5/11/2014 Fourth Sunday of Easter The text for today’s sermon is John 10:1-10; Ps 23
Grace and peace to you from God, our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
I think we all remember playing “Follow the Leader” when we were a kids. Like the game “Simon says” the “leader” called the shots. Whatever way the leader went, whatever the leader did, the “followers” were supposed to do the same thing. It was a fun game to play until some “leader” decided to do something, well . . . not so smart, like jump over a ditch, and someone got hurt. It was then that “Following the leader” went bad – all because the “leader” didn’t consider the welfare of the led.
Sheep are great at playing “follow the leader.” The “herd mentality” looms large in a sheep brain. If sheep are in a line and a stick is thrust in front of one animal, forcing it to jump over that barrier, all those following will jump over that stick – whether it is there or not. For sheep, seeing a member of their flock jump over “something” is enough to make the next animal jump up and over, whether or not there is something physically present requiring a leap.
Growing up in Galilee Jesus knew this about sheep. He knew sheep like a cowboy knows cattle. Jesus knew the instincts, the needs, and the behavior patterns of the sheep, [Intro adapted from http://www.sermons.com, the sermon titled “Apron Up”] and he used these things as teaching tools for those who were called to follow him.
Now, I’ve heard it said that once you’ve been to the Holy Land and have seen a shepherd at work, our gospel for today comes alive in a way that it never can without that experience. In the Holy Land, sheep are bedded down at night in “folds” made from stones gathered from the rock-strewn fields, or from bramble brushes. These shelters are formed into a “C” shape, about three feet high. The opening of the “C” is the door of the “fold,” across which the shepherd sleeps at night, becoming the “door” over which anything that want to get at his sheep must pass. Any person who wants to pick off one of the sheep will have to deal with him or her, first. Those who try the back fence fare no better – for, the thief, who comes over the back fence had better watch out for the shepherd, whose “rod and staff” are real weapons that can wield a deadly force when put into action by an aroused defender.
When morning comes, the protective shelter is left behind and the shepherd leads the sheep to green pastures. There in the fields the sheep are allowed to intermingle with sheep of other flocks, grazing on the same grass. To the untrained eye, this can be a curious sight. For how can the sheep be identified? All sheep pretty much look and act alike! Yet, this custom of common grazing is no problem for the shepherds. For, when the time comes to move on, the shepherds only needs to call out and the sheep recognize the voice, the sheep and follow in the same way that a well-trained dog answers it’s master’s voice.
So sheep are not stupid. They seem to be far more trusting than dumb. They quickly learn who their shepherd is and follow him unquestioningly trusting that he will guide and protect them from danger. The sheep get to know their shepherd’s voice and will screen out all others. When a shepherd calls or shouts out an order, only those who are his will “heed his voice”. They will leave the rest to join him. The other sheep will graze on until their shepherd calls. “A stranger they will not follow, but they flee from him.”
Oh, if only we were as smart as sheep! Then we would heed only one voice in our life, the voice of our Lord, Jesus Christ, the great shepherd who calls us to follow him into green pastures and beside still waters. Trusting our Lord’s lead, we’d avoid a lot of heartache that comes from wandering away from the fold. For we have communal needs – we need to be connected in some way to a larger whole, to be connected to a community. That connection helps us stay on track and provides for our common good.
Outside the community, it’s hard to know what direction to move in. There are many voices calling out to us in every corner of our lives. The followers of David Koresh thought that they were responding to the voice of Christ when they joined the Branch Davidians. The followers of Jim Jones thought that they were responding to the voice of Christ when they went to Jonestown. And these people were willing to die for their leaders. It is a shame that such strong loyalty and faith were placed in such shepherds who would lead their flocks to self-destruction. Thank God – there are few of us who are so taken in by such false shepherds and thieves.
As sheep in God’s fold, our Lord calls out to us to protect us and to provide for our every need. He calls to us so that we may have life abundantly and fully in the safety of his flock. He calls out to us to follow him and to walk in his ways all the days of our lives. As sheep in this world, this is good news. For, it is only the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ, who is “good.” It is He who provides for our salvation. It is he who laid down his life for us. It is he who restores our souls. He is the One who alone is the “door” to the fold of eternity.
So listen, my friends, and do not be deceived by the voices of others or by wandering away to find another. Christ alone is the way, the truth and the life. Believe in him and follow in his footsteps. For it is there, in the fold, that you will find peace in this confusing world in which we live. And may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.