April 25, 2021: Our Miraculous Shepherd
Our Miraculous Shepherd
Scripture: John 10:11-18
In this time of Covid, I thought it would be appropriate to count our blessings on this “Good Shepherd Sunday.” Please raise your hand if you have ever experienced or witnessed a miracle or a special blessing. Good! We are in need of reassuring each other that our Shepherd is with us, guiding us, loving us, protecting us and helping direct our paths…and always giving us His grace.
I sometimes pondered why the Lord so often refers to us as “sheep.” Sheep are not exactly the “intellectuals” of the animal kingdom. It almost seems insulting to us humans to be likened to sheep…but consider this: Compared to the LOGOS – the divine Word that spoke all of creation into being, we really are sheep in need of a Shepherd, especially One who lays down his life for his sheep. Some sheep wander away from the safety of the enclosure, or from the fold – and they inevitably run into trouble. Ravening wolves could prey upon them and roaring lions could devour them. Friend, we have a Shepherd, and He is always with us. “The Lord is my Shepherd; I shall not want.”
Our miraculous Shepherd is with us now. God loves His creation, and protects us. He gives us showers of blessings and miracles. Let me share a few of our Good Shepherd’s miracles my family and I have received.
In the early ‘60s when I was a young pup just starting my teaching career, a friend of mine – Bill – and I were in Seattle driving to St. Paul’s Episcopal Church – our home parish. My father’s and stepmother’s ashes are buried there, and I served both as Choirmaster and Parish Secretary there. St. Paul’s is on Roy Street at the foot of Queen Anne Hill. Is anyone familiar with the Queen Anne Counterbalance? This is a very steep hill on Queen Anne Avenue – four lanes of traffic – two going uphill and two going downhill. It is a very busy street. Bill and I were in my little Triumph heading downhill in the inside lane. As soon as I crested the hill and started down, I applied my brake – and the pedal went immediately to the floorboard…the brakes had failed!! Then I pulled the emergency brake — and it failed as well!! We were in Free Fall!
There was a lot of traffic coming toward us, including a trolley bus. Our lives flashed before our eyes. I only had time to send up a quick prayer as I frantically tried to guide the car down the hill. I swerved in and out of traffic, going in both directions while laying on the horn. It all happened so fast – seconds, really. By God’s grace, there was a Union 76 service station on the corner of Queen Anne and Roy, and it was situated at an angle. We shot through that station and swerved onto Roy Street on two wheels, swung as close to the church as possible and swung onto First Avenue N, and started back up the hill. Usually, there were never any parking spaces in that area…but that morning there were two just beyond the driveway across from the church. I slid into that and stopped by gravity – about an inch from the rear bumper of the car in the third spot – and immediately turned my wheels to catch the curb. Bill and I sat there for a very long moment – just staring at each other. Bill spoke quietly: “I had my prayers all said.” “So did I!” I replied. We exited the car on rubber legs – with all the muscle tone of wet dishrags, and tottered across the street to the church to worship and give thanks. Our miraculous Shepherd had saved us! There was not a scratch on my car. I don’t know to this day how I managed to maneuver that little car down that steep hill without hurting anyone! It truly was a miracle!
My eldest son, Ron, attended the same high school where I was teaching at that time. He was about 15, and was at football practice. Teachers were required to stay after school, so I was in my office when a call came informing me that Ron was en route to the hospital, having broken his leg in a scrimmage. They took X-Rays, and the doctor informed Sue and me that the reason Ronnie had broken his leg was that a tumor had eaten away two-thirds of the bone in his lower leg. He would need surgery in the form of a bone graft from his hip. We prayer a LOT. The day before the surgery Sue went to consult with the surgeon, who put up the latest X-Rays on an illuminated board and studied them. He turned to Sue and said, “Do you believe in miracles?” Sue – surprised by his statement said, “Yesss.” The doctor replied, “Well, there isn’t going to be surgery tomorrow, because the tumor is gone and the bone has completely regenerated. This is a miracle!” Ron is now in his 60s and is a grandfather in his own right.
A few thousand years ago an aging shepherd was tending his flocks beneath the shadow of a large mountain in the Middle East. This shepherd had not always been a shepherd. He had a past. This shepherd had been raised in opulent luxury in Egypt. He was a prince and a favorite of Pharaoh, who, in choosing his successor, was prepared to pass over his flesh and blood in favor of his adopted nephew – Moses. But it was discovered that Moses was not an Egyptian; rather, he was the son of Hebrew slaves! There was much fuss about this, and Moses was exiled from Egypt into the desert. How the mighty are brought low! Now back to Moses the shepherd. Moses had often looked at the mountain – Mount Sinai – and was curious about it…until one day he climbed it and encountered God speaking to him out of the burning bush, and giving him the seemingly impossible assignment of freeing the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt!! Whoa…that was certainly unexpected!!
Now is the time to talk about prevenient grace. Prevenient grace is a concept that John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, really, really liked. It is grace that operates on the human will prior to its turning to God. Wesley says it is the grace that “goes before” – it is irresistible, in that it applies universal blessing. In John Wesley’s sermon Working Out Our Own Salvation, he says, “It waiteth not for the soul of man.” God knows each of us and provides prevenient grace at a certain time in our lives to start showing His love to us. Moses is a perfect example of this prevenient grace. Moses did not even know about the religion of the Hebrews as he grew up. He found out as an adult. Yet he was ideally prepared to become the Deliverer the Hebrews longed for, and Moses the Shepherd was assigned the really tough job of getting Pharaoh to free the Hebrew slaves, and Moses – shepherd that he now was – led them across the very wilderness into which he had been expelled years before. Remember the plagues of Egypt? Remember the Passover? Remember prevenient grace?
Remember all those miracles and blessings? Here is a mystery for you: The Hebrew slaves in Egypt were eyewitnesses to the Plagues, The Passover, the Pillar of Cloud and Fire, the Parting of the Red Sea, the swallowing up of Pharaoh’s army, Moses striking the rock and water coming forth to quench the thirsty…and much more. Almost as soon as they cleared the borders of Egypt they began grousing and complaining. As soon as Moses ascended Mount Sinai to receive the Ten Commandments, many of them backslid into sin by worshiping a golden calf. That boggles the mind! That caper resulted in the Hebrews having to wander in the wilderness for forty years! I am reminded of John 20, verse 29: Jesus tells doubting Thomas: “Blest are they that have not seen, and yet believe.” And finally, there is the matter of giving thanks – for everything! We have no trouble thanking God for blessings and miracles; but what about thanking God for things that are not so nice – things that challenge, things that bring us sorrow, things that we would rather not have to deal with. As I have aged, I have a longer look back, and I can begin to understand the importance of thanking God for EVERYTHING. In that way, I give permission for our miraculous Shepherd’s wondrous transmutation of evil to good, sickness to health, danger to safety, sorrow to comfort. I agree to and welcome the advent of miracles and blessings that Our Miraculous Shepherd brings into my life… and I pray, beloved in Christ, you will as well!
Closing Scripture: I John 3:16-24
We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or a sister in need and yet refuses help? Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have boldness before God; and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we obey his commandments and do what pleases him. And this is his commandment, that we believe in the name of his son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. All who obey his commandments abide in him, and he abides in them. And by this, we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given us. AMEN.