GRACE BE UNTO YOU AND PEACE FROM GOD THE FATHER AND FROM OUR PERSONAL CRUCIFIED AND RISEN LORD AND SAVIOUR … JESUS THE CHRIST.
Last summer the entire Tharp family went on vacation together. Early one morning Guenther’s Uncle Henry went for a walk along the side of a huge cliff. He slipped over the edge and a hundred feet down a shrub broke his fall and Uncle Henry managed to grab a branch. Well, there he was - suspended a thousand feet above a gorge with only that branch keeping him from certain death. He cried out, “Help! Help! Is there anyone there?”
After some time and more than a few pleas for help, a deep voice from the clouds replied, “I’m here.”
Uncle Henry looked around but couldn’t see anyone, so he called out, “Who are you?”
The voice replied, “I am God.”
After a moment, Henry asked, “Can you help me?”
“Yes, I can” God replied. “Now, let go of the branch. And I will take you to safety.”
Henry was silent for a moment, and then he called out, “Help! Help! Is there anyone else there?”
Last week, we thought of how many pseudo human shepherds and wolves in shepherd’s clothing beckon our Lord’s flock to follow them - pagan agendas, idolatrous religions like Islam, fallacious political correctness, the basest of human desires and temptations, addiction, greed, loss of purpose, loss of identity as members of our Divine Shepherd’s human flock – in the media, in the halls of higher education, in political arenas, in the church itself – they all beckon “follow me”.
GRACE BE UNTO YOU AND PEACE FROM GOD THE FATHER AND FROM OUR CRUCIFIED AND RISE LORD AND SAVIOR – THE GOOD SHEPHERD JESUS THE CHRIST.
Dawn - and as the sun appears a glowing sliver on the eastern horizon – the smell of coffee wakes the shepherds and the compound becomes a hub of activity. Each shepherd crouches by the fire for coffee
and breakfast and then prepares his large goat skin bag in which to carry the day’s supplies. He arms himself with a sling and a couple of large stones and a rod which is about a yard long with a nob on the end. Claiming his staff, each shepherd, in turn, approaches the stone corral or the cave to be granted entrance by the shepherd serving as the human gate.
Each shepherd takes his turn standing by the human gate - calling his own sheep out of the compound. The sheep lift their heads at an angle as if listening for a specific voice – which they are – for in pairs and trios the sheep move toward the voice of the shepherd they recognize as their own. The shepherd inspects each sheep as it passes by the human gate. Cuts, bruises, or infection-prone scratches are immediately tended to.
When all the sheep in the flock have been tended to, the shepherd walks in front of them. They are his charge and wherever he leads them throughout the day they will follow.
With God’s human flock, there are many voices and tempting sights seeking to be our shepherd during these temporal years and we hear Jesus’ Own Words of Warning - “Most assuredly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door, but climbs up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber.”
Forty six years ago (06-19-71), I clipped this Joseph Farris cartoon out of the SATURDAY REVIEW. The cartoon shows a school of little fish swimming “follow the leader” style into the mouth of a large fish. One of the little fish is heard to say to another, “Quit complaining! He’s the only leader we’ve got!” This cartoon, with its tragic outcome, provides what could also be an apt description of the relationship between sheep and their shepherd.
GRACE BE UNTO YOU AND PEACE FROM GOD THE FATHER AND FROM OUR CRUCIFIED AND RISEN LORD AND SAVIOR – JESUS THE CHRIST.
I miss Jim Carpenter and that patriotic shirt he always proudly wore at our Memorial Day and 4th of July worship services. Seeing that shirt, my mind always wandered back to that hometown of half a century and more ago when Washington’s and Lincoln’s birthdays, Flag Day and Veterans’ Day made a child like me think about the meaning of being a Christian in this land of the people, for the people, by the people. Today those days are ignored and not considered politically correct. The village of Towne Lake in Georgia has even passed a law designating which days people can fly the American flag in front of their own homes and have taken two veterans to court for flying their flags on a day when the American flag did not fit in with “the aesthetic and architectural theme of the community."
