Jeremiah 23:1-6 & Luke 1:68-79
Pilgrim Congregational Church, UCC
Rev. Tina Walker-Morin
November 20, 2016
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable to you O God, our strength and our redeemer. Amen.
This morning I have a message for you about taking the initiative.
As I was preparing for the sermon this morning I began researching shepherds. As we just heard in the scripture from Jeremiah, shepherds are a common metaphor in scripture. So I got online and found what I thought was going to be a great article about what actual shepherds experience. It was written by Craig Rogers, a shepherd from Virginia, published in Modern Farmer a few years ago. The article was entitled, “10 Things I’ve Learned From Lambs”. And he states:
1. A shepherd’s life is most humble
“Even today, many wish not to be referred to as “shepherds” but instead as ranchers, land owners, or flock owners. The work of shepherding is left to the “lowly” or “immigrant” shepherds. Shepherds have typically been the transient or migratory workforce since the early days of agriculture. Shepherds have never been romanticized like the western cowboy.” Interesting and true.
2. Sheep are smarter than everyone thinks they are. (You just have to be smart enough to recognize it)
“Although many think of their flocking instinct to be a sign of “dumbness,” it is in fact a community-based survival mechanism where they have learned that their strength is much greater in numbers and their comfort and survival is enhanced as a group rather than as an individual.” Well, that seems spot on as a way to understand our church community. We are definitely much stronger when we all work together.
3. Tend to the flock, but care for the individual
“This means being able to identify a sick or injured sheep or lamb within a flock of hundreds or thousands of sheep.” Yes, that too applies to our church community, we all look out for the good of the church but also for each individual person.
4. The joy of birth never gets old---and sometimes it is not easy
“ It is something I never tire of seeing and if truth be told, I have wasted countless hours simply watching in awe this miracle. However, sometimes all does not go according to plan. Sometimes the shepherd must assist in order to save the life of the mother, the baby or both.” I equate this to growing pains or changes within our community.
5. Cute doesn't last forever
Craig says, “Much like aging shepherds (though hopefully not as severe as aging shepherds), they lose their cuteness as well.”
6. Nothing is more serene and picturesque than sheep grazing in a field
Isn’t that a great image of God’s creation, like the one on the front of our bulletins this morning? A pretty green field with sheep grazing peacefully.
7. A good dog is more than just a great friend
Many of us would quickly agree even though our dogs are not working dogs.
8. Death on the farm is inevitable. It may even get easier, but it is never easy.
After all death is a reality of life
These top 8 I can draw great parallels in metaphors for us and scripture. Now, I thought about stopping there but I got such a kick out of 9 and 10 I just have to share them:
9. Apparently “Happy lambs are tastier lambs” and,
10. “Nothing makes a party like a whole lamb on a spit” (for those of you who did not grow up in the country, which is a lamb roasting on a large stick over a fire).
So there we have it. Now let us return to shepherds in scripture. We hear all over scripture about shepherds and sheep or flock. It is often used as a metaphor of God and Jesus. Perhaps you are familiar with the 23rd Psalm, “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want…” or references about Jesus such as in the Gospel of John “I am the good shepherd. 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.” (John 10:14-15).
Shepherds have a couple of metaphorical meanings. At times it is God pointing to the lowest of lowly. Shepherds are migrant workers, low on the hierarchy of importance. God puts God’s self as that lowly person. God and Jesus are so humble that Jesus refers to himself as a shepherd. Today we do not have as many shepherds as they did during biblical times, so it would be like using an analogy of the lowest job you can think of, or the lowest job with the least respect at your place of work. Those are the shepherds.
Another metaphorical meaning as we see in our scripture today from Jeremiah is that the shepherds are an expression for Kings and the flock are God’s people. But the prophet Jeremiah is telling the Kings who are being evil shepherds to the people that God is the one and only true shepherd of Israel. Jeremiah also prophesizes that God will protect the people and bring them back into her fold.
The scripture continues and predicts future shepherds “I will raise up shepherds over them who will shepherd them” and the scripture predicts coming of a future king, “The days are surely coming, says the Lord, when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.” (Jeremiah 23:5).
As Christians, we believe one of the future shepherds include our John the Baptist and the branch of David is Jesus’ lineage through his earthly father Joseph because “branch” is a messianic title.
Even though John the Baptist was not by trade a shepherd, he did shepherd God’s people. So we have the prophet Jeremiah predicting the rise of shepherds for God’s people, aka John the Baptist and in the Gospel of Luke this morning we also have the prophecy of Zechariah foretelling about his son John the Baptist.
Zechariah states that John the Baptist will go before the Lord and “give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, [and] guide our feet into the way of peace” (Luke 1:79). Sounds like a shepherd to me. A shepherd guides her flock, gives them “light” along the path so they can continue to green fields and graze. As we heard from the article in modern farming, a shepherd also pays attention to the individuals in the flock and takes care of them when they are ill. But what really makes the best shepherd? Initiative.
John the Baptist went before Jesus. He took the initiative to begin the journey to prepare the way. As I told the kids during our message for all ages, Initiative means seeing something that needs to be done and starting it. It means taking the first step rather than waiting for someone else or a "better time."
This week I read a story about a woman who took the initiative to donate part of her liver to save a baby’s life. Here is the story:
BOSTON (CBS) – Meghan Stuart sang Itsy Bitsy Spider to her daughter Gabriella who was cradled in her dad’s arm. Baby Gabby was wearing a pink dress her dad bought for her before she was born.
“Without the liver, I don’t know how much time,” said Meghan Stuart, Gabby’s mom.
WBZ first introduced you to Gabby in September. She was at Boston Children’s Hospital. Within days of her birth in January 2015, doctors discovered she has a rare liver disease called Biliary atresia.
No one in her family is a match to provide a life-saving liver. And, the story touched hundreds of people.
“Lahey had to shut down their website because they had so many people that applied to be her donor, and I got over 1,000 Facebook messages,” said Stuart.
One of those people was Marybeth Sbrogna.
“They showed her face. It just resonated with me so much; I am a mother to two girls,” said Marybeth Sbrogna. “What if my only hope was someone outside our family? Coming forward and taking this chance for us there was no question in my head.”
A week-and-a-half later, the hospital called Meghan.
“It’s somebody who knows you and she applied. We really think it’s promising,” said Stuart.
Meghan lives in Sterling and Marybeth lives in the next town of Holden. They know the same people and even belong to the same on-line mom groups. Marybeth’s older daughter is named Gabby too.
And, if those weren’t signs enough this was a match meant to be. “Gabby is normally very fussy who she goes to, and Marybeth held her and she was immediately fine,” said Stuart.
Marybeth is the right blood type and small enough to donate. Doctors will take 25-percent of her liver and transplant it into Gabby. It will take a year for Marybeth’s liver to grow back. She will be giving Gabby a life.
“Someone who honestly I couldn’t hand-pick a better person for to give my baby a piece of her,” said Stuart.
The surgery should happen in the first half of December. Marybeth will have part of her liver taken out at Lahey Clinic. It will then be rushed to Boston Children’s Hospital to be transplanted into Gabby.
Being a shepherd is not about always being the leader of the pack, rather it is about taking initiative. We all have opportunties to be shepherds here at Pilgrim Church, we all have the responsibility to take care of God’s flock. This holiday season I invite you to take the initiative and help another congregant out in some way. Maybe it is as simple as a note card to someone who is ill or who you haven’t seen in a while, maybe it is staying a few minutes later after coffee hour to help clean up. Whatever it is I invite you to take the initiative and be a shepherd; after all, apparently happy sheep are tastier.