Sweetwater Presbyterian

Small in size, Big in Faith and Love

Substitute Shepherds


This is a very special Sunday - for several reasons. We know it is Mother’s Day - but over the years it has also had several other designations. Years ago in England, this was known as “Mothering Day.” On ‘Mothering Day’ everyone would go to their ‘Mother Church’. In most communities in England, there would be one large parish church and then many smaller churches in the more rural communities that were formed from this large parish church. On ‘mothering day’, everyone would come to the large parish church and worship together - they would go to the Mother Church.
Another Mother’s Day tradition was to allow young girls who were servants in the large English manor houses to go home and visit their mother on this day. These young servant girls were as young as 12 and 13 and no other day during the year would have the opportunity to go and see their families. On ‘Mothering Day” they were given a day off and could go home to visit for the whole day.
On our Presbyterian church calendar, instead of Mother’s Day this is known as Christian Family Day which then led to Christian Family Week to not only recognize our traditional families - but also to recognize that we are all in the church part of the family of God. We as the church are God’s family - the family of Christians.
Thus Christian family day and Christian family week.
Also, in Reformed Churches, this is known as Shepherd Sunday. A day to explore Jesus’ role as our shepherd - the analogy of Jesus’ role that is found throughout all the Bible. And as we spend this season of Easter with Jesus’ final words to his disciples and to us - Jesus reminds us of that picture of himself as our Shepherd.
If you think about it the concept of Mother’s Day and of Shepherding Sunday tie in together. If you think about it, it is easy to compare the nature of a good mother with the nature of the good Shepherd.
Being a shepherd was the primary occupation of the people of God in ancient Palestine. God’s people easily understood what a good shepherds was like. Shepherds would take their flocks out every morning and make sure they were in good pasture and had still water to drink. Each evening, the good shepherd would take their flock to a public corral, or a boxed canyon, where several shepherds would bring their sheep. There would be only one entrance and the shepherds would like down in front if this opening to protect the sheep inside. The good shepherd provided a safe haven for his sheep.
There is a story of a mother who took her four year old son to the grocery store. A rather brave thing to do because she knew he was not a good child in the grocery store and this trip proved to be no exception. He acted up horribly. She fussed at him and threatened him. - “Just wait until I get you home!” but her son didn’t slow down a bit. Exasperated by the time she was leaving the store she was still fussing at her son as they walked out the front door of the store which had all those quarter machines with all the toys and gumballs. Of course her son wanted something from the machines and the exhausted mother said “No!”. She went and got the van and brought it up to the front of the store to load in the groceries when her son ran right back to the machines. She loaded the groceries and walked over to collect her disobedient son and he grabbed onto the gumball machine. She was pulling him away and he was holding on for dear life when all of a sudden the rack of machines went crashing and toys and gumballs went everywhere. Several checkers from the store and the manager came running and a crowd started to form and the young boy realized that maybe he had gone too far this time and he was in real trouble. And immediately he went to the only safe haven he knew - he ran and grabbed on to his mother’s legs for dear life. The same Mom who had fussed at him and threatened him and had promised to ground him for life - but he knew this was his safe place.

Sheep knew they were safe at night with the good shepherd guarding their paddock and we know that we are safe in a savior that loves us. Just as our mother’s arms were the safe haven for us, as the good shepherd was the safe haven for the sheep, Jesus promises to be the safe haven for us. We see the nature of Jesus in what we learned from the nature of our mothers.
When you learn about these shepherds who were so faithful to their sheep it is amazing how well the shepherds knew their sheep. After the shepherd guarded the sheep all night, each shepherd who had put their sheep into this communal area, would simply call his sheep and his sheep would come out from the group and follow him. The sheep knew their shepherd’s voice and would always follow the correct shepherd, even from that jumbled mess of sheep that congregated together in that pen overnight.
I had a friend who had 6 children - they were stair step children, each exactly 2 years apart. When the youngest was about 8, she started taking them to the store with her and she would give them each a buggy and a list, and they would fan out through the store and each would do their part of the shopping. Her name was Sue and she had a distinctive whistle, and when it was time to go, she would go to the front of the store and whistle and soon you would see 6 kids with 6 buggies appearing and they would all go through the line!
Here is another mother who teaches us about our relationship with Jesus - because Jesus’ voice is forever calling us - through his words in the bible, through his words in the church, through family and through members of our Christian family we learn to discern Jesus’ voice, just like the sheep know the shepherd and Sue’s children knew her whistle. We learn the voice of our savior as he calls us all to him.
As time passed in the history of the area of the Palestine, as the people moved from a nation of shepherds to a more cosmopolitan nation - with people moving to the city and away from the countryside - as their religion became centralized in Jerusalem the concern became not about a loving and trusting God, but about ‘proper practice of religion’. How one worshiped and acted and dressed became the major concern and the shepherds who still lived outside in the ‘country’ became looked down upon. The shepherd lifestyle out in those country pastures was such they could not abide by all the cleanliness and purity laws and the ‘proper’ conduct of religion.
Because of their work and their location, shepherds could not conform to all the ‘rules’ so they became the ones who were looked down on - they were ritually unclean and so by Jesus’ time shepherd were seen as one of the lowest classes of society. The orthodox people were taught to stay away from the shepherds because they couldn’t meticulously keep all the details of the ceremonial law. People avoided shepherds. People looked down on shepherds.
Yet this is who Jesus identified himself with. Just as a mother will not think twice about embarrassing herself to rescue a child from a situation, just as a mother goes against the grain of society to protect her child, just as a mother will go without in order to buy needed items for her children, just as a good mother cares not about her own social status to ensure her children’s future - Jesus, the good shepherd, cared not about himself. Jesus was willing to talk to the shepherds, and the lepers and the prostitutes and the tax collectors even though it ruined his own social status - the religious leaders made a point of asking Jesus why he would associate with such as them - the tax payers and the sinners.
Jesus, the good shepherd, does more than just be a safe haven, or to simply call his sheep together or to physically care for all his sheep. Jesus, the good shepherd, cares for his sheep without regard for himself at all - he doesn’t care what people think of him or how they view him. Just as good mothers don’t care about their own life - it is the life of their children that is important.
We think about our own mothers and the sacrifices they made for us - and in seeing what our mother’s have done for us, we came to understand better what the good shepherd has done for us.
Without regard for his own life, he gave his life for us. He will always lead us to green pastures and still waters, he will always restore our souls. He will always be the safe haven when we walk through the valley of the shadow of death.
So it doesn’t matter by which name we call this Sunday - mother’s day or mothering day or Christian family day or Shepherd Sunday - they all teach us what our Lord, the good shepherd, in his loving and nurturing way - the love like a good mother - the love that cares for us. We remember our mothers gave a good part of their life for us, and Jesus gave his whole life that we may be a part of the family of God - that we would be the sheep of his pasture. Amen.