The Lord’s Prayer
I grew up on a farm in the mid-north of South Australia. We milked a few cows, had several horses, fed the chooks, turkeys and some pigs, but most of all we had lots of sheep. Sometimes a sheep died giving birth to a lamb, or gave birth to twins or even triplets, but only cared for one. We would take the abandoned lamb home and it became a pet lamb. One of the first things we did when we brought a new lamb home – apart from feeding it with a baby’s bottle – was to give it a name. That made it different from all the other sheep – it had a name. It was special. The others out in the paddock were just sheep, but this pet lamb was like a member of our family.
You are special to God because you have a name, the name you were given on the day of your baptism when you became a member of his family. God never forgets you! You are special to him.
The pet lamb would follow us kids about the yard and sometimes get so close it would get between our legs and almost trip us kids up. In the Biblical pictures of the shepherd and the sheep the shepherd is always out in front, and the sheep follow. Sometimes we want to go off with our own selfish plans in life and expect Jesus to follow and clean up behind us. For a healthy spiritual relationship Jesus is out in front and, like the pets, we follow along behind in trust.
Another difference between the pet lamb and all the other lambs is that the one we took home had no future. It had no mother and it would soon have died if we didn’t care for it and feed it. It was out of concern for the lamb’s future we took pity on it and took it into our family.
God chose you and me out of loving concern for our future. We had no future. We were spiritually dead. We had no love or trust in our heavenly father. Out of a deep loving concern God took us into his family where we enjoy spiritual life now, the way a little pet lamb calls out to its owners – so in our limited way we call out to the Father, and we talk to Jesus and we talk with the Holy Spirit. It is a special family relationship we now enjoy. Today we thank God for this caring relationship.
Some of you might never have experienced life on a sheep farm and might never have cared for a pet lamb. But you probably have a pet – a cat, or two or three, or a pet dog. You have names for them. They are like a member of your family. You talk to them, and sometimes they take notice. If you arrived home today and found your pet had gone missing, you’d drop everything and start searching. You’d give up your plan to go and watch Collingwood. The younger folk would be text-messaging their friends to come to help in the search. We’d tell our neighbours. And when we found the pet we’d be so excited we’d invite everyone in for a beer and have an impromptu party. If we care so much for a pet, think how much God cares about you! When we say, ‘The Lord is my shepherd’ it means we are like one of God’s family and he cares deeply about each one of us.
In the cold and freezing weather in Winter I’ve known of pets being given a little pet pullover to wear, just like their owner. In a similar way God’s Spirit dresses his children up to look like their owner, Jesus Christ. I like the Bible passage (Galatians 3 v 27 in the Good News version):
“You were baptized into union with Christ, and now you are clothed, so to speak, with the life of Christ himself.”
Sometimes people say: “Come to God just the way you are!” This is true and makes a good point, but there is more. The Spirit dresses one up in the best life ever lived, in the life of Jesus. It is the life God is pleased with, one that is perfect and full of loving concern for other people. One couldn’t be better dressed. Look around you at the others here this morning, dressed up by God in the life of Jesus!
I like reading old letters people wrote home about 150 years ago after coming to Australia from Europe. When Johann Mirtschin wrote his first letter home to Saxony in the 1850’s he first waited several years because his experiences were far worse than anyone ever expected. If they’d have known I think they would never have made the journey. In his first letter Johann wrote what I consider to be a very astute observation: “Everybody has brought his wicked heart with him and therefore he must continually fight against it.”
Everyone brings their faults with them. Luther said a Christian is always a perfect saint and a sinner during this life here on earth. One has the pure and perfect life of Jesus to wear, as though one had lived it one’s self – a special gift from God. And underneath one wears one’s selfish human nature. Luther compared it to an old bag of bones on one’s back where everyone else can see it but one isn’t aware of it one’s self. One can clearly see everyone else’s selfishness and evil.
So Christians come in confession. To use the analogy of a sheep it is like a sheep being shorn. After the shearing one sees the pure white coat with maybe a few tinges of blood, and all the prickles and dirt are taken away. Don’t the sheep look great out in the green pastures after they’ve been shorn! In spiritual terms the words of absolution cleanse one to be as white as snow. The key purpose of Confession (and Lent) is to focus on the pure white clothing of Jesus that we wear.
But underneath the selfish heart is still lurking and causing hurts to others. Sometimes it means trouble. As the wool grows it picks up more dirt and prickles. One might begin to despair of one’s self. To give up. Even think about leaving the flock.
What does God do?
In loving concern for his sheep the shepherd prepares a special meal and welcomes his children to the Table. On the surface one sees nothing great. A wafer of bread and a sip of wine, but in the special meal he gives one the living Jesus Christ. The one who was sacrificed out of love, and the one who is risen. The Spirit feeds his people and strengthens the Christ who lives in us. The Christ who lives in you is stronger than any of the faults that lurk within us, like our sin and selfishness. Christians are always both saints and sinners in this world, until death comes.
When our pet lambs grew up and were too big to live in our house yard we put them out in the paddock with a flock of other sheep. It was a warm experience whenever we drove into that paddock. The flock would move away from us as we drove up to them, but the pet sheep would leave the flock and come over to us to be patted. When we sold that flock of sheep to the abattoirs we always took Sally and put her in with some other sheep that were staying on our farm. If we care like that about a pet lamb, think how much more the Good Shepherd cares about you.
When our ancestors left their families and friends to come to Australia the parting must have been a bit like a funeral. They would likely never see one another again and must have felt the sadness we feel when we are separated from a loved one. I think going to a funeral is like standing on the beach and saying ‘goodbye’ as a little old wooden sailing ship sails away into the distance with one’s loved one on board. The little wooden boat gets smaller and smaller, until one sees only the cross of the mast and the cross bar – like the cross of Christ – and then it is gone. Completely out of sight! And one gets upset. Naturally. The parting is a terrible catastrophe for us who can’t see over the horizon.
But the truth is: the little ship is still there, over the horizon and still sailing along. God, from his unique position can see over the horizon. Jesus the Good Shepherd knows the way. He is in complete control. Jesus has been this way before. It is the way to the Father’s home. In the father’s home life is so different and much more wonderful than one can ever begin to imagine. St Paul was given a glimpse of heaven and he said there are no human words to describe it.
I believe some pets, when it is freezing Winter weather, have been known to sleep on their master’s bed! Maybe it happens in your home in the cold Winter months. While the normal sheep are freezing out in the cold westerly winds that can howl through these parts, a pet lamb is resting and even sleeping in the arms of the Good Shepherd in the Master’s own home. That is a picture of you and me and our future. We are going on a journey overseas to our final home. You and I can say with the psalmist:
“And I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.”