Jason Free

Sheep with a Shepherd

by Jason Free on June 18th, 2023
Numbers 27:15-23

You ever feel bad for Moses? Last week we heard how he, Moses, didn’t really feel confident about being the guy who would lead God’s people out of Egypt. He questioned God’s choice. Questioned what he would say to convince the people that he was the guy. But God told Moses what to say. God promised to be with him, and he did it, right? Moses stood up to Pharaoh. He confidently took the Israelites across the Red Sea. He kept those same Israelites alive and together in the wilderness. For 40 years, he led them. You think way back at that burning bush that Moses had any idea, any concept, that this was what God intended when he said, “Moses! Moses!” from that bush? Pretty incredible stuff if you stop to think about it. 

And, yet, here we are in Numbers chapter 27, and Moses is done. His time of leadership is over, but it’s maybe not the end he was expecting. A few verses before the words of our lesson, God tells Moses that in just a bit he’s going to take him up a high mountain, and Moses is going to see the promised land. Finally, right?  But maybe some of you know what God said to Moses next, “but you’re not going to enter that promised land, Moses. This is as far as you go.” You see why I asked whether you might feel a little bad for Moses. All that work, that trust, literally his life to do this task God gave him, and just when he’s at the finish line…it’s there, right there! ”Nope! Not you!” 

Now, you maybe remember why God chose not to allow Moses to enter the promised land. It was because he publicly disobeyed his Lord when he brought water forth from a rock by hitting it, rather than speaking to it. A sin, yes, but last week we heard that the Holy Ministry is full of sinners, like Moses. So, it seems unfair…harsh even. But not to Moses. Look at Moses’ concern. It’s the first three verses of our lesson. “Moses said to the Lord, “May the Lord, the God who gives breath to all living things, appoint someone over this community to go out and come in before them, one who will lead them out and bring them in, so the Lord’s people will not be like sheep without a shepherd.” 

Mose didn’t seem overly concerned that he was locked out of the promised land, but he was concerned for God’s people, that they would have a shepherd, a guide. And God granted that request. We read that he appointed Joshua to lead the Israelites, to be their shepherd. You ever notice how God does this? He appoints shepherds over his people. You see this in our gospel lesson. Jesus, he spends a whole day healing and teaching people, but it’s not enough. We read that “when he saw the crowds, he had compassion on them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” So, in our gospel lesson, Jesus sends out the twelve to shepherd his people. Again and again in the Bible, there is this general concern, this compassion, for people. God never wants his sheep to be without a shepherd. 

My question for you this morning is what do you think of that? That God never wants you to be without a shepherd? And, maybe, especially think about this: Do you need a shepherd? Do you need, say, me? How about Pastor Kolander or Pastor Casmer? – If you don’t need Casmer you had your chance to tell him, and I’m sure our brothers and sisters in Arizona would’ve taken him off your hands – Do you need us? 

Before you answer that question, about two weeks ago I was exercising at Anytime Fitness over on Bluemound by Kohl’s, and, as I reached down to adjust the weight on the machine I was using, I somehow managed to get poked by this hard plastic label; it slid underneath my fingernail and stabbed me. Now, I think you’d agree with me that fingers are extremely sensitive parts of our bodies, especially when you get anything that goes underneath a fingernail…that hurts. This hurt. And, as I was thinking about how careless I can sometimes be, I also couldn’t help but think about how dirty public gyms can be and that I should really get some soap on my finger and wash it, clean the wound. 

It’s funny though, as I was thinking that, I asked myself why? Why, after stabbing myself in the finger with a piece of plastic, would I think that I should wash my finger, my hands? Well, why do we wash our hands at all? Why do we bathe? We do those things not just because we start to smell if we go a few days without a bath or shower. We do those things not just because we can see and even feel the dried food on our kids’ faces, and the dirt on our hands and feet. We wash ourselves, our clothes, our hands – everything – because we’ve learned and been told that dirty things can harbor germs, and germs can make us sick and cause infection. 

That’s why I washed my hands immediately after I hurt myself while exercising because I knew that, especially in that setting, the risk of infection through an open cut was higher. So, I scrubbed away. But, here is the thing, someone had to teach me that. Someone did teach me that. My parents taught me the importance of handwashing. Teachers taught me about germs and bacteria. Doctors have explained to me the dangers of infection. Could I have gleaned some of this on my own through observation, through feeling dirty, and with my sense of smell, probably, but not to the same degree that I understand these things today. 

