7 May, 2017

Good Shepherd Sunday

Psalm 23

Acts 2:42-47


One of my favourite children’s television shows of all time is Shaun the Sheep.

It tells the story about a sheep, named Shaun, who lives in a farm with other sheep. In every episode, a problem would occur in the farm and Shaun would work together with Bitzer, the sheepdog, and the other sheep to solve the problem.

In one episode, Bitzer is trying to get rid of a decaying tooth from his mouth. So Shaun and the other sheep try to use all kinds of methods to pull the tooth out: they use a spanner, a plunger, even tying the tooth with a rope that is tied to a gate. In another episode, the pillows on which the sheep sleep were stolen by the ducks in the farm. So Bitzer and other sheep work together to devise plans to get the pillows back.

The problems usually happen when the farmer, who owns the farm, is away or asleep or simply not paying enough attention. In a way, in the absence of the farmer, the sheep and the sheepdog in this little farm have to become shepherds to one another.

Indeed, a shepherd, who nurtured and protected the sheep under his care, was a common thing for the people who heard Psalm 23 for the first time. A good shepherd would provide his sheep with what they needed in life: sustenance, water, safety, and direction.[1] When the sheep followed the good shepherd, they would find life in its abundance. Likewise, when we follow God, we too will find what we truly need in life; we will be led to an abundant life.

But we often forget that the image of a good shepherd applies to all of us also. As the people of God, the Good Shepherd who leads us to an abundant life, we must also be the place where people inside and outside of this community can find an abundant life. We are to be like Jesus, the good shepherd who was willing to give his own life for his sheep. We are to be like the sheep in the movie, Shaun the Sheep, who have one another’s back.

We can see this in the life of the early Christian community in Jerusalem. In our reading today from the book of Acts, we hear how these early Christians sold their possessions and properties and shared what they had with one another. They were acting out their call to be good shepherds to one another.

But many people today would argue that their situation was different from ours. Living in a country like Australia today, with its ever-increasing costs of almost anything, we often worry about our financial situation. A normal Australian household would have many financial stressors: mortgage, utility bills, school fees, transport fees, groceries, imminent retirement, etc. As the result, many people are not confident that they have enough to support themselves and their families, let alone helping other people. So it is ok to consider about what we need and how can we use our resources to meet our need, without being excessive of course.

But the call remains. We are to be a community that embodies the characters of God, our Good Shepherd. We are to be a community that reflects the life of Jesus who gave his life for others. We are to support one another so that everyone will find and have an abundant life.

But an abundant life is not about material wealth. Living in a wealthy Western society like Australia, we may be tempted to think that wealth determines our happiness. But there are many rich people who are unhappy; and there are many who don’t have as much, yet are happier. In 1978, a landmark study found that lottery winners were not much happier than those who were paralyzed because of accidents.[2]

Indeed, many people are wealthy, but they are poor in meaningful relationships. On the other hand, many people are poor materially, but they are rich in nurturing relationships. The chairman and chief commentator of the Australian Money magazine once said that “money is a poor substitute for family, friends, health, and contentment.”[3] If this person, whose job is to teach people how to manage and make more money, said that money couldn’t replace family, friends, health, and contentment, we better listen.

So wealth is not the way to a lasting happiness or joyfulness, let alone the answer to an abundant life. Thankfully, it is also not the only thing that we can share with other people.

If we have enough wealth that we can share with other people, that’s great. But there are other ways that we can do to be obedient to our calling as a community of the Good Shepherd and share what we have with one another. We can share our time; our energy; our skill; our talent, our voice. Most of all, we can share our presence.

Most people who are facing troubles are not looking for solutions. They are looking for someone with a listening ear. Someone who would genuinely understand them.

In the aftermath of the terrorist attack in London in 2005, victims of the bombings were put into different categories, depending on the severity of their injuries. I remember one doctor, who was on the scene, said that the highest category was someone with an injury so severe that it was impossible to save his/her life. For that kind of person, the only treatment possible was the presence of another human being. For someone in this category, the doctor would send someone to be with that person so that he/she wouldn’t die alone.

Friends, often, what people need the most is the presence of another human being. The church must be the place where people can find that kind of presence. The abundant life that Jesus offers is usually translated into having life-giving and nurturing relationships. The church must become a place where people can find and provide rich relationships that will nurture them for the rest of their life.

Yes, there is only one Shepherd and we all are his sheep. But to stay in the Good Shepherd’s farm, we are to be and act as good shepherds to one another. We are to be like the community of the sheep in the children’s show, Shaun the Sheep: a community that protect one another during times of danger: a community that encourage one another during times of loss and grieving; a community that love and forgive during times of disagreement; a community that nurture and care during times of need.

We are to lead one another to green grass and fresh water. We are to protect one another when we are in the darkest valley.

Friends, Christ is our Good Shepherd. And we are to make him known by living our life the way he did his. Amen.

Toby Keva

[1] Seasons of the SpiritTM SeasonsFUSION - Lent.Easter 2017 © Wood Lake Publishing Inc. 2016 (p. 138)
[2] Dalai Lama, Desmond Tutu, and Douglas Abram, The Book of Joy, Penguin Random House UK, p. 49
[3] Money Magazine, June 2016 - Issue 190, p. 10