Connected: Connected to Jesus 4/22/2018
Rev. Leta Arndt Behrens
Sermon Scripture: JOHN 10:11-18[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.”
Today is Good shepherd sunday— a traditional Sunday each year after Easter where we always focus in on the images of sheep, shepherds, and pastures. It’s also the sunday that all the sheep stories tend to come out .. the good and the baaaaahd… 🙂
Michael: That is Baad. Sorry, didn’t mean to pull the wool over your eyes.
Leta: That’s ok, don’t feel too sheepish.
As I thought over my past sermons, I realized that I am pretty sure I have shared with you before everything I know about sheep
That being called sheep may not be the most complimentary thing to be compared to—pretty smelly, not the brightest and with a sole purpose of eating and growing their hair
That sheep do learn the voice of those that care for them — a shepherd, a farmer, a sheepdog, whoever is tending them and will follow that voice.
That when we are compared to sheep it’s to relay the promise that a shepherd— a good shepherd — Jesus, is the one who will protect and guide and certainly one that will not abandoned us, the sheep.
Yep, that is what I know about sheep and it is a part of the message of this scripture. And, scripture does not just give us one image or one straightforward view. It’s more like a kaleidoscope really — that we can turn it just a little bit and see a new color or a new shape, view a different angle and at times be given a whole new view. So when we turn this text just a bit we see that there is a tandem focus on the word shepherd. And not just any shepherd, but a good shepherd. Now when we think of Jesus, sure we think good. But why this description of good instead of something more profound like amazing or superstar or best ever shepherd? Or as the teens would say, ‘one “sic” shepherd “
I learned a little bit more about this word from my friend who is a latin teacher. one of the joys of being with someone who knows an ancient language is the learning that happens at all times. We can be anywhere— a store, on the road, having dinner and if she sees an intriguing word or one comes up in conversation she will pause and say something like you know the root of that word comes from the Latin meaning… and proceed to explain it to you. I love it. So at dinner a couple of weeks ago she said you know ‘pastor leta’ the word pastor comes from Latin word pastorem meaning shepherd… or in the past tense ‘pastus’ which means to lead to pasture or to send out to eat.’ So I said, perfect, let’s just eat then!
I have not always been comfortable with the comparison of pastor to shepherd. For one, I feel a little unequipped in this area of analogy to caring for farm animals. I am the mom who did not let her kids into petting zoos in my presence. They always had to go with their dad and then still wash their hands 1000 times before I was satisfied. Secondly, there sometimes is this idea that pastors are set a part to do all the tending. While we are called to the spiritual care of a community and it is a part of what we do, we know that God calls us all into this leading and tending of others through our gifts, our knowledge, our compassion and that we are all promised to be lead by those still waters and never abandoned in the valley of the shadow of death.
So while I have shared all I know about sheep I have not shared all that I know about you and your connection to Jesus through this scripture. And there is much more there than the most obvious image of sheep. The gospel of John connects us with many images that are woven through the book as a whole and the shepherd image continues to show up. When Jesus says I am the good shepherd, that scripture kaleidoscope makes a little turn back towards what was happening when John was written somewhere around 90CE. This was about 20 years after the siege of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple. The Pharisees at the time are the leadership of the faith community and most of them fled and abandoned the people during this violence and set off to reconstruct Judaism in another place safely far away. It is the pharisees here, the leaders, that are here being alluded to as the bad shepherds, the ones who left, while Jesus is the good shepherd who laid down his life fully for his people.
Yes, a good shepherd is a statement about Christ, and it is also a statement on what kind of spiritual leadership was expected in the early church and today. Another click of the scope turns us forward in the scripture and in our lives as Christians now. In John 18, when Jesus is in the garden, the story of his arrest is a bit different from the other gospels. There is no betrayal, no kiss from Judas. Instead Jesus walks out of the garden on his own. He hands himself over to the soldiers. In John no one takes Jesus life, he gives it over willingly, by his own choice. Jesus does this as he promised in John 15–“No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” and Jesus goes to the cross. And when he says this, that there is no greater love than giving of one’s life, he is speaking to his disciples, telling them what they will be called to do after he is gone. They too as his followers will be called to lay down their lives. They will be sent into leadership for one another and for the people of God. They… and now we.. are also called to be good shepherds.
This we may not hear as completely good news. Being the good shepherd, that is a big ask even while it is a bigger promise from God. As theologian and teacher Karoline Lewis says in her writings on the good shepherd: Maybe that’s why Jesus is the good shepherd and not the “awesome” shepherd, the “out-of-this-world” shepherd. Because at some point we have to accept the fact that we are asked to be the shepherd as well. If we had to follow in “extraordinary” footsteps, we would find every excuse possible, every explanation imaginable, to decline Jesus’ command. We’d repeatedly deny our identity, deny our discipleship, just like Peter. “Surely, you are one of his disciples, aren’t you? I AM not,” said Peter. But Jesus will not let him say no. “Simon Peter, do you love me? Tend my sheep. Feed my lambs. Shepherd my sheep.”
But–this is good news. Good news for the world and for us as we live as Easter people in the promise of the empty tomb. We are turned by Jesus’ words once again and connected to him not in a way that let’s us off the hook or gives an an escape to be just be the sheep, but instead frees us in grace and calls us into mercy to live into so much more than we can imagine. In verse 16, Jesus says, I have other sheep who are not of the fold and I need to bring them also. This is about us protected, loved, and cared for by the shepherd–promised to part of the flock. This is where the darkest valley and the promise of light meet. Where the shepherd walks alongside us and we walk alongside one another–as friends, as strangers, as a community of faith connected to one another, connected to the world and connected to Jesus.
AND it is about our own discipleship as shepherds. Jesus beckons us to follow and lead and he sees those that are cast out and separated as ones that must be brought into the same promise of love and grace. Will we find the ones that need to be brought in? Will we go to the streets, to those hurting, those in darkness and bring them light? Will we not just follow and pass off our calling to Jesus as if we have no responsibility to bring and fulfill the promise with others. Or instead will we follow and turn the scope enough so that we can see those that we are called to feed, to tend, and to shepherd?