The Shepherd’s Feast
The Shepherd’s Feast
As some of you know, one of my major interests is healing prayer. I believe that we at Calvin can create an atmosphere of faith, where emotional, spiritual, and physical healing happen. I believe this because I have been all over the country and seen churches of a variety of different traditions and denominations that have done so. Yet, a couple of years ago, one of my trips to a healing conference didn’t exactly work out as planned. It was a trip to Calvin College in Michigan, in January, which as all of you know the best time to go Grand Rapids Michigan is in January (sarcasm). To save money I had emailed the conference and found another participant at the conference who was willing to host me for the week. So I got on the plane, flew from Virginia to Grand Rapids Michigan for the conference. I got off the plane and gave my host a call. She didn’t answer. I got to the conference. As far as I knew she wasn’t there. So I ended up sleeping on a college student’s dorm room floor. It being Michigan in January, there was a draft, and I got pneumonia. That’s right I got pneumonia at a healing conference. And no I didn’t get healed instantaneously. Though the Lord did tell another participant to bring cough drops the first day of the conference. I think God wanted me to learn not to sleep on the floor in the Michigan winter. Lesson learned Lord. And thanks for the cough drops.
When we are traveling, may it be literally, or through the seasons of our lives, it is good to know who are host is. If we are staying at Airbnb, a hotel, or trying a new restaurant, we check the reviews. We want to know what past guests have thought of the service. The reputation of our host is more important the further we travel. When people betray our trust can have lasting consequences that affect us more than a bout with pneumonia.
In our passage today we find a host who is unlike my vanishing host at that conference. In our passage today we find a host who is trustworthy. A host who provides with abundance. A host who calms our fears. A host who is a Good Shepherd.
The Good news today is this. When we know our shepherd he will lead us to the feast. Who is this Shepherd who prepares a feast for us?
- Our Shepherd makes us lie down in green pastures.
- Our Shepherd makes sure nothing is lost.
First, we see that our shepherd makes us lie down in green pastures. One of the themes of John is that Jesus is greater than Moses
We see that Jesus is greater than Moses in the feeding of the 5,000. Not only does he feed the masses in the wilderness, as Moses did with the manna following from heaven, with Jesus’ feeding there are twelve baskets full of leftovers. Jesus’ bread is enduring. The bread doesn’t go bad in the heat of the sun as it did when the Lord fed his people with manna in the wilderness.
We also see that Jesus doesn’t need to part the sea as God did for Moses. For the sea is not an obstacle to Jesus.In the book of Exodus, Pharaoh’s army pursued the people of Israel to the Reed Sea. With no where to go, Moses appealed to God, and God parted the sea and the Hebrews walked across the sea on dry land (Exodus 14). Again, Jesus is showing he is greater than Moses not by parting water, but by walking on water. Not only does Jesus show he is greater than Moses, by walking on water he shows that he is equal with God. In the Old Testament the sea is something that only God can control. Job, in his trials, declared the LORD stretches out the heavens and walks upon the waves of the sea (Job 9:8). When Jesus comes to the disciples, as they struggle to row to shore, he doesn’t just say, “ hey guys it is me.” In the Greek he basically says, “Don’t be afraid, I AM.” And in the Old Testament one of I AM WHO I AM (abbreviated LORD) favorite metaphors for himself is that of a Shepherd. And Jesus calls himself the Good Shepherd in John.
In the feeding of the 5,000, the image of Jesus commanding the crowds to sit down on the green grass, invokes images of the 23rd Psalm, where the Psalmist declares the LORD that the LORD is his Shepherd. I have read the 23rd Psalm all of my life, and only after studying this passage did I ask myself, “Why must the Shepherd make his sheep lie down?” If there are green pastures wouldn’t it be logical that the sheep would want to lie down? Yet, sheep are not known for making rational decisions. They are notoriously fear full and defenseless animals. They can easily fall victim to flies and other pests that can make them profoundly uncomfortable. They flock together for protection from predators. But these same tight formations make it nearly impossible for them to lie down, for there is no breathing room. They need to feel safe to break off into smaller groups, where they can enjoy green pastures. I find that two things prevent us from lying down in the pastures that the LORD has for us. One is moving too little. And the other is moving too much. The question is not whether we move or not. The question is why we move. And I have found that moving or not moving out of fear results in negative consequences.
