a sermon based on Psalm 23 and John 10:11-18
by Rev. Thomas Hall
William Archibald Spooner was a lot like us-his
mind would rush faster than his tongue. Spooner, a 19th century Anglican priest at Oxford,
would make slips of the tongue in his sermons like "a blushing crow" for a
"crushing blow," or "I have a half-warmed fish in my mind" for "I
have a half-formed wish in my mind." Here are some other spoonerisms from Archibald
"Tea and flick spray" (flea and tick spray)
"foon and spork" (spoon and fork)
"You didnt hear a thingle sing I said" (single thing)
"When your tumb gets nongue" (tongues gets numb)
But an appropriate spoonerism for our passage this morning came when Spooner was
preaching and instead of saying "The Lord is a loving shepherd," it came out,
"The Lord is a shoving leopard."
Well, maybe you have experienced the Lord as more a leopard shoving you into action
than a loving shepherd, but the image of shepherd is the best-loved, most explored and
studied, most analyzed image in Christian faith. That image--of a loving shepherd--was
etched in my mind very early in life. On my bedroom wall, in my Sunday School class, in
grammas living room, at Lake Geneva Bible Camp, I would see that picture of Jesus
strolling in Minnesota pasture land with a staff in one hand and a three-week old lamb in
the other. He wore an egg-shell colored tunic with a purple stole around his shoulder. And
bunched up all around him were the sheep, contented and serene with life all following
their shepherd. That comes right out of our lessons this morning. What a picture of Jesus
and the church--the loving shepherd ever responsible for his sheep.
Maybe you can recall quite a different shepherd picture: the scene is on a sheer
mountain side. The picture has been painted in dark hues, giving the picture a
threatening, somber cast. Doesnt take long before you notice a lamb quivering on a
slab of granite with no way out. How in the world a little lamb could get into that
predicament is beyond me, but almost out of nowhere is that loving shepherd again. He
reaches out toward the frightened lamb, giving us hope that the little fluffy guy will be
rescued. What a picture of Jesus and the church-the loving shepherd ever searching for us.
Can you recall a time when you were that little lamb, frightened, stuck up there on the
side of a lonely mountain? When it seemed like there was no way out? Maybe it was the
first time that you heard your parents arguing outside your bedroom late one night. You
felt alone, frightened. Maybe you felt frightened and helpless when your best friend and
you got into some disagreement and then grew away from each other. Weve all faced
times when we felt we just could not go on, problems that overwhelmed us, the car broke
down again, gramma was in the hospital, the teacher called us again. In those times of
loneliness and fear, you may have turned to God in prayer; if you did, you undoubtedly
discovered what hundreds and thousands of others have found that this loving shepherd
still searches for lost, frightened lambs.
So powerful is the image of Jesus as the Shepherd that it came to be the ideal image
for pastors. Shepherd was translated into "leadership" qualities of ministers.
Pastors were shepherds and the congregation was the flock and the job of the pastor was to
shepherd or lead people into deeper faith, spirituality, and mission. So it didnt
become long before the pastor as shepherd became the trend.
So, in the church, pastors were seen as shepherds who were supposed to don their
shepherd tunics and walk back into those shepherd pictures to seek out straying lambs, and
to lead the flock to greener pastures. More and more folks began to look to the pastor as
their personal shepherd-the one who was to model for the congregation Christian faith and
piety. Pastors were shepherds, easily distinguished from the flock as the experts at
biblical interpretation, at preaching, the prime ones who could rescue the perishing and
care for the dying. Pastor-shepherd types were the ones who chaired the meetings, led in
Bible studies, and above all, were the ones to offer prayer at all after- church potlucks
and wedding receptions.
Sidebar here. Do you know what its like to have the DJ shove a microphone into
your face to pray at a reception just before everyone gets down into serious partying?
This golden-throated guy waltzes over to you and announces that everyone should bow in
prayer because the Most Reverend Thomas Hall will offer the blessing over the reception.
