Broad Brook Congregational Church
May 11, 2014
Fourth Sunday of Easter
This Sunday apart from being called: The fourth Sunday of Easter, and Mother’s Day; it is also known as the Good Shepherd Sunday. That is because in each lectionary year the scriptures on this Sunday revolve around the image of God incarnate as a shepherd and we the sheep.
At the core of Israel’s understanding of God is the notion that God will shepherd the people. Isaiah 40:11KJV speaks about God, And the prophet says: “He will feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep.” God is the protector and provider of the people.
In our text, Jesus refers to himself as the gate and the shepherd. This presents theological issues that should not be understood apart from the Gospel itself and the canonical pathway of the Bible. It would take a sermon series to jump all the hurdles presented by this text. Not only did the Pharisees have trouble understanding what Jesus was saying but it is baffling to us as well. The Good news is: we will touch briefly on some of the concerns and get to the nugget of truth in our text and leave the rest for another time.
The image of the gate implies a fence. A gate is not free standing. Who is in and who is out? The identity of the shepherd and understanding of Jesus’ sacrifice as being redemptive leads to questions like: Is Jesus’ sacrifice exclusive? How do we understand the nature of being saved? Which leads to yet another question:
How are other shepherds to be regarded? Moreover, the Gospel of John is advocating a life-giving community. How does that fit into the issues raised by our questions?
Those are just a nibble out of the theological feast that can be found in our text. What I want to focus on relates more to the sense of hearing. Voice is at the heart of this scripture for me. The shepherd “calls his own sheep by name and leads them out…he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice vv.3-4.”
The shepherd calls his sheep by name! That is both a comfort AND a bit unnerving.
What an awesome thought to know that Christ knows us not just superficially but deeply— knows us by our name. But the flip side of the coin is that he KNOWS us.
We can’t escape— knows the number of hairs on our heads or in some cases the lack thereof.
Then there is the fact that we know Jesus. We know him by his voice. The voice we know is what we have in the Bible—the Gospels, Paul’s letters, and the Acts of the Apostles. We have four different images of Jesus from the Gospels. Perhaps the best way to know Jesus is to understand him as a composite of those images. We know his voice pretty well. But do we know his voice as the still speaking God of today?
There are so many voices in our hectic, self-indulgent, entitled world-view.
How can we hear God speaking? And then how can we be sure it is God who is speaking? There are shepherds that are vying for our listening ears; false shepherds that appeal to our wants and not our needs. How do we distinguish the true shepherd from the false ones?
The more we embrace Jesus’ teachings the easier it is for us to recognize The Good Shepherd’s voice. Loving our neighbors, both near and far is still the same command today as it was when Jesus taught his disciples. Treating each other with respect and kindness is the same today as in Jesus’ time. The names of the neighbors have changed from those Jesus encountered, but not the fact that they have the same hopes and dreams as we do.
The disciples on the road to Emmaus did not recognize Jesus’ voice. It was in the breaking of bread that their eyes were opened. As we break bread with our neighbors and our eyes are opened, the more we are able to recognize
The Good Shepherd in others. The more we are able to do that, the deeper we will come to know Jesus and the easier it will be for us to hear our still speaking Good Shepherd.
Through prayer life, we can still the noises of the outside world and listen for the voice of our shepherd. Prayer can be a conversation with God. It can be a time of meditation. It can be a time of silence that opens up a space for God to enter.
There is no need to be concerned about the way you pray. You do not have to use big fancy words. God simply wants to hear from you on a regular basis. Anne Lamott says there are three essential prayers:
Help: God help me and state how you need help.
Thanks: Thank God when help arrives.
Wow: praise God for all our blessings even the small ones. Make prayer a habit. Prayer can help us to know and hear the voice of our shepherd.
I want to share a story that I found on a website called “on the chancel steps.”
“ One day Pastor Catherine was at the grocery store. There she saw a mother with her baby daughter. The baby daughter was not happy; she was in the seat of the grocery cart crying at the top of her lungs. The mother was trying to shop
as quickly as possible but the baby just kept crying and crying and crying. The mother was speaking very softly and saying beautiful words of comfort.
“It’s okay Susie. I’m sorry you are upset. It was not a good idea to stop at the store now, but in a few minutes this will be finished and then you can go home and have your favorite lunch and I’ll tuck you into bed for a nice nap. Don’t cry Susie.
I love you. I am here. It will be okay.”
And the mother just kept saying these soothing words over and over while the baby kept crying. When Pastor Catherine was leaving the grocery store,
she saw the mother loading the groceries into the car and putting her baby into the car seat. Pastor Catherine went over to the young mother and said,
“Excuse me, I just wanted to say what a good job you are doing. You were speaking so lovingly while your daughter was so upset. You are a great mother to Susie.”
The young mother stopped and looked kind of puzzled and then said,
“Oh. My daughter is Janet. I am Susie. I was saying the words I know Jesus would say to comfort me.”
While that story is funny, it is also poignant. If Susie did not know Jesus’ voice,
if she did not know Jesus, she could not have heard him speaking those words to her. But she knew Jesus so deeply that she knew just how he would comfort her.
This reminds us that we can trust Jesus to be there in the midst of our distress—
calling out for help— and upon receiving comfort we can simply say Thanks. Wow!
Like sheep trusting the shepherd to care for them, we too trust in Jesus to care for each of us. If we are truly Easter people, we live with the assurance that Jesus will always be there with us in times of joy, in times of sorrow, in times of depression,
in times of good moments and bad, in times of fear and in times of comfort.
God is our shepherd and calls us by name. We know God’s voice and we follow.
There is nothing that can separate us from the love of God.
These are my thoughts on our text for this morning. I say them in the greatest of hope. Amen.