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By David Howell

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Preaching John 10:11-18

 


The lectionary passages for this day flood us with images far removed from where most of us find ourselves. Most of us are more likely surrounded by the noises of modern life, not the still waters and quiet pastures of these texts. We are more familiar with touch screens than pastoral scenes, blaring horns and loud machines, than soothing streams. If we are honest, our busy lives make it hard to hear or appreciate the power of these texts.

I do have some familiarity with sheep and pastoral scenes. I spent some time in my youth laboring on both dairy and sheep farms in New Zealand. My family even had a lamb—for a short time—for a pet. Let me tell you: lambs make lousy pets! In fact, our pet lamb was a disaster. It may have been cute, with its wagging tail, but it showed no affection. Lambs love to run and play in the grass, but not with people. They look so appealing in the pasture, but that is where they belong; not in your lap, not in your house. Moreover, lambs and sheep are really not very bright. They are jittery and frantic, generally afraid of everything. They wander off and get lost—that is why we hear that story several times in the Bible—this is what sheep do: wander off and get into trouble; get scared and get lost; get frantic and find themselves in need of help and rescue.

Actually, this truth about lambs make these passages that much more powerful. Jesus says “I am the good shepherd...who lays down his life for his sheep.” The psalm affirms, “The Lord is my shepherd.” See, this is not just serene, poetic imagery. This intends to be gospel for our lives because more often than not, we are more like sheep than we care to admit. We may know lots about a lot of things, but we are not very bright about some important things. We may be able to dignify ourselves, and solve many problems, maintain a space station, clone sheep, and count so many accomplishments. But we still remain jittery and afraid so much of the time. We live often in fear and lost-ness. We get frantic and often find ourselves in need of help and rescue.  

So these words convey something that remains so hard to grasp: we may live sophisticated lives in the midst of the city, but God, the Living Lord, cares for our needs. We maintain complex, often confusing days—going to work, juggling various pressures, worrying about the flu, fretting about the economy, reading about turmoil in some hot spot of the world, but the promise affirms—“I am the good shepherd.” The promise holds—the Lord provides for us, even through the darkest valley, even surrounded by wolves and other threats, even overwhelmed with changes and challenges.

We often find ourselves afraid and lost. We are often more like a jittery lamb than we want to admit. The image of the good shepherd proves nice and poetic. But it remains much more than that because we are too often more like fearful sheep, not making the best decisions, getting lost, needing rescue. And God tends to us, stays with us, cares, guides, seeks us, saves us.
 
In fact, this is what the whole biblical story is about—God’s people getting lost and then rescued by God, the good Shepherd. This is the theme of Genesis and Exodus, Numbers and Deuteronomy. It remains the theme of Judges and 1 & 2 Samuel and the books of Kings. It is the overarching theme of Holy Scripture. The people of God are more like lost sheep than the sophisticated co-creators with God that we like to think we are. We maintain more in common with the frantic and needy and unaffectionate lamb than the loyal, trusted servants that we want to be. God keeps caring for us, seeking us out, enfolding us in love and peace, carrying us to new life, not leaving us on our own. That does not mean that everything promises to be smooth and easy—in fact it will not be that way. But whatever happens, no matter what we deal with, no matter the magnitude of issues and challenges, heartache and setback—God shepherds us! This is the good news.

None of us ever know what circumstances might emerge in our lives. None of us can ever predict the wonderful, or the terrible, things that come our way. But here is what we also know—in life and in death we belong to God. Here is what we know—the Lord is our shepherd.  Jesus says “I am the good shepherd.” Whether we are running around frantic, or struggling with some major setback, this truth intends to shape us. Whether we are counting our blessings, or feeling totally covered up with doubt or despair or burden or loss, it is still true. We are known. We are cared for and held. There is one flock. God is shepherd.   

When this really seeps into our hearts and minds and lives, that we are God’s people, sheep of God’s pasture, we keep stepping up with our best love for one another, our best intentions at building community, our sincere efforts to use our gifts and talents for others, for the world.

Alex W. Evans

                   

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See Tom Steagald's Preaching Journal! Tom is the Pastor at Lafayette Street United Methodist Church in Shelby, NC, and adjunct professor at Hood Theological Seminary (AME, Zion) in Salisbury, NC. Tom has just published Shadows, Darkness and Dawn: A Lenten Journey with Jesus (Upper Room). Previous titles include Praying for Dear Life and Every Disciple's Journey, both from NavPress. He is a frequent contributor to Feasting on the Word, The Abingdon Preaching Annual, and other preaching resources. Tom's journal will detail each week's work to "discover" the sermon to be preached at Lafayette Street. Follow FestHomiletics on Twitter 

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