The audio can be found at: [ https://soundcloud.com/tigerowl/easter-4-a-2014 ].
The text Follows:
We have three lessons that focus on the Good Shepherd. Often we speak of Jesus as the Good Shepherd. There are times when people look at me, sometimes out loud, but often in thoughts, their eyes seem to say that I am the shepherd. Recently, I asked one of our members if another member could be a closer contact for them, so in essence I was asking them to be a shepherd. Our confirmation students recently wrote letters asking for members of the congregation to serve as their mentors for the coming year. These mentors are being asked to shepherd these young members in our midst. In many ways we all share in our roles shepherds in the body of Christ.
We have several persons who are in new member’s class. They have chosen to join this congregation, this flock. For in our midst, they feel that they hear the voice of the shepherd and it is with this flock that they want to travel and follow the shepherd.
Acts 2:42 They devoted themselves to the apostles' teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. 2:43 Awe came upon everyone, because many wonders and signs were being done by the apostles. 2:44 All who believed were together and had all things in common; 2:45 they would sell their possessions and goods and distribute the proceeds to all, as any had need. 2:46 Day by day, as they spent much time together in the temple, they broke bread at home and ate their food with glad and generous hearts, 2:47 praising God and having the goodwill of all the people. And day by day the Lord added to their number those who were being saved.
I must admit that it seems like every week is a tough week, when it comes to living together in community. For over a month, families in Northern Nigeria have been seeking the return of their daughters, who have been kidnapped. Violence attributed to religious differences seems to be overpowering common sense. Religious leaders of all faiths have condemned this taking of young girls from a school and then stating that they are to be sold as wives. And that does not account for the villages and towns that have been decimated. Sin still happens, even when there is a shepherd in Town. Perhaps that is the place of the church, to be a safe place, a sanctuary, where shepherds and sheep dogs are available.
We may already be meeting the challenge to this church and others to be one of the places of safety (another meaning of "saved" in v. 9), and, perhaps, places for the grieving to lament before God. Perhaps the church is a pasture for the feeding of the flock, as we come and hear the words of God and share in the meal that is presented at the table. For those joining the congregation, they have chosen this place to be a place of salvation and grace. They will publicly announce that they want to continue in their lives as people saved by the grace of God through the loving act of Jesus Christ upon a cross.
1 Peter 2:19 For it is a credit to you if, being aware of God, you endure pain while suffering unjustly. 2:20 If you endure when you are beaten for doing wrong, what credit is that? But if you endure when you do right and suffer for it, you have God's approval. 2:21 For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you should follow in his steps. 2:22 "He committed no sin, and no deceit was found in his mouth." 2:23 When he was abused, he did not return abuse; when he suffered, he did not threaten; but he entrusted himself to the one who judges justly. 2:24 He himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness; by his wounds you have been healed. 2:25 For you were going astray like sheep, but now you have returned to the shepherd and guardian of your souls.
There are others in our midst, who come faithfully. They too are a part of God’s enduring plan. They lead, they teach, they clean, they sing, they read, they study, they work, they are the people of God who find their support in this flock. This is not unlike a small town. This congregation serves as a well that continually offers a cup of water to the thirsty and a morsel of food to the hungry. As I have looked at the directory of the church, it is clearly a place that has been at the center of this community. Many of you have lived within 10 blocks of the church. That is a significant number. This neighborhood is like your flock’s village, your grazing ground. This is home turf. This is comfortable turf. This is a place you know and love, even those of you who now live beyond that 10 block target.
We lift up the caring hand of the shepherd who knows the sheep and says that the flock is larger than you imagined. The grazing land is broader than the eye can see or the feet can walk. Our hope is that we can find leaders in our congregation that can continue to reach out and support those who are new to the community. An even greater challenge is to let go of those who have been in our midst who find new places to work and live that are no longer a commuting distance form Christ Lutheran Church. In the past year a number of our members have relocated out of the neighborhood, or out of the state. Our task is to share with them the pain of leaving and the guidance to find a new community who will meet their needs.
John10:1 "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. 10:2 The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. 10:3 The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 10:4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. 10:5 They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers." 10:6 Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them. 10:7 So again Jesus said to them, "Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. 10:8 All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. 10:9 I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. 10:10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.
How do sheep hear and what do they hear when they are noted to respond to the voice of the shepherd. The ambiguity of "phone" as "sound" or "voice" may be intentional. Somewhere I remember hearing that each shepherd had a special whistle or sound that called his own sheep. While the sheep were grazing on the hillside, different flocks would mingle together. When it was time to return to the fold, the shepherds made their sounds and their own sheep knew that sound and went to it.
However, I know (from watching National Geographic specials) that there is often a sound (and smell?) connection between young animals and their mothers. The offspring recognize their mother's call and follow it, but not that of another. Perhaps that is why on this day we remember the household shepherd who seems to be the rock to who many of us turn for guidance and support. That image, as well as the shepherd calling his own sheep by name, denotes a close intimate relationship between shepherd and sheep, not unlike mother and children.
We have tended to see our Christian life as that which happens in the sheepfold (i.e., in church) -- when we can all be huddled together in the safety of the enclosure. In sports, the purpose of the huddle is to inform and encourage each member of the team on how we plan to win a victory. If they only stayed in the huddle talking about what they are going to do, holding hands, slapping each other on the butts, etc., nothing will get accomplished. That is avoiding the contest which can take a lot of effort and cause a lot of pain, but which God has guaranteed we will win. Note that the shepherd leads the sheep *out* of the fold in v. 3. V. 9 talks about coming in and going *out*. We need to discover better ways of helping our people live Christ centered lives in this sinful, difficult world. Perhaps a start would be not to degrade any human being, yet, at the same time, be aware of the reality of evil that can exist in individuals.
Maybe as we seek to dedicate our lives to Christ, as we seek to consecrate our ministries to the Lord, maybe we need to repeat again the psalm that seems to give strength in all times that seem illogical, at all times it defies explanation, Yet at all times when we need to recognize the identity of the shepherd, we say Psalm 23.
Ps 23:1 <> The LORD [is] my shepherd; I shall not want. Ps 23:2 He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters. Ps 23:3 He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name's sake. Ps 23:4 Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou [art] with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me. Ps 23:5 Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over. Ps 23:6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the LORD for ever.
My thanks to the following colleagues: BRIAN STOFFREGEN, MIM WOOLBERT, KARA SKATRUD, FRED REISZ, MJOHNS, LARRY GERBITZ, GEORGE VILLA, JOHN PRIEST