Sunday, April 19, 2020

Sunday Praise & Worship Message - Stray and Lost Sheep

Many of us in the United States have been ordered to shelter in place and, if we go out for essential items like food or medicines, we must make sure that we exercise “social distancing”. I am not going to tell you whether or not these policies work or not or discuss their merits. That debate will continue to go on and on and on until the end of time. When we look back at all of the events that have led up to this moment, what questions will we ask ourselves? Will thoughts of toilet paper shortages and canned meats and beans fill our heads? Or, will we think about all of the other things like not being able to go to bars and restaurants?

Although I am not pleased with some of the inconveniences of COVID-19, I do find it a great opportunity for me to look at society and myself and think about our spiritual response to all of this. Under certain jurisdictions, people are unable to go to church to worship. During Holy Week, many people could not attend services at their local churches. Churches provided “virtual services” to their congregations by live streaming their messages. The pandemic of 2020 has changed many things and has allowed us to examine our culture and the way we interact with one another. We can no longer take things for granted. Even the simplest things we do like shake hands or hug one another are being viewed as things that people used to do. Touching elbows and even “fist bumping” are now being considered unacceptable due to the close proximity of individuals.

We have a lot of things to think about and an ample amount of time to reflect and process. What will the “brave, new world” look like when we emerge from our shelters? We will find that we prefer the distance limitation and run back to our little holes like scared rabbits? Earlier this week, I read an article about a study looking at whether people would be too scared to return to work or even wanting to go outside. Every time a doctor or another expert answers a reporter’s question, we are not only flooded with additional information but we also have to deal with all of the commentary from other doctors and experts. Each day It seems like we are flooded with more and, at times, conflicting information. Our hearts are filled with fear, uncertainty and doubt. We are literally drowning in a sea of information and we are desperately trying to figure out what will happen next.

As we ponder the next steps of a society that is facing a pandemic, I think it is time for each of us to ponder our next step. I am not talking about wondering if going to the store will be safe. What I am talking about is our spiritual steps. Have you thought about your life and each step that you have made? Have you wandered away from and rebelled against your Shepherd and guardian of your soul?

Peter, in chapter two of his first epistle, writes, “For God called you to do good, even if it means suffering, just as Christ suffered for you. He is your example, and you must follow in his steps. He never sinned, nor ever deceived anyone. He did not retaliate when he was insulted, nor threaten revenge when he suffered. He left his case in the hands of God, who always judges fairly. He personally carried our sins in his body on the cross so that we can be dead to sin and live for what is right. By his wounds you are healed. Once you were like sheep who wandered away. But now you have turned to your Shepherd, the Guardian of your souls.

Notice what Peter says at the end of the scripture. He reminds us that each of us were like sheep. We strayed away or got lost and wandered from the gentle hand of the one and true Shepherd. Instead of staying close, we put our trust in other things. We worshiped other things like money and fame. We allowed our vanity to get the better of us as we strayed further and further away from the Shepherd. 

Even now, other shepherds preach to the flock and lead them away with promises of wealth and health. Some sell trinkets and so-called cures for all those things that ail you. These shepherds speak of things of this world and play to your pride. They tell you things you want to hear as you shelter in place and hope that things will return to normal.

Do not listen to them or be fooled by them. Their words are sweet in the mouth, but bitter in the belly. Their words and their voices only lead to destruction, death and damnation. They will tell you what you want to hear and have you following them. There is only one Shepherd and Guardian of your soul. You know this and you know his voice.

Jesus, in chapter ten of the Gospel of John, says, “My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one can snatch them away from me, for my Father has given them to me, and he is more powerful than anyone else. No one can snatch them from the Father’s hand.

Although no one can snatch the sheep away from the Good Shepherd, his hand will not stop them from wandering and straying away. We have a choice. We can either stay with the Shepherd who provides us green pastures and living water or follow the other shepherds who preach a doctored up gospel full of gimmicks, junk and cons that lead you further astray.

Each of you already knows his voice. You know that “his law is love and his gospel is peace”.

The prophet Jeremiah reveals God’s message to His people in plain language. In chapter ten, Jeremiah writes, “My people have been lost sheep. Their shepherds have led them astray and turned them loose in the mountains. They have lost their way and can’t remember how to get back to the sheepfold. All who found them devoured them. Their enemies said, ‘We did nothing wrong in attacking them, for they sinned against the Lord, their true place of rest, and the hope of their ancestors.’”    

We know where our true place of rest and peace is and where our hope is grounded. We belong to the one true and Good Shepherd. Jesus is that Good Shepherd who willingly gave his life for his sheep.

Take this time while you are sheltered in place to listen to the voice of the true and Good Shepherd. Listen to his words and follow his example. He came to serve and not be served. He came to save and not condemn. He came to love and not hate. He was the perfect sacrifice to atone for our sins. He died a criminal’s death upon a cross for our sins and iniquities. Isn’t it about time that you live your life as God intended in fullness and in love and not in fear, uncertainty and doubt?

Jesus, in chapter eleven of the Gospel of Matthew, says, “Come to me, all of you who are weary and carry heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you. Let me teach you, because I am humble and gentle at heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy to bear, and the burden I give you is light.

Don’t allow the time that you have been given to slip through your fingers. Use this time to listen to that voice that you already know so very well. It is the voice of the Good Shepherd that leads his flock to the still waters that restores their souls. Find that rest and peace that you so desperately seek and desire. When you return to him, you will be strengthened and can face tomorrow with boldness, certainty and confidence by standing firm in His grace.

The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit.

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