April 22, 2018
The Good Shepherd
Grace and Peace to you this morning. Grace and Peace.
When she returned from her trip to Israel, Chris Reist spoke to the women’s prayer circle about the manger scene. Most of us, when we think of a manger scene, we have the figures of Jesus, Joseph, Mary, shepherds, wise men, donkeys, and they are all in some kind of wooden shed or barn. But Israel does not have pines and oaks and trees like we do. Most of their stables are either just open air, or a cave or overhang in the rock.
And if they built a stable, it would be out of rock, or maybe just a few things to block the entrance to the cave. And then the shepherd would sleep in the gate, in the opening, so that if a sheep tried to get out, or something tried to get in, it would wake the shepherd up.
In John’s Gospel, Jesus uses the phrase “I am” many times. Like the opening of John echoing the opening of Genesis, the “I am” statements echo the name God gave to Moses at the burning bush.
I am the bread of life. I am the way, the truth, and the life. I am the light of the world. I am the good shepherd. Just before our reading this morning, Jesus says, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep.” By Jesus, we enter into the love and safety and blessing of the fold.
And it may seem like a paradox that Jesus is the gate for the sheep AND the good shepherd. But Jesus is paradoxical. He is the high priest, and he is the sacrifice. He is the most human and the most holy. He is so full of God that he pours it all out.
And if we think of the shepherd being the one sleeping in the doorway, it makes sense. The good shepherd is the gate, to make sure the sheep are safe from the stuff outside that wants to get them, and from their own foolishness to wander off and get stuck in the brambles. If we read the Gospel the way it was meant to be read, and not chopped up for Sunday morning, these stories belong together.
The good shepherd is willing to lay down his life for the sheep. He does not have to. But he is willing to. And, in Jerusalem, on Good Friday, he does.
There is a phrase in here that always makes me think.
“I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice.”
Talking with Bill Oatman at Bible study on Wednesday, it sparked a thought that I had never put quite this way before. I told him I was going to write it down, because if I don’t write it down, I don’t remember it.
Jesus has other sheep.
We have no monopoly on God. First Congregational Church has no monopoly of God. The United Church of Christ has no monopoly on God. Christianity has no monopoly on God.
Jesus has other sheep that do not belong to this fold.
We have no monopoly on God, but God has a monopoly on us.
God has a monopoly on us.
“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.”
But how do we know the voice of Jesus? How do we know that it is the still, silent voice of God within us?
It was 1994. I had a chance to go back to Japan. Some of you know I was a Japanese studies major in college, and I had taught English in a Japanese Middle School as part of my schooling. Oak Ridge, Tennessee, has a sister city in Japan, Naka-machi. I had a chance to go there and teach English and, if I lived frugally, put a whole lot of money in the bank.
But I was feeling called to go to seminary. I was feeling called to ministry. I was torn. It was a dilemma. So I called my pastor. He did not say do this or do that. He asked me questions.
What is your head telling you?
What is your heart telling you?
What is your gut telling you?
And what do the powers that be say?
My head, my heart, and my gut felt like they were lined up. I don’t know about you, but that doesn’t seem to happen too very often. At least not with really big things, like “what are you going to do with your life?” things.
When our thinking, and our emotions, and our instincts all line up, all agree, are “all in one accord,” is that not, perhaps, the voice of God?
Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd.”
Let us listen to our head, our heart, and our gut. And let us follow.
Thanks be to God. Amen.