John 10:1-10 • May 15, 2011
Brothers and sisters in Christ grace and peace to you from God our Father and our Lord and Savior Jesus, the Lamb of God. Amen.
Throughout scripture, one of the most common images we see is that of God or Jesus as the shepherd and you and I as the sheep. We enjoy this image of God and Jesus. We are the sheep, lost, wandering aimlessly, no sense of direction. God is the shepherd, keeping us in check. Hooking our necks around the crook of his staff and bringing us back to the fold. Jesus is the shepherd with the lost lamb on his shoulders gently caring for it and placing it back into the family of other sheep who know his voice when they hear it. These images remind us that sheep know the voice of their shepherd and know to whom they belong.
The people who first heard these stories and images from scripture understood the relationship of a shepherd and his sheep well. To connect that relationship to God was something that they could understand fairly easily. I’m not so sure that we share that same understanding today.
If I think of the physical presence of a shepherd and sheep in my own life, I can only think of two experiences. And what is probably interesting only to me, is that both of them took place in Logan County.
One happened when I was about 10 years old during the Little Britches Rodeo of the Logan County Fair. I took first place in the sheep riding contest. In this contest we were placed on the back of a sheep that had not yet been sheered. I was told to hang on tight about a half second before the gate to the rodeo arena was opened and the sheep was set free with me grabbing on to its wool and hanging on with every ounce of strength I had. The sheep didn’t respond very gently to the sound of my voice and after a 13 second ride that felt longer than my entire life, I didn’t respond to my voice either or necessarily even know my name as I picked fresh Logan county dirt out of my mouth and from the inside of my pants.
The other experience with shepherds and sheep that I have is not quite as painful or traumatic. One of my uncles was a dairy farmer in Logan County and I will never forget how the Holstein cows would gather at the barn twice a day for milking. Most of the time, all my uncle had to do to get the process started was to go outside the milking barn and whistle a few times or call out to the herd and in they would come – one by one. Somehow they knew what time of day it was and what the sound of his call meant.
Our gospel today says that the sheep follow the shepherd because they know his voice. Today’s gospel is another image of Jesus as shepherd to the sheep, but in our world today – what does that mean? Or maybe more directly, let me ask a question this way – what shepherds do you hear each day and how do you or don’t you follow them? And I say shepherds in the plural sense of the word, because I don’t think any of us hear the voice of just one shepherd if we are truly being honest with ourselves. We are constantly bombarded with shepherds of different religious or political or social or cultural voice that compete for our attention.
Who’s your shepherd?
The average person in the United States today lives in a world of almost limitless possibilities and voices of shepherds to follow. Living in 2011 – we experience and process more information in one day than someone living in Jesus day would have experienced and processed in their entire lifetime! The digital world in which we live today is a tremendous gift in many ways, but it can also overwhelm and consume us as we try to remember which voice of which shepherd is the voice that we should follow.
Which shepherd truly knows my name?
We follow shepherds that say we need to walk through these seven steps and then we will experience financial wealth and happiness beyond our wildest imagination. You and I follow that shepherd and wind up feeling worse about ourselves and more financially strapped than we’ve ever felt before. We follow shepherds offering the ultimate healthy lifestyle and exercise program that will guarantee a long and healthy life. You and I follow that shepherd only to find ourselves hearing the devastating diagnosis of terminal cancer.
I’m not saying that being financially responsible, or trying to maintain a healthy lifestyle, or being happy are bad things. I do believe that these are things that God does want for us, but God as our shepherd is not about a rodeo, or a multi step miraculous program to happiness and financial wealth, or a special exercise plan. God as our shepherd does not remove us from this world or away from any responsibility on our part to engage others. God as our shepherd calls us deeply into relationship with each other, into relationship with the world around us, and into relationship with a savior named Jesus who says in verse 10 of our gospel today that he came that we may have life, and have it abundantly.
False shepherds will never fill our deepest needs that lead to an abundant life. Their interest is meeting only their needs.
Jesus is the only shepherd that has our every need in front of him. The love that this shepherd extends to you and me, his sheep, on the cross was not given to meet his needs, but ours. Our need for forgiveness and freedom from sin. Our need for hope and assurance that we hear and receive in the good news of God’s word. Our need for nourishment and renewal in body and blood shared in the bread and wine of a holy meal at the Lord’s Table. Our need for victory over anything death seeks to destroy.
Jesus is the shepherd who leads us into the world and goes before us, in front of us, leading the way and meeting our need in everything, and I mean everything – yesterday, today, and in every tomorrow. Our relationship with this shepherd is that important to God.
We live in a time and place when it is easier than ever before to stay connected to important relationships in our lives. Smart phones and text messaging, e-mail and the internet, Facebook and Twitter. Brothers and sisters in Christ, there is not one of those connections or relationships or pieces of technology that will ever compare to the intimacy and depth of relationship that we are given as a gift from God in Jesus Christ our shepherd and savior. Jesus as shepherd and savior comes to us in love.
This love has an effect on us – it calls us and pushes us and draws us out of ourselves and our own worlds and away from every false shepherd that seeks to overpower us with false promises. Jesus the shepherd and savior opens every gate that we close or try to keep closed.
May you remember this week as you walk through the hills and valleys and gates of life that Jesus is your shepherd and savior who came to open all of your gates and who walks with you on every path you will travel when you leave worship today. Amen.