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TITLE:    Shepherds and Hired Hands
SCRIPTURE:    John 10:11-18   

Jesus says, "I am the good shepherd.  The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.  The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away -- and the wolf snatches them and scatters them.  The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep."

My guess is that nobody in this congregation has ever raised sheep or been a shepherd, but we know what Jesus was talking about.  We have known shepherds, and we have known hired hands -- not necessarily shepherds and hired hands who work with sheep, but shepherds and hired hands who work with people. 

We know shepherds and hired hands in every area of. It reminds me of a cartoon that I saw some years ago.  Two psychiatrists were on an elevator at the end of the day.  One of them looked like he had been through the wringer.  His clothes were wrinkled.  There were bags under his eyes.  I can understand that.  Listening to people who have problems can be pretty intense.  You really want to understand. You really want to help.  You listen hard for anything that might provide a clue -- an insight.  It is surprisingly hard work -- listening.

But the other psychiatrist didn't look tired.  He was well dressed and well groomed -- neat as a pin.  The first psychiatrist said, "Boy, I don't know how you do it -- listening to people's problems all day!  I'm exhausted!"  The second psychiatrist paused for a moment, smiled, and then said, "Who listens!" 

Shepherds and hired hands!

It even happens with mothers.  I often see mothers who take good care of their children.  It is a joy to see mothers like that, and there are lots of them.  But I see the other kind too.  Sometimes in a supermarket I will see a mother screaming at her child.  I can understand that too -- I think that we all feel like screaming at our children sometimes.  Children can be so demanding -- so exasperating -- so frustrating.  We are human, and we get tired.  Children can stretch us to the breaking point, so I can understand a mother screaming at her child -- but I don't like it.  I don't like it, because I know how much damage it does. 

Sometimes I hear mothers calling their children names -- telling them that they are stupid or clumsy or bad.  It is a terrible thing to be on the receiving end of that kind of scolding.  Pretty soon, the child begins to believe what the mother is saying.  At some point, the child concludes that he or she is hopeless and quits trying.  Why would a mothers do that to a child?  We say that the mother doesn't know better, and that is probably true.  I think that it is also true that there are shepherd-mothers and hired hand-mothers.  It is just a matter of attitude, and attitudes are important.

I must also tell you that hired hand-mothers are not hopeless.  They can learn.  They can change.  There are parenting courses that help.  A bad mother can learn from a good mother.  When it is just a matter of attitude there is always hope, because attitudes can be changed.  People can change. 

If, when you hear me talking about shepherd-mothers and hired-hand-mothers, you realize that you are a hired-hand-mother, take heart.  If you can recognize that about yourself -- if you can admit that to yourself -- there is hope.  Recognizing that you have a problem is the first step toward finding a solution.  It is just a little step -- a baby step -- but it is a step in the right direction.  You have to be willing to change, though, and change is painful.  It is hard work.  You have to be willing to invest time and effort to learning new ways of parenting.  You have to start by learning new ways of thinking about your child.  If you need help in this area, come and talk to me.  I might be able to help, and I can point you to other people who can help. 

Jesus was no hired hand.  He says, "I am the good shepherd.  The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep."  Jesus was a good shepherd, because he loved us and was willing to do whatever it took -- make whatever sacrifice necessary -- to help us.  In his case, that meant dying on a cross.  That was his way and God's way of showing us how serious our sin is and how serious God's love is.  Jesus said, "And I, when I am lifted up from the earth, will draw all people to myself" (John 12:32) -- and that is, in fact, what happened.  All over the world today, there are people who love Jesus because he was willing to die on a cross for them -- because he is the good shepherd.

Jesus is "the" good shepherd.  Nobody else is "the" good shepherd, but Jesus has many disciples (mothers) who are, nevertheless, good shepherds.  They are good shepherds because they try to learn from Jesus -- try to live as Jesus would have them to live -- try to do the work to which Jesus calls them -- try to love the sheep like Jesus loved them.  Nobody else does it perfectly, like Jesus, but lots of mothers do it well.  I have known so many fine Christian mothers in my lifetime; each one of them was a small light, but together they lit the world for Jesus.  Like Jesus, they make sacrifices -- serious sacrifices -- to help their children.   

Of course, there are hired hands out there too -- mothers who don't love the sheep -- mothers who are concerned only for their own welfare -- mothers who give Jesus a bad name.  It is sad, but they seem to get all the press.  A thousand mothers do the right thing, and nobody pays any attention. One does the wrong thing, and everyone notices

But this morning I would like to invite you to do two things.  The first is to be thankful for Jesus -- "the" good shepherd -- and to be thankful for all the good shepherds (mothers) who try to follow him and to do his work.  Give some thought to the good shepherds (mothers) in this congregation -- people who give of themselves a little or a lot for Jesus -- people who teach Sunday school -- and lead youth groups -- and sing in the choir -- and keep the building clean and the grass mowed – and, well, the list just goes on and on.  This week, pray for these good shepherds (mothers).  Pray for them by name.  Give thanks for them and ask God to bless them and their work.

And second, make a decision to be a good shepherd (mother) yourself -- to learn from Jesus -- to try to do what he calls you to do -- to try to love the sheep as he loves the sheep -- to be a part of the solution instead of a part of the problem.  Try to be a shepherd instead of a hired hand.  If you do, God will make a blessing out of you.  And God will bless you too. Whenever anyone becomes a good shepherd, (a good mother) everyone wins -- Jesus, our children, and you. 

Pray for good shepherds (mothers).  Give thanks for good shepherds (mothers).  Be a good shepherd (mother). Let that be our agenda for this week.  Amen.

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