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Sermon for 29 April 2012


5 The next day their rulers, elders, and scribes assembled in Jerusalem, 6 with Annas the high priest, Caiaphas, John, and Alexander, and all who were of the high-priestly family. 7 When they had made the prisoners stand in their midst, they inquired, “By what power or by what name did you do this?” 8 Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders, 9 if we are questioned today because of a good deed done to someone who was sick and are asked how this man has been healed, 10 let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel, that this man is standing before you in good health by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead. 11 This Jesus is ‘the stone that was rejected by you, the builders; it has become the cornerstone.’ 12 There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.”

PSALM Psalm 23

1 The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not be in want.
2 The LORD makes me lie down in green pastures and leads me beside still waters.
3 You restore my soul, O LORD, and guide me along right pathways for your name’s sake.
4 Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
5 You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil, and my cup is running over.
6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever.

SECOND READING 1 John 3:16–24

16 We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us — and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. 17 How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help? 18 Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. 19 And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him 20 whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. 21 Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have boldness before God; 22 and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we obey his commandments and do what pleases him. 23 And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. 24 All who obey his commandments abide in him, and he abides in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given us.

GOSPEL John 10:11–18

11 I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away — and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13 The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. 17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.”


One of the descriptions that’s used to negatively describe a person, is the term poser. For those who might not be familiar with this term, it’s mainly used to describe an individual who forwards themselves as a champion of the oppressed, but in the face of a real threat, are unwilling to do what’s necessary to overcome the opposition. In most cases, the term poser is used to describe a person who purports to be a hero of the little guy, but in reality is just pretending to be a champion. For all intents and purposes they look the part, and act the part, that is until trouble comes. A good example of this was a Big Bang Theory episode where the crew dressed up as super heroes for a costume contest. After winning the contest, they started walking home and witness three individuals breaking into a car. The “super hero” crew stops and ask themselves what would the Justice league do in this situation? Instead of intervening, like the character they represent, they turn and quickly walk away. They dressed the part but when faced with a real situation, they ran.
Back in 1990 just before Desert Storm and again in 2001 just after 9/11, something interesting happened that illustrates the message of our Lord in our gospel reading for today. Now I want to make the disclaimer here; there are, and have been, millions of very dedicated military personnel who have fought and faithfully served this country. This congregation, as an example, has as its members, many who have been willing to “lay it all on the line” in defense of this country if called, and I honor and thank God for all who have answered that call, whether it was on active duty, in the Guard or as part of the Reserves.
I served four tours in the Middle East and two in Korea and had the wonderful privilege of serving with not only the Guard and Reserves, but also many of our allies. With that said, I’ve also served with a few, a very few mind you, who were posers; people who were “in it”, as we used to say, for reasons other than to serve their country. These folks wanted the benefits, but they didn’t want the sacrifices. They were the few, who were like the hired hand in our gospel lesson, rather than the shepherd Jesus refers to in His address to the disciples.
Just before Desert Storm and especially right after 9/11, the military was building up in preparation for military operations. This build-up included calling up the Guard and Reserves to augment or fill in the gaps that were left by deploying forces. In two cases, people I served with suddenly became “conscientious objectors”. Again I need to be careful, there are those who object to what happened in the Middle East and I respect that. What I don’t approve of is those who voluntarily went into the military just to take advantage of incentives that were being offered. They had no intension of serving if needed; they were simply “in it” for the benefits.
Like the hired hand, or the poser, when faced with the wolf, they wanted to run. I know this may sound harsh to some, but it was a reality that I personally experienced. A true shepherd, like the military member, must be willing to face the wolf and defend the sheep when called to do so. In reality, it’s a perfect metaphor for the Christian also. A wolf will kill steal and destroy, and Jesus tells us that’s what satan does as well. But the “wolf”, or difficult situation, isn’t limited to major threats like life endangering situations, the wolf can also be things like peer pressure and public opinion. The wolf is anything that would frighten us or prevent us from standing firm or acting against a situation or from standing up for what God commands or for what’s right.
