Week of Sunday May 15: Easter 4
Gospel: John 10:1-19
1 The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.
2 He makes me lie down in green pastures;
he leads me beside still waters;
3 he restores my soul.
He leads me in right paths
for his name’s sake.
4 Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I fear no evil;
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff—
they comfort me.
5 You prepare a table before me
in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil;
my cup overflows.
6 Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me
all the days of my life,
and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord
my whole life long.
John 10: 1-19
‘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. 2The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. 3The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.’ 6Jesus 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. 8All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. 9I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. 10The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.
11 ‘I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. 14I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. 16I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. 17For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. 18No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.’
19 Again the Jews were divided because of these words. 20Many of them were saying, ‘He has a demon and is out of his mind. Why listen to him?’ 21Others were saying, ‘These are not the words of one who has a demon. Can a demon open the eyes of the blind?’
The Sermon Draft
The woman was thin and unkempt. Pain and starvation were etched upon her. Her eyes were almost dead, except that fear lurked in there. She was not someone in a survivor’s photo from Auschwitz, although she could have been. She was in my local shopping centre. She looked like a bruised and frightened sheep, immobilised on the back of a semi, unaware she was on the way to the slaughterhouse. I can't forget her. I can't explain how I am not her. And sometimes my fragility frightens me.
We are all born into a sheepfold. There is a place that is home; a place where we begin. For some of us it is safe, and almost idyllic. Others are born into a living hell. The thieves and the robbers have come over the walls, and are living off the sheep.
Eventually, all of us have to leave the fold, and go out to pasture. All of us will meet the dangers that were were sapping the life out of that poor woman. We all need a shepherd who will guide us to green pastures and restore our souls. To be human is to be wounded.
There is no shortage of shepherds-- so called. There are plenty who offer to guide us on our way for a fee.
Harvey-Norman’s promises that if we buy a plasma TV, our futures will brighten as the phantasms of the screen shine out into our lives. There are other prophets who promise us we will enter bliss as we look across the shining Laminex of our kitchens, microbe free, because by using their product we have created a safe haven for our family. Others promise us salvation through the cleanliness of our toilet bowl.
Then there are prophets of the green, green grass of home; the safer golden era of our childhood before life went wrong. They will make us One Nation again, getting rid of the immigrants, putting women back in the kitchen, and standing up for decency. They’ll even provide spectacles of forgetfulness, which will filter the unpleasant memories of our young men being shipped off to American wars, and children dying of all those diseases we’ve conveniently forgotten, and wives being beaten up and told to forgive, and go back and obey him.
There are the Chemical Prophets; peddling caffeine, alcohol, marijuana, panadol, and super sized hamburgers- or perhaps you’d prefer chocolate. Drink, smoke, eat too much, and your problems will go away; so witness all those smiling people at Hungry Jacks, or bringing chocolate to the party, or laughing without a care in the world as they work their way to a vomit laden hangover. How do we enjoy life instead of finding that what we have fed upon is making us ill? Where are the green pastures of life giving food?
There are also those shepherds who tell us that life is over here, where they are. The grass is greener on their side of the fence. And we are willing to believe them. After all, life is hard and miserable at times. It is stressful. It is hard to stay on top. I came home from just one appointment this week, and spent the day numb and weeping inside at the misery I had seen. Many more people left home for their appointments this week, already weeping, knowing there would be more to come.
The grass is greener on my side of the fence kind of shepherds promise that if we will follow their prescription, their religion, their instructions, we will enter the place of green grass, where we may lie down, and have our soul restored, and there will be no troubles. We will be triumphant, and become successful. We will have the victory... except... I’ve never found the grass that much greener. In fact, I’ve mostly found these places of promise rather barren. I’ve been short-changed.
Let me tell you about a good shepherd.
My Dad found a sheep which was “down.” It was sick, and it could not stand up and walk. This is fatal for a sheep. It means no water, no food, and the digestive system of sheep doesn’t work properly if they are constantly lying down. They very soon die.
It was one sheep in a thousand or more. A lot of blokes would have pulled the gun out, and put the beast out of its misery. But Dad took it back up to the sheds. He strung up a kind of a sling-cum-hammock in the corner of the barn, to stand the sheep up, and kept it supplied with grain and water. He looked after it for days. And eventually, the sheep got better.
