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.
Our congregation is finding itself in a new place I believe. Every few years there’s anxiety that the congregation won’t be around much longer. When COVID hit, some said that was it, we won’t recover. Yet, a couple of years out of the height of COVID, we are not only still here, we are finding new ways of being and moving in the world. What we are doing and being is making sure that our congregational life is strong, as well as our community engagement. This has happened as we have listened to one another and listened to what God is doing in our congregation and neighborhood and getting into that flow of God’s movement.
Our passage this morning tells us to listen to the voice of the Shepherd. During this season, 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, new practices, authenticity, and growth as persons and as a church.
Yet, 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, some folks commented on how they have seen and heard God’s beauty all around them during this season. We also heard from Pat on how we have met many goals already this year and moving towards other goals.
It can be hard to train our ears for the voice of the Shepherd, of God, in our lives, even in this season.
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. 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 safer fields. Dangers that come as thieves to us such as 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 season 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 season 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 of the messiness in our lives and is creating something new and beautiful as he leads us into new fields, filled with beauty 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 God’s marked us out to be…we can do this, we can believe in each other as so many have done with me and God does with us, trusting each other, loving each other, and changing the world, starting with the world within us.