Presence

Presence

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.

I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me — just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.
John 10:11-18 (NRSV)

One Shepherd, One Flock

STORY: One World, One Day by Barbara Kirley

Okay, so we are going to start with a little trivia this morning. Does anyone know what a group of fish is called? A school. Whales? A pod. Elephants? A parade. Zebra? A zeal. Hippos? A crash. And finally, what about sheep? Yes, a flock. Excellent job!

In today’s scripture reading, we hear about a shepherd and his sheep, and we hear about the way that the shepherd tends or cares for his flock. Throughout the Bible, we hear lots of stories of shepherds – from the book Genesis all the way to the book of Revelation. And many great leaders started as shepherds, people like Abraham and Moses, Rachel and Leah, and King David – they were all shepherds at one point.

Throughout the psalms, David poetically describes the responsibilities and concerns of a good shepherd. And though he made it sound very pastoral and serene, the work of a shepherd was far from easy. After all, shepherds, for the most part, were outcast from society. They were the people who never really fit in. They never received a warm welcome when they came into town, and so they usually kept to themselves and kept a distance from the crowds. That’s why it is so interesting that the shepherds were the first invited to see Jesus. Remember?

And there were shepherds living out in the fields nearby, keeping watch over their flocks at night. An angel of the Lord appeared to them, and the glory of the Lord shone around them, and they were terrified. But the angel said to them, “Do not be afraid. I bring you good news that will cause great joy for all the people. Today in the town of David a Savior has been born to you; he is the Messiah, the Lord. This will be a sign to you: You will find a baby wrapped in cloths and lying in a manger.”

Though there were many stories of shepherds in the Bible, the one that we are reflecting on today, is the one in which Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”

Now, though the disciples may not have fully understood what Jesus was talking about, they would have understood the example that Jesus was giving. Because they knew that though shepherds were often outcast from society, good shepherds were diligent, dependable, and brave. They even risked their lives to protect the flock. Which we heard about in today’s scripture: I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep.

Now, many times when we hear this passage, we think about the fact that Jesus suffered and died for us. But the truth is, laying down your life for someone isn’t necessarily about dying. Actually, it’s about just the opposite. It’s about the way you live your life and the way you share love with and show compassion to the world.

In the gospel of John, John often talks about the importance of love. And love, for John, is practical. Maybe you remember that it’s John that asks, “How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses to help?”

Well, the truth is, compassion begins with how we respond to what to we see. If we are part of God’s flock, how do we see the other sheep?

In our storybook today, we saw people from around the world and what they do in a day. There were similarities and differences. For breakfast, some ate porridge, or pancakes, or churros, or toast. Some walked to school, took a bus, or rode their bikes. Some worked, and some played. Some lived in busy cities, and others in very rural plains. But each one was part of the flock. As the title of the book says, one world, one day. And as scripture told us there is one shepherd, and there is one flock. My friends, what that means is that we are all in this together. Whether we are old or young, gay or straight, rich or poor, democrats or republicans, liberals or conservatives. Whether we are married or single, divorced or widowed. Whether we go to school, or work, or stay home. No matter what church or temple or synagogue or mosque we attend, if we attend any at all. And that’s a lot of people. A lot of sheep! And only God is great enough to be a shepherd to a flock that big!

Friends, you and I can’t possibly show compassion to the whole world, but we can make a difference in our corner of the world. And that’s why Becky talked to us today looking for new ideas and new possibilities for us as a church family to reach out and work together.

Now, many of us, when we think about the Bible and we think about sheep and shepherds, we think about the 23rd Psalm. Remember? The Lord is my shepherd. I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul.

That is a Psalm that brings comfort to many. But do you know why it brings us comfort? Because it assures us of God’s presence. And friends, we long to know that we are not alone. We long to know that somebody sees us, and hears us, and cares about us. The most important way that we can show compassion to someone else is not by giving them advice, not by telling them what they need to do, or by trying to fix them. The most important way that you and I can show compassion is through the one thing that each one of you has to give, and that is the gift of your presence. The gift of presence doesn’t cost anything. It doesn’t take a college degree or a special license. You don’t need to be a certain age or have any special training. All you need to do is spend a little time with someone and listen to them. It’s that easy! Now you may feel nervous because you may not know what to say. Or you may not know the answers to the questions the person is asking. Or you may not be able to fix the other person’s problems. But to be honest, that’s not your job. When you share the gift or ministry of presence with someone, it’s not your job to fix them, or save them, or answer all of their questions. All you need to do is be present and listen, because your presence and your compassionate listening assures them that they are not alone. Friends, all you have to give is yourself, and that is the greatest gift that you have. And when you give of yourself, that’s just like the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep.

As a pastor, I often visit people who are in the hospital, or a nursing home, or who are grieving the loss of a loved one. And for those of you that don’t know, the word “pastor” literally means “shepherd.” I am often with people who are anxious or nervous or frightened. And I believe that being invited to a situation like that is sacred. It’s holy space where I get to show and share God’s love and compassion.

Now, I can’t do anything to change their situation or to fix things. All I can do is listen, offer a prayer sometimes, and be present with them. But the truth is, it doesn’t take an ordained minister to do that. And I know that each of you is called in your own unique way to do the same – to be a shepherd. Because friends, we all belong to the Good Shepherd. We are all a part of His flock. Which means that we are all called to be shepherds for one another.

So, brothers and sisters in Christ, as you go out into your busy week ahead, take a little time to share the ministry of presence with someone. And if you see someone that lives differently than you do, or does different things that you do, remember that we are all a part of the same flock. God loves each of us the same way, and it’s our job to go out to listen and to love and to show and share compassion to one another.

So, my friends, may it be so! Thanks be to God! Amen!

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