….What is good shepherding?
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”
“I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me.”
What is good shepherding? In preparing for this sermon I have consistently asked myself this question. What is good shepherding? While thinking through this question I have also been confronted through Facebook’s history archives of what I was doing during this time last year. Each day this past week Facebook reminded me of the last Sunday I was present with the church community at Newspring church in Mars Hill. Facebook also showed me the post I made on the last day that I worked at Lifeway christian bookstore, and then as I started packing to move here to Jamestown and to join this wonderful community at The First Baptist Church of Jamestown. I am very grateful for the past year and the ability to stand before you today as your Youth Director and to see how God is working in this space. As I spent this past week reading the scriptures, praying, and reminiscing through these Facebook memories, I also thought about how within the first few weeks of my being here at FBCJ we were also talking about shepherding, and I again began to reflect on my own experience with sheep.
This picture is a picture of me holding a sheep as a young boy. This is one of my favorite pictures of myself as a child. I always thought I looked pretty cute in this picture. I have many memories of raising and showing sheep at fairs when I was younger. Every spring around February we would have new lambs born and about this time each year, just before the summer, we would start working with our sheep to get them prepared for the showing season in the fall. We would have to halter break the sheep, help them become comfortable with us, and then we would practice our techniques for showing sheep at the fairs. If we had a really good connection with our sheep we might be able to show the sheep without a halter, just guiding it with our hands. I was only able to achieve that level of connection with a couple of my sheep. One practice my mom always had us do was to walk the sheep around the outside of the house multiple times. I will admit through all of this work we did of raising the sheep, connecting with our sheep, washing the sheep, and learning to sheer the sheep, I wasn’t always very fond of all these tasks it involved. Many times I would have rather been playing than taking care of sheep.
My mom was the true shepherd. While me and my siblings were the ones that showed the sheep at the fairs, my mom was the one who put in the most work. My mom was the one who cared the most for the sheep and the other animals on the farm. My mom was the one that always had the most genuine connection with the sheep. The greatest example of my mom knowing the sheep and the sheep knowing her is how the sheep would come running anytime my mother was outside as they connected the sound of her voice to their care and source of food. Still to this day with the animals that my mom has on her farm, as she leaves home from work her first thoughts go to feeding them animals.
What is good shepherding? My working through this question also led me to reflect on those who have been inspirational to my calling to ministry. One of those individuals being Clarence Jordan. Clarence Jordan was born in 1912 in Georgia. Even from a young age Clarence was sensitive to the problem of racial injustice in southern white churches. One experience that had a lasting impact on Clarence Jordan was listening to the prison warden, of the prison located across the street from Clarence’s home, leading his church congregation in singing the hymn Love Lifted Me. Then just hours later, Clarence could the same warden torturing a black prisoner in the prison yard. Later on in Clarence Jordan’s life, he attended the University of Georgia (Go DAWGS), in effort to get a degree in agriculture and find ways to improve farming techniques for sharecroppers. While a student at the University of Georgia, Clarence felt the calling to ministry and after graduation enrolled at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kentucky. Clarence married his wife Florence, earned his divinity degree, and with another couple moved to Georgia and started Koinonia Farm.
In Koinonia Farm, Clarence and those who partnered with him, hoped to create a community that was not just inclusive of the majority, but inclusive of those who may be struggling, those who are different and especially those who were black sharecroppers. Not long after starting the farm, they invited a local sharecropper to come live and work in their community and also to share in their meals together. This did not go unnoticed by the local community, including those involved with the Ku Klux Klan. One night, Clarence and the others were visited by members of the KKK who informed them, “We don’t allow the sun to set on anyone who eats with their kind.” Clarence then shook the mans hand and replied, “well I am a baptist preacher, and I’ve heard about people who have power over the sun but I never planned to meet one.” There wasn’t an incident that night, but, in the years that followed, the towns around Koinonia Farm tried to ruin the farm economically by not buying any of their crops. The farm would have regular experiences of random gunshots in the direction of the houses and farm buildings and even experienced bombings. Through all of this, Koinonia Farms and Clarence Jordan continued to provide community and fellowship for those who were outcasted and oppressed by the Jim Crow south.
What is good shepherding? What is it about my mother’s tender care for her animals and in Clarence Jordan’s inclusion and defense of those cast aside and oppressed that makes for good shepherding? We can find the answer in Jesus’ description of himself as the good shepherd in today’s scripture. Jesus expresses three attributes of good shepherding that help us to learn more of who Jesus is and also more of who we are, or who we should be, as Christ followers. First we must clarify a word: reckless. Often this word is attached to such phrases as reckless driving and is viewed as negative. However, in this instance, looking at the definition of reckless as without thinking about the consequences of an action, it can be positive.
