Am I Jesus’ Little Lamb?

Our Savior is not merely the Good Shepherd in theory.  He actually does shepherd-like things, which takes us to Mark 6:30-34 and the question we all need to ponder, “Am I Jesus’ little lamb?”  July 22, 2018

 

The heartbreak, the sadness, the pit of the stomach twinge, like watching your house go up in smoke, like seeing your first car, which you babied and polished and waxed, being towed away, like seeing grown-up children blow their income up their noses and throw away their marriages, that’s how the Lord God felt when he looked at the spiritual leaders of Israel.  “Woe to you shepherds of Israel who only take care of yourselves!  Should not shepherds take care of the flock? … You have not strengthened the weak or healed the sick or bound up the injured.  You have not brought back the strays or searched for the lost. You have ruled them harshly and brutally. So they were scattered because there was no shepherd, and when they were scattered they became food for all the wild animals.  My sheep wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill. They were scattered over the whole earth, and no one searched or looked for them” (Ezekiel 34:2-6).  His disgust and disappointment regarding the spiritual shepherds of Israel on one side of the teeter-totter was balanced by his love and concern for the lambs and sheep of Israel.  That was two thousand six hundred years ago, and his concern for his lambs and sheep has not changed.

It is the apostle John who recorded Jesus’ “I am” statements.  “I am the bread of life” (John 6:35).  “I am the light of the world” (John 8:12).  “I am the gate [to heaven]” (John 10:7). “I am the way and the truth and the life” (John 14:6).  “I am the resurrection and the life” (John 11:25). “I am the vine; you are the branches” (John 15:5).  And one of the all-time favorites, “I am the Good Shepherd” (John 10:11).  Can you see it in your mind’s eye?  The gilded frame around the green meadow, rolling hills, cottony clouds dotting the azure sky as Jesus, the Good Shepherd, his sheep surrounding him, cradles a little lamb in his arms.  The Scriptures are laced with shepherd imagery, and the most beloved is Psalm twenty-three. Even people who could care less about church, for whom the Bible is as familiar as a textbook on quantum physics, know the line, “The Lord is my Shepherd, I lack nothing.”  As memorable as Psalm twenty-three is, its message would be merely theoretical if Jesus didn’t really do what the psalm says.  If a woman has children but neglects them, we would say, “She’s only a mother in theory.” A real mother cares for her children.  If a teacher has students sitting in desks in front of him but does not communicate or connect, we would say he is only a teacher in theory.  A real teacher helps students learn. Our Savior is not merely the Good Shepherd in theory. He actually does shepherd-like things, which takes us to today’s Gospel account from Mark chapter six and the question I propose we all need to ponder: “Am I Jesus’ little lamb?”

He Knows my needs

If loneliness drapes over me like a dark blanket, and my heart feels like I’ve been abandoned on the side of the road with no town lights or car lights in sight for miles and miles, am I still Jesus’ little lamb?  If the demons in my mind refuse to stop tormenting me, and I give in yet another time to the urge to swallow a pill or a beverage, thinking that will help me forget my fears and insecurities, am I still Jesus’ little lamb?  If I pull up my legs up in restless spasms and struggle to find the right angle for my pillowed head as cancer gnaws away at cell after cell, am I still Jesus’ little lamb? If I swing back and forth between the need for a relationship and wanting my own space and privacy, am I still Jesus’ little lamb?  If my best efforts and faithfulness at work go unrecognized, and my career path makes me feel like a hamster on a wheel, am I still Jesus’ little lamb?

If I am an apostle of Jesus, sent by him personally on an internship experience, all jittery about whether people will listen or not, and complete the assignment all excited to report to him and tell stories, but a crowd pushes in and their noise drowns out my chance to talk to him, am I still Jesus’ little lamb?  The apostles gathered around Jesus and reported to him all they had done and taught.  Then, because so many people were coming and going that they did not even have a chance to eat, he said to them, “Come with me by yourselves to a quiet place and get some rest.”  So they went away by themselves in a boat to a solitary place.  On more than one occasion for more than one reason Jesus and his disciples needed a breather.  For one thing, the people were like spiders in grandma’s basement, crawling all over him, grabbing at his robe, extending their arms like webs of entanglement to get his attention, yelping, “Help me!”  For another, his enemies and opponents were snarling and growling like wild dogs, scuffing and pawing the dirt like bulls, snorting, ready to charge, ready to raise Cain. So, on more than one occasion Jesus said to his disciples, “Let’s take time out.  Let’s get away. We need to have time alone to refresh and rejuvenate.” The Good Shepherd knew what his disciples needed, not just a break from a busy schedule, not merely a vacation, but time away to ponder and pray, time to think and talk about their experiences, their failures, their fears, and to ask, “Am I still your little lamb?”

