Fourth Sunday of Easter
May 7, 2017
“Harassed and Helpless”
Rev. John R. Larson
Ascension Lutheran Church Littleton, Colorado
When He saw the crowds, He had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Then He said to His disciples, ‘The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send workers into His harvest field. (Matthew 9:35-36)
On the corner of Pierce and Bowles, about 4 miles west of here, the Church For All Nations has a sign inviting people to their church. The sign says, “God never meant that we should be alone.” I’ve been to that church. Big place. If our parking lot is worth half a million, theirs is at least a two million dollar lot. I will never look at asphalt the same way again!!
That church, with their big parking lot, is right. “God never meant that we should be alone.” That is why He has sent a Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ, to us. He shepherds us like we need to be shepherded.
In Matthew 9 Jesus had spent considerable time going to many towns and villages. He preached and taught and healed many people who were sick and diseased. His conclusion about what He saw and what they were going through? “Harassed and helpless. Like sheep without a shepherd.” I guess they were lost. Or troubled. They weren’t receiving care and their neglect had an impact on Jesus. Life for them was difficult.
Sheep can create their own problems, as well. There was a school kid down in Texas who was asked by his teacher a simple math question. “If there are twelve sheep in a field and one jumped over the fence, how many would be left?” The kid said, “None”. The teacher said, “Son, you don’t know arithmetic, 12-1=11.” And the Texas boy answered, “No, ma’am, but I know sheep.”
We are the sheep that Jesus is talking about. Sometimes when we play follow the leader we follow the wrong leader!! Harassed from the outside. Pressured from the outside. Not having the smarts, or the will, to resist the evil and the wrong that others would lead us and take us, into. Foolish. Lost. Helpless.
On Thursday the artist guild uses the community room on the lower level of our building to work on their paintings. Some have been coming here for years, even decades. They enter through the parking lot into the preschool entrance. But, now, entering a different door, on a different level they have become confused. They were lost – wandering – wondering how to get to where they needed to go. Sheep without a shepherd.
But sometimes the problem for the sheep wasn’t their wandering or their following the other sheep – or even their many sins – it was the shepherd. Sometimes the shepherd thought the sheep existed for his good and benefit rather than the shepherd serving the sheep. Ezekiel 34 begins, “Son of man, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy and say to them: ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: Woe to the shepherds of Israel who only care for themselves! Should not shepherds take care of the flock? You eat the curds, clothe yourselves with the wool and slaughter the choice animals, but you do not 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.” (34:2-4)
But we have a shepherd – Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd. We got ourselves lost? He finds us. We are injured, hurt, need attention? He takes us in His arms and puts us over His shoulders and brings us to safety. We sin too often and too much? He commands us to repent of sin and He will yet receive us. In that same chapter of Ezekiel our God speaks, “For this is what the Sovereign Lord says, ‘I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness.’ ‘I will search for the lost and bring back the strays. I will bind up the injured and strengthen the weak’”. (Ezekiel 34:11-12,16)
In our world which is too often nameless and faceless and anonymous, the Shepherd, the Good One, Jesus, knows His sheep, individually, and they know Him. You are not one of a million, or a billion. You are you. He knows you. In John 10, the Good Shepherd chapter, Jesus says, “He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger, in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice. (John 10:3b-5)
The picture of a shepherd is very earthy, practical and down-to- earth. George Borghardt, a pastor from McHenry, Illinois writes, “Shepherds. You don’t get more down-to-earth and everyday than shepherds. Shepherds were not rocket scientists or nuclear engineers. They weren’t rock stars. They were just…shepherds. They had a simple job: watch and care for sheep. Sheep who wander astray. Sheep who get lost. Sheep who might get stolen or eaten by wolves. Nor was it an honorable profession. Jesus says that hired shepherds weren’t good shepherds. When robbers or wolves came, they usually decided unemployment was better than death or dismemberment. So they ran away, and the sheep they were given to tend were lost. Jesus is the Good Shepherd. He doesn’t run away. He knows His sheep, names them, and gives His life for them in order to save them.”
We are sheep – His – and He is our shepherd. Nothing, and no one, can snatch us out of His hand.
We are shepherds. Everyone of us. The two verses that Jesus speaks go together. Sheep that are harassed and helpless that He has compassion on, is followed by this word, “The harvest is plentiful but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into His harvest field.” Do you know who the workers are? You!! Me!! Jesus says there are too many folks out there, harassed, helpless, discouraged, lonely, lost, sinful, going the wrong way, heading to hell and we get to be a shepherd to them.
Last Sunday I preached about the most blessed heartburn that anyone can have. On the way to Emmaus Jesus opened the understanding of the Scriptures and they said, “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:32) Last Sunday when I gave the blessing to the various kids that came up, I said words like this, “May your heart yearn always for the things of God.” I prayed that God would open their heart to know the fullness of Jesus, His love, His salvation, and His ways to them. I desire that same heart in all of us.
Shepherd the people that you love the most, the folks you spend the most time with, the folks that are in your school or at your work or at your home. Shepherd the people that are your neighbors or are on your team or you take a walk with or are involved with in a chat room or a book club. Your million Facebook friends (or enemies – it depends on the topic or the day, right??) shepherd them.
I wonder how many folks we can love and listen and care for and pray with in a single week? When Jim Tuell was installed as the vicar at Immanuel in Englewood last Sunday, Pastor Stoltenow of Shepherd of the Hills in Centennial preached. Stoltenow loves to fish and he said, “Fishing is fun, but catching something is even better.” Wouldn’t that be a joy to bring someone to Jesus? Wouldn’t that be a joy to have them know that God loves them deeper than anyone could ever love them, and know that their sins are washed away in the death and resurrection of Jesus, and they have a new beginning to life? Wouldn’t it make us giddy to see them made a new creation in Jesus? They aren’t harassed and helpless anymore – they know the Shepherd who knows and loves them and won’t let them go. St. Peter in our reading today tells about that wonderful fishing and catching, “For you were like sheep going astray, but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.” (I Peter 2:25)
God never meant that we should be alone. We are in His hands, we live in faith in communion with Jesus, our Good Shepherd. And we get to love and shepherd a ton of people during our life. We know them, we love them and God can use us to bring them the fullness of His love.
It is good for all of us to be His sheep and it is good for all of us to be His shepherds. Amen!!