It hung around the sheds forever after. Even in a mob of hundreds, old Face-Ache was instantly recognisable. She followed close behind the ute during feeding, and would catch the grain as it fell from the bags. All the other sheep kept a safe distance. But Face-Ache ceased being a sheep. I mean, she was a sheep, but she became attached to Dad, and followed him.
He never got his money back on that sheep. He simply looked after her because that’s who he was. And it made him who he was...
We all need a good shepherd we can trust and follow into life.
How do we find life? How do we find a good shepherd?
Life is not in the past in some Golden Age. There never were any good old days; they had the same miseries as today.
Real life will not be tomorrow; life is now. The future, in this life, will be the same as today, with miseries and injustice. If we find a good shepherd they can only lead us by still waters, and set a table for us, in the presence of our enemies. Real life, abundant life is lived in the midst of the pain and sorrow. There is no point in looking for a perfect paradise. It can’t be... and if it were, we would spoil it.
Life does not consist in things. Jesus said that: one’s life does not consist in the abundance of possessions. (Lk 12:15) It doesn’t matter what Harvey Norman, or any other advertisement says, or how happy, or cool, our neighbour claims to be with their new toy. Life does not consist in things. Some people say that the one who has the most toys when he dies wins. And we all know the answer to that: the person with the most toys still dies. Look at the rich people in this country; they still cry poor. They still complain. They are not happy. Money and things don’t make us happy.
Jesus also said you can tell a prophet by their fruits. (Matt 7)
15 ‘Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. 16You will know them by their fruits. Are grapes gathered from thorns, or figs from thistles? 17In the same way, every good tree bears good fruit, but the bad tree bears bad fruit. 18A good tree cannot bear bad fruit, nor can a bad tree bear good fruit.19Every tree that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. 20Thus you will know them by their fruits.
That’s important. It’s important because in our best moments, we know that the answer to life is in the way we live with other people, and we also know we need a guide. We can’t manage it on our own. We need friends and companions. We all need a star to follow.
But how do we choose?
We look at the fruits. Are we being given fruit? Or are we being sold a lemon? Does the politician really care about us, or just want our vote? Does that minister or elder really care for us, or do they just want more people in the door? We know how most Australians answer that question!
The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. 14I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep.
Does the shepherd we are going to follow lay down his life for the sheep? Jesus did.
There’s one more thing. It’s not about sheep, but about another mammal.
Mamil is a word which stands for Middle Aged Men in Lycra.
Every Sunday morning the Mamils arrive at a coffee shop, colour coordinated in their clicky shoes, riding their expensive carbon fibre bikes. They sit all sweaty and drink coffee and eat sticky buns, and talk about the latest ride; how fast they were going; who they beat; where they plan to ride this week. It’s a ritual every Sunday morning. And then as the coffee ends, the group begins to dwindle, and they ride off home in ones and twos.
The Barista in the coffee shop has noticed that one bloke who always arrives early, is always the last to leave. One Sunday morning, this barista leaves about the same time. And he sees the man riding his expensive bike, with colour coordinated HTC lycra for two blocks, then turning left for one street, and then, on the other side of the park, loading his shiny bike into the back of his four wheel drive, for the drive home.
We cannot have abundant life by pretending. It is not about just coming to Church on Sunday and saying the right words, and singing the right hymns. It doesn’t depend on a suit or denim. It actually depends on following the Christ; living like he would; laying down our lives if need be.
We’re in church. We reckon that we have chosen our shepherd. We have been saying he is the Good Shepherd, the Way, the Truth, and the Life. I’m preaching to the converted. We’re reading a text that we’ve all read and heard before.
The one question that determines the abundance of life is whether we are just posing at the coffee shop, all dressed up in fancy clothes, or whether we are actually following the shepherd. Where are we?
Direct Biblical quotations in this page are taken from The New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved. Please note that references to Wikipedia and other websites are intended to provide extra information for folk who don't have easy access to commentaries or a library. Wikipedia is never more than an introductory tool, and certainly not the last word in matters biblical!
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