In John 10:11 Jesus states that “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” In this acknowledgement of giving of one’s life to serve and to care for, Jesus is expressing a reckless expansion of love. A reckless expansion of love. Jesus is telling those who are listening that no matter what comes, no matter what may try to tear them down, no matter what challenges they face, and no matter how much of Jesus’ life it takes, Jesus will be there to serve and to love them. Jesus is acknowledging that serving the other is a lifelong commitment. It is not a one off event, that it will take each and every day of the shepherd’s life. Jesus is acknowledging that there is no limit to the love that the shepherd has for the sheep. There are no limits to the protection and care that the shepherd provides for the sheep. There are no limits to the life that the shepherd will lay down for the sheep. Jesus’ love has no limits. It is a reckless expansion of love.
We then see Jesus express in verse 14 that “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me.” In this we see a reckless expansion of grace. As Jesus states here, that he knows those who follow him, he knows all that comes in their lives, all the struggles they face and all the heartache they hold, the good and the bad, and yet he still love and cares for them. But Jesus doesn’t just stop at those who are following him. Jesus says in verse 16, “ I have other sheep who don’t belong to this fold, I must bring them also and they will listen to my voice so there will be one flock, one shepherd.” Jesus is acknowledging that he has those who follow that are a part of the community of believers, and also that all who are created are children of God. Jesus is stating that the good shepherd does not only come for those who follow, who may believe, but that Jesus and the good shepherd is there for every being who needs care, who needs love, and who needs grace. Jesus’ grace has no limits. It is a reckless expansion of grace.
Then, in verse 18, Jesus again expresses his role as the good shepherd in one who lays down his life for the sheep. Jesus also gives us a hint of the inspiration for the good shepherd in this last verse. As he says at the end of verse 18, “I have received this command from my father.” Jesus is stating here that God has called Jesus to come down as the good shepherd and to give his life for not just those who may follow and believe in him, but for all. All of creation. All that God has created. And so here Jesus shows that the good shepherd is bringing a reckless expansion of love, a reckless expansion of grace, and also a reckless expansion of hope. Hope that is found in a loving God that will not leave his creation alone, but again and again seeks to show love and grace to all.
So as we look at this scripture, and acknowledge Jesus as the good shepherd, again I ask What is good shepherding? Well the scriptures tell us that we are to be the body of Christ, the hands and feet of Christ. We must be good shepherds. We must be willing to give of our lives to care for those in need, to care for those who are struggling, to have a reckless expansion of love for our community and for all of God’s creation. We must as the embodiment of the good shepherd, have a reckless expansion of grace without questioning one’s beliefs, or one’s past, we must serve unconditionally. Not thinking of how others may observe or judge our relationships with those different from us and we must serve knowing that we are all beautiful creations of God. And as we strive to do good shepherding we must also carry with us a reckless expansion of hope. Hope for a better world for all people. Hope that all people may experience love. Hope that all people may experience grace. A hope that we have through the love of an all loving God.
What is good shepherding? It’s our calling. It’s our mission. It is that in which we should give our lives. My mom exhibits good shepherding in the way that she cares for all of the animals that have happened onto her farm. Even this past week when a rather large potbelly pig showed up in the pasture, my mom gave him shelter and food not knowing where he came from, not knowing his story, without question she cared for him. So even to a pig you can be a good shepherd. Clarence Jordan stood up for the rights of all people acknowledging the injustices that were taking place in his community and lived his life serving those that others oppressed and rejected. Clarence Jordan was a good shepherd, and we can still see the impact of his good shepherding as Koinonia Farm was the birthplace of habitat for humanity and other housing initiatives that continue to serve those less fortunate today.
We are given opportunities everyday to lay down our lives for others and be good shepherds. Just this past week a tornado struck our community just next door in Greensboro. Today we have these green bags from a charity called Simple Gesture that allows us to exhibit good shepherding. We have the opportunity to serve those in our community experiencing trauma and loss. All we have to do is to fill these bags with food. But as good shepherds we shouldn’t just serve this community when it is in desperate need. But we should spend everyday of our lives acknowledging where there is need of a reckless expansion of love, a reckless expansion of grace, and a reckless expansion of hope. And we should be good shepherds. AMEN.