Just us Sheep


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Just us Sheep
Psalm 23
23:1 The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.
23:2 He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters;
23:3 he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name's sake.
23:4 Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff-- they comfort me.
24:5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.
24:6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the LORD my whole life long.
John 10:1-10
10:1 Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit.
10:2 The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep.
10:3 The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.
10:4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice.
10:5 They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers."
10:6 Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.
10:7 So again Jesus said to them, "Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep.
10:8 All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them.
10:9 I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture.
10:10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly."

As you just heard, today’s scripture readings are both about sheep. I am a country boy, but I didn’t grow up around sheep. There were lots of cows and all of the issues associated with them but no there were no sheep, so the only thing I know about sheep is what I’ve heard, and most of that was from the Bible.

I would be much more comfortable trying to explain today’s scripture if it was about cows. But some how saying, “The Lord is my Cowboy...” just wouldn’t be the same.

The first one is the well-known 23rd Psalm. It is very popular at funerals. I believe this is because when someone has died we feel very vulnerable and we need to feel protection, and the 23rd Psalm paints the image of God as our protector. “He makes me lie down in green pastures; He leads me beside the still waters; he restores my soul. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil.”

When a loved one has died, we need to hear that. We need to believe that someone is in control and that we will be taken care of. We need the hope that our departed loved one will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
The 23rd Psalm does all that for us.
But there is more to be learn.

One thing that I know about sheep is that they go in flocks. When one sheep does something, others will follow along in a little line. They will do this whether it is a particularly smart thing to do or not. This is because sheep really aren’t all that bright. You never hear anyone referred to as being “as smart as a sheep.”

But today’s scripture has a reference from the Old Testament and from the New Testament where people are referred to as sheep.
Do people sometimes act like sheep?

I work at the University, and many of you know there are a lot of pretty young women there. Some time ago there was a phenomenon where T-shirts on campus started shrinking. They didn’t meet the pants any more, and belly-buttons began to make themselves known all over campus.
Then the jeans began to go down, and we started seeing other things. There were a lot of new views around campus, and it was all because they were copying a celebrity.

If we want to get the most out of the 23rd Psalm, we have to realize it is not really about dying. It is about a way of life. When we say the Lord is our Shepherd, this means we are turning over the control of our lives to him.
From an abstract point of view, that means seeking God’s Holy wisdom and applying it to your life, but how exactly do you do that? There would be some that would say the Bible provides the answers, and I have to agree that the Bible is a big part of the way of life that we teach, but there must be more. There are a lot of wolves out there who get into the fold and twist the scripture into a means of power.

Some of them are pretty good at it. They can take one verse that is hard to understand and create a new interpretation of it that says only the people who listen to them are going to heaven, and everybody else goes to hell.
We’d like to believe that wasn’t true, but we’ve seen it happen too many times. There are tons of white supremacists groups that do this. There was the Heaven’s Gate cult. There was Jim Jones’s group down in Guyana, and on and on.

How do you tell the good ones from the bad ones?

That is where the second scripture comes in. It’s harder to interpret, to be sure, but to me the verses about the gate and the gatekeeper speak of a system and a community wherein the shepherds are tested and the thieves and robbers are filtered out.

As Methodists we have a community, a connection that checks out our shepherds for us. It doesn’t do a perfect job, but it does better than no filter at all. Beyond that, we have a way of interpreting scripture that keeps us from going too far astray. We interpret scripture in light of tradition, experience, and reason. This helps—to a certain degree—in keeping someone from taking one isolated verse and reorganizing the whole faith around it.
There is another test. Jesus says, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” Having seen some of the White Supremacists religions, we understand that “steal, kill, and destroy” only too well. What is this abundant life?

Some interpret it as riches, comfort, and having all the material things that you want. I would put it differently. It means taking part in this life as fully as possible in the good ways that God has planned for us. For most it means raising a family and taking part in the community. Love your spouse, love your kids, love your neighbor. Others, God has marked different trails that only they will know.

The more I go around in the circle of the world, the more I am convinced we are sheep. We’re not too bright, and we follow the leader even if the leader isn’t going a place we’d like to go. But we have a choice. We can follow the Good Shepherd and go where he leads us. We can lay down in the green pastures by the still waters and live the abundant life.
Reminds me of what a friend was saying a few weeks ago. Her husband was a sheep agronomist (I guess a modern shepherd--requires some kind of degree :) ). For one thing, she said, sheep stink! She pretty much had to make him change clothes outside when he came home. And they are dumb. A sheep on the side of a hill fell over and tried repeatedly to get up by rolling uphill, when by going down hill it would have been on its feet in no time. Had to be rescued by the shepherd, I mean sheep agronomist.

Even though it's not really a compliment, I still find the idea of being a sheep of the Lord's quite comforting. Although for some reason thinking about sheep always makes me want to tell lamb, I mean lame, jokes. :)

Another nice one, Okie :) .

i like sheep & petting them at the zoo.i used to think I SHALL NOT WANT meant i dont want the shepherd...but aah thy rod & staff comfort me soooo much, so i want to stay in the fold because it is the good life.
very nice Oakie:) .