“Dirty Rotten Sheep”
Fourth Sunday of Easter
“Dirty Rotten Sheep”
I have a wife and two children that just love animals. I am ok with animals, as long as they are not in my house. But there is a show on Animal Planet they have watched in the past called, Too Cute. It is basically a long YouTube video. It is kittens and puppies walking around. That’s it. It does make me laugh when it starts: the announcer comes on and says: “The following program contains material that is just too cute. Viewer Discretion is advised.”
Now today is considered Good Shepherd Sunday. Today, the Fourth Sunday of Easter is a Sunday we take every year to remember how Jesus is our shepherd. Normally when we think of sheep, we think of cute, little, fluffy, soft creatures. But today we are reminded that that picture is a little bit off. For we are Dirty Rotten Sheep.
If only more of us knew how sheep really are, we might feel a bit more sheepish about this picture of we being the sheep and Jesus being the shepherd. Laura Ingalls Wilder brings that fact home in the book Farmer Boy. The chapter called “Sheep Shearing” describes the process of taking the wool from the sheep.
The first thing done is to give each sheep a thorough washing.
You see, all that thick, soft wool picks up a lot of dirt as the sheep live from day to day. What comes to us as clean and soft starts out as filthy and muddy. When the sheep have been scrubbed, they must be sheared immediately, because if they aren’t, they’ll get dirty all over again. Why? Because they are dumb.
Those who’ve tended sheep know that they have other unpleasant characteristics. Sheep are prone to wander from the flock. The sight of some greener grass catches their attention, and they wander until they find themselves far away. Sheep can also be stubborn, headstrong, willful creatures.
We are God’s sheep, God’s flock. And just like sheep in the field, we Christians have an amazing ability to pick up dirt from our surroundings. How often we find our thoughts and words similar to those of our non-Christian neighbors. When we take a look at ourselves in the light of God’s Law, we can only be unhappy when we see the filth and mess in our lives. In terms of Psalm 23, instead of knowing the blessing of the oil the Lord pours over our head—and whatever good things He pours into our cup—we want, we covet the luxuries of this world, never content, always wanting greener pastures, bigger lawns, better houses, seeking the boss’s praise and our friends’ envy and thinking that’s more important than goodness and mercy. Instead of trusting God to vindicate us in the presence of our enemies, we fear them, smear them, speak all kinds of evil against them, and gloat when we see them stumble. Isn’t it true? Every time we gather for worship in the Divine Service, as soon as the name of God is placed on us, we know we have to confess our sins.
Isaiah said it well: “We all, like sheep, have gone astray, each of us has turned to his own way” (Is 53:6). When things don’t go our way, we sometimes respond by digging in our heels and forcing others to drag us along. Instead of praying, “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven,” we pray, “My will be done in heaven and on earth—or else!”
So while thinking about ourselves as sheep is not exactly a compliment, thinking about Jesus as our Shepherd is comforting. Why do you suppose this image has such power for us? Perhaps it’s because in a world as troubled as ours, we link sheep and shepherds together with peace and quiet. Our psalm says, “He makes me lie down in green pastures, he leads me beside quiet waters” (v 2). Don’t we like being near water? Being on the beach, by the lake or the ocean, does that not lower our blood pressure? And isn’t that a nice mental picture to have after another week of the political nonsense going on in Washington, North Korean missile tests, or the shooting in Highlands Ranch, Colorado?
Shepherds protect the sheep and Jesus is our protector. We try and protect ourselves from lots of things, don’t we? Our schools have metal detectors, as well as our airports and government buildings. Our churches and homes have security systems. We have health inspectors to assure us the food we eat is safe. We have security software on our computers to try and hinder hackers and keep our identities safe. How is all that working out for us? Did it help in Colorado on Tuesday? Ask your parents or grandparents, if they are still around, if we are safer now than they were when they were kids?
We want something, someone to make us feel safe. We can note today, on this Mother’s Day, that when we were little, our mom’s may very well have made us feel safe. But we also know this: We are sheep: dirty, lost, and stubborn. And so serious is our problem that God has taken a radical step to solving it. The Lord, the Shepherd of Israel, left heaven, came here and became the Lamb. Did you hear the words of John in the Epistle? “The Lamb at the center of the throne will be their shepherd” (Rev 7:17). Jesus is the Lamb of God. He took away the filth and grime of our sin by washing us in His own blood. And when we were lost, and without hope, He wandered far from His heavenly home in search of us. His search took him to a lowly virgin in Nazareth, to a humble stable in Bethlehem, and, finally, on a dark Friday afternoon, to a cross. He conquered our stubbornness by yielding His own will to that of the Father—even unto death. Freely, willingly, lovingly He offered Himself up for us.
The Shepherd became the Lamb. And with His resurrection on the third day, the Lamb is again our Shepherd. He feeds us in the pasture of His Word. He leads us beside the still, deep waters of Baptism: springs of living water because through this water He gives us life. He satisfies our hunger by giving us the heavenly bread and the cup of life, His own body and blood. And He protects us. Jesus said, “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one can snatch them out of my hand.”
Years ago in South Florida, a little boy went for a swim in the large pond behind his house. His mother, looking out the back window, saw what his young eyes had ignored: an alligator swimming on an intersecting course with her son. She ran toward him screaming. Quickly he turned and started to swim back. Just as he reached her, the alligator reached him. The mother lunged and grabbed his arms as the gator grabbed his legs. The gator’s strength was met by a mother who would not let go.
The boy lived, but he had some serious wounds. A reporter covering the story visited him in the hospital and asked to see the boy’s scars. The boy lifted the sheets to give a glimpse of his legs. Then the boy asked the reporter a question. He said, “Would you like to look at my arms. I have scars on my arms, too. I’ve got these because my mother wouldn’t let me go.” That, my friends, is what a mother’s love can do. Can you imagine what Jesus’ love can do? The world will grab you, try to kill you, rip and scar you. But Jesus will not let you go. He will hold you safe and secure in His nail-scarred hands. You can believe it. Absolutely. For as we read in the second lesson today, “For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd, and he will guide them to springs of living water, and God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
The Lord, Jesus, is our Shepherd.
In His Name.