Good shepherd, by Pastor Noel

May 12, 2019       4th Sunday of Easter, C


      Last Sunday the risen Christ met his disciples on a beach. He gave them breakfast, fed them with bread and fish. Then he bestowed leadership on Peter and said, “Feed my sheep.”

      With those words, Peter was invited to be a shepherd, and we are invited to be shepherds.

      Today we hear part of the “Good Shepherd” passage in John. (The whole passage is spread over the three years of the lectionary cycle for 4 Easter.)

      Here we are not called to be shepherds, but to hear the voice of the Good Shepherd, Jesus, who calls us his sheep.

      Sheep, shepherd—does this sound contradictory? How can we be both sheep and shepherd? How can we be what Jesus calls us to be?

      Because so much of the Bible is linked together, we can never really take any passage from Scriptures in isolation. We need to look at the whole “Good Shepherd” story to understand what kind of sheep/shepherd we are called to be.

      Jesus says that he is the gate to the sheepfold. It is through knowing Jesus that we enter into the abundant life that only he brings.

      This abundance is not material. It is not wealth or goods or even health. Abundant life is rich in wellness that is spiritual, emotional, even physical.

      It is the life of peace, joy and love that we have as we step into the eternal stream of God’s grace and mercy, God’s will for all creation.

      Jesus says that he is the Good Shepherd and he lays down his life for his sheep. He calls us to be one flock under one shepherd.

      Then Jesus goes further than calling himself a shepherd, even a Good Shepherd. He says that he and the Father are one. Whatever you see me do, he says, the Father is doing.

      To the people hearing Jesus, those 2000 years ago, this was blasphemy. Cause for death! In fact, the next line after our passage is, “They picked up stones to kill him.”

      Jesus knows that not everyone will hear and understand. So he says to us that his sheep hear his voice, they understand. Jesus’ sheep hear the truth and know that Jesus is God and God is Jesus.

      Whatever God is, and does, Jesus is, and does.

      The early church struggled with this, and we have the Nicene Creed as their answer to how this can be—that Jesus and the Father are one.

      So to be a sheep, as Jesus invites us, is to believe that whatever Jesus did is what God would do, and have us do.

      To be a sheep is to take up the other invitation we heard last week from Jesus, “Follow me.”

      John O’Grady writes, “To be God’s children…part of God’s family, presupposes this relationship with Jesus. To be saved means that (there is room in our hearts) for the presence of Jesus.

      To be Jesus’ sheep is to trust in God’s goodness for us, to live the powerful words of Psalm 23. The psalm calls us to have comfort in God’s presence, and to be strong and take risks because of that presence.

      Our personal relationship with Jesus is crucial if we are to know who he really is, and what that means for our lives.

      But no one can be a Christian alone. (Unless stranded on a desert island.) The Christian life, the life of following Jesus, is communal.

      Like sheep, we live in a flock that starts with those closest to us and extends all over the earth. Those worshiping God, we read in Revelation, are “from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages.”

      So Jesus calls us to be shepherds and to care for his flock as he did, as God does.

      The theme of shepherd is found throughout Scripture. In Ezekiel we read that God is the shepherd of Israel. God sets up David as shepherd and prince, and “he will feed his people.”

      This passage is read at the Feast of the Dedication—when the rebuilt Temple is honored. We know this holy time as Hanukkah, the setting for this gospel story.

      Ezekiel would have been fresh on the peoples’ minds, so the idea of sheep and shepherds to explain himself made good sense for Jesus. 

      Those who questioned if Jesus were really the Messiah did so because he was not what they expected. If Jesus were like David, he would be a warrior king, and that he definitely was not.

      They expected power, he came serving. They expected judgment, he came healing. They expected vengeance and found forgiveness.

      In living this way, Jesus shows us how God wants us to live. This is how we are called to be shepherds.

      We are sheep as we trust God, and know God’s promises to be true, like the promise of spring that is unfolding for us now.

      We are shepherds as we live these promises so that others will experience God’s goodness and learn to love and trust, too.

      There are as many ways to be shepherds as there are Sundays—probably even more than that!

      When I served at St. Michael’s in Bristol, RI, I could stand at the altar and look out through the big glass doors and see the world passing by. It always reminded me that what we do here in worship is important, but we have much more time out there to be both sheep and shepherd.

      We can take care of God’s world.  We can take care of God’s people. It costs hardly anything to help supply clean drinking water or nets to protect from malaria.

      It costs almost nothing to spend time with a friend or neighbor. It costs nothing but some time to sit and just be with God in silence.

      Today is the start of this year’s Episcopal Charities Fund drive here at St. John’s. We have the opportunity to help take care of God’s people here in RI with a donation. Across the state God’s people are fed with meals and food pantries. They have medical care and rides to get to it.  We can help take care of many needs for many people.

      Today is also Mother’s Day. All over the country moms are getting breakfast in bed, lunch or dinner at a fancy restaurant, cards, flowers, candy. All that is a lovely way to say thank you.

      And I want to remind you of the origins of this day. It began with a “Mother’s March for Peace.”

      Women marched to protest war and say that no more sons should be lost this way. Today there are more ways to lose our sons and daughters. More need for us to do whatever we can to help end hatred that leads to violence.

      Please remember what Mother’s Day is really about, even as we enjoy, or give, the pampering.

      Hear Jesus call his sheep to be heralds of peace.

The Rev. Noel Bailey

The Reverend Noel Bailey was born in Providence, is now back in RI for the 4th time, and hopes that this stay is longer than some of the others. She was ordained Priest at St. Michael's, Bristol, in May 1988, More details