This morning I began a week with First Presbyterian Church of Neenah – preaching at this morning’s services and leading adult faith formation between the services. During the week I’ll lead a Bible study and meet with people individually for spiritual direction, and end next Sunday in the way I began it today.
The readings for today’s all, in one way or another employed the motif of the shepherd and shepherding. Part of my sermon addressed what the imagery in Psalm 23 and Jesus’ identifying himself as the good shepherd teach us about what it means to call God our shepherd.
But we are not only sheep to God’s shepherd. The point is not simply that the love and care and guidance of the shepherd characterizes God’s love and care for us, but it describes what we are asked to be for each other.
At the end of John’s Gospel, Jesus instructs Peter – feed my lambs, feed my sheep. In other words, be as a shepherd to my sheep. And we see this same language used in various of the letters of New Testament – the extension of the good shepherd label to those who would lead it the church.
The question is: for whom is that label intended? Is it just meant for church leaders? I shared that my answer to that question is a resounding no – that each and every one of us – is not only sheep, but shepherd.
We have each been given the charge to model our lives after that of the Good Shepherd. To live lives of love, commitment and sacrifice on behalf of each other. To nourish each other – doing all we can to help each other grow in our relationship with God and flourish as the fully human persons God invites us to be. To look out for each other and protect each other. To be personally, intimately involved with each other – treating everyone with whom we come into contact as the beloved God.
It is a charge that raises the bar for all of us.
Fortunately, we are not asked to do any of this on our own. I think one of the reasons the Church gives us a long Easter season each year is to remind us that the God who raised Jesus is still active in the world today.
I think that is the reason we hear from Acts every year in the Easter season. So that we can see what is able to be accomplished through the power of the Spirit alive and present in the world after the resurrection and ascension of Christ. It shows us that none of the things faced by the early church – persecutions, famines, opposition, violent storms and so forth were stronger than the power of the Spirit.
And, unlike the person who first spoke the words of Psalm 23, or those who first heard it, we can read that Psalm with that knowledge. Knowing that when the metaphors and images of the Psalm speak in the present, they are truly indicating our present reality. Today – in our present world – the shepherd leads…restores…comforts….prepares a table…anoints our head. And in so doing, empowers and strengthens us to do the same for each other.