“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.”
God is not Done with Us
We sing it with our preschool chapel. You may have heard it at camp. It requires full community participation. And you need your sheep ears. Follow me please…
This song is great reminder for our gathering today. We are reminded that Jesus is the shepherd, which means that we are most certainly not. We are the sheep. We are the followers. This perspective is an important reminder for our journey of faith.
We get the image and metaphor of Jesus as the good shepherd from John chapter ten. It’s one, long story of Jesus describing himself as the good shepherd, but we chop it up over a three year cycle. This does a great disservice to the story John is telling. By cutting up the story, we miss the full picture of Jesus as shepherd, the one who comes “so that they may have life, and have it abundantly,” as Jesus says in verse ten. So that we may have life, and have life abundantly. That’s who Jesus is as the good shepherd, the one who brings abundant life into the world.
Jesus as the good shepherd is the one who brings abundant life to the world.
At the end of the story of the raising of Lazarus. After Jesus stands at the face of the tomb and yells, “Lazarus, come out,” after Lazarus is unbound, the Jewish leaders withdraw into the darkness and plot to kill Jesus. The leaders know the radically, subversive power of the one who turns life into death. They know the power of Jesus could change things, forever. And in their fallenness, the only answer they see to this problem is death.
The story of the man born blind in chapter nine is material for a great comedy of errors. The man born blind, healed by Jesus, gets the run around from the Pharisees and his parents. The story begins with Jesus and his disciples on a journey when they encounter this man born blind. The disciples ask, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind (John 9:2)?” Jesus responds by stating that neither party is at fault, and then proceeds to heal the man by making mud with spit and sending to man to wash in the pool of Siloam.
The Pharisees get wind of the healing. They took have questions about this man and about sin. But they are caught up with another issue. They know the day the healing took place. The Sabbath. The day of rest. No one is suppose to do work on the Sabbath. That was a sin. So their question and conundrum is “How can Jesus heal, he is a sinner?” But they are divided, the other side wondering “How can this man be a sinner, he is a healer?”
Both the disciples and the Pharisees get caught in the same trap. They turned the man and his inability to see into an equation. If they could just get the right answer, they could solve the mystery of the blindness, or the ability of Jesus to heal. It’s as if they are looking “for man + blindness = sin.” Or “work/healing + Sabbath = sinner.” But they miss the point entirely. And it is this moment that moves Jesus into his speech about the good shepherd. Jesus knows that healing, the wholeness of his life and ministry, is more than an equation. It’s more than getting the right answer.
Jesus knows that healing, the wholeness of his life and ministry, is more than an equation. It’s more than getting the right answer.
Jesus draws on a very old metaphor for the people of Israel. They were familiar with shepherds. We can go all the way back to Moses, who we do not often think of as a shepherd. Until we remember that it was while Moses was tending his father-in-law’s flock in the wilderness that the bush burst into flames. Moses was called by God to shepherd the people of Israel out of the death of slavery in Egypt in to the new life of the Promised Land.
Then we move to David, the great shepherd king, who is anointed in the field, as he was keeping watch over his father’s flock. David, the great king of Israel’s golden age, the one who united the nation. The “man after God’s own heart (1 Samuel 13:14).”
Or perhaps you remember Ezekiel. Cranky is a good word for Ezekiel, the wake-up-on-the-wrong-side-of-the-bed-on-Monday-morning prophet. Ezekiel has this to day about shepherds:
Ezekiel goes on, stating that God says “I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord GOD (Ezekiel 34:15).” And this is where Jesus picks up. God as the shepherd. Jesus as God made flesh, the good shepherd of the sheep. The one to bring them tougher as one flock. To heal, to bind up the injured, to seek the lost ones. And it’s about relationship.
Jesus says it himself, “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me…” This is a picture of the intimate relationships between shepherd and sheep. The shepherd eats with the sheep. Makes a bed among the sheep. Smells like the sheep! And then he takes it a step further. Jesus as good shepherd lays his life down for the sheep. This is not an equation. It’s a relationship. We are invited to follow, to be in a relationship with the good shepherd, and with the flock.
This is not an equation. It’s a relationship. We are invited to follow, to be in a relationship with the good shepherd, and with the flock.
During our journey of faith, we gather around the communion table. The communion table is not an equation, its is a relationship. You do not have to come to the table with the right answers, with the problem solved. We gather at the table to remember the promises of God’s love and forgiveness and to receive a foretaste of the victory feast of God.
Confirmation, the affirmation of faith, what we celebrate today, is not an equation. It celebrates the relationship we have with God. Today we celebrate with these fine youth. And the message is - God is not done with you! Today, the journey is not over. It continues. God has more in-store for you, for us, along the way.
God is not done with us. The ongoing power of the good shepherd is still at work. The goal is one shepherd and one flock. God is still at work in our lives to bring this promise to life. God is not done with us.
During the greatest moments of your life, the reminder is that there are still greater promises to be received from God. And God remembers those promises. At the worst, darkest moments of our journey, the reminder is that God is with us, not done with us yet. Those great words form another, familiar shepherd story - “Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I fear no evil; for you are with me…” God is not done with us!
I think Martin Luther summed it up best. He writes in one of his lesser known works a statement that has helped me on my journey of faith.
“This life is not justice, but growth to justice,
not health but healing,
not being but becoming,
not rest but exercise.
We are not yet what we shall be but we are growing toward it.
The process is not yet finished but it is going on.
This is not the end, but it is the road.”