The Gospel: John 10:11-18
Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. 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. And I lay down my life for the sheep. 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. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.”
Prayer: Lord, you have promised that when two or three gather in your name you will be present with them. We depend on that promise today and pray that you will move among us. Lord, we pray that have you inspired Mike's preparation, that you will enliven his presentation and that you will empower our application. Amen
Message: Today is Good Shepherd Sunday. Our Scriptures this morning are all interconnected with the imagery of "the Good Shepherd. They each refer to or consider, the difference between the role and purpose of the Good Shepherd and all other shepherds.
So, that raises an interesting question for us as we hear these very familiar passages again this morning. After all, these are not new passages are they? If we have spent any time at all in church in our lifetime we certainly have heard these Scriptures. We certainly know that Jesus is the Good Shepherd. Jesus is the one who is willing to lay down his life for or on behalf of those the Father has given him. I believe that most of us are more than happy to accept and believe that Jesus is our Good Shepherd.
So, you may be wondering what is the question that we need to consider? Well, one possible question is: "if Jesus is the Good Shepherd then who are the sheep?"
It may seem easy for us to answer that question. Because we all know that we are supposed to recognize that we are the sheep right? That we understand our relationship with Jesus as one of caring shepherd and that we are members of the flock of Christ. That he has come to gather us unto himself and to guard against all the evil that seeks to harm or devour us.
There is such comfort and security in that image isn't there? If we hold on to that image we can link it to other concepts and images that encourage us in our walk with Christ.
I think one of the best examples of that imagery is the poem or prayer that many of us are familiar with. The Footprints in the Sand poem or prayer goes something like this.
The Footprints Prayer:
One night I had a dream…
I dreamed I was walking along the beach with the Lord, and
Across the sky flashed scenes from my life. For each scene I noticed two sets of footprints in the sand; One belonged to me, and the other to the Lord. When the last scene of my life flashed before us, I looked back at the footprints in the sand. I noticed that many times along the path of my life, There was only one set of footprints.
I also noticed that it happened at the very lowest
and saddest times in my life
This really bothered me, and I questioned the Lord about it.
“Lord, you said that once I decided to follow you,
You would walk with me all the way;
But I have noticed that during the
most troublesome times in my life,
There is only one set of footprints.
I don’t understand why in times when I
needed you the most, you should leave me.
The Lord replied, “My precious, precious
child. I love you, and I would never,
never leave you during your times of
trial and suffering.
When you saw only one set of footprints,
It was then that I carried you.
Knowing that Jesus wants to be engaged in our lives and to walk with us through our adversities and challenges is certainly a wonderful concept. We are truly blessed if we see our relationship with Christ as one where he sits with us and listens to us and counsels us in our struggles.
I certainly don't want to tarnish that image for any of us this morning. I want you to hold on to that understanding. I want you to seek to develop your conversation and interaction with the Lord. It will bring rich and powerful results in your life if you bring all your questions, doubts, and struggles to him.
But I would remiss in my role as a shepherd this morning if I were to leave us seeing that as the only question that we may need to deal with in these passages.
So I have a second question for us to wrestle with this morning. If we see Jesus as the Good Shepherd and we are the sheep then what does that tell us about our nature and character? Now, I have to admit that I am not too keen to examine this question too deeply.
I can't say that I have had a lot to do with sheep in my life. But I have read about them and they are not the best example of intelligence and cooperation.
Sheep, have a tendency, to wander off, they constantly need to be watched, they don't seem to have a great capacity for memory. They will go ahead and do something they have done before even when it put them in danger. They often get tangled up in briars and bushes. They are just as likely to walk off the edge of a cliff and fall into ravines. They have no way to protect themselves from predators. They are just as likely to follow another sheep into danger or into a situation that will threaten their well-being. Often they will fight against the shepherd when they have got themselves into difficulty. They will stubbornly ignore or fight against the directions of those who can see danger or a threat that they are unaware of.
All in all, sheep are one of the best illustrations of the meaning of the word recalcitrant. I looked that up in the dictionary and this is what it said: as an adjective: "having an obstinately uncooperative attitude toward authority or discipline." Or as a noun: "a person with an obstinately uncooperative attitude."
Have you noticed how much of the New Testament is written about people that we might well describe as recalcitrant? Why does the author of our reading from 1 John this morning need to address the community he is writing to about love the way he does? "We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us-- and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. How does God's love abide in anyone who has the world's goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?
Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action." "And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us."
I would suggest that left to their own devices and their own understanding of right the people in the community that is addressed in 1 John would not necessarily put the needs of others before their own. Now I am not saying that they were purposefully obstinate, they just needed to be reminded of where their attitude should be focused.
Now, how do you think the people responded to what is written to them? I would guess or suggest that perhaps they were not pleased to have their attitudes and actions questioned in a public way. Perhaps they reacted in anger, perhaps they got defensive.
Of course, we are not likely to act that way, are we? When we have things brought to attention that we need to correct or work on we are always ready to hear and to correct our behavior aren't we!
"You will remember I began my Sermon last week by saying "there is it that familiar phrase: "Peace be with you."
Jesus is seeking to reassure and encourage the disciples. I went on to say that I believe that Jesus was and is seeking to reassure and encourage us.
Because we may be faced with the same issue as the disciples, or the people in the community that 1 John is written to.
Perhaps Jesus is faced with the same issue with us as he was with the disciples. Before Jesus can get to the point with us he has to deal with our attitudes. He has to help us deal with what we are upset about. He has to help us deal with our emotions.
Jesus understands this about us. Jesus understands that until we are calm we will not hear. Until we are at peace we will not understand. Until we have dealt with our anxiety we will not accept what he has to say. Until we have put aside our doubt we will not be able to do what he needs us to do.
Jesus needed the disciples to be witnesses, he also needs us to be witnesses. Last week, I talked about how a witness speaks to the "truth of what they know." They are called on to proclaim, in deed and action, what they know and what they believe. Perhaps this week we need to think about how we are allowing the Good Shepherd to be our shepherd. How can we be a little less sheep-like this week? How can we be a little less recalcitrant?
Last week I encouraged us all, as we move through this "Season of Easter" in 2021, to consider what you know and what you believe? Are we be willing to say to the Lord: "I want to know what the disciples knew, I want to believe what the disciples believed." Lord open my mind and help me put aside my selfishness and my angry reactions and to accept your word.
Then he opened their minds to understand the scriptures, and he said to them, “Thus it is written, that the Messiah is to suffer and to rise from the dead on the third day, and that repentance and forgiveness of sins is to be proclaimed in his name to all nations, beginning from Jerusalem. You are witnesses of these things.