Summary: A sermon about the beauty of following Christ.
“The Good River Raft Guide”
A friend of mine came back from Scotland and Ireland and talked about all the pictures she had taken of the countryside.
But when she got back and looked at the pictures she noticed that in almost every picture, there were sheep!
And yet, how often do we, here in East Ridge and North Georgia see sheep as we drive along the road?
And then, here we are…
…we read about sheep in the Bible and speak of our congregation as God’s flock…
…but the imagery of sheep, shepherds and flocks of sheep are pretty foreign to most of us.
Speaking for myself, at least, when I think of sheep and shepherds what often comes to mind are those nostalgic characters and serene images from stained glass windows.
But in Scripture, shepherds were tough and resilient.
They had been trained from their youth to be tough in all circumstances, and in some cases they might have to lay down their lives for the sheep.
So, a good shepherd is not only a guardian of the sheep, but almost like a Marine with eyes in the back of his or her head…
…knowing at every turn that the sheep’s enemies are hiding and ready to pounce.
The good shepherd is scarred and weather worn.
His clothes are dirty and ragged.
He smells nasty.
And he guarantees that the sheep will be safe no matter what.
So, the life of a shepherd was anything but picturesque.
It was dangerous and risky.
Shepherds were also pretty rough characters around the edges.
By this I mean that they spent their time out in the open fields rather than in “polite society.”
So for Jesus to say, “I am the good shepherd” would have been kind of a “turn-off” to the religious elite and the well-educated snobbity snobs.
A modern day equivalent might be for Jesus to say, “I am the good janitor.”
Or, “I am the good migrant worker.”
Or “I am the good river raft guide.”
Now, why do I say “river raft guide?”
A year or so ago, Clair and I took a ride down the rapids of the Ocoee River.
And we had a great raft guide.
He was so “into his job and always telling jokes.”
I know this is somewhat inappropriate, but one of his jokes went like this, “What is the difference between Big Foot and a female River Raft Guide?”
“One is hairy, smelly and lives in the woods.
The other is just a myth.”
Of course, a good River Raft Guide, male or female, does keep you safe!!!
“I am the good shepherd,” Jesus says.
And most of us are familiar with this, and comfortable with it.
But as we take a closer look, the portrait Jesus is painting of Himself is one in which our gentle, loving Savior is also a Man of Steel Who will not allow any of the sheep to be trampled on or exploited in any way without having to run over Him first!!!
Can we think of Jesus Christ this way?
Can we think of our God as careful and loving, but tough in guarding His beloved at the same time?
Jesus is, after-all, the One Who overturns the money changer’s tables, but also touches the leper to bring about healing.
Jesus is the One Who curses the fig tree, but will allow the weeping woman to anoint and kiss His feet as an act of devotion.
Jesus is the Good Shepherd Who is despised by some of the very people He came to save.
Jesus is the Good Shepherd Who dies violently on the Cross and at the same time tells a hardened thief, “today you will be with me in paradise.”
Five times, in John Chapter 10, Jesus talks about the Good Shepherd laying down His life for the sheep.
And Jesus makes it very clear that the role of the Good Shepherd is not like a “hired hand” who is simply in it for the money and cares little or nothing for the sheep…
…and therefore will take off and leave the sheep at the least little hint of danger.
The image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd reminds us that God is especially concerned about those of us who are at risk, those who are vulnerable, those of us on the margins, those of us who might be a bit hairy and not smell so good.
Sheep are completely lost without the constant, vigilant care of their shepherd.
In addition to unpacking, so to speak, Jesus’ image of the shepherd…
…let’s think about the sheep themselves.
Some folks don’t feel too good about being thought of as dumb and mindless.
In her sermon, “The Voice of the Shepherd,” Barbara Brown Taylor talks about a friend who had actually grown up on a sheep ranch.