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"The Good Shepherd" Fourth Sunday of Easter - April 30, 2023

Updated: May 8, 2023



Today is the fourth Sunday of Easter, traditionally called Good Shepherd Sunday. Which sounds nice, right? But for the preacher…it becomes a bit of a chore. I mean, what else can I say about shepherds and sheep? What other interesting tidbits and facts about shepherding can I bring myself to regurgitate once again? I don’t even know any jokes about shepherds. Wait…I know one joke about sheep. (Interrupting sheep joke). Well, thankfully, the Scriptures…we get to wrestle with them, we get to keep mining them and discover something affirming and (hopefully) life giving despite this preacher’s limitations. And…it’s undeniable that the image of the shepherd is one that has shaped imaginations for quite some time.


Ancient Egyptian, Babylonian, and Persian gods were spoken of as shepherds. Throughout the Old Testament the figure of the shepherd is used time and again – about how God leads the people. Aristotle wrote, “(The king) is the benefactor of his people, devoting his whole talents to their welfare, and tends them as a shepherd does a sheep…” BUT then he wrote about actual shepherds, “…they are the laziest of people, who lead an idle life, their flocks wandering, poor laborers working a traveling farm.” AND in Jesus’ day, in his culture, they were actually a despised group. Their nomadic lifestyle kept them away from home, which subjected their wives to dishonor. The very nature of their work kept them in a perpetual state of “uncleanliness” which closed them off from community religious life. WHAAT? Shepherds were excluded from their community of faith….It seems, the religious culture loved using the language about the shepherd, but when it came to the life of the shepherd – they excluded them from community.


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“What do you mean you’ve been healed?!”

“What’s all this nonsense you’re talking about? Jesus couldn’t heal you like that…and even if he did it’s the Sabbath. You can’t heal on the Sabbath. Right here…right here…in our book that’s what it says. That’s the law.”

“We know…we know because we are disciples of Moses AND we know God spoke to Moses. This Jesus, though, we don’t know about him.”

“Get out of here…you may be able to see now but to us…you’re still just a blind old fool.”


That’s what they said to him right before they kicked him out of their community of faith. They, being the religious authorities of the time…that’s what the religious leaders said to the man born blind who had been given sight, who had been healed, saved…that’s what they said to him before they expelled him.


Their voices strong, confident, certain in their belief according to the law. So confident in fact, they just refused to believe that someone like that could find a place in their community.


You see…we have to know this story. We have to know it because it directly relates to what we’re hearing from Jesus this morning. We have to know that after Jesus heard of this man’s expulsion from community that he went toe to toe with those same religious leaders. We have to know that he confronted them, we have to know that he called them blind. We have to know that we should ignore where chapter 9 ends and chapter 10 begins in our Bibles, because this is the same scene, same people, same religious leaders, it’s to them that Jesus says,


Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in another way is a thief and a bandit.


That’s who he’s talking to – the same holy rollin’, scripture thumpin’, zealots that sent the blind man away…that’s who he’s talking to. That’s who he calls thieves and bandits. Because of how they excluded this man from community…and then what image, what symbol, what language does he begin to unpack for them…?? The Shepherd.


But how he’s describing the shepherd, it’s not the kingly descriptions of the Ancient Egyptians or Persians, he’s not waxing philosophical like Aristotle, and he’s not even necessarily going word for word with what these Jewish religious leaders know and quote from their own sacred texts. This shepherd…is at the gate, sleeping on the ground through the night. This shepherd…knows his sheep so well he’s nicknamed them. This shepherd...his voice leads them to pasture because he knows which pastures to lead them. It’s a real shepherd.


Jesus is using the shepherd image that these religious fat cats just love, but he’s describing the very kind of shepherd that they have excluded from their community along with so many others. And he’s telling them “That’s the kind of shepherd I am….Because that’s the kind of shepherd God is. The One who’s come for everyone – even those who make you uncomfortable, even those who you find justification in your holy book to exclude, even those who you deem unworthy.”


Now, when I’m hearing Jesus say “I am the Good Shepherd” – and I know he’s saying that to the Pharisees and Scribes – what I hear him saying is, “I am the good shepherd. I am good at shepherding. You might like to talk about it. But, I am actually good at it.” Jesus is looking at these leaders who are supposed to be the shepherds of the house of Israel, but the very kind of shepherding that’s needed - offends them. It’s reminiscent of a quote I learned when I first moved to West Texas many years ago – “All hat, no cattle.” Yall know what I mean?

This time, it’s just “All staff, no sheep.”


Yes…it’s wild to think about a religious culture that loved to use the language about the good shepherd but when it came to the life of the good shepherd, they wanted nothing to do with him. Kinda like how you and I live in a religious culture that loves to use the language about Jesus but when it comes to embracing the life of Jesus, well…you know….

And I could get cynical about it…I could. Sometimes I have. But then I see something…I see something being expressed through people…

Like…this past week. Last week of the month is always a week of meetings. One of those is finance. All of the folks that serve on finance, I love them – they’re all servants with big hearts. We’re looking at the budget, we’re looking at numbers, we’re looking at some real needs and challenges. In moments like that, I can go somewhere in my head – kind of a worry mixed with a need to prove. So, all this is going on and I’m stuck inside my own head…and do you know what David Stidham said? Do you know what he had the gall to say? He said…


“You know I’ve served this church for many years and there’s always been talk about growing our budget. But you know, what matters to me most…is growing our people.” And in that moment, without knowing it, he reminded me of my call.


That’s shepherding. That’s a good shepherd.


Do yall know Sammy and Shannon Bertrand? If you don’t – you should.

For well over a year they’ve been Foster Parents. Opening their home and giving love to kids who have been excluded in ways…I’ll never be able to understand. Right now…they have two beautiful boys. They bring them to church every Sunday. For however long they get to show them love, they do…


That’s shepherding. Those are good shepherds.


A little later this afternoon, at 2pm – yall could come by here and see Margaret Jenkins be surrounded by around 20 children whose parents are immigrants and refugees from South Sudan. These families have been worshiping in our Children’s Chapel every Sunday afternoon – because they have no place to worship. Two weeks ago they baptized 15 people. More on that at a later time – but when you watch Margaret with those kids…you know what you’re watching.


Shepherding. That’s a good shepherd.


These are just a few that are running through my mind this week. I could go on and on…

I’m sharing these with you, because I don’t think Jesus intended for us to be fixed on the stained glass image of him carrying a sheep, so we could have the warm fuzzies for being part of the flock. That’s what happens when we get so caught up in worshipping Jesus that we excuse ourselves from following Jesus…


Who is indeed the good shepherd, but one who reminds us all…


to be good shepherds too.


Amen.
















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