April 22, 2018 + Easter 4B
John 10:11-18; Psalm 23
“Sheep need shepherds,” that’s something that all the commentaries on biblical texts that mention “sheep” will tell you. They all point to the fact that sheep are not exactly the smartest of God’s creation, that sheep can be stubborn, even to their own detriment, and consequently they need help, - they need shepherds.
I had read this time and time again but being a “west coast boy” I had never really experienced sheep, so I never really thought twice about it. Stories of sheep simply did not impact my life. Such information about sheep never made it into my sermons. And then it happened, a number of years ago I finally had a “sheep experience.” And now every time I read about sheep in the bible, and every time “Christ the Good Shepherd Sunday” comes around, I have a story to tell. A great story that opens up today’s text in a way that most people never forget. So it is, I am excited to share with you my one and only, my true life, honest to goodness, sheep story!
My “sheep experience” happened in North Dakota, the place where both my parents were born and raised. We were visiting the small town of Kindred, North Dakota for a family reunion. A few members of the family came in R.V.'s or brought camping equipment to camp out at my grandparent’s old “homestead site.” Now this farm had not been lived on for many years, so the family had decided, a few years before, to allow a neighbor to put his sheep out to pasture on the grounds. Their grazing kept the grass and the weeds from taking over the place.
Well one morning I went over to the farm to visit everyone who had been camping out and as we were visiting we noticed that the sheep had put themselves into a rather interesting predicament. Up to this point the sheep were always just roving around the yard in a pack, following each other here and there
grazing as they went along, but somehow, somewhere - they really got off track. One of the sheep, the leader of the pack, (the one whom everyone seemed to like to follow,) wandered over to a rather large “outhouse” and went inside. That sheep was followed by another, who also went inside. And then another sheep followed along, and then another, and then another somehow squeezed his way in, until there were four sheep inside, two stuck in the door, and five more trying to force their way in. It was a sigh to see, a “traffic jam,” “gridlock at the outhouse.”
And they were stuck! The ones inside had nowhere to go and couldn't get out because the sheep on the outside wanted to see what was going on inside. And the ones in the middle just sat there waiting. Well we all got a big laugh out of this sight, - those stupid sheep. A half hour later we noticed that they were still there, so we all found our cameras and took some pictures. (This was all before “Facebook” or I am sure the whole thing would have went viral.) Those poor stupid sheep, seemingly paralyzed, and hopelessly trapped.
And to prove my story is real, I put one of those pictures in your bulletin! My Sheep experience!
Well another half hour went by and there was still no change, the sheep were still stuck, waiting in line at the outhouse, but we we're now bored with the “stupid sheep show” so the whole family jumped into cars and went into town. We had lunch, saw all the old hangouts, visited old friends, and at the end of the afternoon we returned to the homestead site and to our amazement we found our sheep in the same exact place that they had been when we had left - hours ago. Nothing had changed. They were still stuck.
What a day they must have had! Probably similar to my day in the very small town of Kindred North Dakota. Eventually the sheep did get out, not because they finally got wise and figured it out, not because one of them finally had an “aha” moment, but only because one of my uncles finally came to their rescue. He patiently prodded and coaxed, pushed through, and somehow created a path which enabled the lead sheep to get out and on his way. And as he did, so the rest of the sheep simply followed him to freedom.
“Sheep need shepherds.” They really do! For without shepherds, sheep get into trouble; they wander off away from good pasture and into the “outhouse” of life. Not a bad picture of the human condition. “Sheep need shepherds!” And now the hard part, the part that can be hard to admit, as the scriptures tells us, we too “are like sheep who have gone astray.” We too have followed the leader to our own detriment, we too have wandered away from good things and lost ourselves in bad things, we too have become stuck and lost, and sometimes we too are not the brightest of God’s creation.
However, there is good news, today’s Gospel reading reminds us that we sheep, we sheep have a shepherd, a good shepherd, one that watches over us, one that will rescue us, one that leads us to those good pastures where we will hunger no more, to the springs of the water of life where we will thirst nor more, and to a banquet table that has been prepared for us, prepared to overflowing.
The Psalmist reminds us, “He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters” “He prepares a table for us.” A place where “our cup overflows.”
When we find ourselves lost and alone, confused and stuck, paralyzed by fear, even when we find ourselves in the “outhouse of life,” God seeks us out and calls to us.
And we are blessed to know his voice, the voice of the Good Shepherd, and so it is when God calls; we gather here on Sunday mornings, we gather to serve others, we gather to proclaim God’s peace, we gather as friends to share life’s highs and lows, we gather to walk through even the darkest valley, we gather to comfort each other, we gather to silence the voice of fear, we gather to be blessed. We are sheep who know the voice of our shepherd, sheep who have been blessed with a good shepherd, a very good shepherd, Jesus the Christ.
So, what happens next? We have been led to these wonderful pastures, and we have been fed and nurtured here in this place, now what?
Last Sunday’s Gospel reminded us that we are now Christ’s presence in the world, the body of Christ, and more importantly the feet and hands of Christ in this world. In one of his last post resurrection appearances Christ will tell his followers very clear what comes next. He will ask of Peter, his disciples, his followers, “Feed my Sheep.” In grace sheep become shepherds!
The Good Shepherd invites us to take up the call to shepherd those around us. We are called to go out into the world and to gather up those sheep who are still stuck in fields that are dry and barren, sheep that need to be led to green pastures, and the waters that give life. We are called to be like my uncle, who took the time to pull those poor North Dakota sheep out of that outhouse. We are called to take the time to stop and invite, to lead people to those pastures that we cherish so much, those places that give us life, to places like this place, First Lutheran Church. Places where we are blessed with faith, peace, hope, grace and love.
So, let us go from here and find them, let us desperately search and seek them out, let us dare to help rescue them. The Good Shepherd is gathering up those lost sheep even now, and we are invited to be a part of it; to move with our “much needed feet” to gather up with our “much needed hands,” and in doing so become a dynamic part of the kingdom of God that is breaking into our world.
Let us pray. God, we give thanks for the many shepherd in our lives. For Pastors, teachers, family members, and friends who have led us to safety, helped guide us on our way. And we humbly pray that you would make us shepherds too. That you would inspire us and send us out to those people in need, that we might, with You, bring the lost and forgotten into Your fold, into your abundant pastures. Amen.
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."
1 The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. 2 He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters; 3 he restores my soul. He leads me in right paths for his name's sake. 4 Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I 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; my cup overflows. 6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long.