Tag Archives: sheep

The Good Shepherd or Good Sheep?

John 10:1-10Jesus said, “… He calls his own sheep by name 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. They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.” (Read the whole passage

Even, far away from the fields and pastures of first century palestine, far away from the shepherds and sheep that Jesus spoke of, the image resonates with us still. The promise of a shepherd who is with in the valley of the shadow of death, the shepherd who searches for the lost one in the 99, the shepherd who guards the gate. Somehow we know what it is to be gathered and care for, protected and loved. Or at least we like the idea…

Shepherding hasn’t changed much in 2000 years. Then, and in many parts of the world now, tending to flocks is done in the same way. When Shepherds come to town for supplies, they put their sheep in pens, guarded by a gatekeeper. After they purchase supplies, they return to the pen and call their sheep. The sheep know their shepherd and follow him or her out to pasture again. 

Out in the wild, Shepherds will gather bushes and rocks to build temporary pens at night. In the opening, the shepherds will sleep, using their own body as gate. This way the predators must pass over them to get to the sheep.

For the disciples, shepherds should have been common place, and the image of God as Shepherd was familiar. The psalms would have been well known by most people in Jesus day. 

And somehow, despite the fact that they know the psalms and shepherds, they do not know what on earth Jesus is talking about. 

The part that the disciples don’t understand isn’t the shepherds, or the sheep gate or the sheep pen. The problem is the sheep. The problem is that Jesus doesn’t tell the disciples how to be good sheep. 

For nearly 2000 years, Christians have called God the Shepherd, have called the church the sheepfold and have called ourselves the sheep.Yet, we don’t have to look much past ourselves to know why the disciples couldn’t understand Jesus. We like the idea of a Shepherd that lovingly chases after us and cares for us. But we want to go into the pen on our terms. We want to be free to be sheep in our way. 

Like the disciples, we have resisted, or even been unable to see Jesus calling out to us. The Blind Man whom Jesus heals in the pool of Siloam does not recognize Jesus once he meets him later on. The disciples cannot imagine how 5 loves and 2 fish will feed a great crowd. Mary Magdalene cannot recognize Jesus near the empty tomb on Easter morning until Jesus calls her by name. Thomas will not believe, unless it is on his terms. 

All of these actions, washing the blind man, feeding the 5000, naming Mary, giving Thomas faith. These are the same actions that God does in the Church. This is how the Shepherd cares for the sheep in the pen. And this is what we resist. We do not want to arrive here empty, we do not want to be washed, and fed and loved. We come here, to the church, to the pen, hoping to earn our love. We want God to reward us. We want to be here on our terms. The Shepherd can stay here in the pen, and when we are ready, we will show up with our best face on… but most of the time we are out there in world and not really wanting a shepherd. We don’t want God to be a hassle in our lives. 

That is what the disciples don’t understand. That is what we don’t understand. Jesus gives us this image of the Shepherd and what the shepherd does, but there is no mention of how to be good sheep.  
And in the end, that isn’t the point. Good Shepherd Sunday is not about how to be good sheep. Today, is a reminder of who God is. Jesus is our Shepherd who calls us, who cares for us and washes us, who feeds us, and names us. 

Washes us in Baptism, and brings us to new life. 

Feeds us in the Lord’s supper, at the Lord’s table, with his own body and blood. 

Names us as his sheep who belongs to the Shepherd. 

Gathers in faith, gathers into this community, this family, this flock. 

These are the actions of God in Christ.

Here in this place, it is the shepherd who is good, not the sheep. It is the shepherd whose actions matter, not those of the sheep. Here in the church, here in this congregation, Jesus calls us home. Yes, we are sent out each week into the world. We go out to pasture to a world fraught with the danger, a world that tells us it is all about the sheep, and what sheep do. 

But in God’s church, in God’s sheepfold, Jesus reminds us again and again, that in washing, feeding, naming and calling that Jesus brings us to himself. 

