The Eighth Sunday after Pentecost (Proper 11, Year B)

“Who or What Are You Following?”

Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture! says the LORD.

The prophet Jeremiah wrote this lament from God after there had been five Kings of Judah who had not protected the nation. Under these Kings, foreign rulers came into Judah and made the people of Judah refugees. the people of Judah were exiled and made refugees. So God laments over these kings, these shepherds who had allowed the sheep to be scattered. 

I will never forget one of Ginnie’s sermons. She outlined the painstaking work that Shepherds do to care for and protect their flock because sheep are very vulnerable to attack. Predators will attack any sheep that has wandered outside of the flock so the Shepherd must keep all the sheep together in a group at all times.  Even if the sheep remain in a close group with one another, the shepherd must keep watch over the group, because a predator will run through an unattended flock to divide the flock and as the sheep scatter, they will attack each one. 

So, scattering sheep isn’t something that shepherds would ever think to do. In fact it is the opposite of what a shepherd does. Scattering sheep is a complete betrayal of the shepherd’s calling.

So, God says, “Woe to the shepherds who scatter the sheep of my pasture!”

I wonder do we have shepherds in our society and in our lives that scatter us? 

If I were to ask anyone from about 9-30 years old: Who are you following? They likely would think I was asking them who they are following on social media.  So if you are, like me, not really on social media, I’ll give you the 30 second break down of how this all works. On these social media platforms (Facebook, YouTube, Instagram), you get followers by posting photos or videos of yourself.  After you post a photo or video, people who look at these photos and videos can hit a button to like it or subscribe to your channel or follow you. Some people have over a million followers on social media. These people are now called influencers because with a quick post about their favorite new shoes, the shoe company sells out of that shoe in minutes and knock offs of the shoe are designed, put into production, and posted on Amazon within 24 hours. 

Whether we like it or not, these people are impacting our culture. Depending on the influencer and the moment, they can steer millions of people in a good or not so good direction. They can garner thousands of dollars of support for a worthy charity in minutes and they can make 12 year old girls feel like they are not thin enough. 

So, who are you following? 

But it’s not just the people on social media impacting culture. It is also the media, the code itself. So the question is not just Who are you following? It is also What are you following?

Our computers, our phones, our search engines and social media use all of our activity as data to promote ideas and sell goods to us. Recently I attended a zoom discussion for the Entrepreneurial grant for the Diocese of CT. During the zoom call, Facebook sent me a notifications suggesting that I join five Entrepreneurial groups on Facebook. That might have been a helpful suggestion, but codes are just that, they are not other human beings making suggestions, they are codes looking at what we are doing and then making suggestions. These suggestions can be helpful or not so helpful.    

Studies have shown that Google will change the autofill on your searches based on your zip code. So for example, if your computer is in one zip code and you type in the words “climate change is a” to google, it will autofill “Climate change is a social justice issue.” If you live in a different zip code and type in the words “climate change is a” to google it will auto fill “Climate change is a farce.” Now more than ever we are being influenced without even knowing it in significant ways not just by people on social media, but by the media itself and code that shows us what to look at next. 

In this culture people are being pushed to the the fringes, the outskirts of the flock and are increasingly susceptible to extremist ideas. 

God says, “Woe to Siri and Alexa who divide and scatter my people. I will deal with them… and I will send you the influencer of influencers, one who will always lead you in righteousness.” Can you imagine a leader out there today that you can always trust? Can you imagine someone you can always follow completely and wholeheartedly?

In our Gospel reading, we hear that crowds have really started to form wherever Jesus goes. The disciples had just finished going out two by two healing people and casting out demons, so people were gathering now even more to see the disciples as well, and they hadn’t had time to eat and drink, so Jesus encourages the disciples to “Come away to a deserted place all by yourselves and rest a while.” Jesus gets the disciples again in a boat to travel to a deserted place, but people on shore look at their boat and follow where they are going. As they get to the shore of what was supposed to be a deserted place, Jesus sees a crowd forming and rather than being annoyed that he didn’t get his quiet time to eat and rest, we hear that “Jesus had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.” They were like sheep vulnerable to attack, scattered, and malnourished. 

They were all standing there scrolling for answers looking at posts of the top five ways to never yell at your child and asking Google to tell them the answers to questions like: What is love? and Am I depressed? They were scattered, lost. They had some shepherds that were leading them away from the flock of God and some were so saturated with information they didn’t know who to believe or where to turn. Jesus and his disciples really needed a break, but Jesus comes ashore and sees their lost souls, so vulnerable to attack that he has compassion on them and begins to teach them. 

Who or what are you following?

Social media and search engines are not 100% bad. They can be used for very good, but there are elements of them that scatter us, divide us, push us out to the fringes whether we are aware of it or not. There are shepherds out there that are scattering us. 

So who or what are you following? 

David tells us that he is following Jesus. He says, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” When I am following Jesus, I have everything I need. God provides for me. When I am following Jesus, Jesus leads him beside still waters. He calms me down. Jesus brings peace to my racing thoughts. Jesus restores my soul.  “He guides me along right pathways.” When I am following Jesus, Jesus tells me where to go next and how to get there. Jesus always points me in the right direction.

When I am following Jesus and my life journey leads me to a very dark valley, a pandemic, a divorce, an illness, a lost job…. when I’m following Jesus I have no fear. When we fix our eyes on Jesus we are always brought back to the fold of God’s love and compassion, we are fed, protected, nourished. There is literally nothing else out there that will provide for you, put you in the right direction 100% of the time, wipe away fear, and remain present with you through your hardest moments in the way that Jesus does. 

So today and in the week ahead I encourage you to look at who you are following? Notice carefully who is influencing you in the media and in your life. Do you feel a bit lost at times and not sure what is true? Put your phone down, close your eyes and imagine yourself literally following Jesus, perhaps you might imagine yourself like the people running around on the shore waiting for his boat to come assure and as it reach the shore, watch as Jesus smiles down upon you with compassion.  

I also encourage you to take time this week to look at what influencing you in the media platforms that you use and in your life? What influences you that you have not noticed before? If you are tempted to ask Google something especially if it is something emotional or controversial, first put your phone down, close your eyes and ask Jesus. Spend some quiet time asking your questions to Jesus. Paul tells us to pray in all things. Bring every question, every concern to Jesus before you ask Google. 

Because Jesus is the search engine that will give you the most trustworthy answer every time. Jesus is the influencer of influencers, king of kings, lord of all, the one, true and trustworthy shepherd that God has sent to have compassion on all of us who are lost and scattered.