I have found in life that when we are hurt, when our trust is betrayed, we react by moving too little. We gather into our defensive flocks and refuse to move to new pastures even after all the grass is eaten and gone. We try to hold onto what we have left and we end up losing it all. And I am reminded of Jesus words to his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. 25 For whoever would save his life[a] will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. 26 For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his soul? Or what shall a man give in return for his soul?”
Second, I find that we won’t lie down not because of the soil of our circumstances but because of the soil of our hearts. We learned last week that the disciple’s hearts were not good soil for the Word of God. They were rocky soil, fearful of what other people would do to them. They were soil filled with thorns, the Word was choked off by the worries of this world. They were concerned about where to find bread for today not believing that if they would only lift up their eyes to the needs of others Jesus would provide bread for tomorrow.
Finally, we see that our shepherd makes sure that nothing is lost. The twelve baskets were a sign to the disciples that they would carry on the ministry of the ministry of the twelve tribes of Israel. Though they would endure many trials and tribulations that did not mean the LORD had forsaken them. The bread represented the Word of God. As the prophet Isaiah said , “For as the rain and the snow come down from heaven and do no return there but water the earth, making it bring forth and sprout, giving seed to the sower and bread to the eater, so shall my word be that goes out from my mouth; it shall not return to me empty, but it shall accomplish that which I purpose, and shall succeed in the thing for which I sent.” To quote Jesus in his prayer for us before he went to the cross, “ And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the scriptures might be fulfilled.” Even when we make ourselves sick as a dog by sleeping on the floor, even when we have ruined our lives of our own accord, Jesus promises that we are not leftovers. We are not trash to be thrown out. We are invited to His wedding feast. He will accomplish his purposes for us. Nothing will be lost.
I was reminded of this fact when I taught a class on trust last fall, based off the book In Beyond Boundaries: Learning to Trust Again in Relationships Dr. Henry Townsend. As we talked about the material, and what the scriptures taught on trust, I felt healing occurring. I felt us beginning to trust ourselves, each other, and God again. It was a blessed class.
The thing is I was introduced to that material by my ex girlfriend in Indiana. We dated for a year. We talked about marriage. Her three year old daughter was like a daughter to me. But it didn’t work out. Looking back on it that was probably for the best. At the end of the relationship she said that our time was not wasted. That nothing was lost. And if you had told me at the end of that relationship that God would used what I learned from that relationship to restore trust for others I would have told you that . But now I give thanks to the one who is our Good shepherd. I give thanks to the Lord, our Good Shepherd, who guides us even when we don’t know where we are going, I give thanks to the one who’s kindness follows us and cleans up our messes so that nothing is lost.
There is one last detail to this feast that is unique to John’s account. John tells us that the loaves that Jesus used for this miracle were barely loaves. One commentator I read noted that barely was one of the first grains to ripen, and was not particularly tasty. So it would be used for grain to feed animals. It was the cheapest grain used to make bread for the poorest of the poor. Those whom the world considered to be leftovers, those the world discarded in the trash pile. Those who the world would turn away disappointed and not care.
Today if you find yourself lacking in financial resources, if you find yourself fearful, meek, and poor in spirit, come as you are, bring what you have, for our Shepherd can use even a child’s offering to prepare a feast for us. Though we be poor and needy Jesus we hear your voice and we come, we come through the valley of the shadow of death, to the table you have set for us. For a day in your courts oh God is better than a thousand elsewhere. We would rather be a doorkeeper in the house of our God than dwell as Kings in tents of wickedness. For the LORD God is a sun and a shield; the LORD bestows favor and honor. No good thing does he withhold from those who walk uprightly. O LORD of hosts, blessed is the one who trusts in you! (Psalm 84). I AM WHO I AM we will trust in you for even the waves must bow and wash your feet. For you are our Good Shepherd. You prepare a feast for us. And at your table nothing is ever wasted. Nothing is ever lost.
In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.