God’s Vigilant Care and Dedicated Concern

Apr 25, 2021

Sermon 4-25-2021
Fourth Sunday of Easter
Text: John 10:11-18
Pastor Jean M. Hansen
     I have Facebook friends, a couple I have not seen in-person for a number of years, who are “parents” to German Shepherds. The first one I met via Facebook posts was a bulky, big, but gentle male German Shepherd who was totally devoted to the man of the couple. There was photo after photo of this big baby (the dog) with his toys, his food, in his yard and on his bed, but never far from “dear old Dad.” His – that is, the dog’s death - was a sad, sad day.
     A few weeks later, photos of a sleek, sweet young adult female German Shepherd appeared on their Facebook page. It was not long before it became apparent that “Dad” was no longer “top dog.” She – the new canine daughter – had chosen the woman of the couple as her person.
     In one video, she had positioned herself at the door at about the time “Mom” usually arrived home. The pup stared at the doorknob, twitched her ears at every sound, and looked as if she would go through the door as the car pulled in the driveway. She was being a good Shepherd.
     I thought of them after reading commentator Matt Skinner’s comments on today’s Gospel which began like this: “Most of what I know about shepherding I learned from Sprocket. He was a German Shepherd dog and part of my family for about eight years.” Then he went on to explain:
     “A consummate shepherd, Sprocket would not eat his food when someone put it in his bowl each evening. Instead, he would wait, sometimes for hours and not before the children were in bed, until he knew he could take his attention off of everything else for a few minutes and be alone with his dinner. There was never any doubt that Sprocket was with us, for us, watching us, protecting us. I don’t think there is a substitute for the feeling of security that comes from knowing you’re the object of someone’s constant care and concern. If he couldn’t protect me from all harm, it would not have been for lack of trying.” (1)
     I share all that because we may not know much about sheep and their shepherd, the topic of today’s readings. Still, we can grasp the kind of devotion those shepherds of the canine variety exemplify. That’s an inkling of what today’s metaphor is attempting to convey; Jesus is the Good Shepherd, and we are the sheep – that leads to security for us.
      We hear these words during the Easter season, which means that the celebration of Jesus conquering sin and death, showing us perfect, sacrificial love, is fresh in our minds. He is the good shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep. As Matt Skinner notes, Jesus possesses power. That power, however, does not keep us in perfect safety in this dangerous world. Yet, it does provide the security of love. It consists of the constant, watchful care of an unblinking shepherd.
     Quoting him again: “Obviously, the kind of power I’m talking about won’t keep dangerous people, policies, viruses, and sickness from wreaking havoc on our well-being. It’s a power of holding our identity and love securely. No matter what you’re going through…your life is caught up and guarded. You are the focus of God’s vigilant care and dedicated concern.” (2)
Or, phrased another way by commentator Scott Hoezee, “We need someone with the vision and the wisdom to lead us safely through the landmine-pocked landscapes of life in a world which is as bewildering as this one often proves to be.” (3)
     Even though we are not as connected to sheep and shepherds as were the people who first heard Jesus’ words, we still need someone who, like a first-century shepherd, will care for us. No doubt that’s why Psalm 23 is so significant to the faithful. Its poetic phrases can be summarized in this way:
     The Lord is my shepherd; the one who meets my needs, leads me, restores me, and is at my side in the darkest times. The Lord vindicates me, blesses me, and makes sure goodness and mercy are nearby.
      The ending proclamation is: “I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever!” An old book titled A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23 summarizes that final verse in this way. “Not only do we get the idea of an ever-present Shepherd on the scene, but also the concept that the sheep want to be in full view of their owner at all times. From the sheep’s standpoint it is knowing that the shepherd is there; it is the constant awareness of the Shepherd’s presence nearby that automatically eliminates most of the difficulties and dangers while at the same time providing a sense of security and serenity.” (4)
     That’s an interesting perspective … automatically eliminates difficulties and dangers? I don’t know about that since our experience says otherwise. I am inclined to agree with Dr. Skinner that we cannot completely avoid the people and circumstances that create difficulties and dangers in our lives. But the awareness of the Shepherd’s presence creates a sense of security and serenity in the midst of it.
     That brings to mind the prayer known as the “Serenity Prayer.” It was written by Theologian Reinhold Niebuhr. The shorter version is prayed by millions of people around the world daily. But the original versions is longer. It is a wonderful reminder of the security and serenity resulting from experiencing God’s shepherding, vigilant devotion. As I pray it, please reflect on being the object of love of a Shepherd, of the canine or human variety, and how there is no substitute for the feeling of security that comes from knowing you are the object of someone’s constant care and concern. I’ll close by praying with you:      
God grant me the Serenity
To accept the things I cannot change,
Courage to change the things I can,
And the Wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time.
Accepting hardship as a pathway to peace,
taking, as he did, this sinful world as it is,
not as I would like it.
Trusting that he will make all things right,
if I surrender to his will.
That I may be reasonably happy in this world,
and supremely happy in the next. Amen
(1) “Dear Working Preacher” by Matt Skinner, April 18, 2021, www.workingpreacher.org
(2) Same as #1
(3) The Lectionary Gospel: John 10:11-18 by Scott Hoezee, April 19, 2021, Center for Excellence in Preaching
(4) A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23 by Phillip Keller, 1970, Zondervan, Grand Rapids, MI., pg. 141