April 26, 2024

April 21, 2024, The Fourth Sunday of Easter

April 21, 2024, The Fourth Sunday of Easter

GOSPEL: John 10:11-18

In language that recalls the twenty-third psalm, Jesus describes himself as the shepherd who cares for his sheep. He is willing to die for them, and he is able to overcome death for them.

[Jesus said:] 11“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. 14I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. 16I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. 17For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. 18No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.”


Since the 1960’s our Western culture had been pushing back on the implicit trust and respect given to authority figures and institutions.   Whether it be elected officials, scientists, doctors, teachers, or clergy – my older colleagues tell me at some point in time there was trust.  And now there’s not.  Conspiracy theories abound, but abuse and corruption of power also abounds.  People use their position to further their own agendas and act in ways that harm the whole flock.  

I am not automatically trusted when I show up in a black shirt with a white collar.  Because clergy before me have abused the trust of their flock, and now the flock is wary.  

We watch the news with both eyes open, trying to figure out the network’s bias.  We google our symptoms before AND after we talk to our doctors.  We research our political candidates with suspicion, and are not surprised at the next scandal that is announced.   This sheep metaphor only extends so far.  Sheep don’t have google or political action committees.  But they, like us, are prone to wander, and need a bit of oversight, as we tend to have our eyes on the ground, on our next step, in search of a mouthful of clover.

The shepherd metaphor is used throughout scripture to speak of leadership and authority.  The prophets speak of Kings as shepherds who have failed in their primary task of protecting and nurturing those whom God has entrusted to their care.  Jeremiah and Ezekiel share this Shepherd King image at about the same time—when the Hebrew people are heading into the exile—spelling out in more detail the failure of the leaders. Rather than feeding the sheep, they have fed themselves, gathering the fat and the wool for their own use—literally, living off the “fat of the land.”

They have not strengthened the weak, healed the sick, bound up the injured, brought back the strayed, or sought the lost – in God’s eyes – these are the responsibilities of the leaders and Jeremiah makes sure they know that they have brought all this on themselves.   Bad leaders, we see, bring judgment not only on themselves, but wreak havoc on their entire nation, including those caught up in disaster through no particular fault of their own.  With great power comes great responsibility, but because of our sin – power corrupts and distorts authority 

So then what do good leaders do?  As a teenager in the church, the synod I grew up in had a Leadership Training Camp.  For high school students.  One week in the summertime at our church camp, to learn leadership.  Servant Leadership.  The kind where you make sacrifices, where you pay attention to the needs of the people you are serving, where you listen more than you talk and you operate out of love.  Being taught that at 15 years old – and watching our adults live that out in real time with us – was a priceless gift I’ve cherished.  Cause not everyone has that kind of model to look at, or has had the experiences of good leadership.  I have known pastors who are bad shepherds – but I have known many, many more good ones.  

Scripture tells us that a Good Shepherd leads, feeds, and restores.  The good shepherd puts aside his or her life to care for the life of the sheep.   The good shepherd gathers the flock together and endeavors to keep them together.  The good shepherd squarely faces off with evil that comes for the weakest of the flock.  I’d elect that person.  I’d trust that person to guide whatever organization I was a part of.  

But then THE good shepherd tells us that we are all to do this for each other.   Elected leadership, authority figures, caretakers aside – all of us are to treat the flock in this way.  All of us are to treat each other this way.  

16We know love by this, that [Jesus Christ] laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. 17How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?

Jackie and Mark, raising young Christians begins with you – not the church.  You are the first model of sacrificial love that your children will know.  Your precious little flock will know God’s love through you.  They will understand how God cares for and provides for his children because of you – when you guide them, and prepare a table for them, and when you put your own needs to own side for theirs, when you follow after them with mercy, no matter what they have done, and even when you make them lay down, in green pastures or in their crib or toddler bed.  Though nap time rarely brings out the best in a young flock.

And yet, we are only human.  As a parent, I cannot always put my needs to one side.  I cannot and do not always show mercy.  Sometimes, I have just given up at nap time, just plain given up.  But I am committed with love to my child. Because she knows me, she knows my voice.  She trusts me to keep her safe, as safe as I possibly can without limiting her God given freedom to grow into the person God has created her to be.  And so I must trust God even more.  Gods care both for my child and for me. 

Thankfully, the scriptures always do much more than prescribe how we should be, but describe what God does for us.  As our Good Shepherd, God does all of those things mentioned in the 23rd psalm.  We will sing it and hear it sung several times today.  God also places us within a flock, within a community.  The Holy Spirit calls us together into a community of care and compassion to help us grow and understand the Shepherd’s love.  This congregation witnesses the baptisms of its members as part of a flock, also promising alongside the parents and sponsors that the flock will live out our baptismal vows together.  

And then Jesus reassures us that even this, little flock, is a part of a larger flock.  Promising unity, with even those that we don’t think belong to our flock. As usual Jesus cautions against divisive and exclusive faith, for each time we draw lines to say who is apart and who is other – we may surely find Jesus standing with those sheep we have cast aside.

A community of love becomes a community of trust, ever widening.  The only power we have is the power to lay down our lives – our wants, our desires, our selfish ambitions – in order that our neighbor might live.  So that the community might flourish and us along with it.   Amen. 

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