Each Memorial Day, as we remember those who gave their lives in defense of our country and each 4th of July as we are reminded of our Christian responsibilities as American citizens, we have an opportunity to focus on Jesus’ definition of what He calls Christian citizens to be.
We recall how the Pharisees and Herodians teamed up to trap Jesus by asking Him, “Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar, or not?”. Asking to see the coin the taxes were paid with, Jesus asked “Whose likeness and inscription is this?”. When they responded “Caesar’s”, Jesus said, “render therefore unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and unto God the things that are God’s.”
GRACE BE UNTO YOU AND PEACE FROM GOD THE FATHER AND FROM OUR LORD AND SAVIOR – JESUS THE CHRIST – OUR DIVINE SHEPHERD.
Several decades ago, Robert Goulet had a record out about his life being tuned to a different drummer. The writer of that song was quoting the naturalist-philosopher Henry David Thoreau: “If a man does not keep pace with his companions perhaps it is because he hears a different drummer. Let him step to the music which he hears, however measured or far away.” What both Robert Goulet's song and Thoreau's philosophy are saying is that within every one of us there are those beliefs, values, goals and hopes which combine to set the cadence which motivates our lives. Who or what do we believe in? Where do we put our trust? What is ultimately important to us? Who do we love? The cadence founded in our answers is always with us because it is composed of those beliefs and values which shape our temporal journey.
Now caring for sheep in Judea has been and still is a rough job. In Judea, the land where shepherds tend their sheep is dry and parched ... dust on top of limestone rock. The rain is minimal – perhaps a few short showers during two months each year ... and nonexistent the rest. There are no grasslands and the plant in greatest abundance is the thorny burnette - a dry, brittle, sun-bleached-out thorn bush. In David's day, the land had lions and wolves among its inhabitants and robbers were frequent in their attempts to steal a straying or unwatched lamb or two.
During the daylight hours, the sun bakes down so hard you cannot be outdoors without a head covering. At night when the clear skies permit the heat to escape from the earth, the temperature drops rapidly and you need to bundle up. You’re out in all the elements – the sun bakes your skin and roasts your body. When the wolves don’t attack your flock, the sheep stray and you must find and rescue strays. You rise with the first crowing of the rooster and you go to sleep when the night is far spent. The cadence that beats within you most certainly is as monotonous as Revel’s Bolero on a never-ending CD.
GRACE BE UNTO YOU AND PEACE FROM GOD THE FATHER AND FROM OUR PERSONAL LORD AND SAVIOUR....JESUS THE CHRIST.
“Just as I am, without one plea,
But that Thy Blood was shed for me,
and that Thou bidd’st me come to Thee.
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.”
How powerfully those words spring to life as I read “As Jesus passed on from there, He saw a man named Matthew sitting at the tax office.” That man sitting at the tax office was a man totally despised by everyone he knew – a Galilean man named Levi who took a Gentile name Matthew to enhance his Roman position and loyalty.
Rome ruled the world and it takes money to rule the world ... a great deal of money. Having conquered much of the then known world, Rome had most of the nations of the world from which to collect those taxes — including the people of the Holy Land. Rome’s worldwide system of taxation involved prominent Romans or local officials in league with Rome - known as publicans - buying the right to collect taxes in a given area or territory. In the Galilee, the publican with the tax franchise was no doubt the despised Herod Antipas — tetrarch of the Galilee and Perea.
The publicans hired local men who bid to do the actual collecting of the taxes. At the end of the year, the highest bider had to deliver the amount of revenue he had bid. He had to make up any shortage out of his own pockets — a position these greedy and disloyal men were not likely to get themselves into. Any amount he was able to collect over the amount he bid was his salary. These men, with intimate knowledge of their neighbors’ finances, a willingness to put material gain ahead of friendship and personal loyalty and with military support to back them up, knew how to collect taxes.