How did Jesus give his disciples “rest” and rejuvenate their souls?  He proclaimed his words and backed them up with power in his works. Some plugged their ears to Jesus’ message and began planning for this “magic man” to be king.  Many who saw them leaving recognized them and ran on foot from all the towns and got there ahead of them.  Notice Jesus’ reaction.  He didn’t roll his eyes, “Come on!  Give me a break!” No! When Jesus landed and saw a large crowd, he had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd.  He rejuvenated their souls by making it clear that as the Good Shepherd he knew exactly what his disciples and these people needed.

Does anyone doubt that we live in a fast-paced and hectic world?  There are deadlines and due dates for school, for work. Everything’s got to happen fast.  Don’t you feel like shouting, “Stop the world! I want to get off!”? The Good Shepherd knows what we need, not just a break from a busy schedule, not merely a vacation, but time to pray and ponder, time to think and talk about our experiences, our failures, our fears, and to ask, “Am I still Jesus’ little lamb?”  The answer? Just look, and you’ll sing, “He knows my need.”

And well provides me

Maybe Sunday is a day off from your diet, and you plan to burn extra calories tomorrow.  Maybe you are on the see-food diet. I see food, and I eat it. Do you get concerned when you hear of salmonella poisoning or other food poisoning?  Do you worry about what’s happening at the salad bar when the guy in front of you ducks under the sneeze shield? Do you care about what you eat?

The shepherd awakes to the bleating.  He peeks out the window at his sun-dial.  The sun wasn’t even up! He mumbles under his breath, swings his weary legs out of bed, slides on his sandals, unlatches the back door, and hollers, “Go find your own food, you dumb sheep!  I’m going back to bed.” Later that week he realizes some of the sheep are looking skinnier. The little lambs have their tongues hanging out and are fighting for drops of dew under clover leaves.  So, he opens the gate to the pen, muttering, “I’ll fix these little ingrates, making me do all the work,” and he leads them to a dusty field filled with briars, thorns, and poison ivy and a stinky, muddy watering hole in the middle, “There!  Eat that!” Is that what a shepherd would do? Of course not, at least not one who wants to keep his job or wants to raise healthy sheep. Sheep and lambs need a healthy diet, and it is the shepherd’s job to provide it.

The Good Shepherd knew exactly what his disciples and the crowd needed, and he provided.  He didn’t pull a rabbit out of a hat, nor did he levitate a couple disciples, which is what many in the crowd thought would be cool.  No! He began teaching them many things.  What do you think he talked about?  Do you think he patted them on the back, “God likes you because you have the right genetic mix in your blood.  You’ve got one foot in the door of heaven because of who you are.” No! They needed to face reality. You can be sure that Jesus held up a mirror and said, “Take a good look at all your faults and blemishes, scars and sins.  If you have trouble seeing them, I will point them out. Look at yourself. You are sinners.” But you can be just as sure that he also put the mirror down, reached into his medic pack, and said, “I’ve got the cure for what ails you.  I have come to cover your faults and blemishes, scars and sins from God’s sight.” The Good Shepherd cared enough to provide what they really needed, the forgiveness of sins, the ultimate answer to, “Am I Jesus’ little lamb?”  The Lord is my Shepherd, I lack nothing ... Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff they comfort me (Psalm 23:1,4-5).

Sit in your favorite chair tonight, or if your knees can take it, kneel by your bedside.  Fold your hands, and before your start asking and requesting, praying and pleading, remember that the Good Shepherd knows his sheep better than they know themselves.  He knows those of us who have smug, self-satisfied attitudes. He may lead us through the valley of the shadow of death to test and refine us. He knows those of us who are hiding sin and troubled by guilt.  He makes us lie down in the green pastures of his forgiveness. He knows those of us who are hurting lambs. He leads us beside the quiet waters of his love and refreshes our soul. Drink in the Savior’s goodness.  Munch away on the promises, and you will have the answer to the question, “Am I Jesus’ little lamb?”  The answer?  Just look, and you’ll sing, “He well provides me.”  Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever (Psalm 23:6).

Circumstances of life can change in a flash, and sometimes we sail into a perfect storm.  Nothing seems right. How does God guide us? The answer to that question is wrapped up in the fact that the question we have been pondering has been transformed into a statement:

I am Jesus’ little lamb; Ever glad at heart I am.

For my shepherd gently guides me,

Knows my needs and wells provides me,

Loves me ev’ry day the same, Even calls me by my name. (CW 432:1)

Amen.

Preached at Grace Lutheran Church, Milwaukee, WI on July 22, 2018