5/7/2017 Fourth Sunday of Easter The text is John 10:1-10.
Grace and peace to you from God, our Father, and our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Today is 4th Sunday of Easter, the Sunday known as Good Shepherd Sunday as we always have part of 10th chapter of John and the 23rd Psalm among our lessons. So, it’s not surprising that most of the us pastors choose to preach on the topic of sheep and shepherds. Of course, this is also true of a pastor of a rich suburban parish who decided one year to speak to the Sunday school kids about the role of a shepherd. He told them that, as the pastor, he was like a shepherd and the members of his congregation were the sheep. He then put this question to them: “What does the shepherd do for the sheep?” A little fellow in the front row raised his hand and answered, “He fleeces them.”
Now that is not quite the image of a shepherd that Jesus has in mind in today’s gospel. What Jesus has in mind is more like the experience of George Adam Smith. George Smith, the 19th Century biblical scholar, was traveling one day in the holy land and came across a shepherd and his sheep. He fell into conversation with the man and the shepherd showed him the fold into which the sheep were led at night. It consisted of four walls, with a way in. Smith asked him, “This is where they go at night?” “Yes,” said the shepherd, “and when they are in there, they are perfectly safe.”
“But there is no door,” said Smith. “I am the door,” said the shepherd.
Now, the shepherd was not a Christian man and he wasn’t speaking the language of the New Testament. He was speaking from an Arab shepherd’s viewpoint. Smith looked at him and asked, “What do you mean you are the door?” “When the light has gone,” said the shepherd, “and all the sheep are inside, I lie in that open space, and no sheep ever goes out but across my body, and no wolf comes in unless he crosses my body; I am the door.” It is in this way the shepherd guards his sheep. In the dark of night, the shepherd risks his life to protect each one of them as if sheep were as precious as silver and gold.
When morning comes, the protective shelter is left behind and the shepherd leads the sheep to green pastures. There in the fields, during Jesus’ time, flocks intermingled, grazing on the same grass. Yet, this custom of common grazing was no problem for the shepherds. For when the time came to move on, the shepherd only needed to call out and the sheep recognized the voice and followed in the same way as a well-trained dog answers its master’s voice. For, back then, sheep knew and trusted the voice of their shepherd. It was a matter of life or death for them.
Sadly, we are not always as discerning when it comes to recognizing the voice of the one Good Shepherd who calls to us by name. We have a plethora of voices calling out for our attention, voices encouraging us to do this, to buy that, to go there, to try this, and to ignore the voice that belongs to the one Good Shepherd who invites us to follow him as one of his sheep.
Sometimes, it’s hard to tell which voice is which and it’s easy for us to wander off. After all, there are voices calling out to us in every corner of our lives and it’s easy to get confused – like the followers of David Koresh who thought that they were responding to the voice of Christ when they joined the Branch Davidians. They were fooled and their loyalty and faith were placed in a shepherd who would lead his flock to self-destruction.
My friends, many of the voices vying for our attention are not benevolent. More and more, these days, we are hearing of those taken in by radical jihadists and the lives destroyed because of it. More and more, these days, we are hearing of those taken in by the drug culture and the lives destroyed because of it. More and more, these days, we are hearing of those taken in by gangs and peer groups that build themselves up through bullying and guns, and the lives destroyed because of it.
Thank God, few of us are so taken in by such false shepherds and thieves. But that does not take us out of danger for many of us suffer from indecision and mixed loyalties. We hear the voice of God calling us to daily prayer and a servant life, a voice calling us to be both sheep and shepherd, and we also hear the voices of our culture calling us to self-indulgence, voices telling us to be served rather than serve others. We answer and we choose and we don’t always choose wisely. Our stressed and disconnected lives reflect the voices we answer as we trade in weekly worship for a few more hours of sleep or household chores which pile up. We buy the newest gadgets. We are tied to our smartphones. We busy our lives and find little rest until we are easily swept away from the safety and peace that the Good Shepherd offers to us.
Today, we pray that this will not happen to those who have been baptized and became lambs in Jesus’ fold. We pray that all of us will take the time to learn the voice of the Good Shepherd and follow that voice to eternal life. But we cannot hear the voice unless we take the time to listen and turn down the volume on all the other voices calling us by name.
These distractions get in the way of faithful living. So, we come together away from the many voices of the world, in order to listen to the voice of our shepherd. As we gather in worship and in classes and as we read our Bibles and pray, we practice listening to the voice of Jesus. We do this as a community, not as lone, straying sheep. We gather as a community for it is here that we rub elbows with other sheep who can help us to hear and understand the voice of the shepherd as he speaks to us in our lives.
My friends, there are so many other voices attracting us…so many voices telling us what to do…so many voices tugging at our hearts and directing our lives. But, only one voice belongs to Jesus and that voice calls us by name to follow him.
May we take the time and learn to listen to that voice and become so familiar with its accents and timbre that we follow that voice alone. For, there is only one way to an abundant, full and rich life; and that is by listening for the voice of Jesus and following his lead. Listen, my friends, and be sheltered by the God of your salvation. And may the peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, keep your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.