Friday, May 05, 2006

Fourth Sunday of Easter, John 10:11-18, May 7, 2006

Fourth Sunday of Easter, 2006
St. John’s Lutheran Church, Howard, South Dakota
I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing 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. And I have other sheep that are not of 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 that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.” (John 10:11-18, ESV)
Grace and Peace to you from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Members of St. John’s, especially you confirmads… today I want you to get a picture firmly planted in your minds.  I want you to have it so well pictured that you can bring it up any time you need it.  It’s the picture that comes from the text.  The picture of Jesus, the Good Shepherd.  Carly, Riley, Miciah he is your Good Shepherd.  Never forget what He’s done for you and what we talk about today.  I know what pressures you are going to face in High School.  I know you think we older folk are oblivious of the stuff you go through every day, the temptations to drink, smoke, and especially to have sex, and so many more things that are dangerous for you.  We know.  We sometimes put it in the back of our minds because we can’t bear to think about it.  I want you to know that we love and care about you.  But we can’t help what you’ll face out there.  We can’t be with you everywhere you go.  We can’t protect you from it all.  The truth of the matter is you’re going to be tempted.  The truth of the matter is that it is very likely that you’ll give in at some time or another… either in the next few years or in college.  It’s difficult for us because we can tell you that it is trouble all we want but you’ll probably just have to find out yourself.  The reason I want you to put this picture in your mind is because when you fail, when you fall, I want you to remember that you have a Good Shepherd who is there to bring you back.  He’s done everything necessary for you to be with him forever, and there’s nothing you can do to change that.  But you can forget. You can walk away from him forever.  You can reject the Good Shepherd.  Frankly, that scares me more than anything else that might happen to you.  So picture in your mind the Good Shepherd, Jesus and remember he lived, died and rose again for you.
You know, I don’t know many shepherds. I did grow up in a family that was well versed in cattle and corn, alfalfa and irrigation, I’m familiar with farming, but I don’t know sheep. My grandfather raised sheep, but I don’t think you could really call him a shepherd. I just remember avoiding the mean old ram we called “Rammel.” I see sheep in pens around here, but still I don’t think you could call anyone around here a shepherd. So when Jesus says that He’s the good shepherd, I’m not sure I really understand what that means. Do you?
So, do you have a picture of the Good Shepherd in mind. Of course you do.  You’ve seen it in pictures.  You’ve seen it in stained glass.  Jesus standing on the rocky path, with sheep standing around lovingly gazing at the shepherd’s face. He’s always holding one, too. Usually a little lamb, one we imagine is too small to walk on its own, one that’s been injured by the dangers of the path, or one that’s tired and unable to go on. Jesus is carrying it because it’s lost by itself. We love that picture. That’s the Shepherd in our mind, the shepherd of Psalm 23.  How many of you have Psalm 23 as your favorite bible verse?  It’s my wife’s confirmation verse.  The Lord is my shepherd. I have everything I need.  
Well, Jesus is talking about himself in this text for today.  Let’s talk a little bit about what he is saying.  First of all he says that he is the Good Shepherd. He’s not just a good one, he is the good one. He’s the best of the best, the top of the heap. The One and Only, champion, good shepherd. But what kind of a shepherd is this Good Shepherd? What makes him a good one? What makes him the good one?
He says that the Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. It’s easy to let that one go by us, and not stop and think about what He’s saying, because of course we know about Jesus dying for us on the cross, that’s what He’s talking about, right? Well, probably, but really if you think about it it’s not really very wise for the Shepherd to die? Is it? After all if He dies who will protect the sheep? Imagine the flock out there in the rocky wilderness. They are all gathered around the Good Shepherd, lazily minding their own business, eating the green grass, and drinking the still water. Then from out of nowhere the wolf appears. The sheep get nervous and start bleating. The shepherd positions himself between the sheep and the white fangs. There’s a quick struggle—but the wolf walks away and the shepherd is dead. Now what? The wolf snarls as the shepherd’s blood drips from his teeth, and is hungry eyes look over his next victim, probably that little sheep the shepherd was just carrying. If the shepherd is dead, there is no one to protect the sheep anymore. The sheep are as good as dead, too, aren’t they?
Of course the shepherd who dies is better than the hired hand shepherd, the second hand shepherd (that what the bible calls him). As soon as the wolf appears he hightails it off to the hills. All he’s worried about is his paycheck, and you can’t spend any money when you’re dead. He doesn’t care for the sheep. There are no stain glass windows dedicated to the second hand shepherd, the hired hand, no picture of the hireling carrying some poor little tired sheep. If there was one it’d probably have him kicking them to get them to move a little faster, and the sheep certainly wouldn’t be all around him. Instead they’d be just out of arms reach, with a wary eye on the shepherd and another on the dangerous trail. He just pushes them along the trail to get to where they are going. You’d think at least when he saw the wolf he protect the sheep, if for no other reason than to protect his pocketbook. But that’s not the case. The sheep are “snatched and scattered” when he runs away to save his own skin. And again the wolf has his bloody way.
