Lessons: Acts 4:5-12, Psalm 23, 1 John 3:16-24, John 10: 11-18
May the Words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be always acceptable in your sight Oh Lord my strength and my redeemer.
Today: is the fourth Sunday of Easter.
And the fourth Sunday of Easter is always Good Shepherd Sunday.
This year, the images of sheep are everywhere:
We hear two of the most familiar and cherished pieces of scripture:
The 23rd Psalm, which states “The Lord is my shepherd.”
And the section from John’s gospel where Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd.”
Over the centuries:
The image of Jesus as the good shepherd:
And of his followers as sheep has been very appealing.
The amount of stained glass, painting, music, and poetry that it has inspired is staggering.
And the number of sermons, articles, hymns, retreats and meditations are also beyond measure.
People cherish the image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd:
About as much as they cherish the 23rd psalm.
Yet in all the words read and heard on the subject of the Good Shepherd and his sheep:
There’s one thing that no one talks about:
And it has to do with one simple question:
Why do shepherds have sheep in the first place?
Shepherds keep sheep for pretty much the same reasons that ranchers keep cows.
Being a shepherd and taking care of sheep:
And being a sheep and having a shepherd are:
Sooner or later:
Going to have something to do with wool and mutton.
With stripping, killing, selling, and eating.
There’s just no avoiding it.
And this little reality never shows up in the adorable stained glass windows or greeting cards.
One of the problems with the shepherd—sheep image,
Is that sheep have a reputation of being passive, stupid, unimaginative, and dull.
And if we are the sheep of God’s pasture,
Does that mean we are supposed to be like sheep?
Cute, but lazy and dumb:
Only able to let the shepherd take care of us, because there’s no way we could live on our own?
Is the whole point of the story that we aren’t worth very much:
Aren’t very capable?
First of all: shepherds don’t keep sheep as pets.
The sheep are useful, important, and necessary.
Because if the sheep don’t produce,
The shepherd is flat out of business.
Which brings us back to the wool and mutton.
The sheep provide something.
The sheep have something important to give.
This is the part of the Good Shepherd business that is about us:
It’s about our part of what’s going on with this familiar talk of green pastures and still waters:
We have something to give.
And not only that:
But God expects things of us.
And God also trusts us to carry it out.
Jesus isn’t going to leave us to the wolves, or only keep the most useful sheep.
Instead, God cares for us and has blessed us.
Laid down his life for us:
A freely given gift of love and continued care.
However, there ARE expectations:
There is the business of wool and mutton.
The care that God offers us is intended to lead to something:
Something real and substantial.
We are to produce,
To give back: from who we are:
The beloved sheep of God’s flock.
Of course, we don’t grow wool:
That’s not in our nature.
But it is in our nature to worship and to serve:
To reach out and to share:
To study and to pray:
To increase in holiness, and to tell the truth:
To seek justice.
It’s in our nature to choose to grow:
Even to the point of change, and transformation:
And to do this in community:
With the rest of the flock of sheep.
At the same time:
The image of being Christ’s sheep:
Also means that each and every one of us has purpose, and value, and worth:
That each is important.
Each and every one CAN contribute,
And is CALLED to contribute,
In one way or another, to the mission of the church.
You can’t be too young,
Or too old,
Or too sick,
Or too extraordinary,
Or too anything:
To avoid the reality of the wool and the mutton:
The gifts that we have to offer:
To the rest of the flock, and to the Good shepherd himself.
We are needed.
And without us:
Without any single one of us:
The mission and work of the Good shepherd and His Church are impoverished.
And when you matter:
Things are expected of you.
We aren’t pets kept for our owner’s amusement.
We aren’t dumb, lame, creatures that God oogles at condescendingly.
We are valuable assets that matter:
Having Much to offer:
And the proof:
Is that God Knows us:
Jesus, the Good shepherd says, “I know my own, and my own know me.”
He knows what we’re capable of:
He knows our gifts,
He knows our names:
And through our service in the world:
We will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
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