With all this in mind it’s small wonder that the image of the shepherd was frequently upon the lips of the Savior. Not only is it a great metaphor to describe the dedication needed on the part of a Christian, but it was also a part of Jesus’ heritage and culture. Abraham, the father of many nations, was the keeper of great flocks. Moses was tending the flocks of his father-in-law, Jethro, when God called him into a special service. David was a shepherd boy called in from the fields to be anointed as the next King of Israel. And this shepherd image went beyond the patriarchal examples.
The imagery of the shepherd was also imprinted upon the literature of the day. The 23rd Psalm is frequently referred to as the shepherd psalm. “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters.” When Isaiah spoke of the coming of the Messiah he worded it by saying: “He will feed his flock like a shepherd! He will gather his lambs into his arms.” The tradition of the shepherd was very much a part of the heritage of Christ. And this picture comes even more clearly into focus in the New Testament.
Jesus once told a story about a shepherd who had 100 sheep, but one of them went missing. In our capitalistic way of thinking, a 99% return on our investment would be most desirable, but not this shepherd. He left the 99 to go in search of that one lost sheep. Later, when Jesus was speaking to a great throng of people, Mark tells us that He had compassion upon them because they were “as sheep without a shepherd.”
Throughout the Judeo-Christian faith, the image of the shepherd has been stamped upon our thinking. In our scripture text for this morning Jesus again taps into this imagery when He refers to Himself as the Good Shepherd. With this in mind I’d like to take a few moments this morning and examine what Jesus had in mind when He described Himself as the Good Shepherd.
First, we have a Shepherd that is a genuine shepherd. Pastor Larry Daniel, a well-known writer of Civil War novels, tells a story on himself. He says, “I will never forget when I got my wife’s engagement ring. I had been saving up money from all of the marriages I had performed to buy an antique musket–an 1864 U. S. Springfield rifle—if you’ve ever seen one you know how beautiful they are. Instead, I used the money to buy an engagement ring.” Greater love hath no man than that. But after I had bought the ring, I said to the jeweler–now, be honest with me. The deal is made. I can’t back out of it. Can you really tell the difference between a real one carrot ring and some phony thing that I can buy off the shopper’s channel on TV? He said: come around here and look at this, I want to show you something.
He put the light on two rings–the one I had just bought and a phony diamond. Then he gave me his jeweler’s eyeglass. He said look at this cheap imitation and look at what you just bought; when I did, I was amazed. The diamond in the ring I had just purchased sparkled. The counterfeit was dull and had no luster. Jesus said: now here are two shepherds. Outwardly there seems to be no difference. You can’t easily tell the hired hand or poser from the real shepherd. The skin of both have been bronzed by the sun and weathered by the wind. They both carry a fleece to keep them warm at night. Both carry a shepherd’s crook. But one is a genuine shepherd and the other is a counterfeit. One is a shepherd in his heart; the other is a shepherd for hire.
On an ordinary day, just like those who joined the military only to get the benefits, you could never tell them apart. Both wear the same uniform, both go about their daily tasks as required. But let trouble come. Ask them to deploy into a war zone; ask them to go out on patrol. Let a pack of wolves appear and then the difference comes out. The counterfeit or poser runs, because it’s only money or benefits, or what’s in it for them. They have no ownership; they have no loyalty; they have no commitment. But the real shepherd does. When faced with difficult circumstances, the shepherd stays. Jesus said in our text: I lay down My life for My sheep. That’s the difference between the real shepherd and the counterfeit. The real shepherd will face the difficulty, no matter what the consequence. And we can derive great comfort from this fact this morning.
Jesus telling us He’s the Good Shepherd is wonderful news. I don’t care how much trouble comes our way; the Good Shepherd will never leave our side. He will not desert us in times of trial. That’s news that will help us get through the night; that’s news that will enable us to keep our sanity. Second, the Good Shepherd knows His sheep.
Sir George Adams Smith tells of being in the Holy Land many years ago. He saw several different flocks of sheep all huddled together at a watering hole. To him, they all looked alike. It was simply a mass of white wool. He wondered how the shepherds would ever separate them out. However, at the appropriate time, each shepherd gave his own unique call, and in orderly fashion the sheep divided. Perhaps that’s what the Good Shepherd meant when He said: I know My sheep and My sheep know Me.
Bishop Edward Tullis used to tell the story of a particular census taker who went to a family to gather information. This was in the mountains and the family was quite poor. He asked the mother how many dependents she had. She began, well there’s Rosalie, and Billy, and Lewella, our dog Willie. The census taker interrupted her and said: No ma’am that’s not necessary. I just need humans. Oh, she said. Well, there’s Rosalie, and Billy, and Lewella. Rather exasperated, the census taker interrupted her again and said: No ma’am, you don’t seem to understand. I don’t need their names I just need numbers. The mother innocently replied: But I don’t know them by numbers. I only know them by names.
It strikes me as a rather comforting thought that the great Creator of the cosmos knows me by name. He knows my situation. Oh, I know that there are those who scoff that the Great Prime Mover of the universe could also be a caring shepherd. But I simply look to the words of the Good Shepherd: I know my sheep.
About a year ago a murder took place in a small Mississippi town. The neighbors who were interviewed on the news were all shocked. It seems impossible to us that the husband did it, they all said. We thought we knew these people. We thought we knew what was going on in their lives. You see, that’s the difference between God and us. God knows. We only think that we know.