So what’s the answer to the problem here? The Good Shepherd dies and leaves the sheep, the bad shepherd, runs and leaves the sheep. At first glance it doesn’t look as if there’s really much difference between the Good Shepherd and the bad one. Well, that can’t be the end of the story so let’s see what else Jesus says.
He says that the Good Shepherd knows the sheep, and the sheep know Him. That sounds pretty good. Back to the picture in your mind, the sheep are lovingly looking up at him, they know him very well; they know him because of what he does. He leads them beside still waters. He gets them to the green grass… He knows what the sheep need, and when they need it. But there’s more to knowing the sheep than just providing for what they need. Knowing the sheep means that the Shepherd knows the personalities of the sheep. He knows when certain sheep are likely to stray. He keeps an eye out for those who are getting a little too close to the edge of the flock. He knows the ones that like to slip away when he’s not looking. He knows, so they don’t get far. He knows the flock so well that he can count them without counting. He’s so familiar that just a glance will tell him when one is missing, when one is hiding, when one is trying to slip away.
That really does fit Jesus. You see he knows you and me. He knows St. Johns. In fact he knows all churches all over the world. He knows their strengths and weakness. He looks over them and knows exactly what’s going on in each one, without counting he knows where they are. It doesn’t matter that we are way up here in South Dakota. We are still part of God’s beloved flock. Jesus knows and cares for each of us and he knows what we need.
Do you want an example? Way back a few years after Jesus ascended into heaven from the mountain of transfiguration, the Apostle John had a vision on the Island of Patmos. Jesus spoke to him. We often hear about John’s visions of the “Last Things” in that book, but we don’t very often hear about Jesus personal messages to seven little churches, seven struggling churches in way out Asia. They were like seven little lambs that Jesus carrying. Each had problems that Jesus spoke directly to. Each had strengths that Jesus praised. Jesus knew each church by name. “Give these messages to each church” he told John, “to Ephesus and to Smyrna and to Pergamum and to Thyatira and to Sardis and to Philadelphia and to Laodicea. (Re 1:11)” And he dictated a personal letter to each one. Jesus knows his flock. He knows his churches personally. He knows St. John’s, Howard. He cares and protects us right here, and right now. That’s what a Good Shepherd is, that’s what The Good Shepherd does.
Ok, so we know that the Good Shepherd knows His sheep. He loves and cares for them and gives them all that they need. But there’s still that troublesome problem about Him dying for the sheep. Remember we wondered what becomes of the sheep after the shepherd dies. It’s easy to see that this relationship between the Good Shepherd and His sheep isn’t the regular run of the mill shepherd—sheep relationship. He knows His sheep better than any ordinary shepherd does. He loves His sheep more than any normal shepherd, too. We know that because He dies for them. Jesus talks about dying for those he loves all the time “This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you. Greater love has no one than this, that someone lays down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.” (John 15:12-14) He died willingly for you. He lays down His life for you. But what good is that if it leaves the sheep with out a shepherd?
Remember! Jesus isn’t just any shepherd. He’s the unique one; the one and only one; the champion; the Good Shepherd. It’s not just any old kinda-good-shepherd that lays down his life. It’s The Good Shepherd that gives His life for you. It’s the Good Shepherd who is God himself, in the flesh. It’s the Good Shepherd who can lay down His life, but who can also take it up again. He the Good Shepherd that died on the cross to save human beings from sin, but rose to life again to destroy sin’s power. “Why are you troubled? He said to his disciples (and to us). “See my hands and feet, touch me and see that I am alive again!” (Luke 24:36ff) Be at peace! This Shepherd doesn’t leave His sheep alone. Not even death can separate Him from His sheep. Death cannot separate Him from you. He was dead but He is now alive again. No ordinary good shepherd can do that.
Remember that old wolf, the one whose only thought is fresh lamb chops. We left him as he was slowly approaching that little lamb, the one without a shepherd. But suddenly the shepherd is there; he was dead but not any more. He grabs the wolf and flings him away. There’s a great yelp as he crashes to the ground and runs away. What chance does a mere wolf have against a Shepherd that is stronger than death?  That’s our Jesus, that’s our Good Shepherd.  
Dear Christian friends. Members of the Flock of Jesus Christ. Are you feeling alone in the world? Are the dangers of the wilderness out there threatening you? How about that wolf, the one that keeps snarling at you, and reminding you that you death is only a step away? Is the future a scary proposition for you?  It’s easy to think and feel that we are shepherd-less. But we are not. You are not alone. Your shepherd is The Good Shepherd. No matter what the danger is: weather it’s the loss of a job, or wondering what’s ahead in the future. No matter what the fear, weather it is crop failure or fear of being left alone. All of those dangers are just plain old wolves and what chance does a mere wolf have against a Shepherd that’s stronger than death? That’s Jesus Christ risen from the dead for you.  He is your Good Shepherd. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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