The Fourth Sunday of Easter (4/29/2012)
Lessons:Acts 4:5-12 Psalm 23 1st John 3:16-24 St. John 10:11-18
Prayer of the Day: O Lord Christ, good shepherd of the sheep, you seek the lost and guide us into your fold. Feed us, and we shall be satisfied; heal us, and we shall be whole. Make us one with you, for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
10:11 [Jesus said:] “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.”
St. John 10:11-18, New Revised Standard Version Bible (C)1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America.
Sheep and Shepherds
Sheep are among the dumbest of animals. I don’t want to offend any who might be sheep lovers, but it’s true. And I suspect that is why the Bible holds so many sayings about sheep. They are among the most trusting, obedient animals alive — not because they’ve rationally decided to be trusting and obedient, but because they aren’t smart enough to be any other. However, although they don’t have much independence or initiative, what they do have is a clear sense of who their master is, and what they should do when their master beckons.
A pastor tells a story about a hike on the Appalachian Trail in northern Georgia. Along the way he meets a shepherd. He begins to talk to the shepherd about sheep (probably looking for a sermon illustration). The shepherd tells him that the sheep do not all belong to him: some belong to another farmer. Late that afternoon the other farmer comes out to get his sheep. The Pastor wonders how they would tell them apart, but soon finds out that it is easy: the shepherd climbs on top of a stump and starts calling the sheep. Those who belong to him hear his voice, and follow because it is him. Those who do not belong to him hear the voice, consider it just another annoyance, and go back to what they were doing.
That is what Jesus has in mind in today’s Gospel lesson. The church lawyers and the religious scholars who oppose him are challenging him. They are asking him some difficult questions – trying to set him up. They are brilliant and shrewd characters, but Jesus is wiser yet, and meets their challenge with some brilliance of his own. They say to him, “How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Christ, tell us plainly.” He says:
I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me; but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep.
As he often does: he turns the question back towards them. He gives an answer, but not to their question. They ask, “Are you the Christ?” He answers, “You’ve seen my actions. You’ve heard my words. Yet you don’t believe. You may know much, but when it comes to what is most important, these sheep are wiser than you are, because they at least know who is taking care of them, and have the sense to follow him when he calls.”
What matters is that we have heard and come to recognize the Shepherd’s voice. It speaks to us through parents and grandparents and others who witness to us; through the words of Scripture in our times of private devotion and corporate worship; through the presence of Christ in the meal that we share. The voice of the Shepherd speaks to us in many and various ways. And its message for us is the word of God, saying: “You are mine. I love you. I will never let anything snatch you out of my hands.” That, indeed, is good news. May we hear it so well and so often, that when the symphony of voices calls out to us from this world, this voice rises above the chaos, as one that we recognize and trust.
David J. Risendal, Pastor
Exploring This Week’s Gospel:
- Why do the sheep recognize the voice of their shepherd?
- Why was that image an important one for Jesus to share with his listeners?
- What other voices do you suspect called out to the people of Jesus’ day?
Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:
- What voices do I hear calling out to me today?
- How much time do I spend listening to those voices, compared to the time I spend listening to God’s voice?
- When has God’s voice spoken to me in a way that contradicted other voices I hear, and called me to faithfulness?