Stand Up and Be Recognized

(4th Easter, John 10.22-30)

April 29, 2007

 

(Jesus said,) My sheep hear my voice.  I know them, and they follow me.  I give them eternal life, and they will never perish.  (John 10.27-28)

Well, I have a prop for my sermon today.  We don’t have many sermons that come with props, so I look forward to the 4th Sunday in Easter.  Which is also known as Good Shepherd Sunday.  Because it always gives me a chance to bring in my shepherd’s crook. 

Every year on this Sunday, we read a portion of the tenth chapter of John, in which Jesus declares himself to the Good Shepherd. 

Now this particular crook is from Australia.  And it was given to me as a going away gift by the Men’s Bible study group that that met at our house every week the last couple of years that we were in Singapore. 

I keep it in my office to remind me of those special friends who were so important to my answering a call to ordained ministry. 

And it also serves as a reminder of that image of the good shepherd that Jesus gave us.  Jesus was first and foremost a pastor; and that is an important thing for all of us to keep in mind.

Anyway, since we rarely have any good props in our sermons, I want to be sure and use one of my only ones when I have a chance.  As you can see, it is hand carved.  And it is made from a couple of types of wood that are indigenous to Australia. 

Interesting looking crook, don’t you think?  I imagine the shepherd uses the curved end to gently pull a sheep back to where it belongs or to rescue it from a precarious place. 

But, as I have pointed out before, these Shepherd’s crooks come with two ends – and if the sheep need a sharp reminder to pay attention – well this other end helps do that. 

Jesus also had need for both ends of this stick.  Sometimes gently coaxing one of his lost flock back into the fold.

Other times, jabbing those who refuse to listen to what he came to say.  Like he does this morning to the Pharisees and others that refuse to believe in spite of the many works that he had done to demonstrate his Messiahship.

Jesus tells us that he is the Good Shepherd.  So I guess that I have to put this crook down.  Because while I may have a pastoral, or shepherd’s role, at times, this morning’s lesson is not about that.  Today’s lesson is all about being a good sheep.

Jesus said, My sheep hear my voice.  I know them, and they follow me. 

Therefore, we are intended to look at this reading from the perspective of being the sheep – the children of God.  You know - those who appreciate the steadfast protection and love of our shepherd Jesus, and who listen for the shepherd’s voice, and then try to live accordingly.

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Sounds simple enough, doesn’t it?  What could be easier than just allowing the Good Shepherd to take care of us? 

But we have a hard time being sheep.  In fact, that is an understatement.  I should say that we are in fact, very lousy sheep. 

Because we just don’t like being told what to do – at least that is true of me.  Don’t want to blindly follow the lead of anyone.  We want to work it out first in our own minds that it makes sense, before we agree.  We want to go down all of the hidden trails and check them out before committing to one way. 

And worst of all, we often want to sample what that other shepherds are giving out.  After all, that pasture over there sure looks a lot greener than this bunch of weeds that we have around here to eat. 

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But luckily for us, our Good Shepherd is patient and steadfast. 

The sheep don’t learn the sound of the shepherd’s voice because he just comes along every now and then.  They learn his voice because the good shepherd is always looking over them.  Always ready to step in when needed.  Above all else, they learn the shepherd’s voice because he is absolutely faithful to them.  So there is intimacy between the good shepherd and the sheep.

I find that, Intimacy with the shepherd – with Jesus – is also not easy for us.  And I believe that it is not easy for us because of that same streak of independence that we were talking about earlier. 

And our independence often gets in the way of intimacy with God.  Because we want to come to God own our terms.  When we feel the need for him.

We are reluctant to acknowledge, that like the sheep, we really are nothing without the shepherd.  Instead, we try to prove our independence time and time again.  And only after falling on our faces do we offer ourselves completely to God.  Only then are we on our knees, and seeking an intimate relationship. 

So I believe that this lesson is telling us that we must give up some independence in order to enjoy the intimacy that God offers.  In short, we need to be better sheep.

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Another thing that is characteristic of sheep, is that outside leadership is essential.  I have observed a large flock of sheep first hand.  Studied them for the better part of three days when we went to Scotland a few summers ago and stayed on a sheep farm.  And I am here to tell you that there is no such thing as a lead sheep.  And there is no such thing as a democracy in a herd of sheep. 

The Shepherd provides the leadership and the sheep obey, or the whole flock will run amuck. 

Again, that runs counter to our individual personas.  Sheep are all the same, and we want to different – or at least be distinct from one another. 

But the image of sheep reminds us that we really are all the same in one sense.  As children of God, we are valued equally by God.  No one is valued more than the other.  However, while sheep may look all the same to us; they are known and named, each and every one by God.  Loved equally, but distinctly.

The same for the church.  We need the outside leadership of Jesus Christ for our very survival.  When we start taking ownership.  When we start making decisions on the basis of what we want.  On the basis of what is comfortable or pleasing to us, instead of first seeking guidance from the shepherd, then we too will run amuck. 

After all, this is God’s church.  Therefore, in order for us to thrive and grow as a church, we must prayerfully and purposefully seek God’s will for us. 

Jesus said, “I give my sheep eternal life, and they will never perish.”

Eternal life comes from having Jesus Christ as our Lord and Shepherd.  But we cannot claim him as our Shepherd unless we are listening to him.  Listening in prayer.  Listening in Scripture.  Prayerfully seeking guidance and direction from God.  It’s easy. . . . . . if – if we would just let ourselves be sheep.

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You know this Shepherd – sheep thing really is all about recognition, isn’t it?  Us recognizing Jesus as our Shepherd.  And Jesus recognizing us as his sheep.

I am reminded of one of those popular axioms, or accepted words of wisdom.  The one that goes, “it is not what you know that counts in life, but who you know.”

I am sure you have heard that said often.  But I am here to tell you that saying is not correct.  And I will tell you why. 

Like many of my fellow Texans, I once had dinner with George W. Bush.  Now it was before he became President.  Actually it was even before he became governor – back when he was most famous for being part owner of the Texas Rangers baseball team.  And anyway, because of my friendship with a couple of people with baseball connections, Sherry and I were invited to a pre-game meal with George and Laura at the stadium club restaurant there at Arlington stadium.  Of course as it turned out, there were seven or eight table full of folks that were “having dinner” with the Bushes.  The way that it worked was that each table had two empty chairs, and the Bushes would spend time and eat a course at each table.

So my point is that I know the President of the United States. 

But of course there is no way that he knows me

So it’s really not who you know that is important, but who knows you

And Jesus says the same thing is true in our relationship with God. 

He says, “My sheep hear my voice.  I know them and they follow me.”

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In the end, I am sure that many will claim to know Christ.  Many will say to him, you remember me – we had dinner together that one time. 

You know me, don’t you??

But Jesus will shake his head.  When did you comfort the sick, or visit the prisoner or feed the hungry in my name, he will ask?

The Shepherd knows his sheep.  And we are known because we have heard his voice and responded as his disciples.

I believe that we are all here this morning BECAUSE we have heard something.  For all our faults as a group of humans, a community of Christians is still the best place to find the Shepherd.  It is next to impossible to hear and follow the Shepherd on our own.  So stick with the flock – because the flock is usually where the Shepherd can be found. 

And listen to God and listen also to each other.  And remember that listening is an act of love. 

Hear and obey the voice of the one Shepherd who promises that nothing can separate you from the love of God – Who says that that not even death itself can snatch you out of the Shepherd’s hand.

Thanks be to God.