I am the Good Shepherd/Uncle Clarence and His Farm
Shepherds, shepherds, have any of you people ever known a shepherd personally?
Have any of you children ever talked to a shepherd face to face? Have any of you ever known a real live shepherd? I haven’t. I’ve never known a shepherd personally. I’ve seen all kids of pictures of shepherds, in all kinds of religious magazines. During my Sunday school years I used to see pictures of Jesus carrying sheep around in his arms or carrying sheep around his neck. I used to think that Jesus was a shepherd until I went to the seminary and found out that he really was a carpenter. In our image Jesus is a shepherd.
I’ve seen all kinds of pictures of shepherds in the National Geographic Magazine. There are all kinds of articles in the National Geographic about shepherds. I do know there are Basque shepherds, those Spanish shepherds who are living over there in eastern Washington and southwestern Oregon – out in sheep country. But personally, I have never known a shepherd.
I’ve never talked to a shepherd face to face. In fact, the closest I ever came to knowing a
shepherd is to know my uncle Clarence. Uncle Clarence was a farmer from southwestern Minnesota. A few miles out of a little town named Fairmont, Minnesota. What I remember about Uncle Clarence is what I remember as a boy. I used to spend two weeks every summer on his farm with Uncle Clarence and with Aunt Gudrun, and my country cousin Gary who was about a year older than I. Clarence, I remember from those farm days. He’s still alive by the way, and I still love Clarence. Clarence was what I call a typical farmer. I mean he was very sun tanned, his hands, his arms, his face were tanned very, very brown. And then the top of his head, which was bald, was absolutely white. His head was pure white because he always wore a cap when he was plowing the fields.
He had big muscular arms and he had a strong body and he had a very warm gentle smile. That too was tanned by the sun.
My Uncle Clarence really loved farming. Clarence loved driving the tractor and running the combine. He loved the land and he loved the feel of dirt through his fingers. He
loved the land and he loved the feel of dirt through his fingers. He loved the animals, their smell, their ways, their personalities. He loved raising his son on a farm. My Uncle Clarence would never want to live in the city. He never has and he never will. Born on a farm, he lived on a farm, and I bet my Uncle Clarence will die on a farm.
Every summer I would come to stay on this farm in Fairmont, Minnesota, but I was afraid. I was afraid of the farm. You see, I was a big city boy. I was a big city boy – I came from a big city of 3000 people. And I was afraid of the farm. I was afraid of the animals. I mean the bulls, especially the bulls. I was afraid to cross over the fence and go into the pasture because of that big bull that would always seem to notice me. I was also afraid to cross the fence and go into the barnyard. I didn’t trust those big black and white Holstein cows coming toward me and I would run to the fence as soon as those cows would move. And also the pigs, those big fat pigs in the pig pen. I was afraid of the pigs as well. I was afraid if I fell into the pigpen that they would eat me up as they were eating their corn, that they really couldn’t tell the difference between the corn and myself. I was also afraid of the big geese. I was afraid they would peck at me and that would hurt. But not my Uncle Clarence. He loved the animals. He loved the farm. He loved farming. His love for the farm and the animals was as natural as the corn stalks that were growing in the field.
Well, Uncle Clarence had two or three big old ewes. They were under the special care of
my country cousin Gary. Each year these big old ewes - these big old sheep - would be lovingly prepared for the Four H contest. They would be washed and scrubbed. Their hair would be combed out so they would look fat and full. My country cousin Gary would win a blue ribbon at the county fair with those sheep. Gary loved his sheep and took good care of them. Now, I’ve never known a shepherd, but I did know my Uncle Clarence.
Knowing my Uncle Clarence, I have the feeling of knowing what a shepherd was like in
Biblical times. For the biblical shepherd and my Uncle Clarence both loved their sheep. They took care of them. They fed them. They protected them. They met their needs. And their love for their sheep and their animals was as natural and as common as a warm summer breeze.
Well, it’s with this image, this visual image of Uncle Clarence that we approach the text
for tonight. Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd. I lay down my life for the sheep.” We also hear the words of the 23rd Psalm, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside the still waters. He restores my soul.”
And also when I think of the shepherds, I think of that beautiful passage from the book of Ezekiel, a favorite passage of mine, where God says, “I will be a shepherd to the people, says the Lord, I will seek out the lost and bring back the stray.” Right away I think of Uncle Clarence walking down the country road. I can see him walking down the country road looking for the cattle that have gotten out of the fence, they are down at the neighbor’s property and he’s gone down to pick them up. “The shepherd will bind up the crippled and strengthen the weak.” I think of Uncle Clarence out late at night in the barn giving shots to his cows. Or I would see him there at night with a vet, late at night, helping to deliver a baby calf. And then the Bible says, “I will watch over the fat and the strong sheep.” I again see my Uncle Clarence sitting on the fence looking at those big fat strong cows of his.
When Jesus was asked the question, “Who are you, Jesus?” he replied, “I am the good shepherd.” We know what that means because we have known people who are like my Uncle Clarence.
Who are you Jesus? “I am the good shepherd.” That not only tells me who Jesus is but the image of the good shepherd tells you and me who we are. You and I also are called to be the good shepherd.
