Fourth Sunday of Easter, Year A
Psalm 23 - link to BCP text
John 10:1-10 - link to NRSV text
If you haven't seen it before, you might want to check out my entry from last year, "The Parable of the Ninety-Nine (or Why It's Probably a Good Thing that Sheep Don't Talk)" for one take on what kind of a shepherd Jesus is and how much that often contrasts with our own peer-shepherding.
The Lord is my shepherd.
For a lot of us urbanites, that doesn't have a lot of content, aside from that shepherds are people who take care of sheep. We have little idea what's involved in that. Personally, when I hear the word "shepherd," the image that comes to my mind immediately is what the children look like when dressed as shepherds in the Christmas pageant -- well-scrubbed and adorable figures with dish towels on their heads and clad in striped bathrobes who often need a fair amount of shepherding themselves to get on and off stage at the right points. In other words, the picture that comes to my mind doesn't have a whole lot to do with what Jesus is talking about here.
Shepherds had a hard life, since they faced all of the hardships of the hostile landscape through which they herded their sheep. Being with the flock, they faced all of the dangers and difficulties that the flock faced, and they were just as vulnerable -- to heat in the day, to cold at night, and to human and animal predators at all times. They slept with their flocks on nights when there were few enough predators for them to sleep at all; they were seen as poor prospects as husbands and fathers, since they had to leave their families alone and vulnerable at night as well.
That's the kind of life Jesus lives for and with us. Jesus journeys with the most vulnerable, and takes on all of their vulnerability. He knows what it's like to be out in the cold. He knows what he's saying when he calls people to leave their homes and villages, and even their families, since he had done the same himself. He knows what it's like to have people think that you're crazy or irresponsible because of what you leave behind and let go of, because people said the same things about him.
And he knows something else, too: this crazy life he lived, and calls us to live, is abundant life (John 14:10). It's THE abundant life, to be precise.
How could that be? Jesus of all people knows the risks and the hardships, the cost of the life he's leading. But Jesus is the shepherd, and he knows that as hard as it can be to follow the shepherd, it's much better than being prey for the others, thieves and bandits.
It may be costly to confess Jesus as Lord, but there are two ways to that confession which are implicit in this Sunday's gospel.
The first is that if Jesus is Lord, then the position is filled; no others need apply. If Jesus is not Lord, then there are countless others who will try to take that position in your life: bosses, politicians, parents; acquisitions, ambitions, causes; always just one more favor to do, one more promotion to get, one more enemy to defeat, before you can rest secure. Bob Dylan was right when he sang, "You've Gotta Serve Somebody," and those other would-be masters are bad news, keeping us penned with anxiety and work toward things which never turn out to be quite what was promised -- international, personal, or job "security" which really mean a lifetime of vigilance while trying to deny or hide vulnerabilities that are still very real.
The second is the Good News. Jesus is the good shepherd. Like his Father, he leads us together to what we need: food, water, air; true security, deep rest, and real love. Trusting him frees us to enjoy all of those good gifts as fully as God gives them, and the richness of God's blessings are far beyond what I know how to describe. When he's our shepherd, we experience abundant life that no thief can take away. When he's the gate, there's no need for us to try to do that job for him, and our anxieties about whether the "wrong" sort of people are getting in are replaced with freedom to love whomever we find ourselves with in the flock. Jesus is our Lord and shepherd, and so we need fear no evil; surely, as we follow him, goodness and mercy will follow us.
Thanks be to God!
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I've just put a song link up on the hymnal that might be useful for the Psalm23 reading..
titled "meet me in the middle of the air"
Posted by: darren | Apr 13, 2005 7:34:12 AM
Very deep & insightful commentary. The text this week is a great opportunity for we itenerate pastors who have just informed our congregations we will be moving on to also remind them who the shepherd truly is!
Posted by: todd | Apr 15, 2005 5:52:07 PM
Your thoughts -- last paragraph especially -- Amen. I've just fought a few painful rhetorical rounds about The Troubles with someone on a discussion forum, and you gave me a gracious "talking point.";-)
Posted by: LutheranChik | Apr 15, 2005 7:06:56 PM
Good thoughts about either having Jesus as Lord, or who knows who else. Good Dylan quote on that. In case someone, oddly enought, isn't comfortable quoting Dylan in a sermon, he's the equivalent thougth from Martin Luther, from the commentary on the First Commandment in the Large Catechism:
"I tell you, whatever you set your heart on
and rely on is really your god."
Posted by: William | Apr 7, 2008 9:27:25 AM