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Message from Our Pastor

Hoffman whitesheep

Excerpted from Pastor Hoffman's April 22th homily. Relevant reading: Psalm 23 & John 10:11-18

I am the good shepherd.  This is one of seven “I am” statements that Jesus makes in the gospel of John. Jesus the good shepherd — good, not as in moral or right, but good as in model and exemplary. 

[Points to a collection of 20-25 sheep at the altar]  I’m not sure exactly when or where I bought my first sheep, but, clearly, it is now a passion.Over the years my flock’s growth rate has been more like that of rabbits than of sheep.And yes, there are still more at home. 

Oddly enough, these carefree wooly beasts have helped me appreciate what it means and takes to be a truly good shepherd.  Obviously, these guys don’t require much care, but their presence in my life has sparked a curious interest in shepherding. This has led to several books — not the scientific, “how to” books, but autobiographies and novels by people with experience raising their own flocks.

One book was written by David Kennard, a shepherd in Devon, England, who began herding sheep at the age of 17. When the book was published, he and his family were tending to a flock of 850 sheep.

From these shepherds I have learned — SHEPHERDING IS HARD WORK. 

We know that sheep are not the brightest animals on the planet. David notes: “I can’t say all sheep are stupid, I haven’t met them all, but the ones that I have encountered tend to be on the lower side of dim.” 

Well, we tend to think: no or little brain, wooly, gentle, cute — just like my friends here — and just like them, easy to care for…NOT!!

Sheep do have an amazing ability to remember routes to familiar grazing pastures. This is good. But sheep are also stubborn. So while sheep appear to know exactly where they should be going, they will often do everything possible to resist. This is not good.

The shepherd’s adage is that a sheep’s worst enemy is another sheep. Put a group of sheep together in a confined space and problems easily spread form one to another — foot disease, scabies, mites, bacterial infections. All such diseases require treatment, usually administered one lamb, or ewe, at a time.

Of course, a shepherd must also pay attention to grazing fields, fences, feed, dipping, shearing, predators and lost sheep — constant vigilant care. To say that a shepherd must lay down his life for his sheep is not verbal toying of words, but a reality. Today’s shepherds must be willing to commit their entire selves to the care and health of their sheep. Shepherding sheep in the real world is an all or nothing endeavor.

Well, you might be able to convince me that, on average, we humans are not as dim witted as sheep, but we still require an awful lot of care, guidance, provision, protection and oversight. 

We are not quick to befriend those that do not look, smell or sound like us. Put us together in an enclosed space for any length of time and we, too, get under each other’s skin. And, how often have we known which way to go in life, only to stubbornly resist, or to turn and head in the opposite direction? 

Like it or not, for all of our smarts and brains, we are no less dependent upon a shepherd to provide and care for us than are sheep. I wouldn’t say that this is bad, but I wouldn’t call it great either. What is great is that we know we have a shepherd—Jesus. 

Jesus has, in fact, committed his whole life — even given his life for the care, redemption, health and abundant life of his sheep — for you and me.  And when I say his ENTIRE life — I mean not just his life leading up the cross, not just his death on the cross, but even now, in his life beyond the resurrection. Jesus is the best shepherd there is.

He makes certain that our needs are met. We can trust him, to provide opportunities of rest for our tired bodies and refreshment for our weary souls. We know that when we approach our Shepherd seeking we shall find and when we ask we will receive and when we knock the right doors will open. We can breathe easy, confident that Jesus cares enough about us to protect us at all costs from our enemies — even when the enemy is ourselves.

The psalmist is right — our cups do runneth over and our lives are filled with goodness and mercy. Let us go forth with joy, giving thanks for the goodness of our shepherd, Jesus, the Lord. Amen.

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