Australia and sheep are synonymous. Governor Phillip brought sheep for meat with him when the first fleet arrived in 1788. Within four months only a ram and 28 ewes remained. 88 more starving sheep arrived in 1792. But John Macarthur imported Spanish merinos which adapted to Sydney so well, that twenty years later Alexander Riley, a farmer, wrote "The fine wool of this country is rapidly becoming a conspicuous object. I paid Macarthur 108 guineas last week for six Merino rams."
For more than 150 years Australia "rode on the sheep's back". My Scottish grandparents and great-grandparents and as far back as I can trace, were on my father's side, bakers and on my mother's side shepherds. Their interests combined in me. I care for the flock of God, feeding them on the bread of life. My great-great grandfather and his father were shepherds, come to this country to care for flocks of sheep. It was the shepherd's job to keep sheep from wandering in those days before wire fences, to lead them to water and fresh pastures, to guard against loss in adjoining bush country, and to protect sheep from attacks by dingoes or thieves.
At first assigned convicts were used as shepherds, including in 1836 one of my ancestors. Shepherds were responsible for the sheep by day while the hutkeeper took over the night duties. Mobs of 1,000 sheep divided into three flocks, each with a shepherd who took them out to graze at daylight and brought them back to safety of brush yards at night. The Shepherds lived in rough slab huts lit by slush lamps. Their life was hard and their conditions and wages were poor.
In 1839 the wage was £1 per week with rations of meat, flour, sugar and tea. During the depression of the 1840s wages fell to 4/- a week, and by 1858 the rate was even lower. Then Chinese gold miners became shepherds. The invention of barbed wire led to the fencing of runs, and jackeroos and boundary riders replaced the shepherds.
Today wool is our second largest export income earner after coal. Australia's 80,000 properties ten years ago have fallen to 56,000 today, and our 160 million sheep now number 138 million. Australia remains the world's largest wool producer and exporter with 75% of the trade in apparel wools. I have spent time every year, in the middle years of my life, on a sheep property. While I spent two or three weeks each year as a shepherd like my ancestors, I learnt a thing or two that helps me now shepherd some lost sheep on Sydney's streets.
Sheep in Australia are pretty stupid. They wheel round in a mob if you try to drive them. If one leaps, all will leap. If you open a gate to good grass they may head the wrong way. They need someone to lead them to green pastures. Sydney's street people are often stupid. They are entitled to welfare but many do not know how to ask or to persist for their rights. They need a shepherd.
Sheep in Australia are fairly helpless. In dry spells they may not go to get water. They will mob round a tree in a dry paddock or an empty water trough until they all die of thirst. They need someone to lead them beside still waters. Sydney's street people are often helpless, easily intimidated and will head away from help when it is offered.
Sheep in Australia are easily pushed around. Men, dogs and children push sheep around. Someone with rod and staff needs protect them. Sydney's street people are pushed round by welfare workers, public servants, railway employees, Council inspectors, police, anyone can push them around.
Sheep in Australia are regularly fleeced. The sheep endure docking, mulesing, crutching, dipping, drenching and shearing. I refrain from making distasteful comparisons to the people of the streets. But they are taken down, rolled, nabbed and nicked, conned, diddled, short-changed and fleeced! This week in Melbourne, the Crown Casino opened and in the first day 100,000 entered and gambled their money. Leunig's cartoon showed a miserable looking sheep coming out of the casino with the words:
"All hail the mighty casino
All gushing with riesling and pinot,
Go in like a beast and get yourself fleeced,
Then leave like a sad, old merino."
Where is the shepherd to care for the sheep of Sydney's streets? That is our task at Wesley Mission: in the name of Christ to be shepherds of Sydney's street people. The sheep of the streets of Sydney need a Shepherd, someone who can prepare a table before them, stoke them gently, fill their cup, surround them with goodness and mercy so they may find a place where they can dwell forever! They need the care of the Good Shepherd "who will guide them to springs of life-giving water." (Rev.7:17). The sheep on Sydney's streets need a shepherd, even though they may not recognise that need. Every community have the lost who need a Shepherd. Jesus offers to shepherd the streets of Sydney.
As His followers we walk the streets in His name. Do you remember He once looked at people in a city with pity and described them as "worried and helpless like sheep without a shepherd"? Paul admonished the elders to "be shepherds of the church of God". Peter appealed to believers "to be shepherds of the flock that God gave you and to take care of it willingly." (Mtt 6:34; Acts 20:28; 1 Pet 5:2).
