Here is a wonderful opportunity to teach a deep truth about the love and grace of God amidst a world where people are often abused, misused, and disconnected from the communal life of the Church. Playing off the ecclesiological familiarity of the image of a shepherd in our text, we will use an “Imagistic Structure” to highlight the dynamic between the familiar and the unfamiliar and use a common image to drive our devotional contemplation of what Ezekiel means when he states God is our shepherd. Furthermore, we specifically return, once again, to the “Central Image Structure.” In this sermon configuration, we are going to use a single image throughout which is used to foster devotional contemplation of Christ as our Good Shepherd.
Using a classic work of ecclesiastical art like the Good-Shepherd-stained-glass-window we begin the sermon by describing the image for the hearers. From this illustration we mine the words from Psalm 23, John 10:1-18, and our text from Ezekiel 34. Weaving these words together will form a tapestry in the minds of our hearers that will function as a source for continuing devotional contemplation throughout the sermon together with the image:
“The image serves as a lens through which one views the textual exposition, the theological confession, the evangelical proclamation, and the hearer interpretation of the sermon. Having a single image lends coherence to the sermon.”
With a single focus the image remains the same throughout the sermon. Our single focus will be on the image of the “bummer lamb” which is central and unchanging to the devotional contemplation. From here the sermon can reinforce one theme in a first encounter with the image which will establish the Gospel focus and then, as the image is applied repeatedly in the sermon, it locates the theme in relation to the text and finally, later, in relation to the hearers.
By focusing on one part of the image (the bummer lamb), which remains in the fore of the minds of the hearers, a fresh approach is created for the listeners through the image in their minds eye. As the preacher, you are:
“...changing how the image is seen, and the hearers are able to track the basic development of a larger theme in the sermon. Each stage of development (for example, moving from a misconception to a clearer vision, moving from application in terms of one’s relationship to God to application in terms of one’s relationship to others) is captured by preaching the image through a different perspective.”
All the flock rejects this lamb, except the shepherd.
In order to set up what we are going to do with Ezekiel 34 along with our image of the Good Shepherd, I want to begin by talking about a phenomenon in shepherding that you may or may not be aware of. It is the occurrence in a flock of sheep called the “bummer lamb.” Here is how you can recognize this phenomenon. When a lamb is born, sometimes it happens that the newborn lamb is rejected by its mother. She does not allow it to feed. She attempts to smother it. She shoulders it into the fence to drive it away, and worse, she may even sometimes kick it to try and cause it to die. Bummer... I know. All the flock rejects this lamb, except the shepherd. A good shepherd, when they see this happening, takes the little lamb from the flock and holds it in their arms. They feed it from their hand and let it sleep on their chest. The lamb is now no longer a “bummer lamb,” it is now the “shepherds lamb.” In fact, later on, when the lamb is strong enough to be re-introduced to the flock, whenever the shepherd comes to lead the flock the first sheep to greet them is the “Shepherd’s Lamb.” The reason is because that specific sheep along with all the rest know his voice and know his words and know his care (John 10:5 and 10:27). If you think this is too wild to be true, there are numerous articles online about this phenomenon. One rancher explains the amount of care which goes into taking care of the bummer lamb:
“Bummer lambs create a lot of work for time-pressed farmers with larger flocks and acreage to tend to. They need this care because bummer lambs do not always make it. Bummer lambs are often weak because they have a problem that will prevent them from thriving. Lambs can have birth defects that are impossible to see. Often, sheep do not show any symptoms of a problem until it is too late to deal with it.”
Ask the congregants to picture in their minds-eye the iconic stained-glass window of the Good Shepherd. What does He have in His arms? The bummer lamb! It has been there the whole time. Are we not like the bummer lamb, born with the fatal curse of original sin (Psalm 51:5) which prevents us from being accepted by God and others around us (Romans 6:23; 7:19-25)? But before it was too late, Jesus, the Good Shepherd, came and took us in His arms (Romans 5:8-10) and commited to taking the time to save us. Six hours one Friday, thirty-three years on earth, a plan made in time for eternity since our fall all the way back in the Garden of Eden. But more than that, one glorious resurrection day to lead this flock called the Church “through the valley of the shadow of death” to eternal life in His Kingdom forever.
The bummer lamb image is good for developing the experience of the hearers and what we get from the Good Shepherd. But there is another perspective to consider here which is clearest in Ezekiel. The perspective of the Shepherd is the perspective we get in Ezekiel and it is a fascinating viewpoint to contemplate on. The Good Shepherd is good from His perspective because of what He alone does for the flock, as we also hear Jesus say in John 10:17-18:
“For this reason, the Father loves Me, because I lay down My life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from Me, but I lay it down of My own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from My Father.”
As we contemplate this image, we look into a window of God’s grace even as we imagine this work of art made from stained glass.
As a preacher, when you listen to our text through this single and central image, think of how each verse connects to the theme of the “bummer lamb,” especially in Ezekiel 34:20-24. Anticipate how your hearers can see this reading anew because of the new understanding of the reading. Press into the image of the window as the Son of God shines through it to illuminate and ignite our devotional contemplation on this Scripture, centered in the Gospel action of our resurrected savior, Jesus. Create connections to the other readings from Psalm 23 or John 10:1–10.
Your goal: Craft a hearing of the experience of the “bummer lamb,” through the image of the classic stained glass window, centered in the words of our text from Ezekiel 34:20-24, which will grant a new hearing to a familiar image of God, that will magnify the Gospel in your proclamation of the life death and resurrection of Jesus Christ, for the benefit of our hearers faith or life.
Craft of Preaching-Check out our previous articles on Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24.
Concordia Theology-Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24.
Text Week-A treasury of resources from various traditions to help you preach Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24.
Lectionary Kick-Start-Check out this fantastic podcast from Craft of Preaching authors Peter Nafzger and David Schmitt as they dig into the texts for this Sunday!
 If you do not have one in your church, here is a link to some examples of this type of art: https://stainedglassinc.com/doc/loc-goodshepherd-stainedglass.pdf