The Power of the Shepherd

December 3, 2017 – Pastor Doug Stratton

Isaiah 40:1-11             

Comfort, comfort my people,

says your God.

Speak tenderly to Jerusalem,

and proclaim to her

that her hard service has been completed,

that her sin has been paid for,

that she has received from the Lord’s hand

double for all her sins.

A voice of one calling:

“In the wilderness prepare

the way for the Lord;

make straight in the desert

a highway for our God.

Every valley shall be raised up,

every mountain and hill made low;

the rough ground shall become level,

the rugged places a plain.

And the glory of the Lord will be revealed,

and all people will see it together.

For the mouth of the Lord has spoken.”

A voice says, “Cry out.”

And I said, “What shall I cry?”

“All people are like grass,

and all their faithfulness is like the flowers of the field.

The grass withers and the flowers fall,

because the breath of the Lord blows on them.

Surely the people are grass.

The grass withers and the flowers fall,

but the word of our God endures forever.”

You who bring good news to Zion,

go up on a high mountain.

You who bring good news to Jerusalem,

lift up your voice with a shout,

lift it up, do not be afraid;

say to the towns of Judah,

“Here is your God!”

See, the Sovereign Lord comes with power,

and he rules with a mighty arm.

See, his reward is with him,

and his recompense accompanies him.

He tends his flock like a shepherd:

He gathers the lambs in his arms

and carries them close to his heart

he gently leads those that have young.

CCI: The Gospel reverses our understanding of Power and empowers those who have been dismissed.

Preface: As I studied this passage, particularly the last few verses, I was struck by what the prophet had to say about the nature of power. In fact, as I studied and read, it became clear that what the world means by power and what the gospel means by power were at opposite ends of the spectrum. As I looked at the Power of the Shepherd, I began seeing parallels to our society. It may be that what I am going to say this morning will upset some of you. When my father was first pastoring a church in Greenfield, PA, there was a woman who was deaf in the congregation. She had hearing aids that were old even for that time. Her hearing aids were controlled by a box that she wore around her neck. He told me that whenever he said something that she did not like, she would put move her hand to the control box, turn it off and then sit in silence with a smile on her face. There may be a desire to do just that this morning, but ask you not to do that. Instead, I urge you to listen for the word of the Lord as we explore the Power of the Shepherd.

Intro: In early October the New York Times and the New Yorker began telling the stories of scores of women who said they had sexually harassed, abused and assaulted by movie mogul Harvey Weinstein. As the stories were told and the women were heard, the flood gates opened. The pain and anger and humiliation that women had experienced throughout their lives would no longer be hidden. Soon the #MeToo began trending on Social Media as people identified with the assault that Harvey Weinstein’s victims had endured. Women of all ages began telling their stories, and, and this part is really important, they were believed. Women who had whispered of their humiliation with friends, now spoke boldly, refusing to remain silent. It is a sea change that has been long overdue. It did not stop at Harvey as we all know. Respected executives, politicians, actors, teachers and bosses who had used the power of their positions to manipulate women soon found their behavior exposed.

But what was the source of the culture and the idea that men could treat women like objects with impunity? It is built on a belief that with power comes control. It appears when we begin perceiving people as objects. It is manifested when we believe we can and must control everything around us.  And while abuse of power is an issue that plagues men in our society it does not only flow from men to women.

This is not new, however, the destructive natures of abuse and harassment is only beginning to be understood by people who hold power. You see, the issue here is not sex. Whether it is harassment, abuse or assault, it is not about sex, it is about power, control, and domination. And, friends, the gospel has a lot to say about Control, Power, and Domination.

The passage we just read is the beginning a new section in the book of Isaiah. In the first 39 chapters of Isaiah, the prophet is warning the people of God’s punishment for their disobedience. In fact, chapter 39 ends with these words: “The time will surely come when everything in your palace, and all that your predecessors have stored up until this day, will be carried off to Babylon. Nothing will be left, says the Lord.  And some of your descendants, your own flesh and blood who will be born to you, will be taken away, and they will become eunuchs in the palace of the king of Babylon.” It is a picture of destruction, death and poverty.

