Following the Shepherd

Acts 2:42-47

Psalm 23

John 10:1-10

Reverend Dr. Stephen R. Caine

 

10:1 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. 2 The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. 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. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5 They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.” 6 Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.7 So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep.8 All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. 9 I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” (John 10:1-10, NRSV)

 

Let us pray: Creator of the universe, you made the world in beauty, and you restore all things in glory through the victory of Jesus Christ. We pray that, wherever your image is still disfigured by poverty, sickness, selfishness, war and greed, that the new creation in Jesus Christ may appear in justice, love, and peace, to the glory of your name. Amen.

 

On Wednesday evening each one of these very talented young people did a very brave thing.  They stood up, walked into this pulpit and the shared their faith in front of their family, friends and a few members of the Vestry Session.   Some of the confirmands were more nervous than others, some of them were calm cool and collected and one even sang a song to express her faith.  Each of them in their own way shared their faith.  Their Faith Statements were all very personal, all were very honest and each one was unique and special.   It is one of the most meaningful events in the life of this church.

 

The syllabus for confirmation was similar to the classes of the past with one exception.  Jennifer Taylor set the curriculum with the focus on the stories of the Bible, the importance of faith and group bonding and the addition of our emphasis on service.  We went on two retreats, in December we went to the Procter Center and this spring we went to Camp POYCA in Indiana. The highlight of the retreats was one of the skits at Procter staring Jack 1, Zack and Jack 2, where they retold the birth of Jesus, in well their own unique way…

I don’t think any of us will ever forget story of the birth of Jesus.   With the focus on service we asked the confirmands to go beyond what they learned about the Bible, the church, their particular denomination and asked them to consider how they will serve God, the church and others in the future.    It is one thing to share your faith, it is another to complete the confirmation process and join the church.   It is even more meaningful to carry that commitment even further and using what you have learned this year and apply it to your faith and live it in your life.

 

Many of the confirmands incorporated their commitment to service into their faith statements and some said they were closest to God in serving others.  Whether they found God in working with children at Saturday Hoops in Over-the-Rhine, or serving homeless families through Interfaith Hospitality Network or being closet to God here worship serving as an acolyte.   We asked the Confirmation Class to get beyond their heads and their hearts and go out to serve others.  No matter where you go from here listen to the voice of the shepherd calling you out in service.

 

This is the message from Jesus in our passage from John’s gospel for today.

 

Jesus is like a gatekeeper.  Our passage from the Gospel of John describes him as a gatekeeper.  It is not an image I particularly like to associate with Jesus, but its right here in the word of God. We seem to like gates, walls, and barriers in our world today. They are in many cases a necessity to keep people out. They give us a sense of security and safety.

 

Countries, communities, and most areas where people gather now have walls, fences, boundaries, and gates control who can enter and who is excluded.  Which raises the question, Is the point of the gate to keep those on the inside safe or to keep those on the outside from coming in?  Keep this question in mind.

John describes Jesus as the Good Shepherd and then as the gatekeeper, but notice what the Good Shepherd, the gatekeeper does.  He leads the sheep out.  He calls them by name, they recognize his voice and they follow him out.  That tiny detail, that small three letter word OUT is the key to this passage.[1]  The fact that the shepherd leads them out, I don’t think I have ever paid attention to that detail before.

 

“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.”[2]

 

This image of the sheep knowing and obeying the voice of the shepherd is not just some random and downhome illustration that Jesus came up with on the spur of the moment.  He was clearly using this image in such a way that one who heard it would be able to miss the point.  In the Torah, the Hebrew Scriptures, the people of Israel are often referred to as the “flock of God.”  In the past, the care of the people of God was left up to the kings of the country and the priests of the temple, and the prophets of Israel, but in making this proclamation, Jesus is taking over that responsibility.   He compares himself to a shepherd, it’s not really a farm image; it’s more a religious and political one.  The important truth he is proclaiming here is that the previous leaders were corrupt or incomplete or unfaithful leaders, or, to use the language of the text, “strangers” and “thieves and bandits,” [3] he is the good shepherd, who will lay down his life for his flock.

 

All the gated communities with which I am familiar are about keeping people safely inside, not about equipping them to go out into the wider world.  But here Jesus, the Good Shepherd, leads his flock out.

 

So, maybe Jesus’ gated community is not one that huddles together inside the fence to stay safe at all costs, but instead we are a community of faith that is gathered together to be nurtured and equipped in order to follow the Shepherd out.  Maybe Jesus lets us in the gate so that we can go out and lead others back.  There is movement.  Jesus says, “Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture.” Jesus’ flock doesn’t hunker down in one place. We are called to follow him out, we are challenged to be on the move.

 

Jesus’ words to his followers; listen to my voice, the voice of the good shepherd, who is calling his followers out of the safety of the pen and into the world.

Let us pray:

 

[1] Reverend Jill Duffield Psalm 23; John 10:1-10 – April 30-4th Sunday of Easter

[2] John 10:3b-4

[3] The Reverend Dr. Delmer Chilton, “They know his voice” May 1, 2017