Sermoncitos, a family tradition
The Good Shepherd
We recently celebrated Easter, a time when we are thinking about the Resurrection. We just finished Springtime when we are seeing the renewal of life. This spring has been characterized throughout the world by extremes: earthquakes, floods, tornados, cyclones, fires, and drought. Disasters help us focus on the needs of others in spite of our own suffering. Brother Parker has seen extremes of personal suffering all throughout his long life, but always had time to care for others. I want to talk about life here on earth, and the eternal life we have before and after this life; and the ways we can serve others in spite of our own suffering.
Before we came to earth we lived with our Father in Heaven. And the Lord God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul” (Genesis 2:7). The trials and temptations we suffer on earth are provided for our benefit that we might remember that we need God, and learn to turn to Him. “Knowing this, that the trying of your faith worketh patience. But let patience have her perfect work, that ye may be perfect and entire, wanting nothing. If any of you lack wisdom, let him ask of God, that giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not; and it shall be given him. But let him ask in faith, nothing wavering. For he that wavereth is like a wave of the sea driven with the wind and tossed. For let not that man think that he shall receive any thing of the Lord. ” (James 1:3-7).
God lives and loves each of you. We all came from God and return to Him. Jesus Christ is the rock of our Salvation and the author of our liberty from death. Jesus is “the good shepherd [who] doth call after you; and if you will hearken unto his voice he will bring you into his fold, and ye are his sheep; and he commandeth you that ye suffer no ravenous wolf to enter among you, that ye may not be destroyed” (Alma 5:60). Not all those who care for sheep are shepherds. A sheep herder drives the sheep as if they were wild. A shepherd calls to the sheep and they follow him, because they know him and love him. The night of Christ’s birth we have a reminder of the diligence of shepherds. The shepherds were “abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night” (Luke 2:8). Jesus characterized himself as “the good shepherd; the good shepherd giveth his life for the sheep”. In constrast, “he that is an hireling, and not the shepherd, whose own the sheep are not, seeth the wolf coming, and leaveth the sheep, and fleeth: and the wolf catcheth them, and scattereth the sheep” (John 10:11, 12). I think Brother Parker followed Christ’s example. He was a good shepherd, who gave his life for his sheep, caring for them even in the days of his great suffering, even until his assignment on earth was done and he was called back to the God who gave him life.
When Jesus was in Jerusalem he explained that his ministry was to take him to other places. “I am the good shepherd; and know my sheep, and am known of mine. As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down my life for the sheep. And other sheep I have, which are not of this fold, them also I must bring, and they shall hear my voice; and there shall be one fold, and one shepherd” (John 10: 14-16). We know that Jesus had much to do after his life on earth. In the first hours after the crucifixion we know that He went among the righteous who had died and “commissioned them to go forth and carry the light of the gospel to them that were in darkness, even to all the spirits of men; and thus was the gospel preached to the dead” (D&C 138:30). Many witnessed his resurrection in America (3 Nephi 15:21). He told them that there were others that He would also visit (3 Nephi 16:1). I know that Lennie too, has much to do after this life. I know he is busy about the Lord’s errand in a new place, and I am sure that the place is not far away. I am sure the Brother Parker continues to be concerned for us who remain in mortality.
“The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want. He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever” (Psalm 23).
Jesus not only lives, but he cares for each of us, receives us into His Kingdom in Heaven, and prepares a Kingdom on the earth. There are great changes coming to the earth, changes that will be hard to bear, so He gives us this message of hope: “Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God. Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain: And the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together: for the mouth of the Lord hath spoken it. O Zion, that bringest good tidings, get thee up into the high mountain; O Jerusalem, that bringest good tidings, lift up thy voice with strength; lift it up, be not afraid; say unto the cities of Judah, Behold your God! He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young” (Isaiah 40: 1-11).
In his last visits with the Apostles after the Resurrection, Jesus had long conversations, instructing them in their duty. “Feed my sheep”, Jesus urged them (John 21:16, 17). We know that this commandment applies to us today (D&C 112:14). We are to love one another as Jesus has loved us, (John 15:12). We can all do a better job of forgiving and loving and serving one another. I think of Brother Parker as a shepherd who led all his sheep to safe pastures every day. In contrast I see myself as one who sets a little hay in the corral and opens the gate once a week in case any hungry sheep might wander by. His last act on earth was to pull four sheep out of the mud. He gave his life to save the sheep. In our communities there are many sheep who have gone astray. Listen to the voice of the Good Shepherd, and return to the fold. You are always welcome to return, no matter where your path has led you (1 Pet. 2: 25). In my last conversations with Lennie, he urged me to teach the Gospel to his grandchildren, and baptize them for the remission of sins. Jesus has established a church with sacred ordinances and valuable teachings that can bless your family every day. Bring your children to church, and be part of God’s solution for your family.
Lennie has followed the way of all his ancestors before him. Even Christ was buried, “but now is Christ risen from the dead, and become the firstfruits of them that slept. For since by man came death, by man came also the resurrection of the dead. For as in Adam all die, even so in Christ shall all be made alive (1 Corinthians 15:20-22). We will see him again. Let us follow his example, and the voice of the Good Shepherd who calls us to love, forgive, and serve one another while we can.