Some thoughts on ministry, a collection of sermons, theological musings and of course, random thoughts.
Monday, April 30, 2012
The Good Shepherd Sermon
April 26, 2012
There is a Disney cartoon, a short but classic one I watched over and over again at my friend Summer’s house when I was little. The cartoon is about Lambert, a little lion who got dropped off by the Stork with a batch of baby sheep. As they grew the other sheep would taunt him with a song, “Lambert the sheepish lion, Lambert is always tryin’ to be a wild and wooly sheep. Lambert the sheepish lion.” Even though the biological facts were Lambert was a lion, he wanted to be a sheep. He was kind and gentle- even when he was teased by the other sheep. The only time he let his lion side show was when his mother and the rest of the sheep were threatened by a wolf. He let out a powerful roar and drove the wolf away, even though he was scared. After that, the other sheep had more respect for him, they stopped teasing him. It didn’t matter that he was born a lion, Lambert was a sheep.
In the Gospel according to John, Jesus teaches his followers about who he is, and what he is going to do. We call these the “I am statements,” because Jesus says, “I am: the bread of life, the light of the world, the door, the good shepherd, the resurrection and the life, the truth and the life, the true vine.” Surely, with that many metaphors- there is one or more that helps each of us understand Jesus better. If you’re like Lambert and identify with some of the characteristics of a sheep, maybe the metaphor from this week’s scripture is for you. Jesus is the good shepherd. By telling us he is the good shepherd, Jesus is telling us that he is a protector and provider. When the sheep are threatened by a wolf, the shepherd defends and protects. A shepherd guides lovingly and a good shepherd knows each one of his sheep- and cares for each one.
Jesus contrasts the love and care of the good shepherd with the care of the hired hand. The Message Bible paraphrase speaks of the hired hand this way, “A hired man is not a real shepherd. The sheep mean nothing to him. He sees a wolf come and runs for it, leaving the sheep to be ravaged and scattered by the wolf. He’s only in it for the money. They sheep don’t matter to him”
Jesus is the good shepherd- he cares for each of his followers. He will not abandon them when danger threatens; in fact he says three times in this passage that he will lay down his life for his sheep. Because of his love for the sheep, the good shepherd will willingly lay down his life for them. When I read this passage, I wonder how in the world Jesus’ disciples and other followers could not have known what was coming- that Jesus would lay down his life and be crucified. His death seems so imminent and obvious when you hear him say, “The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life- only to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord.” How could his followers not “get it” that Jesus was going to die? This question was answered this week by some wise friends, as we talked about the scripture they suggested to me that sometimes we don’t understand what we don’t want to understand. The disciples, Jesus’ sheep, listened to him and heard him say he was going to lay down his life- but they didn’t want to hear that. They didn’t want to understand that they would have to walk the road of grief before they could experience the joy of resurrection. The good shepherd lays down his life for his sheep.
If Jesus is the good shepherd, then we are his sheep. Those of us who listen to his voice and follow him have the benefits of the beautiful words of the 23rd Psalm.
1The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want. 2He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. 3He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake. 4Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. 5Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. 6Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.”
This psalm tells of provision, comfort and peace, all gifts of being led by the good shepherd. When Jesus first told the crowd that he is the good shepherd, he was most likely speaking to a group of Jewish folks, like himself. They understood that he was a Jew and had come to help guide the people of Israel. However, Jesus is quick to point out that the good shepherd comes for all the sheep- not just the ones in the flock of Israel. He says, “I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.”
Jesus is saying even to us- “guess what my beloved sheep? You are not the only sheep I love. There are other sheep out there that are not a part of this fold- but they are no less my sheep.” To me, this is a reminder that the good shepherd, Jesus Christ, came for all God’s children. Christ isn’t just the shepherd of the Israelites; He is not just the shepherd of those of us who are inside the church (this location of church or any other). There are sheep out there who don’t even know about the good shepherd- those who are wandering aimlessly without knowing that a loving God is ready to welcome them into the fold. Maybe we need to be talking to these sheep about the good shepherd.
This part of the scripture also speaks of Christian unity which is foundational to our identity as the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ). We know that we are not the only sheep that Jesus loves, we realize and honor that we are just a part of God’s flock- together with many other sheep out there. We recently demonstrated hospitality to God’s flock when we invited everyone in the community to come to our church for Holy Week services. By sharing worship and eating together, we acknowledge that God loves and welcomes all the sheep.
If we acknowledge that Jesus is the good shepherd and that we are a part of his flock then how do we become good sheep? Jesus says that a good sheep will listen to the sound of his voice. It is our duty to know what Jesus said by studying the scripture and spending time in prayer. After we know what Jesus teaches- then we have to do our best to live that out in the world.
A second key to being a good sheep is that we are part of a flock. Jesus came to us and for us as a group. If there is only one sheep following the shepherd- that’s not much of a flock! As a flock of sheep following the one good shepherd, we realize that we have a responsibility to care for one another. I would like you to turn to the sheep next to you and give them this reminder: “You are a beloved child of God- and you are enough.” The good shepherd came to gently guide us- in a community- a flock, caring for one another. Pastor David Lose reminds us, “This is part of what it means to be the Body of Christ- to remind each other of God’s promises and speak Jesus’ message of love, acceptance, and grace to each other. And who knows, maybe having the chance to practice saying these words to each other we’ll find the courage to say them to others in our lives as well.” Being a good sheep involves listening to the good shepherd and caring about the others in the flock.
In case you haven’t met them I want to introduce you to two important characters in my life. I have two dogs named Dolly and Melanie. This week they got a very special treat as we had a fence put in at our house. David and I wanted to make this new fence backyard as convenient as possible for us as well and so the fence was designed so we could simply open the back door of our house and let the dogs into their new fenced backyard. As soon as the fence was finished I opened the back door of the house and called to the girls. Melanie, the beagle came bounding out the back door to take some laps around her new fenced area. Dolly however, was stuck. You see Dolly has a phobia that is a big problem for her. She does not like to walk across slick floors and the hardwood of our living room, and the tile of the kitchen and laundry room were keeping her from the promised land. I called sweetly, I coaxed, I cajoled; and she wouldn’t budge. She stayed at the far end of the square carpet in the living room and looked longingly toward the door. She wanted to come and be a part of the fun but fear was holding her back.
Finally, I took her leash and hooked it to her collar. Without pulling her, I led her gently across the three rooms with slick floors that stood between her and her freedom. She crossed the valley of the shadow of death and it led her to a nice, green pasture. Once she got to her backyard she ran happy, excited laps with puppy exuberance.
I am like Dolly more than I know. I stand at the brink of something I can’t bear to face and the only thing I know who to do is call out to God for help. It is then that the good shepherd comes and gently guides me in the paths where I am supposed to go. I am so thankful that we have been given the gift of a good shepherd who can guide is through anything that we have to face. More than you know, I am grateful for this flock, for you at First Christian Church who walk beside me on this journey.
I pray that we would all continue to be good sheep. May we listen to the sound of our shepherd’s voice and follow him wherever he leads. I pray that we would continue to be one another’s flock- to give care and comfort and to look out for one another. If we can be good sheep and follow our good shepherd I know we will be led anywhere and everywhere that we need to go. What a blessing it is to be a sheep!