My point is this, we all need to learn, we all need someone to teach us, sometimes about basic things, sometimes about more complex things. We need people to correct us and challenge us because, on our own, there will be gaps in our understanding, limits to our knowledge, and false assumptions made. We need authority. We need experts. We need people to guide us, and teach us, and explain things to us.

And you and I might balk at that a bit, but, c’mon, you know it’s true. How many of you here have a financial planner or an accountant? When you have a chronic toothache do you pull your own tooth? You got a doctor? You ever call an electrician or a plumber or a mechanic to do work for you? Why? Because you need someone who can help you. Do you think it’s possible then that you need someone to be a spiritual authority in your life? That you need a shepherd? Well, let me tell you something. God thinks you do. Now, don’t get me wrong. I’m not up here saying this with a smug smile on my face because “Ha! You need me.” You don’t need me. I’m replaceable. Moses was replaceable; he was replaced, but that’s just it, he was replaced. God knows that his sheep need shepherds.

In Jeremiah 17:9, do you know what God says about you and me? He tells us that our “hearts are deceitful above all things.” God says that your heart, it doesn’t tell you the truth. Your heart lies to you. It might tell you that you don’t need to be here in worship because, “Eh, I don’t get anything out of it, or it’s not my style.” Your heart can tell you that a sin in your life, one God clearly says is wrong, is okay because you’re okay with it or society says it’s fine. Your heart can do other things. It can smother you with guilt. It can cause you to doubt God’s love. It can lead you to love and focus on other things more than God. You and I, we are not fine on our own. On our own, we are harassed and helpless sheep. And sometimes you just need a shepherd to tell you that. 

Well, here I am and I’m telling this to you today. God says you need someone like me. Not because I’m so great – I’m not – but because through someone like me, God shows you his compassion. And that compassion can come through in a lot of different ways. Sometimes that compassion can hurt as it comes in the form of correction and rebuke, what we call the Law. Yeah, I’m gonna show you your sin. Yeah, I’m gonna tell you you’re wrong. I’m gonna call you up if I haven’t seen you here for a few weeks. And in the moment you might not think that’s very compassionate and loving, but that’s because your heart has deceived you. Compassion is certainly also more than just that though, other times it’s Gospel. It’s a smile and words of forgiveness and love through Christ Jesus, and an encouragement to live like Paul says as one who isn’t judged by this world or by your own sinful flesh, but by your Lord. And his verdict for you is not guilty. Innocent. Saved. Mine. 

But, I gotta say, just from doing this for about seven years now, sometimes it’s hard to be your shepherd and to love you and have compassion for you. Sometimes it’s not so easy to love people, and some of you can be harder to love than others (and you probably know who you are). And Pastor Casmer, Kolander, and I, we won’t be and are not perfect in our shepherding and in our compassion, and we know we are replaceable. And that’s why, Lord-willing, every time we preach to you, and teach you, and talk with you we’re bringing you to the foot of the cross, to the one person who can’t be replaced. To the one person who somehow always manages to love you, and have time for you, and want what is best for you, Jesus.

 Man, did he love people. As he walked on this earth he preached and he taught and he healed and he cared. Then he died. He took our place. He replaced us so that we could enter the promised land, heaven. There’s some compassion. I don’t deserve that. None of us do. But here we are, shepherd and sheep. Jesus’ compassion continues to this day as he puts people like me in your life to guide you, and encourage you, and correct you, and to show you his love so that you are always sheep with a shepherd.

Have you ever thought about it in this way? That me being up here, this is God’s compassion for you. That his love for you is why a role like a pastor exists. And while I may be the temporary physical shepherd in front of you, you will always have the good shepherd above you, and he’s my shepherd too. Every day then I get to marvel with you at his compassion, his love. Every day I get to rejoice with you in what Jesus has done for us; I get to bask in his forgiveness and sing his praises. Every day I get to grow with you in the knowledge of him and I get to learn, like you, to live my worth in my Savior’s eyes. We do this together, shepherd and sheep, precious individuals, children of God, heirs of heaven. Who know…who know that, “when the Chief Shepherd appears, we will receive the crown of glory that will never fade away.” I humbly pray that one day we, together, share this crown for all eternity. Jesus, may it be so. Amen.  

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