The Latin word for shepherd is the word “pastor.” Pastor Markquart, Shepherd Markquart. A good pastor is a good shepherd.
But all good people that I know, people who are good, are people who understand what it means to be a shepherd, a good shepherd. And so what is it about Jesus that makes him a good shepherd?
Tonight I would like to talk about four qualities of a good shepherd. A good shepherd loves his sheep. He cares for them when they are sick. He seeks them out when they are lost. He feeds them and waters them. And I would briefly like to talk about these qualities.
First, a good shepherd loves his sheep. I understand that my Uncle Clarence deeply loved his farm, he loved the land, he loved the machinery, he loved the animals. My
Uncle Clarence would rather be farming than doing anything else in the world. The love of farming for him was natural. It wasn’t forced. It wasn’t because he had to do it. He wasn’t doing it primarily for the money. He was doing it because he loved farming. And so did Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ loves us just like my Uncle Clarence loved farming.
I think of a shepherd holding a sheep in his arms. Or I think of a 4H student who takes his animals to the fair and how much that 4H student loves his lamb or his calf. Or I think of my children who now recently have a new little dog and how naturally and easily they love our little dog, Snowball. This is the way the Lord God loves you and me. Like a shepherd loves his sheep. A 4-H student loves his lamb. A child in our house loves the new puppy. It is this love of a shepherd for the sheep that is the way that Jesus feels about you and about me. Jesus is the good shepherd. Jesus loves you and you and you and you just the way my Uncle Clarence loved his animals on the farm. You and I are called to love each other in the same way.
Another quality of a good shepherd is to care for the sheep, especially when they are sick
and diseased. Immediately I think of my Uncle Clarence giving vaccinations at night, or helping to deliver a lamb at birth. Or I think of you people who have been parents there in the middle of the night. How many nights you have been up taking care of your little children, helping your little children in the middle of the night when they are sick. Or I think of the New Testament when Jesus said, “I came to help the lame and the crippled and the weak and the blind.” Jesus had compassion for all people who were sick and physically handicapped. In fact, when a child is really sick, really crippled, a parent does not love that child less, but a good parent loves that child more. Likewise with God when his children are really sick and really suffering, God does not love us any less. The Lord loves us more. This is the way God is towards us. The Lord loves us when we are sick and when we are hurt. Likewise you and I are called to love each other the same way, for that is the profile not only of a good shepherd, but that is also a profile of a good person as well.
The third quality of a good shepherd is that he searches out the lost. I think of my Uncle Clarence going down the road to get his cattle and bring them back. And I think of a shepherd going out into the ravines to bring his sheep back. Or I think of a western movie where the cowboy gets on his horse and rides off into the horizon to get the stray and bring it back. Or I think of my children who are outside playing and suddenly they are gone for too long a period of time and I go out and I walk around the block looking for them because I am afraid my children would become lost and hurt themselves or be hurt by somebody else. So also with God when we are lost, he comes to find us and to bring us back so we won’t hurt ourselves, so we won’t be hurt by others. That is the quality of a good shepherd and also of good people. They go out and find people who are lost and bring them back so they won’t hurt or destroy themselves or be destroyed by that which is evil in life.
The last quality of a good shepherd is that he gives his sheep both feed and water. My
Uncle Clarence always had this big trough of water, this big wooden trough that was always full of fresh water. He always had a hay mound full of bales of hay. He would feed the cattle tossing the hay in front of the Holsteins so they could eat. I can still see my Uncle Clarence doing that. A good shepherd always gives both food and water or the animals would die and likewise Jesus gives us good food. And what is his good food? It is his word. It is his Bible. What is the water? It is the spirit, the living spirit of God. God feeds us and waters us. He gives us the Bible and the spirit and thereby helps us to truly live. Jesus is indeed the good shepherd.
There is one last thing I want to mention. When Jesus was called the “good shepherd” in the Gospel of John, the Bible says that a good shepherd “lays down his life for the sheep.” In the New Testament world of Jesus, a shepherd could actually be killed by a marauding lion. And Jesus was killed, not by a marauding lion but by a marauding mass of people, who killed him. As this mass of people were killing Jesus on the cross, Jesus cried out to God, “Father, forgive those people who are killing me. They don’t know what they are doing.”
Looking back on my beloved Uncle Clarence, he didn’t die protecting the sheep. But Jesus did. That is the essential difference between Uncle Clarence and Jesus. Jesus loved his sheep so much that he was willing to die for us.
I really love my Uncle Clarence. I had the privilege of seeing him again this past summer and he’s still a pretty good old farmer. He’s a nice old man. His face and his hands are still tanned brown. I really love my Uncle Clarence and Aunt Gudrun. They are good people. They are good people because they have been taken care of by a good shepherd. They have been shepherded through out all of life by Jesus. They have experienced the love of Christ, his care when they were sick, his bringing them back when they were lost. He has fed them and watered them and Uncle Clarence and Aunt Gudrun now too have become shepherds. This is who Christ is and that is who you are called to be and that is who I am called to be. We are all called to be good shepherds. What a privilege, what a privilege to be like Jesus Christ, to live that kind of life, to be and live like a good shepherd.
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