Sermon for the Fourth Sunday of Easter

Text: John 10:14
I am the good shepherd. As the Father knows me and I know the Father, in the same way I know my sheep and they know me. And I am willing to die for them

Confidence in the Good Shepherd

There is Patch and Cuddles and Possum and two others whose names I can’t remember.  They are guinea pigs and belong to our Adelaide and Townsville grandchildren.  I don’t think these guinea pigs realise just how good they’ve got it.  They are cuddled, bathed, brushed, have ribbons tied in their fur, fed all kinds of delicacies, nursed, wheeled around in strollers and wagons, and live in houses that move around on the back lawn with a never ending supply of fresh green grass.  Guinea pigs aren’t the smartest creatures in the world but they know when they are safe.  Patch, Cuddles, Possum and the others are very comfortable with all of those little hands holding them and fussing over them and as those little hands lovingly stroke them, they ‘burble’ with contentment.  They may not be all that smart but they know their owners.

When they are handed over to a stranger, like me, they know it and start to shudder and squeak and don’t look happy until they are back in the hands they know.  I’m sure they get bumped around and jostled by those little hands at times, but those are the hands they trust.  Maybe they don’t even know why they trust those hands but they just do.  It is in those hands that they feel the safest.

Now if a guinea pig whose intelligence and emotional response in no way compares to that of us humans, how is it that we humans get it so wrong when it comes to trusting the loving hands of Jesus.  We know he loves us.  He has proven it on the cross. He has spoken words of love through the pages of the Scriptures.  He has claimed us as a loving brother or sister through Baptism, and every time we celebrate Holy Communion, we are again given his love as we eat and drink his body and blood.  There are times when we ‘burble’ with contentment; but there are times when we ‘shudder’ with anxiety and worry and discontentment. 

Today is known as “Good Shepherd Sunday”.  We’ve heard the 23rd Psalm in our service this morning, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. … 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”.  And then in John’s Gospel we heard Jesus say, I am the good shepherd. As the Father knows me and I know the Father, in the same way I know my sheep and they know me. And I am willing to die for them”. When you stop and think about this image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd there is this feeling of closeness, connectedness, care, concern, knowing, intimacy, affection, understanding, and nearness.  There is a special relationship between the shepherd and his sheep.  And this is strange.

Now I don’t know about you but I don’t find sheep particularly endearing.  From a distance they might look nice grazing in a green paddock but up close you can’t cuddle them, you can’t get close to them, they are skittish, stubborn, strong-willed, and not too bright when it comes to being herded from one place to another.  I’m sure a sheep has no appreciation of everything that a farmer does for it, and if it does, it doesn’t know how to show it.

I’m not sure that Jesus really got his imagery right here.  He is saying that he is the Good Shepherd – the one who is close, connected, caring, concerned, knowing, intimate, affectionate, understanding, and loving to a bunch of skittish, stubborn, strong-willed, and not too bright sheep. Why would he want to be a shepherd to such a bunch of numbskulls who are oblivious to all that Jesus has to offer? 

But that’s just the point Jesus is making.  He has just finished talking about the person who is hired to look after sheep.  The hired person has no intimate, close, connected, caring relationship with the sheep and the minute there’s any danger, he’s off and abandons the sheep.  He leaves them to fend for themselves in the face of the worst kind of danger – the sharp teeth and claws of a wolf.  A sheep is defenceless in the face of such danger.

Jesus is making the point that he is our shepherd, no more than that, he is our “good” shepherd.  We might say he is the “real deal”, the “genuine article”. 
This shepherd loves his sheep so much;
he knows the needs of his sheep so well;
he understands their fears and lack of confidence;
he feels for them when they are defenceless and “shudder’ with fear and anxiety;
he knows they are stubborn, strong-willed and skittish;
but still he will give his life for them – that’s how close his relationship with this bunch really is.
And we really enjoy his close presence and the comfort this gives and like the guinea pigs we “burble” with contentment.

We know that our “burble” can turn to “shuddering” so quickly when there is a turn of events or it might just be that we see only the negative side of things and not the good things in the people or the events that are happening in our lives and in the lives of others.  We become anxious, stressed and generally negative. 

We can think this way about ourselves as we focus on what’s not good in our lives;
or we can focus on how a turn of events has affected us and has turned our happiness into a stressful time;
or we can look around at others, including those in our church, and only see what’s not right and become negative about everything and lead to a breakdown in friendships and relationships.

Jesus knows that none of this is good for us so he draws our attention today to the close intimate relationship that he has with us.  Jesus says, “As the Father knows me and I know the Father, in the same way I know my sheep and they know me”. There is an intimate personal relationship between God the Father and God the Son.  By the way, this intimacy between the Father and the Son is far greater than we can hardly begin to imagine and yet Jesus says that this same intimate personal relationship is imitated between him and us.  That is mind-blowing and not to be taken lightly.

Jesus draws us close to him.  He knows us better than we know ourselves. He knows our unique weaknesses and temptations that no one else knows. And he treasures each of us because of our uniqueness.  Even when we are being downright awful, or when we can do nothing but “shudder” in fear and anxiety, Jesus still regards us as special and precious.

Going back to where I started – a guinea pig is so trusting in the hands of his owner as young as that owner is and as small as the hands that hold him are.  Patch, Cuddles and Possum can burble away knowing who is holding them securely and stroking them. 

We have the same assurance.  We have the Good Shepherd who said, “I know my sheep, and my sheep know me.... My sheep listen to my voice; I know them and they follow me.”  
Jesus is inviting you who face despair, pain, temptation and every kind of discomfort to be strengthened and comforted with the knowledge that Jesus understands, he cares, and he will rescue you. 
When you feel alone and empty, when it even appears that your friends have deserted you and are no longer sympathetic to your feelings, Jesus fills you with his power and comfort. 
When you are feeling negative and believe everyone else has let you down, Jesus is the one positive person who will never let you down.
When you worry about the future (especially at this time as our congregation goes through this time of change)
– what direction to take, what will happen, who will help us, how will we cope – we don’t know the answers to the questions we have, however, there is one who does.  Everything is in his hands. 

He is our Lord and the Lord of the Church.  He will not leave or desert his church.  He has a plan and we will need to learn to trust our Good Shepherd.  He knows us and our congregation and what the future holds for us.  It will be different than the past, that we can be certain about.  It might even frighten us a bit as we travel into unfamiliar territory.  It might make us anxious as we leave behind familiar and well-worn paths and walk along new ones. 

But think back.  History records that the Good Shepherd has journeyed close by our side.  Even when we have lacked the faith to step out and try something new he has been patient with us and will keep on giving us fresh opportunities. 

I believe that all this talk about shepherds has implications for us as individuals in this church as well.  We are to be shepherds to one another.  When we are becoming discouraged and overwhelmed with the negative, confused, overcome with sadness and sorrow, there is nothing better than someone who is like a shepherd to us to comfort, reassure and redirect our trust and give us confidence.  As members of this church it is our responsibility, the responsibility of all of us, to be shepherds and carers of one another.

The story of his goodness to each of us and to this church has just begun.  His goodness will continue on and guide us all our days.

“As the Father knows me and I know the Father, in the same way I know my sheep and they know me” (John 10:14).

© Pastor Vince Gerhardy
26th April 2015

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