Jeremiah 23:1-6 Psalm 23
Ephesians 2:11-22 Mark 6:30-34, 53-56
May these words and our thoughts be acceptable to God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit.
Often we hark back to the Good Old Days, you know when things were more relaxed, life was a little easier and as William Davies in his poem “Leisure” says there was time, “time to stand beneath the boughs and stare as long as sheeps and cows”. Well you’re going to have to go a long way back, back to the Garden of Eden no less, because Jesus’ disciples even in those times were “coming and going, and they had no leisure even to eat”. And as Mark relates even when Jesus the Good Shepherd tried to get them away for a little R and R people followed them, even hounded them with relentless pleas for help. So much for the Good Old Days, which sound so much like today.
As Jesus intended for His disciples a little time for reflexion in a busy world is a good thing. We don’t want to reach twenty and say “I don’t know what to do with my life !” Or get to that critical age of forty and say “I’ve wasted the last twenty years !“ Or get to sixty and say “Where did the time go I’ve done nothing that I wanted to ?” Or eighty and say “If only !” Or one hundred and only utter a forlorn “Damn !”
With the recent addition of a new grandchild to our family we are reminded of how much time children consume with their endless needs. All parents experience and accept that because they love their children, and want to answer their every need, whenever that need arises. It’s love that causes us to want to be busy and involved. That’s where Jesus and the disciples were and it’s kind of where we should be too, except Love is not meant to demand too much, for then it becomes an obsession and we are nothing but beleaguered and sometimes exploited.
But from Jesus’ time, nay, even before and ever after, Life not Love, has always demanded a lot of us. When we were thrown out of the Garden we were told that in the wider world only through “toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life; thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you; and you shall eat the plants of the field. By the sweat of your face you shall eat bread until you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; you are dust, and to dust you shall return” (Genesis 3:17b-19). Even if you don’t believe the rest of the Bible that little nugget has to be true. It is only through toil that we eat whether it be toil in the field, on the factory floor, in a truck, on a construction site, or behind a desk or a counter, we labour all the day. The sad thing is that even though we labour, we still see poverty, there is still a lack of an ability to acquire all we need, and worse we owe money to others because we couldn’t wait to have what we have, being always in a hurry. You might say life is sad, but ‘No’. The effect of doing things wrong commonly called Sin, got us thrown out of the Garden, where food and time were in abundance; Life is not sad though because there is Hope of a return to a truly better world, Eden, that hope exists in the Good Shepherd.
We saw that the Good Old Days were just the same as today, so we are always living in the Good Old Days. In a material way life is gradually getting better, there is still a long way to go to create real quality but we are on the Way. The folks in Jesus’ time needed a Saviour, for every reason – social, political, religious – that’s why they clamoured around Him. Today in these current Good Old Days we still need a Saviour – that will never change.
Life’s trials and tribulations occur because Human Nature stays the same, partly because we are always in competition with each other, either as individuals, as families, tribes, peoples, or nations, and we are in competition with other species too and worst of all Nature itself. We are born with the desire to survive and our first option is always to compete, to grab our piece of the pie before someone or something else does. If there is such a thing as Original Sin, then I think that’s a pretty good definition of it – putting ourselves first.
Our newest granddaughter will grow up being taught by her parents that she must share with and take care of others, that she must not take without asking or knowing it is hers to take. She will learn that life is precious and that all people have a God-given dignity that must be respected. She will come to know God. She will be brought up in a Christian home living the way Jesus wants – loving God and loving her neighbour. Her natural tendency to Sin, ‘me first’, will be overcome by her desire to do Good.
That all comes from a Christian way of life. Other religions have bits and pieces of it but not the complete picture as given to us in Jesus. Some religions see this life as all that there is, others see life as an eternal series of reincarnations until one reaches Perfection (that ain’t goin’ to happen ever), others see life as a never ending series of reincarnations into all manner of creatures without the knowledge of or love of God, others see life as leading to the destruction of all but their own exclusive members, others see life as a series of accidents that can only be accepted. Jesus offers for everyone both a good life now in the form of a righteous life not plagued with Sin and Doubt, and an eternal life after having been Forgiven and Redeemed from all we have done wrong.
It requires a discerning mind to parse out what is wrong in the messages of our leaders, whether religious, social or political, for they all can lead us away from the Gospel Truth of Redemption in Jesus Christ and that was what Jeremiah was concerned about because we are often easily gullible.
The writer of Ephesians stresses a Christian truth. Christianity is not about ‘us’ and ‘them’ it’s about all people, we are all God’s children, some of whom behave better than others, although it’s not up to us to judge, and even if we do, we are all still included by God.
Problems arise when people are led astray by others, by leaders of one ilk or another. Most of us would not get into the grimier side of life unless we were encouraged, coerced or forced. Jeremiah rails against those ‘shepherds’ those leaders who lead people astray, away from God, first of all, and away from their Christian tendencies to get along with others. Bad leaders undermine people’s feelings of security and cause doubt in God and themselves. We hear a lot lately about closing borders and expelling refugees, but we must not repeat the errors of the SS St. Louis, where 907 Jewish refugees were forced by Canada and others back into the arms of Hitler in 1938. Insecure people build fences and take measures to protect themselves against a foe that doesn’t exist, they live in isolation, away from the comforts of knowing and trusting God. Jeremiah calls out the bad shepherds of people who mislead and he promises good shepherds to lead us.
Shepherds had a long and honourable history in Judaism. Jacob/Israel was the most proficient and prolific; Moses learnt how to lead by being a shepherd; there was David the boy shepherd who became king and there were many others, including the prophet Amos whom we heard from last week. Shepherd has the meaning of feeding or pasturing a flock. You recall Jesus’ three questions of Peter about Love after Peter’s denial and after Jesus’ Resurrection. Each question came with the injunction to Peter to feed the growing flock of Christians, to pasture them, or as we say today to ‘pastor’ them.
And of course Psalm 23 written by David is the most beautiful of homages to the Shepherd Jesus, with all the Promise that a Saviour can offer.
|1 The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.
2 He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
3 He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake.
4 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. 5 Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
6 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.
We still need the Good Shepherd to lead us, away from the madding crowd, and into the luscious pastures of a rich and rewarding life being at once good with God and all our fellow creatures until it is time for us to take eternal rest in the arms of the Saviour. May God be so gracious to you. Amen.