Jesus’s sheep pen, Christ’s church, is not a place were we need to earn our way. It is not a place where we give of ourselves or where we offer something to God, to the Shepherd. It is a place where God gives to us. It is a place where we receive. It is place where we come to know the Shepherd by his voice. “I baptize you. I give my body for you. I forgive you. You are mine”. 

Wherever we have been scattered, or lost, whatever we cannot understand or are confused about, the voice of the Shepherd gathers us to him, brings us back into the flock. 

So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.

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Sheep Without a Shepherd

Mark 6:30-34, 53-56

As he went ashore, he saw a great crowd; and he had compassion for them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things.(Read the whole passage here)

The crowds are unavoidable today. Throughout the gospel of Mark, Jesus has been growing in popularity with the common people, the crowds. Jesus has debated and argued with the pharisees about the undivided house, he has surprised and terrified the disciples by calming the storm, he has broken down barriers by healing both rich and powerful Jairus’s daughter and the poor outcast woman who had been bleeding for 12 years. But today, it is the crowds who finally get what they want — and they want Jesus.

The crowds are too much. They are chaotic and unrelenting. They are grabbing at Jesus and his disciples. They want more and more and more. There is almost too much to do, too many sick people to heal, too many exorcisms to perform, too many needs and too little time.

The crowds are clamouring for healing… they are demanding something from an exhausted Jesus and his disciples. The disciples have just returned from the mission that Jesus sent them on two weeks ago. They are excited with stories of exorcisms and healing, but they are also tired. And they have gotten into the boat with Jesus to find a quiet place. Yet, the crowds still follow them along the shore.

The crowds have one thing in mind. Miracles.

They are looking for a miracle from Jesus, as if he was a heavenly vending machine.

The vending machine God in the sky is an image for God that still persists today. In TV and movies, people turn to God when they need something. They offer up desperate prayers like quarters being dropped in a slot. Prayers prefaced by some admittance like, “If you are out there God, I don’t pray much, but I really need something now, so if you can just…” (fill in the blank).

This is certainly a prevailing image of God in today’s world. And while as people of faith, we would like to think we are beyond such simplistic and self-centred approaches to God… we can get narrowly focused on God too.

We can get bogged down by our need for healing, for an end to our suffering, for a fix for our brokenness. Our prayers can become self-centred and our relationship with God can become focused on relief and release from our problems. We look to God as individuals and as communities as the great band-aid dispenser in the sky.

As the crowds are desperate for Jesus today, Mark tells us that Jesus has compassion for them.

Compassion.

A word that evokes images of kindness and tender heartedness.

Compassion.

A word that is more then gentleness and caring, but that truly means to suffer with.

Jesus has compassion for them. But not for their woes and hurts and pains. It isn’t their blindness, or lameness, or sickness that moved Jesus.

Jesus has compassion for them, because they are like sheep without a shepherd.

And his response is to teach them many things.

To teach them that same message he has been preaching since first few verses of Mark’s Gospel. The oldest words that we know of that are attributed to Jesus:

The Kingdom of God is near to you. Be transformed in heart and mind and believe.

Jesus does not respond in the way the crowds were hoping. And Jesus doesn’t respond to our cries for healing in the way we hope either.

Instead, Jesus sees our individual sufferings and needs as part of a larger problem. Jesus sees how we are all weighed down by sin and death. How the blindness of one is the same as the lameness of the other. And there simply isn’t enough to heal each one. And healing in itself isn’t enough. Even the ones healed by Jesus are dead now.

Jesus’s compassion for us does not exclude a concern for our pain and suffering… but it is rooted in the fact that we are lost. We are shepherd-less. We need so much more than to be healed.

As Jesus sees the crowds pressing in on him, as tired as he is, he has compassion on them. They are like sheep without a shepherd.

They are focused on coming to God with our specific expectations. Their specific demands. Their need to be healed. Their need to be helped. Their desire to be fixed.

They can’t see Jesus beyond their problems.

And some days we can’t see Jesus beyond our problems. We aren’t just like the crowds. We are the crowds pressing in. We need a shepherd… and Jesus has compassion for us.

