I have been told that the French believe that the pun is the lowest form of humor. You should know that I am not French and I love puns, in fact, I have received a number of puns from some of you and if you do not enjoy the following story it may be the fault of one of you. And so the story is told of a man and a sheep that went into a bar. They drank until it was closing time and at the last call the man asked for one more round for him and the sheep. They both drained their glasses and then the sheep fell over into a heap on the floor. The man after looking briefly at the sheep just got up left his money for the tab and walked to the door. The bartender called out “Hey, you cannot just leave that lying there.” The man stopped and turned around. He looked at the sheep and then at the Bar Keep smiled and replied, “Oh, it’s OK, he’s no lion, he is just a sheep.”
Our Old Testament, our Psalms and our Gospel readings today deal with sheep and shepherds. In the gospel reading we see Jesus having compassion on the people because they are like sheep without a shepherd.
It is a serious problem for sheep to be without a shepherd because a shepherd is the one who leads the sheep to the pastures and then brought them back home safely. The shepherd knows where to take the flock to water and food and protects them from dangers. A shepherd sees the big picture and looks for the health of the flock whereas the sheep only sees a small picture. Dr. Andrew Bonar of Scotland tells how, in the Highlands of Scotland, sometimes a sheep will wander off into the rocks and get into places that from which it cannot get out. The grass on these mountains is very sweet and the sheep like it and they will jump down ten or twelve feet to a ledge where there is grass, but then they can’t jump back up to get out again. Well, that sounds a lot like us doesn’t it? How often do I want to do something that I know might not be all that smart, but, I do it anyway. Why do I do it? I do it because I want to do it. And because I want to do it, I rationalize the action to myself and perhaps to others. I know I am not the Lone Ranger here, all of us do the same sort of thing. It is something we do as humans that is very much like what those sheep do.
I find this an interesting that it says in our gospel reading, when Jesus had compassion on the crowd he began to teach them. He felt sorry for them so he began to teach them. When you feel sorry for others, do you begin to teach? You would think that Jesus would do something else perhaps more practical. He would heal, he would feed, he would help them economically or something like that. But he feels compassion and begins to teach! So how did that help them? In general people are lost—they don’t know why they are alive. They don’t know their purpose for their lives or their purposes are shallow and short sighted. Most of us simply do the next thing. But Jesus came to help people understand the point of life and what to do with their lives. It wasn’t simply a matter of economics. If that were the case Jesus could have made them money. It wasn’t simply because they were ill, most of them were not and he healed the ones who asked. It wasn’t because they were not religious; the Jews of the first century were as religious as the Jews had ever been. It says they were like sheep without a shepherd. They needed direction. They needed a way to God and needed to learn how to live. You see we can be religious; we can be OK physically and economically and still lack purpose in our lives. We can be OK situationally and not know why we are here. It is important to know. It gives us a foundation for our lives. This is why Jesus taught! Life is not simply about doing religious things or keeping active in other even good ways. This is why it is so important even now for us to always be learning from Jesus! So what did Jesus teach them?
We have the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew; we have the sermon on the plain in Luke—but we do not have a copy of the sermon by the seashore in Mark. We do know that Jesus repeats his message and says the same things in slightly different ways, for example the Sermon on the Mount is similar in many parts to the Sermon on the Plain. He reused his illustrations several times probably some of his same jokes. What was the main message of Jesus? What did he talk about primarily? The main message of Jesus throughout all the gospels was about the kingdom of heaven and how living for and in the kingdom is the primary reason for our existence. He talks about where the kingdom is, how we get there, what was the kingdom like; and how do people act who live in that kingdom.
People who are lost need someone to show the way and explain life; this is why they needed a shepherd. Even as Christians we tend to get sidetracked. Just like the sheep in Scotland we can get out on a ledge and forget the way back. We can get so focused upon things we want that we lose track of what is really important, what is really eternal. So we need to be reminded of how we ought to live. We need to be reminded of how we ought to be thinking. This is one of the reasons we need to church week after week.
Jesus taught that the kingdom of heaven is within us; it is not an external and visible kingdom of things and good situations. The kingdom is where God is and God can be with us and within us no matter our circumstances and situations.
One of the illustrations Jesus uses again and again is that the kingdom is like a seed which grows into a plant. Sometimes Jesus talks about the plant being very fruitful and other times he talks about the plant growing very big. The corresponding application is that the gospel has been planted in us and we should be changing and becoming more and more like our Father in heaven in how we act towards others and how we think about others and how we care for others. This “growing up”, this “being fruitful” is to be the focus and purpose of our lives. It is why we are here. We are learning what it means to be God’s children.
Another theme Jesus taught over and over was that greatness in the kingdom of heaven was in becoming a servant. This was counter-cultural when Jesus said and it is still counter-cultural. Yet learning to be a servant is core to learning what life is all about. Are we willing to serve others? Do we want to serve others? As we grow as Christians, we are to be growing as servants. Our attitudes need to be slowly but surely changing.
So what about you and me? Are we stuck out on a ledge or are we still keeping the right focus in our lives? Are we focused on finding God and talking with Him every day? Are we focused on growing up as Christians? Are we working at learning to serve? Christ came to bring us abundant life; he came to help us experience life to its fullest! Let us continue to strive to grow into that life.