4th Sunday of Easter (B) – Good Shepherd Sunday
April 26, 2015
“Hearing the Call of the Shepherd”
Grace, mercy, and peace be unto you all in the name of God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. The text that engages us today on this 4th Sunday of Easter is the Gospel lesson appointed for today 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 the voice of the shepherd and they would willingly follow.
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. 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. 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,” “Biggest Loser,” or “Survivor,” style instead of following our Lord’s mandate of Matthew 18 to actually talk to a person (yikes). If you have problems raising your children, just call “Nanny 911” or “Google” an answer instead of taking the time to build a Christ-centered relationship with your child…perish the thought! If you have a problem with any of your relationships, never mind the Bible; just do what Dr. Phil or Oprah says. If you have problems with your finances, don’t worry about stewardship. Just get another credit card or take out a “payday” loan…at 130% interest. These voices and others, the voices of the world, do not have your best interests in mind. 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?
Even if you didn’t grow up on or near a farm, many people still have pets in the home. My family currently has a dog – Farley – but in the course of our family’s history we have also owned cats and fish and hamsters and even a turtle. And I am not willing to die for any of those animals. And I would bet neither are you. Are you prepared to die for a cat? For us when given the choice – when it’s either the animals or us – our response is typically, “well, so long kitty! It’s been good knowin’ you!”
What sets Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd, apart from all the rest is that He was willing to die for His sheep. In today’s Gospel lesson 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.
Jesus goes through the door of death and the grave to become our door of life. By His dying and rising for us, He dies to sin and rises from the grave for us and in our place. Now, in and through Baptism, the Good Shepherd calls us by name to follow Him and to follow His voice. Even after our Baptism, we constantly are assailed by more “false shepherds” – those who would have us follow them instead of following the voice of the Good Shepherd. 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 Oprah, despite her millions, 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. 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: in the hallways, the office, your kitchen, behind the desk, in traffic, or wherever God has placed you. We hear His voice, and that changes us. We follow – trustingly – wherever He leads because He knows us and our needs best.
Jesus is your Good Shepherd and He watches over you every day. He lives that you would have life abundantly. Remember that as you build your relationships, as you serve one another, and as you hope in the return of the One who watches over you: Jesus.