Shepherd ()

Joan MacPherson, August 27, 2017
Part of the Sunday series, preached at a Sunday Morning service

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Psalm 23
I am going to assume that not everyone shares my obsession with sheep. I have entertained a fantasy of owning sheep for a long time. I like the idea of having livestock that are sustainable. That aren’t raised to be slaughtered but kept year after year periodically shorn and that wool can be spun and used to create woolen things of practicality and beauty. Isn’t that an excellent idea? I have heard no by many. Sheep are dumb. They require a lot of work. And on they go, with a host of really practical reasons why I probably won’t have my own flock of sheep. But having this peculiar love of sheep makes me very open and interested in the shepherd imagery in this morning’s Psalm. Knowing the rather strong negative reaction I have received form people when I have been waxing on about sheep makes me think that likely there are many that don’t share my passion for the shepherd imagery. But I am going to talk about it anyway. Not that you have to love sheep or want sheep or care about sheep (beyond how I hope you care about all creation) but here we are with the so often recited Psalm. We hear it at funerals. We had a relative that had it hung up as a cross stitched sampler. The first words get spoken and their familiarity washes over us with a kind of calming familiarity. Which is gift. However, in the familiarity do we miss out on the words, the images, the impact.
God is my shepherd. The shepherd whose primary tool of the trade is a shepherds crook. A long wooden thing - straight on one end and curving on the other. The straight end available to prod and nudge. The curving end available to pull in. A tool to has the ability to both give a kick into action and a support depending on what is needed in any circumstance. God’s love is offered to us like a shepherds crook - enveloping, comforting, nurturing us when harm is near or we are straying into dangerous territory; pushing us out of our comfort zone or complacency when we are needed to be active in the world.
God is our shepherd. God is not a vengeful score keeper. God is not a militaristic super power. God is not a distant judge. God is our shepherd. God is care. God is compassion. God is presence. God is support. God is enlivening. God is active. God is close at hand. God is moving among and within us like a shepherd with a crook of love to pull us into the grace and hope and abundant life which is the holy wish for us. God is moving among and within us like a shepherd with a stick of love to pry us out of the familiar and guide us into the hurts and pains of the world to share God’s love and hope.
This is a life changing understanding of God, or can be. The power of God in our lives is the power of unconditional holy love for us - not the angst of guilt or the paralysis of shame or the fear of hell - the power of unconditional holy love for us and for all of creation. God movement and action in our midst is the compassionate, guarding and guiding shepherd whose tool of love is available to hold us when our knees are wobbly or draw us back when the threats, addiction, pain are dragging us down; when the hurricane water rises; when the white supremacists boldly declare their hate; when the child spreads their wings and leaves home; when the doctor calls and the test results aren’t good; the crook of love holds us up and draws us close to the source of love, God, our shepherd present in all things, healing for every condition, hope in the darkest of times. God is our shepherd, healing, holding, helping.
But there is another end of the shepherds crook. The prodding, nudging straight end. The part the shepherd uses to move the sheep. The part God uses to move us. It isn’t about pushing us away from the love, it is about sending us to share the love with the world around us. Nudging us out because God really needs people to be love and light in the reality of fear and violence and militarism and hate. God prods us with love, love that infuses us and supports us, and encourages us and flows through us. God doesn’t send us out to the wolves without the needed resources to survive in that territory. God gives us the resource and it is love, love without limit, love without condition. It’s not hallmark sentimental love, its love that costs, that breaks our hearts and heals them in a God curious paradoxical way.
God nudges and pokes us to go out and be the church in the world. God is planning on us responding. The world is desperate for the kind of healing and love and welcome and hope and peace that God offers and which we are sent to spread. When we do that we are the church at its best. Creating life. Spreading love. Offering hope. Practicing generosity. Caring for the vulnerable. Quinn Caldwell wrote about this kind of action in a UCC Still speaking Devotional this week - Earlier this summer, two women visiting Panama City Beach in Florida heard screams and saw two young boys hundreds of feet out from shore. They'd been caught in a rip current and couldn't get back. There being no lifeguards on duty, the women went out on boogie boards to try to save them, and got stuck themselves. Multiple other rescue attempts failed, until there were nine people caught in the water and in danger of drowning.
That's when the people on the beach realized that no single person was going to be able to save them. This was a problem that was bigger than any one swimmer, even a strong one, could handle. So one by one, then ten by ten by ten, they linked arms, forming a human chain reaching out toward the stranded swimmers. And having made their human bodies into one huge super-human body, they plucked those swimmers from the waters and passed them back to shore. Not one person died that day on Panama City Beach.
There are problems in this world that a body cannot handle alone. There are situations that cannot be saved by a single person. There are currents you can never swim your own way out of. Which is why (please tell me you saw this coming) God gave us the church, the place where we link ourselves up, make our bodies into the Body, and perform miracles that none of us could perform alone.
The church doesn't exist for your salvation; it exists to give you a way to participate in the saving of the world.”
We are called to be that shepherds crook of support and hope and welcome in the world. - able to do that because God who is our shepherd supports us with holy, infinite love and pours that love into us as we get the boot and are sent to participate in the saving of the world. Amen.

Joan MacPherson
Main Street Congregational UCC
August 27, 2017

Note: This manuscript was prepared for oral delivery only.
It contains excerpted material not properly cited.
Please do not redistribute without permission.


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