The Fourth Sunday of Easter (April 13, 2008)

The Shepherd of the Sheep

Lessons: Acts 2:42-47 Psalm 23 1st Peter 2:19-25 St. John 10:1-10

Prayer of the Day: O God our shepherd, you know your sheep by name and lead us to safety through the valleys of death. Guide us by your voice, that we may walk in certainty and security to the joyous feast prepared in your house, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.

10.1 "Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. 2 The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5 They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers." 6 Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.

7 So again Jesus said to them, "Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. 8 All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. 9 I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly."

St. John 10:1-10, 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).

The image of the shepherd is a familiar one to anyone who has studied the Hebrew Bible - the Christian Old Testament. The word is used some eight-five times, from the final words of Israel (in Genesis 48) who professes that God has been his shepherd all of his life - to some of the most well-known words of the Bible, the words of Psalm 23: "The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want" - to Ezekiel, who describes Israel as sheep without a shepherd, vulnerable to those who would destroy them - to Zechariah who rails against the "worthless shepherd who deserts the flock."

The Hebrew prophets kept a close eye on the leaders of Israel. They were aware that over the years Israel was served by many different kinds of shepherds. Some of them were good shepherds - striving to be faithful to God, concerned about the well-being of the people, committed to doing what is right, no matter the cost. Others of them were unfaithful shepherds - primarily interested in themselves and their own fortunes, willing to forsake the people for private gain, unconcerned about righteousness or justice. When the people of Israel were led by good shepherds, the whole nation prospered. When they were led by unfaithful shepherds, the whole nation suffered.

In this week's Gospel lesson, Jesus describes himself as the good shepherd. He knows his sheep by name. He goes out ahead of them, and they follow him (because they know his voice). He is the source of their salvation. He gives them the gift of abundant life. In describing himself this way, he identifies himself with the best of those who led Israel throughout the years. He also offers himself to us as our shepherd, if we should choose to follow him today.

However, it is not easy to allow him to be our shepherd. There are so many others who vie for our allegiance. A Christian speaker recently claimed that, "every television commercial is an argument that the Gospel is not true." That may have been a bit of an exaggeration, but there is an element of truth in what he said. Most commercials that reach our eyes and ears claim that if we purchase that particular product, or take advantage of that particular service, our lives will be immeasurably better. Many of these pitches are very appealing, but if we step back and look at them for what they are, we realize that they have only one purpose: to make money.

Jesus has a different purpose. He is interested in us. He is interested in our well-being. He wants us to receive forgiveness for our sin. He wants to redirect our lives, and help us live in the most meaningful way. He wants us to be at peace with God, with the world, and with ourselves. And so he says: "Follow me. Listen to my voice. Go where I go, and you will be well." Not because he has anything to gain if we accept his invitation and take advantage of his services. But because of his deep and abiding love for us.

Let us, this Easter season, be aware of the many ways in which the presence of Jesus enriches our lives. Let us do our best to follow only his voice - seeking forgiveness when we fail, and living gratefully when we are able. He is indeed the Good Shepherd, and his deepest desire is to lead us into abundant life.

David J. Risendal, Pastor  (April 8, 2008)

Exploring This Week's Text:

  1. Who were some of the unfaithful shepherds of the Old Testament, who led God's people astray?
  2. Who were some of the good shepherds of the Old Testament, who led them into peace and well-being?
  3. What are some examples of when people in the Bible experienced Jesus as the "good shepherd?"

Connecting with This Week's Text:

  1. What are some of the most compelling voices that call to me in this world?
  2. When have I heard God's voice calling to me, and calling me away from the destructive ways of the world?
  3. How do I discipline myself to spend time with God's word, so that I might distinguish it from all the other voices that call out for my allegiance?