And that means Jesus has come to give us what we need and not what we want.

And what we need is a Shepherd who will gather us together. What we need us someone to teach us, to tell us of the Good News of God coming into our world. What we need is the intimacy and love of community. We don’t need our suffering to be taken away… because we know that it can never fully taken away. What we need is to know that we are not alone, that our suffering is shared.

And that is what Jesus’s compassion is all about. It is not a magical cure for our problems, it is a not a televangelist bopping us on the head proclaiming that we are healed.

God’s compassion is the word that cuts through our loneliness to join us to community.

God’s compassion is the water of baptism that washes, cleans and clothes us with Christ. The water that gives us new life, new life found in the community of sheep who also bear the scars and healed over wounds of life.

God’s compassion is the bread and wine of life, the meal that nourishes us for the Kingdom. The food that can only be shared in community, that is served at the Shepherd’s table for hungry sheep.

God’s compassion for the crowds and for us, even as we press in on a tired Jesus, is about reminding us that the Good News is that we are loved. That we are forgiven, reconciled, and made whole in the One Body of Christ.

As we press in on a tired Jesus today, God’s compassion means that we are no longer sheep without a Shepherd.

Amen.

I am the Good Sheep

John 10:11-18

Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”… (read the whole passage)

Sermon

Today, is Good Shepherd Sunday. Each fourth Sunday in the season of Easter, Christians around the world and through time celebrate Jesus as our Shepherd. Good Shepherd Sunday is the middle Sunday of Easter connecting those first resurrection accounts to Jesus preparing his disciples for the beginning of the church. And as such, our focus today shifts from the resurrection accounts that we have been hearing for the past 3 weeks to the Gospel of John and to Jesus’ sayings regarding the Good Shepherd.

A shepherd can be a bit of an odd image for Jesus to use to describe God’s relationship with the community of believers. For us, Shepherds conjure up images of idyllic meadow scenes. We imagine that male model in a robe version Jesus holding a lamb in his arms. You don’t even have to look around here much to find that kind of image.

Yet, for the people hearing Jesus’ speak, shepherds were more complicated image. One the one hand, King David the greatest king of Israel, had been a shepherd and so the image applied, from then on, to the kings of Israel. But being a shepherd in Jesus day was not an ideal career path. Shepherds lived out in the fields with their sheep. They were dirty, smelly, and uncivilized. They were mysterious nomads who only came into towns and villages on occasion. Shepherd were something between beggars and gang members. So it is odd that Jesus would choose that image, and odder still that he wouldn’t immediately tie it to the kingly side of the image.

Instead, Jesus talks about the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep, not the shepherd who sends his sheep to war demanding they lay down their lives for king and country.

Yet, along side the Good Shepherd, it is the contrasting figures that Jesus’ hearers would have known. The Good Shepherd who is willing to die for his sheep stands against the bad shepherd, who is willing to sacrifice the weak sheep for the flock. The Good Shepherd stands against the hired man who cuts and runs at the first sign of trouble. The Good Shepherd stands between the sheep and wolves, the wolves who are out to kill the sheep.

Jesus’ audience lived in a world full of bad shepherds, hired men and wolves. Their world was dangerous and threatening. A Good Shepherd, a Good leader, a Good King was a rare blessing to sheep flocks and nations alike.

We too know what it is like to be sheep and to have bad shepherds, hired men and wolves around us. We know it in our families, our workplaces, our communities, our political leaders, our churches. In fact, we know the bad shepherds, hired men and wolves so well, that we find it hard to imagine or to identify Good Shepherds at all. We find it hard to trust that our Shepherds are Good, and often we are waiting for a Good Shepherd to reveal themselves as a bad one.

Good Shepherd Sunday is a certainly a day to talk about the shepherd-like qualities of God. To name the ways in which God cares for, loves and looks after us. Yet, the point of the day may just as much be the sheep as it is the shepherd. But not that solitary sheep safe and comfortable in the arms of the shepherd, like those paintings on the walls of so many churches would suggest. No, it is the flocks, the way that sheep are a group that is truly significant.

