Devotional Message: The Fourth Sunday of Easter; Year B (4/22/2018)

REVISED COMMON LECTIONARY TEXTS

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.

Good Shepherding

Shepherds get a pretty bad rap in the Hebrew Bible. There are a few positive references, the most notable being in the 23rd Psalm. But more often than not, the image of shepherd is used to indicate that the leaders of God’s people have fallen down on the job. “Then Micaiah said [to the kings of Israel and Judah], ‘I saw all Israel scattered on the mountains, like sheep that have no shepherd…’ ” (1st Kings 22) “My people have been lost sheep; their shepherds have led them astray, turning them away on the mountains; from mountain to hill they have gone, they have forgotten their fold.” (Jeremiah 50) “Therefore the people wander like sheep; they suffer for lack of a shepherd. My anger is hot against the shepherds, and I will punish the leaders; for the Lord of hosts cares for his flock, the house of Judah, and will make them like his proud war-horse.” (Zechariah 10)

From the days when Abraham and Sarah picked up and led their tribe, following God’s word into an unknown future, through the days when Moses and Aaron led God’s people from slavery to freedom, and for generations to follow, the leaders of God’s people have been called to “shepherd their flock faithfully.” Yet more often than not, these leaders fell to laziness and self-interest. In the days of Jesus, the leaders of Israel in Jerusalem seem more interested in the honor and privilege they enjoy as religious professionals than in caring for those God has entrusted to them.

So Jesus comes as a sign of a completely different way to lead. He is a good shepherd. The one who would die rather than lose one of his sheep. He knows his sheep. His sheep know him. He is aware of those who have not yet been welcomed into the flock, and he cares for them as much as those who already have been. He envisions his flock as experiencing a powerful unity — united to one another, and to the good shepherd who leads them. He has the power to do otherwise, but chooses to give of himself, for the good of the sheep.

It is an image of faithful leadership — of servant leadership — of leadership that takes the responsibility of shepherding seriously, and cares deeply for the flock. It is an image that speaks to us of the powerful love God has for us, expressed most poignantly in the suffering and death of Jesus. It is an image that we are called to embrace whenever we are charged with the wellbeing of others. It is no coincidence that the New Testament lesson assigned for this Sunday is a portion of 1st John: “We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us —and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help? Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.” (verses 16-18)

And so we ponder: how does the life-giving, self-sacrificing, love-focused care of a shepherd enlighten us as to what it means to be a parent, a teacher, a care-giver, a manager, a law enforcement officer, a member of the armed forces, an elected leader, a pastor… The Good Shepherd is a sign to us of the love of God, and of the love we are to have for one another.

David J. Risendal, Pastor

Exploring This Week’s Gospel:

  1. What difficulties did people face in the first century, that God helped them overcome?
  2. How do the actions of Jesus demonstrate his willingness to give of himself?
  3. In what ways did the disciples become good shepherds in the early church?

Connecting with This Week’s Gospel:

  1. Who has cared for me in a selfless manner?
  2. What has this extension of care meant to me, and to our relationship?
  3. In what roles do I find an opportunity to care for others, as a good shepherd might?