And then when we turn the page to chapter 40 we read these words: “’Comfort, Comfort my people’, says your God. Speak kindly to Jerusalem and tell her that her hard service has been completed.” The contrast is jarring. But the contrast is there because we have suddenly moved from King Hezekiah in 700 BC, to the time of the restoration from Exile in 540 BC, 160 years or more have passed and now there is a message of comfort, kindness, and encouragement.

As the people returned to the land, they were coming back from a time of being dominated. They had been forced to leave their land and now they were returning. Having been set free, they knew it was time to seek revenge.

And so they are reminded that people have a limited time on the earth. If we are going to do this, we need to do it now! We are but grass and we will be swept away when heat and drought move in. However, the word of the Lord, will stand. God has shown faithfulness by restoring the people to their land. And so, the speaker calls for the people to announce the coming of God.

“Go up on a high mountain, . . . lift up your voice with a shout. . . Announce the good News! Here is Your God! See, the Sovereign Lord comes with power, and he rules with a mighty arm. See, his reward is with him, and his recompense accompanies him.” This is what the people were hoping for. They wanted God to appear with power and with a mighty arm. They wanted God to use that mighty arm to teach the Babylonians a lesson they would never forget. SHOW YOUR POWER, GOD!

And that is the God we want to see as well. We want God to strike our enemies. We have come to expect God to use power the way we use power. If God is mighty, then God can set things straight. And we are willing to add our strength to accomplish what needs done. We have bombs, we have ships, we have courts, we have wealth. We can set things right! Show your power God and let us work with you!

We do this in so many ways. Historically we held people as property. We have driven people from their homes and lands. Missionaries have insisted on using our hymns and our words as we have shared the good news. We stack the deck to keep ourselves in power. We grab for all we can. We even turn the celebration of the birth of Jesus into a contest to see who can get or give the best gift. We have to admit, we love being strong and the power that goes with it.

But the good news of the gospel does not fit our patterns of strength and might. The prophet called for God to come and reveal the Lord’s powerful right arm which is a picture of God’s judgement. But then he gives us a glimpse of just how God’s power functions.

(with his powerful right arm)

He tends his flock like a shepherd:

He gathers the lambs in his arms

and carries them close to his heart

he gently leads those that have young.

This is the way God will reveal His power! Like a gentle shepherd! Like one who carries lambs. Like one who is patient with little ones and weak ones. The power of the gospel is not in might, or bombs, or money, or even votes. The power of the gospel is the ability to tend the flock and care for the individual lambs and carry those who are weary and take time with nursing mothers. The power of the gospel is found in serving the most needy. The power of the gospel is seen in Jesus who could have called upon angels to rescue him, but instead, refused to fight back.

The One who had the greatest power that has ever been known, God’s own Son, demonstrated that power by enduring the cross. Jesus demonstrated the power of Justice by permitting injustice to be poured out on him. In 1963 the Children’s Crusade in Birmingham revealed the evil of the injustice of segregation. The gentle children who marched forward into the mouths of dogs and water cannons demonstrated the greatest power that had been seen to that moment in the Civil Rights Movement.

Today, power is perceived as the ability to force others to do your pleasure. That is the story behind the stories of abuse that have been brought to light. And by shining light on the abuse of power, a change is coming. That change however, must include a new understanding of power, not to coerce or to get one’s own way, but to serve, and to be a contrast to the evil of our world.

This morning we lit the shepherd’s candle. A candle that provides light for our Advent Journey. It does not appear to be a blinding light, rather it is a gentle glow that is growing. It is a glow that reveals true power, a humble power that honors people. It is a light that glows brighter and brighter as power is used to serve. It is the light of the shepherd

    Who gathers the lambs in his arms

and carries them close to his heart

the Shepherd who gently leads those that have young.

  As we journey toward Bethlehem this year, let me ask you, “What is the role of Power in your life? Is it the power of Might that places others under your control? Or is it the power of the shepherd which is willing to endure shame that the sheep around you might be safe.

   Jesus calls us to be gentle shepherds, and as we gather at the Table, he invites us to enlarge the table that might be welcome, and all may discover a power that brings peace.