Sermon text put together from audio transcription software, so please read generously and with a grain of salt.
May the words of our mouth and the meditations of our hearts be always acceptable in your sight. Oh Lord. Our strength and our Redeemer. Amen.
About this time last year, our Wednesday night Bible study class was making its way through the stories of the earliest kingdoms of Israel stories that come from the books of first and second Samuel, in which tell about how the people long under the governance of a system known as the judges desired to have for themselves a King like the surrounding nations had Kings. And so they they went to the prophet, Samuel religious leader of the time and said, we would like for you to anoint us a King, make a King for us. Like others have between God and Samuel. They thought it was a bad idea. And they told the people so, but the people were insistent and wanted for themselves a King.
And so Samuel anointed Saul to be King over Israel and Saul disappointed the people and God by forgetting his commitments, both to the people and to God. And so between Samuel and God, they sought for another King and God led Samuel to the family of Jesse and to find Jesse’s youngest son David. And when Saul died after much conflict and turmoil and strife, David became King over Israel. David led the people faithfully and he was faithful to the covenant that God had made with the people of Israel. This is not to say that David was perfect or flawless. He wasn’t, and people love to point that out. But David becomes for us a model of what a King ought to be leading the people for their sake and for their welfare and remembering his commitment to God who is finally the ruler of us all.
So between Saul and David, we have in the Bible two examples of what good kingly leadership looks like and what bad King lead leadership looks like. And those stories are there for us to reflect upon. And over the centuries that passed since the death of David, he became a legendary figure in the mythology and the lore of ancient Israel. So that by the time of Jesus, people would speak of David as an ideal, as something hoped for and longed for, and which the people wanted for themselves, again, a person to govern and lead them to guide and care for them, and also to be faithful to God who they worshiped. And so when Jesus comes, people speak about Jesus as though he might be David, while we were reading these stories and thinking about all these things. I happened to come across an article in which it was revealed that in, in, in Israel, in present day, Israel, there are contentious factions who disagree about the reality of who King David was and what the nature of ancient Israel was as a geopolitical body.
The stories tell of David leading thousands and tens of thousands of soldiers in these Epic battles with neighboring rival kingdoms and of palaces and great houses and city-states and land and wealth flowing into the coffers and the temple, which his son Solomon builds, but still in all the presence of God and the people a kind of great grand Regal vision of a nation led by a great grand King. Archeologically the record is a little murkier. And so some people believe that those palaces and those numbers are exaggerated for the sake of folklore. And that there may really have been a leader of the people called David, but that in reality, he was something more like a semi nomadic tribal chieftain holding together various bands of families as they eat out a secure way of life in between the competing pressures of neighboring much more powerful empires in a Syria and Persia and Babylon and Egypt.
So the archeological evidence that would either prove or disprove one or another of these theories is buried underneath the old city of Jerusalem. And it is illegal to dig under old Jerusalem. And so in the meantime, historians and scholars make their best guesses and continue to argue whether David was a great Regal King seated on a great throne, surrounded by tens of thousands of soldiers, leading them to wage battle against tens of thousands of adversaries and accumulating great wealth into his coffers, building palaces and temples for God. Or was he a semi nomadic tribal chieftain living in tents in the desert rating, the coffers and the palaces of neighboring Kings and princes, I guess we’ll never know, but I think it’s a question that we can apply to our own understanding of ourselves as Christians. What do we think a King is? What do we think a leader is for?
What do we think counts as a characteristic or a quality of royalty in our own religion? Sometimes it strikes me that the pomp and circumstance of our religion, the customs and the traditions that we have inherited and which we love and which may bring great value to our common life of worship and prayer and study and devotion. Sometimes it strikes me that all those things that characterize the church are in pretty stark contrast to the teachings of Jesus and what he actually invites us to consider and where he actually invites us to locate our heart and our attention and how he actually leads us and invites us to follow him in applying our love for him and for ourselves and for one another and the world. And I feel like we have a similar kind of tension between the stories that we tell about Jesus and the lore and the legends that we have accumulated over the centuries, since his life and death and resurrection and the scriptural witness, which is for us a kind of archeology kind of archeological evidence about our spiritual lives and where that kingdom actually asks us to go. And so this morning, when we think about Jesus articulating his identity as the good shepherd, we can ask ourselves what kind of a King calls himself, a shepherd, what kind of a savior lays down his own life? What kind of a ruler articulates his identity in those kinds of terms and invites us to follow suit.
