May 9, 2017
“A Shepherd’s Love” May 7 sermon
Today’s gospel reading returns to John’s gospel and we get a pre-Easter story. Jesus continues his teaching using the metaphor of a shepherd and his sheep to describe the relationship he has to his followers. This is the closest John gets to a parable. It is a story that is unique to John’s gospel, not included in Matthew, Mark or Luke’s account.
Here now a reading from the gospel of John 10:1-11.
Here ends the reading of God’s holy word. May He add to our hearing and understanding, his blessings. Amen.
Please pray with me.
Shepherd of all, by laying down your life for your flock you reveal your love for all.
Lead us from the place of death to the place of abundant life, that guided by your care for us, we may rightly offer our lives in love for you and our neighbors.
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable to you, O Lord, my rock and my redeemer. Amen.
I have been reading a wonderful book by James Rebanks called The Shepherds Life.
It is a story of life on a sheep farm in the Lake District of England narrated by a young man whose family has lived on the land for generations.
As I read his explicit account of daily life tending to the sheep, I couldn’t help but think of today’s passage.
Many followers of Jesus may balk at being characterized as sheep, however, I would caution you in your defensiveness and invite you to consider all the things a shepherd does for the sheep in his care.
The shepherd ensures that the sheep have food and shelter and a safe place to spend their days.
More importantly, the shepherd knows each sheep individually – their story, their lineage, their personality.
The shepherd labors to create the best possible conditions for his sheep.
When things go awry and illness or violence finds its way into the sheepfold, the shepherd’s heart breaks.
The sheep cannot survive without an attentive shepherd.
They will die in deep snow or extreme heat.
They depend on the shepherd to show them the way home.
The other point that Rebanks illustrates beautifully is the gentle flow of seasons, one into the next.
He says: There is no beginning, and there is no end. The sun rises, and falls, each day, and the seasons come and go. The days, months and years alternate through sunshine, rain, hail, wind, snow and frost. The leaves fall each autumn and burst forth again each spring. The earth spins through the vastness of space. The grass comes and goes with the warmth of the sun. The farms and the flocks endure, bigger than the life of a single person. We are born, live our working lives, and die, passing like the oak leaves that blow across our land in the winter. We are each tiny parts of something enduring, something that feels solid, real, and true. Our farming way of life has roots deeper than five thousand years into the soil of this landscape.
I hear his words and I think about how much effort we put into altering the natural order of things.
Too often we expend our energies trying to change or control things which are beyond our realm.
Today’s reading from John, as well as Psalm 23, remind us that we do not have to depend solely on our own volition.
God is right there – Father, Son and Holy Spirit – guiding us, ever so gently, like a shepherd, to where we need to go.
Jesus uses the shepherd metaphor because it speaks directly to the lives of the people of his time.
They understood the relationship between a shepherd and his sheep. The shepherd provided protection, guidance, and care.
He would seek those who wandered away and bring them back to the fold.
Jesus speaks first about the nature of a sheepfold −
a place where shepherds gathered their flocks overnight,
where the intimacy of knowing and being known was experienced,
where the shared protection of walls and other shepherds ensured the flock was safe.
“He calls his own sheep by name,” Jesus says, “and leads them out.
When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice.”
The sheepfold was a place of welcome, of community, of security and rest.
This is my vision of what the church can be.
A place of welcome, community, security and rest.
A place where each member is known and cared for.
We often adopt the image of Jesus as the shepherd, but what he said was “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep.”
“I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture.”
Jesus is the gate! The way in . . . and the way out!
The entry point, the access, the one through whom one must pass in order to find safety and respite.
There are all kinds of gates, some that keep us in a safe place, like a playground gate, some that prevent us from entering, like an estate gate, and some that restrict our movement, like a barbed wire gate.
Each gate signifies a place of passage, from one place to another.
And then there are gatekeepers, those who monitor the gates, deciding who gets through, who has access to what or whom.
But Jesus doesn’t say he’s a gatekeeper. Jesus says “I am the gate.”
He is the gate itself, inviting us to enter, and have abundant life.
We are being invited to go from one place – where we are – to another place-where God calls us to be.
Jesus is the gate, the way to relationship and intimacy with God.
Jesus is the gate to the place of welcome, security, freedom, and rest.
He offers easy access, a genuine welcome, abundant living.
I believe that my role as your minister is to be the gatekeeper, to help you find access to what Jesus offers.
I believe that my responsibility is to work with you to find the gate – where an extravagant welcome is offered to all.
I am not the shepherd, nor the gate, but the gatekeeper – the one who points the way to the gate.
The life Christ offers us is always shared. If we are to know the reality of the resurrection, we will discover it as we care for one another and share life in mutual compassion and protection.
Jesus warns about those who are thieves and robbers, who do not care for ‘the sheep’,
The resurrection does not offer some individualized, blissful life. Rather, it calls us into a life that is shared with others who follow Christ, to whom we belong and for whom we are responsible, even as they as are called to care for us.
It is only together – in community – that Christ’s life can be known and enjoyed.
If there is one gift that modern science has given us it is the realization of the connectedness of all things in the universe.
While we have divided up our world into ever smaller groupings – nationalities, political affiliations, languages, ethnicities, regions, genders, generations, religions, cultures, economic strata, educational levels, all of these divisions are ultimately false.
It is impossible to do anything to another person or group that does not have some impact on ourselves.
And so, we are called, as followers of Christ, to embrace these connections, and to find in them the resurrection life that Christ promises.
Jesus calls us to follow and then promises that he will care for us along the way.
We are not tethered to any one way of life or one place or one thought.
I pray for each one of us to experience the grace to hear the shepherd call my name and to follow where he leads.
Let us pray.
Gracious and loving God we thank you for guiding us so tenderly along the pathways of our lives.
We are grateful for the care you provide each and every day to all of your created beings.
Help us, we pray, to recognize that we are part of an interconnected world and grant us the grace to discern your will for us in caring for others.
On this communion Sunday we offer our thanks and praise to you, O God, for the gift of your son, Jesus Christ.
May our hearts be warmed by your love for us and our love for you.
Here now our prayers for those whom we love.
For those who are sick, we pray for healing.
For those who mourn, we pray for comfort.
For those who are lost, wandering, afraid or heartbroken, we pray that your holy spirit might find its way into their lives.
We pray for peace, in our hearts, in our homes and in our world.
We turn to you now in the sacred silence of this meetinghouse with the prayers of our hearts.
Jesus taught them to pray in these words…..