The Shepherd's Mark
The Shepherd's Mark
Sermon for Good Shepherd Sunday
John 10: 11-18; Acts 4: 5-12; 1 John 3: 16-24 (NIV)
Jesus said, I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life
for the sheep.(St John 10: 11)
In Australia, there is an organisation which runs an annual Children's
Poetry Competition. In 2016 the winner was Kate O'Neil, who plainly is familiar
with sheep farming and caring for sheep. Her winning poem envisages the sheep
dip, where the animals are driven through a bath of antiseptic disinfectant The
title of her very short poem is only two letters, UQ, and here is how it
If you were a ewe
would you queue
if you knew
it was true
that waiting for you
at the end of the path
was a bath?
Or would you
Well done, Kate! And what a happy introduction to a sermon on this Good
Shepherd Sunday when we have as our text St John 10 verse 11, Jesus said, I
am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
With a text like that, it is very tempting to say all sorts of pretty
things about sheep and shepherds, and, with every syllable, to get further and
further away from the realities of life.
One of these realities is the nature of sheep. We see them as creatures
without judgement or foresight: they must be thought for; they must be guarded
against their own folly; they must be guided along unknowing, unasking; for
they are feckless and fusionless beasts, planless and powerless, ultimately
helpless. In short, sheep are sheepish.
But we are people, not sheep, choosing and daring for ourselves, learning
from our mistakes, following the claims of conscience, fulfilling our daily
duties, finding the glory of life in the tangle of mingled experiences which
combine darkness and light, sorrow and laughter, disappointment and
And that is why, for all that we are not sheep, we still require
shepherding. We want to make the best of our life: we want to live it with zest
and to embrace each day's opportunities and challenges with the utmost
conviction and joy. We want relationships always to be at their most amiable,
circumstances at their most agreeable, prospects at their most ample. And to
achieve all, or indeed any of that, we need help and guidance. That is to say,
we need a shepherd.
But not every one is suitable to fulfil that role: we need a special kind of
person to inspire us and lead us, and not every one calling himself a shepherd
will do. It is only when we come across Jesus, the Good Shepherd who gives his
life for the sheep, that we can begin to be confident that we are at last in a
safe pair of hands.
Safe in the arms of Jesus,
safe on his gentle breast,
there by his love o'ershaded,
sweetly my soul doth rest.
by Francis J Crosby
A trifle mawkish, you may think, perhaps? but it is not a million miles from
the rather more robust expression of a similar sentiment in the twenty-third
The Lord's my Shepherd, I'll not want.
He makes me down to lie
in pastures green; He leadeth me
the quiet waters by.
Jesus' parable of the Good Shepherd reminds us that a shepherd who owns the
sheep does not need to make himself care for them: they are his, and therefore
he cares for them. If he buys or rents pasture for grazing, if he fences the
folds for safety, if he tends the lambs, he does so precisely because the sheep
are his own. If there are robbers about, or if wolves threaten, he will take
whatever steps are necessary to protect his own, and he does so precisely
because they are his own.
Jesus cares for us as no one else can, just because we are his. We do not
belong to anyone else: we belong to him. And his dying for us is the final
proof, if proof were needed, of the lengths he will go to show that his care of
us is real, effective, and eternal, proof indeed that he is the Good Shepherd,
who gives his life for the sheep.
Good shepherds mark their sheep with distinctive marks. The mark can be a
daub of paint, a smear of tar, a splash of dye, a clipping of the ear. Whatever
it is, the mark is unique, indicating ownership and identifying the owner. The
Good Shepherd too has his mark. It is called the sacrament of baptism, which is
just Jesus marking his own. In baptism, Jesus claims us as his own. He says,
'You belong to me; you are a child of mine; you bear my mark; you carry my
In baptism, God signs his autograph on the parchment our lives. It's a
signature that is written not just in water, but in blood, Christ's blood, and
in the power of the Holy Spirit. Do we keep the autograph a secret, shut up
somewhere in the inner recesses of our life? Or is it openly on display for all
to see, so that by the loving, kindly, caring, shepherding way we live, they
know whose we are and whom we seek to serve?
|Rev Charles Robertson,
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