I have some wool here, what can you tell me about sheep?
Sheep are not that dumb! In fact, they are quite smart. They are very good at being sheep. They are very good at looking after number 1…themselves. Sheep are very self-centred. A sheep spends countless hours finding new and inventive ways of getting to the other side of the fence to eat the green grass and fill their stomaches. They use all their craftiness and cunningness to elude the farmer and his barking dog.
To leave them to their own devices, without any shepherding, would only mean disaster for the sheep. Their natural instinct, to run from the shepherd and seek greener pastures, would ultimately lead them down a path of self destruction. They could unwittingly wonder onto a road and be run over, be caught by a pack of dogs, become entangled in a fence or die of hunger and thirst lost in the wilderness.
The bible often describes us as sheep, Ezekiel says ‘the Lord himself will look after his flock, rescue his sheep; the people of Israel’. And certainly, like sheep, we are not dumb! In fact we are very good at being human beings. We are very good at looking after number one…self! Self-centeredness is the catch cry of our times. This sheep ideology of self-importance comes at the expense of others, including our own family. The results of our sheepish lifestyle are now beginning to bear fruit.
Domestic violence is at an all time high as husbands and wives fight to gain dominance in their relationship. Money and greed contribute to fights and family break-ups, with both parents under pressure to ‘make it’ on their own.
In an article written in the Australian last Tuesday it has been revealed that Australian children are being removed from their homes at a staggering rate; there are today 28,000 children in care, double the number than in 1997…double…in 10 years. According to the article, these children go into care at a very young age, ending up with attachment and trust issues. By the time they are 10 years old, many of these children are so damaged they can no longer stay in foster homes. They spend a few years bouncing around the system, from one foster carer to another, then bouncing from youth hostel to police station to the street, before ending up in jail.
Another report released by the white ribbon foundation; people against violence towards women, states these alarming statistics:
As a direct result of family breakdown and violence within the family home
- One in three boys believe it’s no big deal to hit a girl.
- Nearly one in three boys believe ‘most physical violence occurs because a partner provoked it.’
- One in seven girls between the ages of 12-20 has experienced sexual assault or rape.
We are indeed sheep that have gone astray; gone our own way. In some way or another, as members of society, we are all part of this. We are all part of the problem, as St Paul says ‘All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.’ The results of sin are self evident. Just as sure as a sheep straying from its shepherd, will ultimately come to a disastrous end, as the statistics are currently showing, we who stray from our shepherd, Jesus Christ, will ultimately come to a disastrous end.
When we try and gain self-importance without God, instead of finding it, we end up bitter and angry. We end in frustration, violence and oppression. Why? Because our selfish desires always promise, but never deliver. Like with sheep who are constantly unsatisfied, the grass will always be greener in the other paddock. The more we chase worldly things for our selfish use, the more elusive they become. Mike Foss in the DVD’s a number of us have been watching puts this very cleverly, ‘God has made the desires and hopes of this world like a block of ice in our hands. The harder we try and hold onto them, the quicker they melt and seep through our fingers.’
So are we totally lost, like sheep without a shepherd?
The answer to this is yes. Left to our own devices and effort, like sheep, we will continue to do what sinful humans do. But we can thank God that the answer is also a resounding no, we are not totally lost, we do have a shepherd. God himself saw our condition and like a good shepherd took it upon himself to rescue us. The prophet Ezekiel foresaw God doing this when he said ‘For this is what the Sovereign LORD says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness.’
500 years after this prophecy, the Christ child was born in Bethlehem, with the name Jesus which means ‘he will save his people from their sins.’ God sent his Son Jesus into the world, our world, into your life, to bring you back into the safety of God’s pastures. Jesus made this clear while he walked among the people of Israel, he said ‘The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that you may have life, and have it to the full. “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.’
This is the message the church proclaims today to a world still lost and scattered ‘Jesus, the shepherd of our souls has died and risen again to give us a new life; a new way to live’. A life we can live to the full as he has promised; a life that breaks the circle of bitterness, anger and violence. By his death he has destroyed our deepest fears of isolation, insignificance and bitterness brought on by sin.
Because Jesus gives us everything we need to fulfil our life, self-worth, forgiveness and love, we no longer need to be like lost sheep; people who desperately search for importance and value through selfish ambition. We no longer need to find a purpose in life by asserting our rights upon others and dominating them.
Jesus the good shepherd gives our life value and importance because we are his sheep. Baptism is a clear symbol and action of God that shows us he values us and loves us. It is the fulfilment of Ezekiel’s prophecy concerning God ‘I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak.’ Oliver will become a valued child of God. The water and the word of God, ‘whoever is baptised and believes will be saved’, combine to give Oliver a new life in Christ and eternal life with him in heaven.
As Oliver grows up in faith, as we all grow up in our faith, given to us in baptism, our grace filled relationship with God, will transfer into our personal relationships with each other. St Paul in Romans says ‘through baptism…just as Christ was raised from the dead, we too may walk in newness of life.’ Forgiveness and understanding, love and concern for others will be our newness of life and the backbone of all our relationships.
Everyone dreams of having good and stable relationships and God uses his church, you and I, to make this dream become a reality. As members of the church, we play a vital part in the dreams of those around us. As stewards of Christ’s grace, we bring Jesus into the lives of struggling families. A simple prayer, a quiet word of God, a caring act, all bring Jesus the good shepherd into people’s relationships and break the cycle of bitterness. What grace we have received and what joy we bring. Let’s celebrate what a wondrous shepherd we have as our King. Amen