Jesus the Good Shepherd
10 “Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. 2 The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5 They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.” 6 Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.
7 So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. 8 All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. 9 I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.
What a week we’ve had! What week is it now in the pandemic? I know that as we emerge from this particular phase of our “stay at home” guidelines and restrictions, that there is so much that we still have to adapt to, isn’t there? We have to find new ways of being almost every week as this season continues! And, I know that we have had to do that as a church community as well. It’s been quite the ride, yet, every week has been full of life and deepening of friendships, both old and new!
Our passage this morning tells us to listen to the voice of the Shepherd. During this time, we’ve had so many voices to listen to in our culture: government voices ranging from the local to the federal, scientists, political leaders, clergy folk, neighbors, friends, family, news outlets…all sorts of folks often saying conflicting things…in the midst of those voices, it’s been interesting to see who we hear and what we hear.
Overall, I feel like we’ve been able to listen well, especially to one another, and hear a collective voice that speaks towards deepening friendship, safe practices, authenticity, and growth as persons and as a church.
Beyond the pandemic, before, during, and after, we still hear other voices that try to pull us in so many directions…it can give us whiplash! But, in the midst of it all, we try to cultivate a deepening awareness of recognizing the voice of God and God’s love for us in the depths of ourselves, in others, and in the world around us.
Last Sunday, in our sermon conversations, so many folks commented on how they have seen and heard God’s beauty all around them during this time of staying at home, in simple things: zoom calls, walks in their neighborhoods, phone calls, and in the slowing down.
It can be hard to train our ears for the voice of the Shepherd, of God, in our lives, even in a time of pandemic.
One of the things that we have been doing is trying to train our dog, Leo, to listen to our voices. He’s a smart dog, an Australian/Pointer mix. We even have one of those dog collars that sends him signals when we give commands. It’s been quite the journey! And, it’s been hard for us to get everyone in our house on the same page in training him. But, he’s learning.
Another thing about Leo, as a shepherd, he stays close to us…all of the time. He wants to make sure that we are OK. He knows us now.
Our gospel lesson talks about sheep and shepherds. Obviously, the metaphor worked well in an agrarian society like first century Palestine. We are the sheep, Jesus is the shepherd. Jesus is leading us through whatever walls that divide us or prevent us from pastures that give life and nutrients. Sheep need lots of different fields, throughout a day, shepherds take their sheep to different fields in order for them to graze on fresh food, to have open spaces. Jesus wants us all to have life, abundant life, and he wants to lead us to better fields.
We may want to stay in worn out fields…we produce a lot of smelly and messiness as we consume so much in those old fields. Our relationships with each other are filled with craziness at times, we don’t always follow or lead each other well. There are also dangers around us and we need to be led to different fields. Dangers that come as thieves to us such as deep and chronic depression, loneliness, selfishness, pride, or addictions, or folks not being the best version of themselves, or fully understanding themselves or others. Those thieves can come in the middle of darkness as it says in John 10:10 that kill and destroy the lives that we were called to live.
Yet, Jesus tells us that he has come to give us life. When we slow down, or get caught up in recognition of good things around us and the origin of that goodness, we can recognize the voice of the true shepherd, the voice of Jesus who has entered in the fields of our lives, who walks with us and towards us…walking through the messiness to call us towards new fields, new adventures.
We often recognize the voice of Jesus through others. Maybe we literally hear words from Jesus through others such as a speaker, or maybe even a preacher. Or maybe we recognize the voice of God through something we read, or a song we hear. Maybe it’s listening to our neighbors. Or, maybe it’s seeing someone else practice charity through actions or giving themselves away.
We know it when we see it and hear it though, especially as we train our eyes and ears to see and recognize the true shepherd.
Friends, we have said it before, we are living in a new place with church. This pandemic has moved us into ways of being…there never is a true “normal” because life is always evolving, life always teaches us something new, and this pandemic is no exception. It has reminded us that some of the old forms simply don’t work anymore.
The world is crying out for us, the church, to be an example of goodness, of the good shepherd, to be reflections of Jesus’ actions and to reflect and amplify the voice of the Shepherd who is calling us towards him, towards abundant life, towards being one flock. This shepherd has laid down his life for us, yet in doing so, has overcome all things that steal abundance from our lives and is creating something new and beautiful as he leads us into new fields, filled with expansive pastures and relationship.
So, let’s listen to the voice of the Shepherd, let’s love each other well, and let’s play in the fields of Cincinnati, and the world and be the diverse, yet unified flock that God has marked us out to be…we can do this, we can believe in each other as God does with us, trusting each other, loving each other, and changing the world in the process.