Then this great shepherd raises his squeaky voice which breaks beyond the feedback while
everything has hushed to dead silence. Thats a hard thing to do. No one else can
offer prayer except the most reverend great shepherd and grand wizard of Swarthmore UMC.
One of these times, Im going to turn to the DJ and ask if he is a sheep. If he says
yes, then Im going to say, "Good. Now Mr. DJ my voice needs a rest, why
dont you offer prayer for us.
Do you see whats happened to this text? And whats changed in those pictures
of the Good Shepherd? Theyve been tampered with! Look again at the 23rd Psalm and
John 10 and count the number of shepherds. Recall the pictures of the Good Shepherd and
count how many shepherds are there. Somethings fishy -- or shepherdy here. The
picture of the Good Shepherd has been altered. Someone has come along with their permanent
marker and sketched in lots of shepherds roving around the flock--little replicas of the
This is not a passage about lots of other shepherds! We have on our hands a Jesus who
says, "I am the Good Shepherd." I think hes saying that there are only two
types of people in the church. On one hand we have the sheep-Sunday School teacher-sheep,
Missions committee sheep, new comers to the flock, old-timer sheep, ushering sheep,
greeting sheep, organist sheep, pastor sheep, strings and wind sheep, and whoever else
bleats in the congregation. And then, on the other hand, we have the other type of people
in the Church-the Good Shepherd.
In our lesson, Jesus is not a model for pastoral ministry. He does not stroll down the
runway like Naomi Campbell showing us the latest in trends from Armani; Jesus does not
model the latest in shepherdware for pastors to buy into. "Okay you pastors out
there, you are now shepherds in my place, so do exactly what Im doing. You too, can
be a shepherd for the sheep."
The qualifications for being the shepherd at SUMC are quite clear in our lesson--you
must carry our sins, be crucified, die and rise again in three days. That is what it takes
to be the shepherd of Gods flock. And since we have only one candidate who fits that
description, we pastors have got to stop acting like were shepherds of the flock. We
arent-were sheep-types. We bleat and bleed and sin and get caught in the
thickets. We, too need the loving Shepherd to help us.
Sometimes I stand up here and I am that frightened little lamb on the side of the
mountain. I feel even greater weight when I look out at the congregation and see your eyes
and know that you have given me the honor of lifting Gods word up for you. But
sometimes I am feeble, maybe Ive lost my temper or become discouraged, or lost my
energy, and nurtured hurtful thoughts and stumbled my way through the week. Sheep can do
these things-theyre sheep. But not shepherds. So when I came to this passage, I
decided that I dont want to play shepherd anymore. I want to be a sheep just like
the rest of the flock. I want to look to the loving Shepherd for nourishment and healing
just like you do.
I have discovered that when I think that I am the shepherd at SUMC I turn out to be
more like a shoving leopard than loving shepherd. I end up praying at potlucks and
weddings because no one else feels qualified; I end up leading the Bible studies because
no one else feels that they have nothing important to share, I visit the shut-ins because
few sheep believe that its their job-thats what they pay a shepherd for. But
its the job of the sheep to visit and to share and to pray and to encourage and to
minister. Thats the idea behind All Teams Night next Sunday evening. Its
an opportunity for the sheep to gather and listen and look for ways to carry out the
mission of the loving Shepherd, instead of the latest pastor at SUMC to do things his or
At best I come to you not as a shepherd, but as a sheep dog--one who seeks the loving
Shepherds will and senses the shepherds commands. The sheep dogs primary
goal is to keep the sheep always moving toward the shepherd, eventually moving them into
the safety of the shepherds fold. Sometimes we may need even to nip at the heels of
a slow-moving heart or stubbornly wrong-headed idea in order to redirect attention toward
the one who must really be in charge-Jesus Christ.
Hear the Good News! There is only one Good Shepherd who has laid down his life so that
we can enjoy life. He alone is a shoving leopard, and the rest of us, well at best, we are
shoving leap dogs. Amen.