By Evangelist Al Mount
Good Morning my fellow servants and priesthood members! I welcome you to this written service in the name of Jesus the Christ our Lord and Shepherd.
I invite each of us watch and listen to the following video entitled: “I Am The Good Shepherd” by Faithful Heart.
As holders of priesthood we, I believe, are called to be shepherds over Jesus’ flock. As we look at our varied priesthood offices and the ministries within those offices, we can see the importance of each in caring for God’s sheep; including but not limited to, financial counseling, ministries to families, peacemakers, spiritual leaders, teaching and preaching the gospels and administering the sacraments. Our call to be gentle loving shepherds is woven through each of our priesthood callings to nurture God’s sheep.
Sometimes when I think of the word “shepherd” I think of the 23rd Psalm:
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures; he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul; he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
Yea though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies, thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.
According to some, King David wrote this Psalm near the end of his life and reign as King of Israel. If this is the case, I’m picturing King David, knowing his days on earth were growing short causing him to reflect back over his life from shepherd boy to Israel’s greatest king. And, as David reflected, he may have sensed a correlation between his relationship with God and his relationship with the sheep he had watched over and cared for as a young boy thus inspiring him to write the 23rd Psalm.
Briefly, David didn’t just sit on a rock playing a harp on a nice sunny day as the sheep grazed as I’ve seen in some paintings. Being a shepherd was a dirty smelly job. A good shepherd had to be brave and even willing to put their life on the line to save and protect the sheep under their watch. Sheep would often get into trouble like getting stuck the edge of a cliff or down in a ravine, the shepherd had to save them at his own peril. The shepherd was expected to stave off thieves and wild animals like wolves, lions, bears.
In the 23rd Psalm, David mentions a couple of things called a rod and a staff which he would have carried as a shepherd along with his sling. The staff was a club with nails on the business end; the rod was a shepherd’s hook which he would have used to pull a lamb back into the flock. The club was used to defend the flock from animals and thieves. And then, there is the sling shot. Shepherds were expert marksmen with the sling. It wasn’t dumb luck that David struck Goliaths’ forehead with a stone. He knew what he was doing.
David, as he reflected over his life, saw and remembered how God saved him when he was (so to speak) hanging from life’s cliffs with no way to get up or down, or in life’s ravines, trapped, with no way out, yet God brought him through to greener pastures beside the still waters. As David pictured the rod and staff in God’s hands, he felt comfort knowing that God was his defender and protector. During David’s life, God may have, at times, used the club to get his attention, other times God just needed to use the hook end on the rod to gently pull him back into his presence.
Reviewing David’s life, we know he found favor with King Saul as he slew Goliath and would eventually become a great military leader and defender of the nation of Israel and Saul’s kingship. We know how David grew in popularity to the point that Saul became insanely jealous (literally), so jealous in fact that David had to flee for his life as Saul and his army tried to hunt him down like a dog. Yes, David knew what it was like to live in the valley of the shadow of death. He went from being a prince to starving and hiding in caves. But David would not hold a grudge against his king. We see this when David snuck into Saul’s camp while Saul was sleeping; David drew out his knife even as couple of his buddies were encouraging him to kill the King! But David did not, instead he cut a piece of Saul’s robe and sneaks back out of the camp and from a distance calls out to Saul while holding the piece of Saul’s robe and pretty much says: “See this, Saul, I could have just as well killed you!”
David could have sought vengeance, looking for ways to bring the king down but he did not. He could have resented Saul but he did not. In the book of Job 5:2 NIV we read: “Resentment kills a fool, and envy slays the simple.” This time, God used his “rod” to gently pull David away from Saul, and David withdrew.
Eventually, in his own time, God delivers David out of his “valley of death” to be what seemed utterly impossible, Israel’s greatest king! Maybe we should think about that when we are in our valleys? But there is another other side of David such as when he was smitten with the beauty of Bah-Sheba the wife of Uriah; David wanted her for himself. So he sent Uriah to the front lines of a battle thinking Uriah would be killed, and he was; David, then, took Bah-Sheba as his own wife. Here God gets out his club using the prophet Nathan to do the clubbing. Read II Samuel, Chapters 11 and 12.
It’s interesting to me how David sees God as a caring shepherd while so many others in his day saw God as vengeful and quick to punish (some still do today). But David was spot on with his vision of seeing God as our shepherd. Fast forward about 1,000 years to when Jesus the Christ appears and tells the world that “I am the Good Shepherd”. Jesus is the shepherd David had envisioned come to earth in human form.
I see a little of myself in David as there are two sides to me, but not to David’s extreme (or least hope not!). I can be close to God and do the right thing for the right reasons out of the love I have for God and his “sheep” which love is within me. Other times I can be enticed away do what I know isn’t the righteous thing. Like with David, God sometimes uses his rod to coax me back into the fold. Other times it takes a club to get my attention. But just as God was with David so he is with me. Whether I find myself hanging from one of life’s cliffs or trapped in a ravine, (often of my own making) as I have repented, God has led me to greener pastures beside the still waters for his name sake.
Jesus tells us in the gospel of John 10:11-15. “I am the good shepherd; the good shepherd gives his life for his sheep…..and I lay my life down for the sheep” (just as David the young shepherd would have done to save his sheep).
In John 10:7-10, Jesus tells us “he is the door” and if any come through him they will find pasture. In those days, out in the fields there were rock walls with four sides with one small opening with no door. The shepherd at night would gather his sheep into the walled off area. The shepherd would lie across the small opening which led out to the pasture. The shepherd was the door as the sheep had to walk over/through him to find pasture. This might very well be what Jesus is referring to when saying “I am the door”. Those Jesus was speaking with would have understood right away.
As Jesus’ shepherds let us go out among the sheep we are called to care for (not limited to “church” people) but all people. May God bless us to lead others to Jesus’ Door that they might choose go through to find greener pastures and dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
May we, as we have opportunity to share in Communion this day, remember our callings anew as shepherds called to love and care for God’s sheep according to our separate but all so very necessary callings to help God bring about a blessed, healthy and joyful flock, a healthy world even the Kingdom. Amen.
Closing song: “You’re the Shepherd” by New Scottish Hymns