One Flock – April 25, 2021
A sermon by Rev. Karen A. Mendes
April 25, 2021
Main Idea – Jesus is our Shepherd
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts be acceptable in thy sight O Lord, our strength and our redeemer. Amen
As many of you know, my family has a German Shepherd. Her name is not Jesus but she is a good Shepherd. Because she is a shepherd, that makes my family her sheep. She likes to herd us; when she walks up the stairs with us she leans into our legs. When she was a puppy she did not like to walk away from the house if the kids were left behind. She likes to patrol the yard while I am on Zoom meetings. She really likes us all together so she can keep her eye on us. Living with a shepherd, we have become used to be being herded, watched out for, and cared for.
Today, the 4th Sunday of Easter, is Good Shepherd Sunday, the day when we explore the image of Jesus as our Good Shepherd. This image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd is one of the earliest Christian symbols, predating the symbol of the crucifix; Jesus on the cross, by 1000 years. (Robin Myers, The Underground Church p. 61) It is interesting that the idea of Jesus as the Good Shepherd only occurs here in chapter 10 of the Gospel of John. The image of shepherds and the Good Shepherd predates Jesus. In the Hebrew Scriptures, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob are shepherds. Rebecca and Rachel are shepherds. Moses and David are shepherds. In Psalm 23 and in the book of Ezekiel, it is God who is the Good Shepherd.
In Jesus’ day, everybody would have known shepherds, and the irony is that while the image of shepherd is lifted up all throughout Hebrew Scripture, the lived reality of shepherds was quite different. The work of a shepherd was hard, dirty, and often boring, when it wasn’t dangerous. Shepherds had to contend with stubborn animals, bad weather, and dangerous predators. They were looked down upon because they drifted from place to place with their flock. Jesus’ claim of this image and title is brilliant because it combines both a sacred image of the divine, God as Shepherd, with the identity of a scorned outcast, real shepherds as shepherd. This, of course illuminates Jesus’ identity as the pre-existent Christ and the crucified Jesus of Nazareth. This morning we will delve into the meaning of Jesus as the Good Shepherd, our shepherd and the shepherd of all creation.
This morning’s text comes from the middle of the Good Shepherd Discourse in John 10. Jesus is speaking to religious leaders who had objected to his healing of the blind man on the Sabbath. By claiming “I am the Good Shepherd”, Jesus waves a red flag in the eyes of those questioning him. They would have heard his words as blasphemy for they understood the Good Shepherd as God. They would have known Ezekiel’s tirade against the Bad Shepherds of Israel’s past and felt the sting of being equated with those villains. Jesus delineates between the Good Shepherd, who lays down his life for the sheep, and hired hands, who do not care for the sheep and run away at the first sign of trouble. This delineation between good and bad authority figures leads us to ponder, “Who do we follow?”
The pain and suffering of this past year has been exacerbated by debates about who to follow. Competing claims of priorities, of science, of truth, have confused and divided us to tragic effect. The Hired Hands of today can be understood as those in positions of power and authority who are more concerned with power and less with caring for those in their care. Think about social media or Wall Street or insurance companies, all of which provide important aspects to our society but ultimately are about profit not care. Think about politicians who care more about elections than about governing. Jesus is our Good Shepherd who cares for each one of us more than his own life. Let’s think about that for a moment. Jesus cares for each one of us more than Jesus cares about his own life. Jesus lays down his life for each one of us. This is extraordinary and humbling, yes? And yet, in our day to day life, who do we follow? To whom do we listen? Are we seduced by the Hired Hands who tells us what we want to hear? Are we discouraged by the Hired Hands who tell us that we are not worthy? Or do we keep our eyes on Jesus as our ultimate authority, our ultimate guide?
Jesus says “I am the Good Shepherd. I know my own and my own know me just as the Father knows me and I know the Father.” Jesus and God are intimately connected, knowing each other fully and completely. Jesus states that he knows his own and they know him just as fully and completely. This idea of knowing and being known leads us to another question. “To whom do we belong?” Do we really know Jesus? Does Jesus really know us? Do we really want Jesus to know all of us, the good, the bad, and the ugly? our moments of selfishness, our guilt and our shame? While we may get tangled up in our own feelings of worthiness or unworthiness or in questions of theology and doctrine, Jesus is speaking very plainly. Jesus is available to each one of us fully and completely. The closeness of Jesus to God is available to us. No matter our struggles, no matter our doubts, Jesus knows us just as we are, and Jesus loves us and supports us no matter what. We simply need to open our minds and hearts to realize this.
Just as we get used to this idea of Jesus knowing and loving us, Jesus says “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.” The idea of other sheep is surprising to us and surely was surprising to those with whom Jesus was speaking. For the early church, the other sheep were the Gentiles who were drawn to Christ without any knowledge of Judaism. Today the other sheep are folks outside of our usual circles, outside of Vermont, outside of the US, outside of the ABC, outside of Baptist traditions, outside of Protestantism, outside of Christianity itself. These other sheep are people of different faiths or no faith at all who yearn to live in peace and joy and love. They may look different from us, they may talk differently. Their traditions and culture may be foreign to us. They are them, as opposed to us. As much as Jesus loves us, as much as Jesus lays down his life for us, Jesus also loves them! Jesus lays down his life for them! This is so important to remember. Jesus’ circle is always bigger than ours. Jesus is always challenging us to widen our understanding and concern. Jesus’ purpose is not to save a select few but to bring salvation and peace to the whole world. “For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son … Indeed, God did not send the Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. (John 3:16a,17). God’s ultimate goal is all people, all creation together as one flock cared for by Jesus our shepherd.
Five times in this text Jesus says that, as the Good Shepherd, he lays down his life for the sheep. And twice he affirms that he has the power to take it up again. This life affirming, sacrificial love reveals the heart of God. Jesus willingly lays down his life and takes it up again. Jesus willingly gives of himself for the good of others. Jesus willingly shows us that death is not the end.
We are Jesus’ sheep. All of humanity are Jesus’ sheep and he cares for all of us. He lives among us. He leads us to places of safety and abundance. He watches out for us especially when we go astray. He braves dangers for us when all others abandon us. He calls us together so that we all may be one.
On this Good Shepherd Sunday and every day we are invited to rest in the knowledge that we are sheep – loved and cared for by Jesus, the Good Shepherd. May we follow our Shepherd’s call and share our Shepherd’s love with the whole world.
Let us pray,
Good Shepherd, we thank you for your loving care for all of your flock. Empower us to follow you and to watch out for others in need of care. Amen.