to do, but God 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. A soul needs restoration, and I think we all realize our souls are beat up, haggard, guilt-driven, and sore. That’s why you and I are here this morning. It’s too much to bear by yourself, on your horse alone, riding into the sunset. The movie hero never gets his soul healed: just rides away bleeding. Jesus wants you healed. He reaches out His hand to you, gives you His body and His blood to feed on, so much better than food for your body. It restores your soul. His words of absolution give us relief, knowing that although He knows everything we’ve done, 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 on purpose, and that purpose will be borne out if you keep following Him. The path may turn left, or right, or straight ahead. It passes through 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 most ways. We have to walk close to Him and not let sin betray us.
We are mortal. Death is out there, and its shadow darkens our way at times. People are terrified by death, staving it off with bright activities or liquor or work or crowds of people. 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, only a change. And a change for the better.
His rod and staff always 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 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 are seated, 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 possession. Never doubt it: because this mark signifies His Holy Spirit lives in you, giving life to your spirit, giving wisdom from on high to your mind. You are a holy people, a precious flock in the sight of God.
The Lord is your shepherd. You shall not want. And remember: this is the shepherd that does not devour His flock, but has died for our sake. There is only one Good Shepherd.
Jesus said that “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. And there are others that belong here. Where are they? You may sense an invitation by our shepherd to open a door for others to come, by your service, by your love, through sacrifice. They will want to know your secret.
Humbly tell them. It’s for the love of your shepherd that you love them as well. Just say to them, “Want to meet Him? Come with me next Sunday. The shepherd waits in our Church for you.”