While bad shepherds, hired men and wolves are dangers for flocks, often it can be other sheep who might pose just as much risk. Sheep, individually can be intelligent, caring, delightful animals. It is when sheep are in groups that they have problems.

Sheep flocks are poor decisions makers, they are jumpy herd animals, easily tricked by predators. Sheep flocks will stand and let predators hunt them down out of fear. Sheep flocks will run from the one wolf nipping at their heals, into the mouths of the waiting pack in the other direction. Sheep will follow a leader off a cliff because they are taught from an early age to follow no matter what.

Sound familiar? Like how people act in groups.

And so often, because we have experienced the dangers before, because many churches and faithful people have been sacrificed by bad shepherds, abandoned by hired men, eaten up by hungry wolves. Because we know what it is like to stand and do nothing in the face of danger when no sheep wants to be the first to act, because we know what it is like to run from a small problem only to be faced with a much bigger one, because we know what it is like to follow our panic off a cliff… because we know these things — we have real trust issues.

We have been hurt as sheep, and we find it hard to trust. We find it hard to risk ourselves. And sometimes we even sabotage our shepherds and our flocks so that the bad thing that we know is bound to come is at least something in our control.

Despite our trust issues, Jesus says a curious thing today about sheep and shepherds.

“I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father.“

It is curious, because throughout the gospels it is pretty clear that the disciples, the crowds, the pharisees and scribes, the temple priests, the Romans… none of them really know who Jesus is. None of them really understand what Jesus is doing.

In fact, if the sheep really knew the shepherd… we wouldn’t be celebrating the season of Easter right now. We wouldn’t be celebrating Easter because the sheep wouldn’t have put the shepherd to death on Good Friday.

If Good Shepherd Sunday is really just as much about being a good flock as it is about Jesus being a Good Shepherd, there is a disconnect. Because human beings are not usually good sheep.

But Jesus knows that. That is why when Jesus starts talking about the Good Shepherd he doesn’t begin by saying that the sheep know the shepherd.

Jesus starts by saying this,

I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”

The Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The Good Shepherd is not a King to rule over the sheep. The Good Shepherd is not an uninvested caregiver like a hired man. The Good Shepherd is willing to not only stand between the wolves and the sheep… The Good Shepherd is willing to stand between sheep and sheep, even when that leads him to a cross.

Jesus, the Good Shepherd, is willing to die for his sheep… is willing to die for us. And only a few weeks ago we told that story. We heard that Jesus did in fact die and it wasn’t the wolves that killed him… it was the sheep, it was us.

For us, that just doesn’t add up. A Good Shepherd who dies? Wouldn’t a good shepherd just make the problems go away? Wouldn’t a Good Shepherd keep the sheep away from the dangers?

Well, not if the sheep are the problem.

Jesus’ doesn’t make the problems go away. Jesus faces them head on. Jesus faces us head on.

Jesus faces our sheep problems right along side us. Jesus faces them by becoming a sheep along with us.

Jesus confronts our sheep problems, our trust issues with Shepherds, by becoming part of flocks.

Jesus the Good Sheep has come to lay down his life for the sheep, with the sheep. Jesus the Good Sheep comes to show us a new way to be sheep, a way of trust, forgiveness and grace. Jesus shows us to the other side.

Even in a dangerous world. Even if we are expecting the worst and treat Jesus like a bad shepherd, even if we turn into wolves and want him dead. Even if we have trust issues… Jesus comes to lay down his life for us. Jesus comes to give himself to us. Jesus comes to wash, to forgive us, to feed us, to go out into the dangerous world with us. Jesus comes not take the dangers away, but to face them with us. To show us to the other side. To show us that even when there is a cross, what follows is an empty tomb.

The Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep, but the Good Shepherd also rises again on the third day. And the Good Shepherd, the Good Sheep rises so that we will know what is it is like to rise too. The Good Shepherd knows his sheep because he has been through life and death with us, and we will know the Good Shepherd when we rise to new life.

Amen.