Shepherd and the Sheep

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The Pas Easter 4
Year B
22 April 2018

Acts 4:5-12
Psalm 23 pg 731
1 John 3:16-24
John 10:11-18

Shepherd of all,
by laying down your life for your flock
you reveal your love for all.
Lead us from the place of death
to the place of abundant life,
so that, guided by your are for us,
we may rightly offer our lives
in love for you and our neighbour. Amen.
__________________________________

In today’s gospel, we hear about how much care and devotion the Shepherd, the true Shepherd the “good shepherd” devotes to his flock.

It talks about the difference of someone who is just a hired hand, a ‘paycheck shepherd,’ if you will, and someone who is actually devoted to the care of those creatures in their care.

We’ve heard these passages so often that we have, in many ways, begun ignoring the point that we are the sheep, we are the flock, that Jesus describes, talks about, shepherds, in today’s passage from John’s gospel.

And in part, this is because we don’t live in as agrarian a society as we did, when Jesus spoke these words. The people of Jesus’ day would have been able to walk their dinner from the field to the table and give you the name of the butcher who turned it into a roast.

They knew at what time of the day the vegetables had been picked from the garden and by whom, as well as who had made the bread on the table.

We are separated from such practices as a normal part of our daily lives because of the changes in society, because of the evolution of human existence that has led us from hunter-gatherer, through the various agrarian models, to the later stages of industrial mechanization that we live with and in, today.

So, when we hear our selves described as the flock that Jesus shepherds, that Jesus is the one who cares for each one of us, as a shepherd does his sheep, we often become offended, and so, stop listening to what Jesus has to say.

I read a sermon written in 2015, this week, that pointed out that as a flock, the sheep Jesus describes is not a gathering of pets, but these sheep, these animals are a valued part of the farm life, like cattle, like other livestock, and are intended to earn a keep.

That sheep, like cattle, like chickens, like swine, are raised, bread, and protected by the farmer because they have a purpose. We have a purpose in the kingdom of God, in the world around us, in the workings of Jesus ministry, both here, and elsewhere.

But if we just look at it, like sheep being led from paddock to pasture and back again, doing nothing more than eating, sleeping, resting by “still waters”, and periodically wandering off to get lost, only to be found, then we are truly sheep.

We’re intended to be leaders in the community, in our families, in our lives of faith.

Often, we make jokes about the ‘black sheep of the family’, don’t we?

How often do we look at this one member of the family who ‘doesn’t fit in,’ and wonder how they got to be a member of our families?

We look at the one who stands out, who breaks the mold, who thinks outside the box that most cannot even find the seams for, and we actually try to figure out what is it about them, that ‘rocks the boat’ of our individual families, our society.

What we fail to realize is that the black sheep is the one, in the flock, who does things that are different from the rest of the flock because the black sheep is the one who is a natural leader.

There is always some way, some how that the black sheep stands out from the crowd, usually in ways the crowd doesn’t like or even wish to acknowledge.

I once found an article on the internet about Thomas Edison. He had been sent home from school, one day, with a letter for his mother. When she read it, she told her son he was too brilliant for the school and they didn’t wish him to return. She then went to the effort of teaching him at home, of finding teachers for him as he grew, and eventually, he became the man to whom the invention of the lightbulb is attributed.

Apparently, what the letter actually said was that he was too stupid and completely unfit to be at the school.

We can look at this and see what her positive reinforcement has wrought in someone who became a leader in his community, in his nation, in his era.

Likewise, Albert Einstein was acclaimed in his youth, as unmotivated and not likely to achieve greatness in his lifetime, and history has pointed out that this isn’t what his life actually achieved.

What has society said about each one of us, who gathers here to heed the call of the shepherd, to be fed, and protected, guided, and led to places we’ve never imagined?

Society tends to try to shunt us, the erstwhile leaders, the black sheep, to one side because we see the world differently, because we are members of the good shepherd’s flock.

