April 22, 2018

Scriptures Used: John 10:11-18, 1 John 3, Psalm 23

 

Jesus and his disciples are on their way to Jerusalem, and they come across a man who had been born blind. The disciples ask Jesus who had sinned for the man to be blind: was it the man himself or did he receive punishment for his parents’ sins? Jesus responds that neither was true. Instead, he tells them the man was blind so that God could be glorified. Jesus heals the man, and the man is grateful. He had experienced lostness, and he had been healed.

 

The religious leaders learn of the miracle. It concerns them. It does not follow the rules of what they know, and it was not one of their own who had done this miracle. They were not sure it was from God, and they care very deeply that it is God who is glorified, but they do not recognize Jesus as one who can do such a miracle. Jesus tells them those who think they can see cannot, and those that think they are blind will be given sight.

 

In the events that follow, Jesus speaks of his role as the true shepherd of God’s lost sheep.

 

As offensive as it may seem, there is a reason people are often referred to as sheep throughout the Bible. Sheep were a familiar creature. Their ancestors Abraham, Isaac, and Joseph were all shepherds, as were the leaders of the nation Moses and David.  The imagery resonated with them on a cultural level.

 

But the connection is in our behavior, people act like sheep. We follow the crowds; we will follow almost any leader that makes the first move; we can be blind to what is around us as we search for green pastures. We are susceptible to predators. As 1 John 3 tells us, even our own hearts can lead us down the wrong paths.

 

Sheep get lost. We need a shepherd who can lead us.

 

There are three major lessons about why Jesus is the Good Shepherd in this passage:

  • The Good Shepherd is trustworthy.
  • The Good Shepherd is personal.
  • The Good Shepherd is inclusive.

 

In the eight verses where Jesus proclaims himself to be the Good Shepherd, he makes three individual statements about his willingness to sacrifice himself for the sheep. Last night, Emily and I were watching a show that was centered on a fireman who was fundraising for his firehall, and during the interview, the fireman quoted John 15:13, “Greater love has no one than to lay down one’s life for another.” That is what Jesus is saying here. We trust the Good Shepherd, because we already know he was willing to give us his life for the sake of people.

 

To deepen the relationship, the Good Shepherd knows the sheep personally. The 23rd psalm beautifully illustrates this point: “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside still waters. He restores my soul.”

 

Passages like these speak to each one of us on a personal level. Restoration, being fed, taken to places of rest are personal. The valley of the shadow of death, the presence of evil, are personal. God is willing to get personal, and God won’t fail us in those personal moments. Jesus calls to us like a shepherd calls the sheep, and we know deep in our soul the sound of his voice.

 

In the Methodist Church, we speak often of grace – God’s working in our lives. One type of grace is what is known as prevenient grace. Prevenient means “to go before.” God goes before us in our lives and helps shape what happens to us so that we will be motivated to turn toward God in our hours of joy and of need. Everyone is subject to prevenient grace – not just Christians – which leads us to understand that God interacts in the lives of all individuals.

 

It also leads us to hear what Jesus says in verse 16: “I have other sheep that don’t belong to this sheep pen. I must lead them too. They will listen to my voice and there will be one flock, with one shepherd.” Even when we think the love of God can only stretch to the ones who are willing to receive it, we find that there are others out there who God also claims as God’s own people.

 

God’s love is so broad that God wants everyone, even those who do not yet know Jesus. Later in this gospel, Jesus refers to himself as the Way, the Truth, and the Life. When we read that statement in light of this one, we hear something very real about Jesus: that he is going to pursue everybody, because his is the path to eternal life. No matter how lost anyone is, the Good Shepherd is going to look for them, because it is through him that they are saved.

 

For those of us who are part of the flock now, we are being led by one who cares for us. Sometimes, it is difficult to follow the path Jesus leads us on. The shepherd is good, but the world around us is not yet good. It is full of darkness and cloud; predators are everywhere; it is of great importance that we follow the Shepherd that will lead us through it all.

 

God asks us to follow, and we choose to follow for this reason: There is great love in the Good Shepherd. We believe in him. He is trustworthy; he knows us deeply; he is willing to take on the aches and pains of the whole world if it means another person will be brought in to the kingdom of God. That is a message worth sharing with the whole world: the Lord is your shepherd, too.

 

I want to close with this: tomorrow is the 50th anniversary of the birth of the United Methodist Church. On April 23, 1968, the Methodist Church joined with the Evangelical United Brethren Church to form the United Methodist Church. Part of the coming together was also the dissolution of the Central Conference within the Methodist Church, which was essentially desegregation of the denomination. This move is less discussed but just as powerful, given the ceremony occurred only weeks after the assassination of Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.

 

Before and after the ceremony, delegates were protesting in the streets of Dallas on the segregation still present, the war in Vietnam, and prayers lifted on the troubles brewing in Northern Ireland and Czechoslovakia. In the words of Dr. King’s book written on the sign of a newly appointed district superintendent in Dallas: “Where Do We Go From Here…Chaos or Community?”

 

The United Methodist Church has been a voice proclaiming God’s presence in the church and in the public square since our inception. We have actively pursued righting the wrongs of history in our witness, and all the while, we have leaned upon the Good Shepherd to find us, to guide us, to protect us, and to offer grace and salvation to the whole world.