MARK 6:30-34, 53-56

This morning we’ve heard a lot about shepherds and sheep.  The Prophet Jeremiah railed against the shepherds of Israel who destroyed and scattered their sheep.  The appointed psalm was the most beloved psalm of all psalms:  “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.” 

And in today’s gospel Jesus and his disciples were worn out.  They were headed for a place to rest, to kick back and renew themselves.  But that didn’t happen, because many people ran ahead and got there before they did.  And when Jesus saw the great crowd “he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd.”

We’ve heard a lot today about sheep and shepherds.  Let’s take a look at that.

As Christians, we cannot hear today’s scriptures without thinking of Jesus the Good Shepherd.  In the gospel according to John, Jesus says, “I am the Good Shepherd.  I know my sheep, and my sheep know me.”

In the parish where I was confirmed many years ago, St. Luke’s Atlanta, there is an old and very beautiful wall hanging over the altar that depicts Jesus the Good Shepherd.  He carries one of his lambs across his shoulders.  That image remains with me today. 

And we have a sister parish, The Church of the Good Shepherd, in Covington.

As Christians, we cannot hear today’s scriptures without thinking of Jesus, The Good Shepherd.  There’s no way around it.

I’ve had the honor of preaching at one ordination.  When former parishioner Terri Brice was ordained to the priesthood in Chicago twelve years ago, I was the preacher.

In my sermon I gave Terri a few words of advice.  I told her to always keep in mind that there’s only one Good Shepherd.  “And Terri,” I said, “it’s not you.  There’s only one Good Shepherd, and you are not it. In fact, you will never be the Good Shepherd.  So don’t even try.”

“I know you will be a faithful parish priest.  But always remember that Jesus is the Good Shepherd.  It was Jesus who said, ‘I am the Good Shepherd, and I believe he meant what he said.  For the most part we priests are hired hands trying to do our best because we love the church.  We love the people of God”

God moves in mysterious ways.  I’ll bet you’ve noticed.

Last Monday I send out a letter about my retirement plans.  My last Sunday at St. Augustine’s will be August 12.  After thirty years of parish ministry, twenty-four in this parish, it’s time for me to retire.  That’s what I told our bishop three weeks ago, and he agreed.  That’s what I told our senior warden, Phil Kyle, last Sunday, and he received the news gracefully.  I am very thankful for that.

So, I sent out my retirement letter on Monday.  Tuesday morning I sit down to write this sermon, and I find that the scriptures are about shepherds and sheep.

God moves in mysterious ways.  Today’s scriptures give me the perfect opportunity to tell you something I want you to know.  If you see me as your shepherd, if you see yourself as a member of my flock, I sincerely hope you will rethink that.  Because I am not and never have been your shepherd.  Jesus is your shepherd.  And you are not and never have been a member of my flock.  You belong to Jesus, not me.

The relationship between parishioner and priest is sacred.  I have tried to honor that.  But priests come and go, just like parishioners come and go.  Things change for all of us.

What doesn’t change is the love of God.  We Christians know the love of God through the person of Jesus, the Son of God, the Good Shepherd, who leads us beside still waters, who revives our souls, who guides us along right pathways for his namesake. 

And though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, we will fear no evil.  For the Good Shepherd is with us.  His rod and staff comfort us.  He anoints our heads with oil.  Our cup runs over.

Surely his goodness and mercy shall follow us all the days of our lives, and we will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.


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