Jesus said: My sheep know me. The question is: are we attuned to God’s special whisper. I suppose all of us have seen the painting done in the 1930’s of a dog, looking with a cocked head, at an old RCA phonograph. The name of the painting is the Master’s voice. I know that in my life I haven’t always recognized my master’s voice. I’ve been too busy, too preoccupied, too self-centered. Sometimes, frankly, I am afraid to hear His voice; for I know that He will say what I may not want to hear. But I know that it’s important for me to hear once again the words of the Good Shepherd: I know my sheep, and my sheep know me. And what’s even more comforting is that Jesus’ statement went beyond the Hebrew people He was addressing that day.
Jesus said: I have other sheep too, and they are not of this fold. I must bring them in also. I’m sure we all know what an oxymoron is. An oxymoron is a combination of contradictory terms, seemingly canceling each other out. For example: bittersweet, jumbo-shrimp, authentic-reproduction, House ethics committee. Let me give you another. Good shepherd. Does that surprise you?
Certainly to the modern ear there’s nothing contradictory about that, until we learn that in the ancient world shepherding was really not considered the romantic, humble occupation that we think of it today. Shepherds were often looked upon in the same way as gypsies are in some parts of Europe today. Shepherds in New Testament times were considered dirty, thieves. So despised were shepherds that under Jewish law, that a shepherd could not be a witness in a trial. They were seen as notorious liars.
Just when we think we’ve got shepherds figured out, Jesus throws us for a loop and uses the term good shepherd. You see, in God’s flock, there are going to be so many people that we didn’t expect. There are some people, who are not of my fold, of course He’s speaking of the gentiles, and I must bring them in too. Thank God, our Good Shepherd is an inclusive shepherd.
In John Drinkwater’s historical drama Abraham Lincoln, a woman says to Lincoln: Mr. President, have you heard the good news? In the latest battle we suffered 800 casualties and the enemy 2700. How splendid.” “Splendid,” replied Lincoln, “that 3500 souls are lost?” Oh, Mr. President, she said, you must not look at it in that way. Only 800 of them counted. Replies Lincoln: “Madam, the world is much bigger than your heart.” We have a Good Shepherd who thankfully is inclusive.
Finally, the Good Shepherd also sacrifices. Jesus worded it this way: The shepherd lays down his life for his sheep. Lay down one’s life for a worthless animal!? It hardly seems reasonable. That is, until we remember that we are the sheep that He’s talking about. We, you and I, are the worthless ones. It’s called atonement–the shedding of one’s own blood on behalf of another who doesn’t deserve it.
Nicholas Bredyaev, who abandoned Marxism for Christianity, insisted that it wasn’t theology, or history, or the church that caused his conversion. He was present at a concentration camp in Nazi Germany when the Nazis were killing Jews in the gas chambers. One distraught mother, whose first name was Maria, saw that the officer in charge, Bredyaev, was really only interested in numbers. So without a single word Maria was pulled aside by an unknown woman who took her place. So powerful was that image that it turned Bredyaev toward the Christ who sacrificed His life for all humanity.
The Good Shepherd lays down His life for His sheep. You don’t have a life worth living for if you don’t have a cause worth dying for. If we’re to follow the shepherding model, as laid down by Christ, then sacrifice must be a part of our faith. It means that the church must now lay down her life for a worthless and undeserving society. We are called to be leaders in our time and when necessary stand up for and against those who would threaten our faith and our work for the kingdom.
In our call to be shepherds in this world we are called to be leaders in our homes first, our church and community second and in the larger public sphere third. This means we not only live our private lives as Christ commands but we also profess our faith publically in our words and deeds. We are called at times to face the wolves of this worlod and this isn’t always easy. Another shepherding roll we’re called to, is to make decisions about the direction and leadership of this country through the voting process.
Between now and May 8th and again in November, we’ll be asked to go to our polling places and make decisions about those who will represent us and about amendments to our governing documents. Wolves, in the form of popular opinion and peer pressure, appearing not only in the media but in person as well, will be there to cause us to give in, to run from the decisions, or to change our mind about what’s right and what’s wrong for this country and for our faith. These wolves will try to use emotion or false information in order to persuade us to vote a particular way. We need to be ready to stand firm against the threats. We do this by studying the issues and understanding what’s being forwarded. We are called to be shepherds in our time and this takes commitment. It takes being committed to Christ and to others. It’s a hard job, it would be so much easier to simply be the sheep and not the shepherd.
John in our epistle reading for today reminds us; “We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us — and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help? Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action”. Love others in truth and action, so it’s simply not enough that we remain sheep. Remaining sheep is comfortable, safe and conflict free. But Christ didn’t call us to simply live comfortable lives.
Christ is calling us into the role of shepherd. Jesus asked Simon Peter one day: Peter, do you love me? Lord, he said, you know that I do love You. Then, came the reply, feed my sheep. If we’re to be faithful followers of Christ, there is no alternative; we must love in truth and in our actions.

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