Jesus tells us: “14 “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep.” (Jn 10:14-15)

Yet, because we are followers of Christ, we’ve already broken society’s mold. Because we are members of the good shepherd’s flock, we are the proverbial black sheep, we are the leaders in the community. We are the ones who upset the apple cart, when we embrace Jesus teachings, when we follow where John takes us in todays epistle upon which we are able to model our lives.

The passage from 1 John, for today, talks to us about what it means to stand out from the crowd, to be a member of the Good Shepherds flock.

And these words, this idea, has the ability to affect absolutely every aspect of our lives in Christ, our lives as Christians, in the world.

John’s words, in today’s epistle, describes to us what is important about life. Sure, he talks about our physical lives, which are incomplete, when we are not a part of Jesus’ flock. But at the same time, he encourages us to lead those who have yet to understand the love of God, to those resources that are needed to give them fuller more complete lives in the love and care of the shepherd.

“16 This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for our brothers and sisters.” (1 Jn 3:16)

But it doesn’t stop there. How often do we hear, or experience, in todays society, the idea that we are not our brothers keeper?

In many ways, we actively shun the responsibility to look out for those around us, those who, perhaps are more sheep like than we care to experience.

But John points out that compassion, that sharing what we have with those who do not have is a major part of what makes us the children of God, the sheep of Jesus flock, the ones who have embraced the teachings of Christ to the point where they are as prevalent in our actions our words as the warm spring sunshine.

“18 Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.
19 This is how we know that we belong to the truth and how we set our hearts at rest in his presence.” (1 Jn 3:18-19)

We are encouraged to be that sibling’s keeper, not in the sense that we are responsible to look after them, as a parent looks after a child, but to share with them what they need for life, for growth, for maturity in the light of Christ.

We are encouraged to look at the world around us, and to live this kind of care and concern, to live the teachings of Christ, to love as we are loved by God, to set the example for those who wish to be more than just members of the flock.

And in the John reminds us: “23 And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. 24 The one who keeps God’s commands lives in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.” (1 Jn 3:23-24)

Sure, we are still guided by the Shepherd, we “are with [us]; your rod and your staff, they comfort [us].” (Ps 23:4b) What we unfortunately forget, however, is the previous verse, “3 He … guides me along right pathways for his name’s sake.” (Ps 23:3b)

We often forget that to live a Christ centred life, is to live as “mutton and wool.” This is not a skin-deep existence. Rather it is embracing whole heartedly that we are the children of God, we are the sheep of his pasture, we are the ones for whom the shepherd lays down his life, only to take it up again.

John point us to our hearts, he points us to that as a gauge to our actions as the people of God, in the world, away from Christ’s figurative language.

“18 Dear children, let us not love with words or speech but with actions and in truth.” (1 Jn 3:18)

And here is what separates the sheep from the sheep, the members of the flock from those who embrace the love and teachings of the shepherd and step out of the sheep-ly mold, changing our colour from white to black.

With the assurance that we are loved and cared for, we are able to, with the shepherd’s guidance, step into roles that we have never imagined.

With the shepherd’s rod and staff, we are able to traverse even the most uncomfortable and sometimes scary terrain, knowing that we are guided every step by the one who willingly lays down his life so that we might have life in abundance.

Yet, we are the sheep who acknowledge that we are part of the shepherd’s flock. We hear the voice of our shepherd, we run to him, and we learn from him what it looks like to see the world from his perspective.

We are able to live out John’s words, John’s promise that we are never alone, that we are always guided, and that we are loved so much more than we can express in life.

He tells us: “23 And this is his command: to believe in the name of his Son, Jesus Christ, and to love one another as he commanded us. 24 The one who keeps God’s commands lives in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: We know it by the Spirit he gave us.” (1 Jn 3:23-24)

Amen.

About pastorrebeccagraham

A Lutheran minister serving an Anglican parish in Northern Ontario.
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