I am the Good Shepherd.
The Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
We fasted for 40 days in Lent, and we are now to feast for 40 days to celebrate the resurrection of our Lord. Can you sustain that joy at the resurrection of our Lord? Perhaps we find it easier to lament than to rejoice? Is there a part of us that is holding back from celebrating, that worries that if things go too well, there will be trouble to pay? If that is the case, are we not living only halfway in the light of the resurrection of Jesus?
It is the universal experience of all people in all ages, that things go up and down in life, fortune seems fickle. In the ancient world, the largest temple ever built in Italy was dedicated to Fortuna, whose followers would attempt to satisfy, to worship, that goddess who supposedly governed our earthly fate. If only we didn’t need to suffer.
Yet that is not the God we worship. We worship the Christ who is over all things, who governs and guides us in the small things in our lives and also is great enough to contain the universal, drawing all, with a plan to redeem all, to bring into unity all things in a divine-earthly consummation at the end of time. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God. …the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to corruption and obtain the freedom of the glory of the children of God. [Romans 8:19, 21] [See Fr Crouse’s Sermon for Easter 2]
We worship a God who shepherds us, who is with us for good – who has a plan from the foundations of the world, who can bring good out of every evil. Jesus says in today’s Gospel [St John 10:11-16] – I am the Good Shepherd.
Why is Jesus a good shepherd?
Jesus contrasts himself with the hired hand. He says he owns the sheep and because of that he cares for them – unlike the hired hand.
He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.
God the Son is the One through whom all things were made – the Divine Logos – and in making us, His intention is to bring us to glory not to shame, to bring us to joy not to sorrow, to lasting peace not to anxiety, to everlasting life not to death.
And he proves this by coming to earth, to live among us, not seeking his own glory, but to transform us. He came to earth not to demand our obedience, but to woe us like a lover. He doesn’t want our worship, as if he was lacking anything, but calls us, draws us to worship what is worthy of worship, because what we worship is what are transformed by, is what we become like. And he wants us to become like him.
A worldly leader seeks his own glory, seeks a place in history, gets rich off the ones he leads – but the Good Shepherd, the divine shepherd, seeks the good of those being led, and he leads only because he knows what they really need – even as God the Father knows God the Son and the Son knows the Father – even so, are we united to God by our knowledge and love of God. I know my own and my own know me.
What does Jesus’ shepherding look like?
If you ask Christians about God’s shepherding, they will perhaps most easily speak about the experience of having doors closed and other doors opened, in relationships with others, in decisions about education and family and careers – an experience of the providential arranging of things in our lives outwardly, things that we couldn’t have controlled even if we tried, a hand beyond us. And often it takes a looking back much later to be able to see that it was indeed a Good hand. That is one example of God’s shepherding.
There is of course another external way we are shepherded. God chose to engage with His Creation, not only in Jesus Christ, but through a whole history with the people of Israel as a preparation, and in the giving the Law through Moses, through an engagement with this one people, that through their Descendant all people might be blessed. And in the fulness of time, the perfect time, He came in the flesh and dwelt among us, he died and rose again for us. All these engagements were recorded in the Bible by faithful witnesses – and God’s Word written, becomes a source of shepherding to us, sure and certain guidance. And that record of engagement of God in history does not end with the Scriptures in the 1st century – but is revealed in the writings and other arts of the faithful through the centuries since. In our experiences of life now, every experience, the highs, the lows, the boredoms, the sorrows, joys, we can find a correspondence with this external Word. And our hearts can burn within us as we read of God’s love meeting us in every situation.
But there is also the inward Shepherding – the Spirit of Jesus – promised to all who are baptised and believe – the Comforter, to bring very individual dreams and visions or miracles – a help in the working through our innermost anxieties and struggles, the untangling of knots in our understanding – a Spirit who speaks back to the Father within us, even when we have no words. A shepherding at the most individual and intimate level – leading us to step out in faith, to walk even in uncertainties, to trust without knowing all of what will happen.
In that stepping out, we can get lost, but even in that, we can experience God’s hand. When we try to control our lives excessively, making all the decisions for ourselves, to try to find love or to maximize joy, or pleasure, of the body and soul – and find ourselves in despair or distraught or in friendships that are not true. We experience again, a patient hand, a faithful Lover, a voice calling, to wake us up – to return to what is Good and True and Beautiful. A Good Shepherd. We were straying like sheep, but have now returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of our souls. [1 Peter 2:19-25] To the One who truly sees us, and cares for us.
And not just to draw us back from sin, but also simply to guide us in the most difficult and frightful and uncertain aspects life – reaching out to know and be known, in the most terrifying and wondrous of experiences of falling in love, and of being given responsibilities in life – family or work…and in preparing for death. The Good Shepherd is there – He knows our situation because He knows us, but he also shows us that he knows it, by taking flesh and uniting himself with our experience of unknowing, of our fragile human existence, and he went through suffering and the gates of death, and rose from the dead, to prepare our way, to give us confidence, and to continually renew our hope, our faith, and our love.
A good shepherd gathers and keeps gathered, the flock under his care, leading them to places where they will flourish. And if you have wandered outside of the flock for a while, as I have, you will be glad to have been gently brought back into a flock that is not together simply out of duty or out of compulsion or out of fear, not primarily, but out of a genuine love of fellowship of other Christians, with all our peculiarities and rough edges, and with our shared love of this man Jesus, who is God.
Maybe we are good at fasting and lamenting and being sorrowful for our sins – but Jesus doesn’t want us to stay there, he wants us to rejoice in His resurrection, not just for one day, on Easter, or for the 40 days of Eastertide, but always. [Philippians 4:4]
We have been gathered by Jesus this morning – but not to be slaughtered by the Good Shepherd and consumed. Jesus is the Good Shepherd, The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep… By his wounds [we] have been healed. [John 10:11 and 1 Peter 2:24]
This morning he continues to shepherd us – broken bread and wine outpoured become for us the Body and Blood of Jesus. He gives His life that we might find life and enjoy it everlastingly.
He is the Good Shepherd.