John’s Gospel is full of images and pictures of Jesus. In chapter 10 John the image is the Gatekeeper, Good Shepherd. John lifts up Jesus’ mission: That his followers may have life and have it with abundance. As the Shepherd and Gatekeeper, Jesus nourishes and cares for his followers through his teaching, his healing, and his willingness to die rather than withhold his word of compassionate justice for the least. He does not steal, kill, or destroy. He is the Good Shepherd. Jesus comes to his followers bringing life.
In this Easter season we celebrate the risen Christ, God with us in the resurrection. Jesus invites his followers to live in the freedom of his care as the Good Shepherd. But in the resurrection his provision goes beyond food and drink, or even protection in the storm. In the resurrection, all of our fears and anxious thoughts are consumed by profound, final peace. In life we face many challenges, but ultimately we release ourselves into God’s care and resurrection. The beauty of the resurrection is that we do not make it happen. All we can do is trust. Entrust ourselves into the care of the Good Shepherd who, regardless of what brings our final breath, will usher us into the very presence of God who holds us with all of creation in perfect unity and peace. We are powerless to understand and control our own passing from death to life. All we can do is trust that God is gathering us back.
This past week I asked for stories of God’s care as the Good Shepherd.
When Karen DeFrain of Dillsburg was diagnosed with stage 1 ovarian cancer 14 years ago she was told that she must have had an angel sitting on her shoulder because of how rare it is for that cancer to be diagnosed so early. It has returned twice and each time her family and friends and many others have supported her in prayer. Often in the ups and downs of treatment, surgeries, and tests, she has “become weak, scared, afraid, and like she might not be able to go on,” but her faith sees her through as she talks to God who makes her light shine bright. Her mantra has been “Smile, love, believe, and always have hope. God is looking down and sees us!” Karen feels blessed as she remembers that there are others with much greater struggles.
Lenora Bear recalls a moment when family gathered at a cabin in Lycoming County without phone service. Some of the adventurous ones decided to head down to the creek where there was a swimming hole. Her cousin slipped and injured his knee so that he wasn’t able to walk. When some of them returned, she remembers praying, “God, we need help!” because none of the family there was strong enough to help him get back. A couple minutes later some young hikers passed close by and went down to help. Then his two sons and daughter in law drove up. Together they were able to get him back to the cabin and off to Michigan the next day where he could undergo surgery. Lenora “surely sensed God’s care in this incident.”
Back in 1984 Rich Coons, the day after Thanksgiving, got a free ride from a tree limb that threw him a good distance into the Little Conewago Creek. His chain saw still running behind him helped his sons find him. “I’ll be ok, just take me to the hospital.” With their help, he made it to the ER. He was out for 3 days in the trauma unit on a ventilator because of 5 broken ribs and collapsed lung, a broken arm, and dislocated shoulder, contusions on his head, and both wrists sprained. It took 12 weeks to heal with the help of his wife Linda who had just finished school for occupational therapy. Whether he was willing his shoulder to heal in therapy by repeating “heal, heal” as he pushed through an exercise or whether he was counting squares on the floor adding up to miles, he knew God was with him the entire time.
Another responded, “When my wife was diagnosed with cancer the second time, being told that it was Invasive Ductal Carcinoma, stage 2A, we were devastated, to say the least. We needed to start a very aggressive regiment of treatment. We went to bed that night and I prayed what was then, the most fervent prayer I ever prayed. I told God that we knew He was right beside us, but we needed Him right out in front! We needed Him to guide us, as we were lost and broken, much like a broken pot, nothing but shards lying on the ground. We did not know where we were going, what we’d have to endure, or if she’d even survive! She has a cat, and her cat usually sits on the top of her cedar chest, at the foot of the bed. That cat did something it had never done before, or since. It walked around me up to my head, around my head and purred 2 times, right in my face. It then walked around her head until it was right in her face and again purred 2 times. Then it left and walked to the cedar chest and laid down as she always does, ready to go to sleep.
I knew that this was a God sighting. God sent that cat to purr to us as a sign of His peace and stillness. Tears rolled down my cheek as I knew then that this was going to turn out alright. God was with us! This trip through the Valley of Cancer may be difficult, and require a massive amount of strength and stamina on my wife’s part, but we then knew that we would come out at the other end. Praise God!”
My father tells the story of the time he and my mother wanted to move closer to family in Virginia but were having difficulty selling their house. The contract with the agent ran out, and they decided to stop trying so hard and just let it go. It wasn’t long after that that a person came up to their front door and asked if they had ever considered selling. It all worked out and they moved. For a time they were without a home of their own but they stayed with my mother’s sister and husband until they found a place in Luray to buy. It all worked out.
My sister Amy responded “I have discovered that God’s provisions aren't necessarily a big "impressive " moment that would make others revel, but more His faithfulness everyday. I see Him meeting needs, some I ask for and others He just 'is enough' and doesn't even need me to ask. I'm so grateful for the big and the small, none of which do I take for granted.”
Bev Sunday and Shanda Goodwin saw God provide care and nourishment to husband and grandfather Rodger as he suffered with cancer this past winter ending in his passing away. He could not eat, but God cared for him and prepared him for his heavenly home-going each day. By the visits and care of close family and myself, and by the phone calls and prayers of dear friends, they were reminded of God’s presence every moment. It was a tough journey for all of them, but all the prayers and care kept him comfortable at home surrounded love and care. Bev and Shanda are grateful for God’s strength, peace, and hope in God’s eternal promises. They praise God for shepherding through difficult times.
Each of these stories reveals gratitude for the teller’s safety and that of friends, and family. Further, each story reveals deep trust. And in each story there is a quiet resolve that the Good Shepherd who cares for us by sending help or healing in a moment or extended time of need is dependably the Good Shepherd in the resurrection to eternal life with God. That deep trust, no matter what happens, is what gives us courage to ask and to accept all answers to prayer. Because ultimately the answer is always, “I am with you in this. Fear not. I am with you.” And that is what we need most. Thanks be to God, our Good Shepherd. Peace be with you in the slow journey of trust. Amen.
Roy Stetler Pastor, Quickel Evangelical Lutheran Church Zion View/York, Pennsylvania 717.350.5057