We call Jesus King of Kings, but he rejected the title outright. We say crown him with many crowns, but he chose instead the crown of thorns, we picture him seated on Thrones in regalia, splendid, Leah tired and dispensing judgment and justice, but he himself wore a simple tunic and told his, his disciples to carry no extra tunic and no bag and no sandals and to ask each day for their daily bread. So we have tension that is built in to the middle of our tradition, the middle of our religion, the middle of our spirituality. And I would say it invites us to ask of ourselves what it is that we think we are doing and who it is that we think we are and how it is that we think we can be faithful. In what way is Jesus calling us to follow him? We may chafe or recoil or feel a little uncertain about the characterization of him as a shepherd and ourselves as sheep.
Even if nothing else, we know that sheep are dirty and stupid. And so the comparison is not flattering, but it has also come to be the case. That being called a sheep is the equivalent of being called a somebody who just doesn’t think for themselves and does whatever some more powerful person tells them to do. So she PEV developed the reputation for being mindless, thoughtless herd animals with no individuality or sense of self-will or purpose. And who knows, maybe that’s true. I don’t know I’ve only ever seen sheep at the zoo, but when I think about the shepherd, I think about a relationship, a relationship based in commitment, devotion, and constancy, which is evidenced, not only by Jesus, his own example, but also by things that I’ve read about shepherds, which is pretty much the extent of my experience shepherding. And I would refer you to a book that I read a few years ago called a Shepherd’s life, which is written by a man whose family had been raising sheep in the Lake district of England for hundreds of years.
And if you think that shepherding is a pastoral gentle sort of it feat occupation, I would invite you to read the book to discover just how much hard work is involved in shepherding sheep, but not only hard work constant work. There is not a single day of the year. When the shepherd gets to have a day off even Christmas day, they say they give themselves the morning to have breakfast and open presence, but then they get back to work tending to their flocks, caring for their animals because the shepherd may or may not love the sheep, but the shepherd never, ever quits the sheep. And that’s the image that I would like us to hold onto this morning. When we think about Jesus, the good shepherd, because he by comparison identify articulates his, his nature in that respect by comparison to the ones he calls the, the bad shepherds or the hired hands.
So as people who consider ourselves followers of Jesus, whether we want to think of ourselves as sheep or not, the commitment to being Christian indicates that we want to follow Jesus just as sheep follow their shepherd. Let’s think about him and us. In those terms, the shepherd knows us. The shepherd knows our names, the shepherd calls us, and we go where the shepherd leads us, is the shepherd leading us to glory for ourselves or concern for others? Is the shepherd leading us to power that we accrue for the sake of owning more, or is the shepherd leading us to generosity by which we share more? Is the shepherd leading us to an identity of salvation at the exclusion of other people, or is the shepherd leading us to model for the world? What it might mean to be saved regarding all people as brothers and sisters and worthy of love and respect
In ancient Israel, the kingdom of David was either a great glorious kingdom characterized by Thrones and crowns and wealth and power, or it was a band of people working together to survive craftly, kindly cunningly in the desert. Semi-Nomadic led by a tribal chieftain who was faithful to them in the realms of Christendom. Jesus is either King of Kings and Lord of Lords seated lawfully on high, on the throne of God, dispensing judgment and justice, or he’s the crucified King wearing the crown of thorns offering forgiveness, even from the cross, the good shepherd who knows us each by name, who calls us to follow him, who shows us the way not with power, but with mercy, grace, forgiveness and love. May we follow where he leads us?