Did you know the New Testament mentions shepherds 16 times? Shepherds were first to visit Jesus at His birth. (Lk 2:8-20) The New Testament uses a shepherd and the sheep to illustrate Christ's relationship to His followers who referred to Him as "our Lord Jesus, that great shepherd of the sheep." (Heb 13:20) Jesus spoke of Himself as "the good shepherd" who knew His sheep and who would lay down His life for them. (John 10:7-18) Jesus told Peter to feed His sheep. (Jn 21) Paul likened the church and its leaders to a flock with shepherds. (Acts 20:28)
For 185 years Wesley Mission has responded with words of hope and deeds of mercy. Yet in spite of all we are doing, there is so much more to be done! Jesus is the Good Shepherd who offers to the sheep acceptance, security, care and a future. Do you realise that we offer on His behalf, staff and members alike, workers and volunteers, carers and supporters houses for the disabled, homes for the homeless, hospitals for the sick in body and mind, food and clothes for the hungry and cold, refuges for the rejected, work programs for the unemployed, counselling for those in crisis, literacy education for those who cannot read and write, friendship groups for the lonely and so much more? In His name we seek to shepherd the people of Sydney. ??
1. THE SHEEP KNOW THEIR TRUE SHEPHERD.
(v1-5) 1. "I tell you the truth, the man who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. 2 The man who enters by the gate is the shepherd of his sheep." Jesus claims to be the one rightful shepherd of the sheep. He is no fake, no fraud, no fanatic. He is the one true Shepherd whom the people know. 3 "The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out." Those who follow Him, do so because they known Him even as He knows them. When you come to know Jesus it's no surprise! 4 "When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5 But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognise a stranger's voice." We who have followed Jesus know Him and unafraid, follow. We will not be seduced by others because we know the Good Shepherd.
2. IN JESUS WE FIND LIFE IN ALL ITS FULLNESS. (v6-10)
6 "Jesus used this figure of speech, but they did not understand what he was telling them. 7 Therefore Jesus said again, "I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep." It is through Jesus that we enter into true security and find life in all its fullness. In the stone sheepfolds on the hills of Judea, the shepherd would lie down in the doorway to secure the sheep from predators as did my ancestors. The shepherd himself becomes the gate. Through him the sheep were safe and secure. 8 "All who ever came before me were thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. 9 I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved."
"He will come in and go out, and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy." There are many in Sydney who abuse children; who roll and rob the homeless; who destroy the weak and addicted on the streets. I remember well poor Stephen Seymour, an intellectually disabled man from this congregation, whom wicked men kicked to death to steal a $5 watch given him by us for his birthday. They "steal, kill and destroy" said Jesus. But the Good Shepherd comes to provide acceptance, love, care, transformation and renewal. "I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full." There is no truth greater. Those who hear His voice and follow Him find life in all its fullness. They find "whoever enters through me will be saved." That is not religious talk. It is factual experience. The Shepherd of the streets saves them.
3. BUT LIFE TO US WAS DEATH TO HIM.
(v11-16) Here is the dreadful irony and cost of it all. 11 "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand is not the shepherd who owns the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away." Those who are hired by governments are to care as shepherds but are often more concerned with their own conditions of employment that they leave their charges unattended. Hired people of all kinds: station guards, security men, government employees, social workers, City Council officials, personal case workers do not fight the predators, the pushers, the pimps, the paedophiles, the parasites - but flee. "Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. 13 The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep." The turmoil over state wards in government care is a case in point.
But the shepherd cares! 14 "I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me. 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father--and I lay down my life for the sheep." That is the miracle of the love of Jesus for us. He was willing to die upon the Cross that we might be saved from sin and kept secure. 16 "I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd." So His love encompasses people of difference races, countries, back grounds and understandings. He loves all His sheep.
His death was real. He gave His own life for His sheep. His resurrection from the dead was God's sign of His complete support for His Son and for our salvation. The Good Shepherd died for the sheep so His sheep might live. Your life was death to Him. His death was life for you. You need only look to the Good Shepherd who laid down His life for you and you will find life in all its fullness!
The city streets are crowded with sheep without a Shepherd. We have a commitment to shepherd in His name, to tell them of One who loves us and cares for us so much that He laid down His life for His sheep. If the sheep of Sydney's streets only look to Him they shall be saved! Without them they are lost and find nothing except death. The Good Shepherds seeks and saves and satisfies!
Will you look to the Good Shepherd as your Saviour? He will take you to rest in green pastures and beside still waters. He loves you. He died for you. He saves you. He offers you life in all its fullness. All you need do is to look to Him and be saved.
REFERENCES USED IN THIS SERMON:
DICTIONARY OF BIBLICAL ARCHAEOLOGY E M Blaiklock Zondervan 1983
NEW INTERNATIONAL COMMENTARY:JOHN L.Morris Eerdmans 1971
THE TRUTH ABOUT JESUS P Barnett Aquilla 1994
JESUS UNDER FIRE M J Wilkins Zondervan 1995
JESUS:THE EVIDENCE I Wilson Weidenfeld 1996
DISCOVERIES FROM THE TIME OF JESUS A Millard Lion 1990
JESUS WITHIN JUDAISM J H Charlesworth SPCK 1988
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