4th Sunday of Easter
May 3, 2020
“Hearing the Call of the Shepherd”
Grace, mercy, and peace be unto you all in the name of God our Father and our Good Shepherd Jesus. The text that engages us today on this 4th Sunday of Easter is the Gospel lesson read from John chapter 10.
My dear friends in Christ Jesus,
The idea of being a shepherd and the act of shepherding is kind of lost on us as residents of an urban community of 50,000+. Oh sure, some of you may have grown up on farms with cows, pigs, horses, chickens, and maybe even sheep, but seriously how many of you know any full-time shepherds? How many shepherds do you see out tending to their flocks as you drive by on Fruitville Road or up and down Clark? Ever seen sheep and shepherds at the beach? I bet not. We know that the Bible is loaded with “shepherd” and “sheep” imagery – and our church is even named Good SHEPHERD – but how much do we really know about being a shepherd?
Shepherds in the 1st century had a rough job. At night the sheep had to be cornered into protective areas to keep away wild animals and thieves…anyone who would do harm to the flock. By day, the shepherd would call out to the sheep and lead them in his own unique voice. Because of his close relationship with the flock, the sheep came to know and trust the voice of the shepherd and they would willingly follow and they did so because the shepherd had their best intentions in mind.
But not every voice that rang out had the best intentions for the sheep. Some voices came from those who meant to harm, steal, or even kill the sheep. This is where the shepherd came in; it was his job to protect the flock. There were a lot of competing voices, but the sheep were inclined to follow the one they knew best.
Just as there were many false shepherds in Biblical times, so there are false “shepherds” in our times. There are voices that call out to us, the sheep, that do not always have our best intentions in mind. Consider for a moment all the competing voices of our day! We live in an age that is tuned, linked, powered, wired, downloaded and connected like never before in the history of humanity. And right now we are being bombarded with those voices as we self-isolate and shelter in place. Do you really believe all those voices that have access to us and to our children have our best interest at heart?
We know that’s not the case, for just look at the example that is being set for us as sheep by the various “voices” of our age which have changed our mindset because we listened and gave in. Voices are telling us that if you have a problem with someone, a good way to work it out is through nasty Facebook posts or an Email. If the problem is severe, you simply get rid of them; you “vote them off” “American Idol,” “Dancing with the Stars,” or “Bachelorette,” style instead of following our Lord’s mandate of Matthew 18 to actually talk to a person (yikes); so old fashioned! If you have problems raising your children, just ask Siri or Alexa what to do instead of taking the time to build a Christ-centered relationship with your child…perish the thought! If you have problems with your finances, don’t worry about stewardship. You just got that big ol’ economic stimulus check, right? These voices and others, the voices of the world, do not have your best interests in mind.
As your shepherd, I have to tell you they are false shepherds; they want you to follow them, but for selfish reasons, and the sin-filled heart is all-too-happy to follow, convincing us to do all kinds of stuff we wouldn’t normally do! The devil, the world, our sinful nature, and others have plenty to say, but do they have your best interest in mind? Also, ask yourself this: are they willing to die for you?
What sets Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd, apart from all the rest is that He was willing to die for His sheep. In the Gospel lesson read for today, the Good Shepherd explained His mission and His purpose to the sheep, but they didn’t get it. They didn’t comprehend a shepherd who dies for the flock; that was even beyond the grasp of those who knew shepherding best. Those whom Jesus spoke to that day didn’t get the purpose of a dying Savior, but He is the One who dies for the sheep. His is a voice that is different from the world or from other people; different from all the false shepherds who mean you harm and/or to use you.
The flock of Christ, that is, the Church is led by the Good Shepherd, Jesus our risen Lord, and He desires that we be discerning sheep. A discerning sheep is one who hears and follows the voice of the One who calls out in true love and faith and hope, and not to follow the voices that call us toward genuine hurt, harm, and destruction. Are those voices out there today? Absolutely! But the Good Shepherd, the One who willingly lays down His life for His sheep, became the way, the truth, and the life (John 14:6) for you to enable you by faith to pass through “the gate” – the gate that leads to life everlasting, and that is something that even the most convincing false voice of this age cannot offer you.
Jesus reassures us that He comes so that we might have life and have it abundantly. That doesn’t mean that He will live it for you or automatically make your life perfect. As a shepherd, He knows what you need. He knows you struggle financially, relationally, physically, and spiritually. God gets that; He knows your pains better than I ever could. Still He leads you to green pastures, to still waters, He restores your soul, He comforts you such that your cup overflows with blessings! (Psalm 23). Your shepherd is there with you every day leading you through life to life wherever God has placed you even as you shelter in place or self-isolate. We hear His voice, and that changes us. We follow – trustingly – wherever He leads because He knows us and our needs best.
There is a lot going on these days, my friends. But have no fear, little flock. Jesus is your Good Shepherd and He watches over you every day. He lives that you would have life abundantly. Remember that as you serve one another, and as you hope in the return of the One who watches over you: Jesus. Be strong, stay safe, and Happy Anniversary, Good Shepherd Lutheran Church and School!