Christ Lutheran Church Upper Darby
Christ Lutheran Community Church
April 25, 2021 Worship Sermon - "Good Shepherd"
Delivered by Kevin Compton
Acts 4:5-12, Psalm 23, 1 John 3:16-24; John 10:11-18
The grace of our Lord, Jesus Christ, God, and the Holy Spirit abide in you.
This is the Fourth Sunday of Easter, Good Shepherd Sunday. Today we praise Christ who laid down his life for his sheep, who coming to earth as one of us conquered death so that we may know life and know freedom and know it abundantly.
The earliest images of Christ that archeologists have been able to find are fresco paintings from the 3rd Century, only about a hundred or so years after Jesus lived. They don’t depict the cross. Early Christians did not associate the cross with Jesus. The artists of the day, still trying to understand who Jesus was, depicted him as a shepherd. The image is young. He doesn’t have a beard. He has a lamb draped over his shoulder, but no flowing robes. It’s a very earthy depiction, not really mystical at all. These images were commonly found in catacombs. These were times of persecution and the good shepherd was considered a safe way to represent that a person was a follower of Christ without causing any suspicion. But they were also a way to represent the promise of Christ, or what the presence of Christ meant to them: life, guidance, and protection even in the darkest of places.
It’s fascinating how we develop these ideas of who Christ is, what Christ looks like. We wait on the Lord, but we don’t know when we will see Christ again, so we look for Christ in one another and in ourselves.
I will give you an example: Bernie McNeilly. My grandmother. Grandmothers are so important. So often they bring a kind of standard of love and goodness that just benefits from having been on the earth a bit longer and having that love tempered and seasoned by experience. I know that’s not universal, but it sure happens a lot. My grandmother passed away this week.
Bernie, who the grandkids called Nonnie, was full of personality. And she always was. She was willful and ornery and independent and blunt and fierce. She grew up during the depression and like so many people of that generation, she was made of steel. But she was also full of charisma. People just gravitated to her. She had this sharp wit and this wonderful, infectious laugh that invited you in on the joke. She loved to be the center of attention and she loved to be involved. She was the grand matriarch of Tahiti Lane in Memphis, TN where she lived since 1952 when they bought that house brand new. If anyone in that neighborhood needed something, they were as likely to go to Ms Bernie as anyone else. Marital issues, go see Bernie. Somebody in trouble, better go see Ms Bernie. Someone needs to get sober, let’s go talk to Bernie. She was a servant in the most remarkable ways, but a servant that was just as likely to, as she would say, “jerk a not in your tail” if you stayed too far from what she knew was right. But she was also savvy. When my Mom started dating guys from the Navy and the Marines—you know those guys travel in packs—Bernie very wisely invited them in, fed them, and made them her fast friends (that’s where my Dad came from).
My grandfather was a patient man. In fact, despite the chaos of my grandmother, three daughters and the neighborhood stopping in, he was as cool as the other side of the pillow. And for me, my brother, my cousin, they gave us a place of rest, a place of love and trust and peace away from our home lives. My grandparents shepherded me through some very difficult days. And for all her bluster, they always understood the value of just being quiet with someone, letting them be, feeding them and listening to them.
I know this congregation has experienced loss. I never want to diminish that. I never want to compare it to anything. My hope is that by sharing my story, you will hear things that you connect with, traits that you recognize in loved ones that bring happy memories to you of shepherds in your life. I truly believe that in these stories, what we share is a humanity, a connection created in the image of God that is true and good.
This congregation is full of brilliant, beautiful, beloved children of God. The love and trust that I have witnessed between people here, I just know that what I see here is people finding ways to shepherd one another through life, finding the Christ within themselves and bringing it out in the very best ways, by serving one another. We all need shepherding from time to time.
What I do want to say is that the light of Christ, the light of our eternal and loving God is within you. And the shepherd that Christ is, the one true shepherd, the shepherd that is always faithful, the shepherd who knows his flock and whose voice his flock always recognizes, that strength and guidance is within us. We can’t be what Christ is. We cannot be shepherds in every moment or to the same vast depth and commitment. After all, we are the flock, but when we give each other the dignity and love that comes from our understanding of Christ inside us, that is strength and light that extends to others, that heals, that finds the lost, that lifts up a neighbor, that consoles grief.
The Psalm this week is perhaps too familiar to many folks, for good reasons, but it’s a well-worn passage. Psalm 23. I’m going to read it and I would like you to meditate on it with me, try to hear it as though you’ve never heard it before. And as you listen, think about the shepherds in your life, the people who bring you closer to Christ and closer to understanding the grace in your own heart.
1The Lord| is my shepherd;
I shall not | be in want.
2The Lord makes me lie down | in green pastures
and leads me be- | side still waters.
3You restore my | soul, O Lord,
and guide me along right pathways | for your name’s sake.
4Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall | fear no evil;
for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they | comfort me. R
5You prepare a table before me in the presence | of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil, and my cup is | running over.
6Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days | of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the | Lord forever.