What would you get if you crossed a goat & a sheep? An animal that eats tin cans & gives back steel wool
Why did the lamb call the police? he had been fleeced
Pam: "My dog ate a whole ball of wool." Sam: "And what happened?" Pam: "Her puppies were all born wearing sweaters." Sam: "That's some yarn."
It’s good to laugh. (now if only the jokes were good!)
The sermon series is the Church: some assembly required. Today the focus is one of the recurring themes of scripture in which the church, the gathering of God’s people, is compared to a flock. Sheep. Jesus is the shepherd. One of the beautiful images of the church is that of the church as a flock. Jesus is described as the good shepherd. The image of Jesus as the good shepherd is one adopted by our church as a central image (stained glass window).
You have to laugh, because on the face of it, to be compared to a sheep is not such a compliment. Sheep are not known for being the brightest animals on the planet. Like people, sheep have very thick skulls. Like people, sheep have all sorts of personalities. I was amazed many years ago when three sheep next door to my mother gave birth in the spring time to three lambs. I went over to see the newborn lambs, who by this time were walking and grazing. Three sheep, three lambs. One lamb stayed so close to mom, and the mother was incredibly protective, and you could get nowhere near the baby. Another lamb strayed incredibly far from its mother, and when it tried to get close to mom, the mother acted indifferently, almost an annoyance. The third sheep was half way in-between. All sorts of different styles in a flock of sheep, personalities, in the church it takes all kinds. I’ve told several of you that I love your presence in our church because you bring extroversion, when so many of us are introverts…. It’s good to laugh when you think of a flock of sheep, the church, different personalities. Like sheep, like it or not, we need to be taken care of. Like sheep, like it or not, we do better in a flock than never becoming a part of a church. No wonder we need a shepherd, some herding/assembly is required.
The ultimate shepherd is Christ. Jesus Christ is the leader of this flock, as well as the much larger flock that comprised of all sheep everywhere. Here’s a silly little story meant to be a joke, but I think it has more truth in it than joke, what do you think?
A children's church minister was talking to his audience about the 23rd Psalm. He told the children about sheep, that they weren't smart and needed lots of guidance, and that a shepherd's job was to stay close to the sheep, protect them from wild animals and keep them from wandering off and doing dumb things that would get them hurt or killed. He pointed to the little children in the room and said that they were the sheep and needed lots of guidance. Then the minister put his hands out to the side, palms up in a dramatic gesture, and with raised eyebrows said to the children, "If you are the sheep then who is the shepherd?" He was pretty obviously indicating himself. A silence of a few seconds followed. Then a young visitor said, "Jesus: Jesus is the shepherd." The young minister, obviously caught by surprise, said to the young visitor, "Well then, who am I?" The visitor frowned thoughtfully and then said with a shrug, "I guess you must be a sheep dog."
Jesus is the shepherd. It was over 45 years ago I first sang a solo in this church, a song that has impacted me like no other. Jesus is my shepherd, guess who I am, such a lovely secret, I’m his little yam (lamb).
The Church, we need assembling. No other organization evokes such love and frustration as the church. A flock of sheep never gets to the place where the shepherd is not needed. The Church will always be dependent on Jesus Christ to lead us and guide us and to take care of us. Sometimes I hear the criticism that Christianity is a crutch. I never know how to respond to that, because what is said as negative is a fact. What I cannot figure out is what is wrong with needing a crutch, or a shepherd. When a sheep wanders away from the shepherd is when the sheep gets lost. When we wander away from Christ is when we get lost. A sheep is still a sheep apart from a flock, but for full protection, for full guidance, sheep need to be a part of a flock. Tell me any other animal that is quite like a flock of sheep. Birds gather in groups, but they don’t seem to have an obvious leader. Cows are in herds, but they are so big, they are not as vulnerable and don’t respond to a cow herder quite the same as sheep. Sheep have been domesticated for so many 1000’s of years, not changing in the least since bible times, they, of all animals, are dependent on a sheep herder. Cows can attain a measure of wildness, but the size of a sheep and lack of skills will not serve the sheep well apart from a flock. The Lord chose the lowly flock of sheep as an awesome model of the church. A Christian needs other Christians, it’s part of the way God has created us. The Lord chose sheep, because sheep belong in a flock, sheep need the protection of a shepherd to bring them together.
