May 7, 2017 4th Sunday of Easter YR A Acts 2:42-47; 1 Peter 2:19-25; John 10:1-10; Psalm 23 The Rev. Anne Abdy
Today is Good Shepherd Sunday. So why the title “Good Shepherd Sunday?” We are never really told and I am pretty sure this was more church politics at the revision of the lectionary. The powers that be deemed it appropriate that parts of John chapter ten should be read on this Sunday each year in the lectionary cycle.
It is the Collect that strikes me as probably the most beautiful expression of Jesus as the Good Shepherd. “O God, whose Son, Jesus is the good shepherd of your people: Grant that when we hear his voice we may know him who calls us each by name, and follow where he leads; who, with you and the Holy Spirit, lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
Just beautiful! It reminds me of a serene looking Jesus with long flowing shoulder length hair bursting out from a dark background with his eyes looking upwards. That’s the image of Jesus I had growing up. Or maybe the one where Jesus is carrying a lamb on his shoulders surrounded by the sheep at his feet. This painting almost has a Pied Piper feel to it. Regardless of how you imagine Jesus, he is the Good Shepherd.
We know that Jesus used everyday examples to illustrate and highlight his teaching. I imagine that he is sitting at a well just on the outskirts of town surrounded by town folk. In fact, if you read chapter nine and the beginning of chapter ten together, Jesus is still talking to the same crowd after he healed the Blind Man. (Lent 4) He is surround by children, women, the young and the old. The infirm and the needy. All are attending to his voice with a listening ear, including the Pharisees. Jesus knows his words and parables are misunderstood, and now more than ever so after restoring the Blind Man’s sight. I imagine Jesus glances over to the nearby hillside, and BINGO the light bulb goes on! Let’s use SHEEP! Everyone here knows how sheep operate. And there you have it…the Story of the Good Shepherd which is obviously so good it takes up a full chapter in the Gospel of John with forty-two verses. In today’s readings, Jesus first paints himself as the gate and then upgrades himself to the gate-keeper, the Protector. Thus, the back story to the verse: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through me.”(John 14: 6)
While I have never herded sheep, I have herded goats. My parents returned to the mission station when my brother and I were young. Culturally little Ovambo boys and girls herd goats. So, off we went each morning, letting the goats out of the pen to roam in the shrubbery nearby and gathered them back up in the late afternoon. I am sure we not were very good at it, but I do remember it was a lot of fun! Goats, however, are nothing like sheep. Sheep are more like dogs, at least they come at the sound of your voice, whereas goats, who are more like cats, take a message and wander off.
Jesus uses the thief image because he wants to warn the people that there are false prophets and teachings in the world. He warns his followers to not believe the false news because the thieves and bandits are not up to any good. They are not to be trusted and will miss-guide you. The gate-keeper is there to protect the sheep from dangers and keep the sheep securely in the pen.
Last Sunday afternoon I was invited to an “intimate” affair at the Student Athlete Academic Center. This is the bright new shiny “space-age” glass looking building. It was the annual CrossTraining fund- raiser for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and their guest speakers were three local Olympians. As it was my first time on campus, I was fortunate that I found parking, so I did not have to pray to God to make that happen, but I was not familiar with the building so I turned to a young student to pointed me in the right direction.
As you approach the building you begin to realize that there are no door handles attached to any doors. I must say that the couple ahead of me was quite confused and I was amused watching this scene. The man reached for the door, then began to feel the door looking for the spot where if you punch the door just right to let it pop open. All the while, a young man, obviously a student athlete, was positioned nicely inside of the building frantically gesturing to the couple and pointing towards the wheelchair accessible button behind them and four feet in front of the glass door. I haven’t quite figured out why he wasn’t on the outside of the building! Gate-keepers are always on the outside. For the Blind Man, the gate-keeper opened the gate and welcomed him into the fold.
How do you befriended the gate-keeper? It is all in the name. The gate-keeper ensures that all who enter are known to him and only him. Remember Isaiah prophesied: “Thus says the Lord, ‘I have called you by name. You are mine.’” (Is. 43:1)
My friend, Don, was raising money for the AIDS unit at a local hospital in Southern California. He decided a nice chunk of change could help the cause from Anheuser-Busch Brewing Company. So he called the company wanting to speak to the CEO. No answer. He called again. No answer. Everyday he called and before long he had befriended the CEO’s secretary. It took some more calls to convince Betty Jean that his cause was indeed legitimate. Like a good employee, she put him off, but with each passing day he wore her down. Finally, on whim he called, she answered and put Don right through. That day Anheuser-Busch Brewing Company donated a pocket-full of change.
Sheep know the voice of their Shepherd as their names are called one-by-one. The shepherds of Palestine will lead their flock rather than herd them from behind with dogs like we see in videos of the British Sheep Trials. Yes, sheep are motivate in life by their need for food; however, it is finding their shepherd that becomes a matter of life and death. Lost sheep are dead sheep so they will always run towards the shepherd’s voice, their protector. There are many different breeds of sheep. The brown and black lambs transform into sheep with thick white colored wool. We are also transformed when we hear Jesus’ voice.
Sheep are obnoxious and bossy. We, humans, have a shadow side too. Sometimes, we are not aware of it, and a gentle reminder by the Protector can prevent horrible things from happening.
I think the following best describes this interaction, I related to it, so I hope you do too.
Me: Jesus, can I ask You a question?
Me: Promise you won’t get mad.
Jesus: I promise.
Me: Why did you let so much stuff happen to me today?
Jesus: What do you mean?
Me: Well, I woke up late.
Me: My car took forever to start.
Me: At lunch they made my sandwich wrong and I had to wait.
Me: And on top of it all, when I got home I just wanted to soak my feet in my new foot massager and relax. But it wouldn’t work!!! Nothing went right today! Why did you do that?
Jesus: Let me see, the death angel was at your bed this morning and I had to send one of my Angels to battle him for your life. I let you sleep through that.
Me (humbled): Oh!
Jesus: I didn’t let your car start because there was a drunk driver on your route that would have hit you if you were on the road.
Jesus: The first person who made your sandwich today was sick and I didn’t want you to catch what they have, I knew you couldn’t afford to miss work.
Me (embarrassed): Okay.
Jesus: Oh, and that foot massager, it had a short that was going to throw all of the power in your house tonight. I didn’t think you wanted to be in the dark.
Me: I’m sorry, Jesus.
Jesus: Don’t be sorry, just learn to trust Me . . . in all things, the good and the bad. And don’t doubt that my plan for your day is always better than your plan.
Me: I won’t Jesus. And oh, thank you for everything today.
Jesus: You’re welcome child. It was just another day being your Jesus and I love looking after My Children.
The bottom line is this: Listen for Jesus’ voice. Run from Strangers. Stay together, and pray.
This Eastertide, “Dear Lord, let us be sheep.”