To say Jesus is a “good” shepherd is almost an understatement. Jesus is beyond good: “I lay down my life for the sheep.”
I love the story Herschel Wiley used to tell when he was a kid back home in Missouri, and I can’t remember the exact circumstances, but his father agreed to take care of the neighbors sheep, and it must have been winter and a severe storm hit, so for some strange reason, his father did not want the sheep to be lost or to die, so he put the herd in the Wiley basement. Their home. Herschel was almost 90 when he died, and when he told that story, he could still smell the stench (probably worse than the liquid gold). Herschel may not have learned to appreciate the sheep anymore, but he learned a valuable lesson from his father, and the value placed on the sheep, and the Lord to love us as a good shepherd. To protect us when the storm hits even going so far as to bring us into his own home, the warmth and protection of the basement. Jesus goes even further, to give his life. This is beyond the standards of this world. Jesus is going beyond a normal shepherd/ Vernon Boon, if you have to decide between your life or one of your cows, keep your life please. Yet we are the sheep, and Jesus, the good shepherd, says he will give his life so that we can live.
You have to laugh. We are compared to a flock of sheep, to the world a dime a dozen. All look the same. Yet within the flock there is a richness. A depth of understanding. The shepherd knows each sheep, the tendencies, the personalities. It will be the same sheep following the same patterns, the same tendencies. Within a flock there is protection.
Jesus says, “my sheep listen to my voice.” In the days of the New Testament, it was common for shepherds to wander the hillsides so the sheep could graze, a variety of flocks. In the evening, 3, 4, 5 flocks of sheep would often be herded into an enclosed pen for protection through the night. The different flocks coming together with the shepherds each taking turn through the night to keep watch for wolves, bears, lions…In the morning, the 3-4 flocks looked like one big flock. The shepherds would go to different corners, use their voices to call their sheep, and the sheep would separate themselves into the different flocks to go their separate ways for the day. “The sheep here my voice and follow me.” The church is compared to a flock of sheep. Listen for the voice of Christ. If you hear my words, and it doesn’t sound quite Christian, then don’t listen to me, the test of the direction we go as a church is the voice of Christ. Not the voice of the world. The world wants us to adopt certain values, embrace politically correct beliefs, but it is the voice of the good shepherd we must follow to keep us together, to give us direction.
And what is the reward? Eternal life. Confidence of absolute protection. In this world even the best shepherds will occasionally lose a sheep to tragedy, but not so Christ. “No one can snatch them out of my hand.”
The reason you need to be a part of a church/flock is for protection, guidance, life, 10:10. “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life to the full.” I believe it means life in this world, there is no more excting life you will lead, no greater adventure, than to lead the life of a Christian watching the amazing things God does, and the life to come. The church itself gives you none of those things, but rather, by finding a good church home, it is the togetherness that is important. The church is nothing but the flock, a flock without a leader will wander away from each other… that’s why you can laugh at the church…the church has to make you laugh, the thick skulled, multiple personalities, sometimes straying away, churches with funny looking sheep dogs… by embracing a welcoming church it’s the togetherness, flocking together, so that together we are lead by the good shepherd. It’s in the shepherd that protection is found. It’s in the shepherd that guidance is provided. It’s in the shepherd that life it given abundantly. Only the good shepherd is able to promise and deliver eternal life. This church is only a flock. Our strength is only found in our reliance on the Lord Jesus Christ, the good shepherd, our protector, our guide, the giver of abundant life. Amen.