Most Sundays, we don’t notice a common theme through out all of our scriptures. It is usually a little bit of a challenge to see a common theme or thread that connects our, well in Easter, both New Testament readings, the Psalm, and the Gospel; but this fourth Sunday in Easter is always the Sunday of the Good Shepherd. Each year, we have a set of common texts about what that means.
In our Acts (2:42-47) text, we have an idealistic image of the early church, one where all the believers lived in unity together and no one was in need or want. They lived a life of fellowship. You might ask, what does that have to do with the other texts that all have to deal with the shepherd. I’ll get back to that in a moment.
Most of our sermon today is going to deal with Psalm 23, a very beloved Psalm, and the parable in John 10 (1-10). The parable of the shepherd, the gatekeeper, and the sheep.
The challenge with parables and metaphors is they leave a lot of wiggle room for interpretation and we always try to seek to understand where we find ourselves within that parable and that metaphor. The disciples were having a little bit of a struggle with this as well, so (Jesus the) Christ has to further explain it to them.
I want to spend today kind of breaking that down into the different pieces of that parable, the different roles, and what the significance in that is.
We have the shepherd, one who tends to, nurtures, [and] cares for the sheep.
We have the gatekeeper, whose job is to make sure that the sheep are safe and secure.
One of my colleagues suggested we add a sheep herding dog into the mix, the one that hears the voice of the shepherd and follows the commands in order to tend to and care for the sheep, getting them where they need to go for food and pasture.
Then, we also have the sheep, the one who knows their shepherd’s voice and follows their shepherd in and out of that gate.
We have the thieves and the bandits [who] seek to steal the sheep away.
We all know where we want to find ourselves in this parable. We all want to be the good shepherd, [and] maybe the gatekeeper. Often times we do not want to be associated with the sheep nd we really don’t want to be associated with those thieves and bandits.
But, the truth is as much as we are all saints, we also are all sinners; and like [in] many parables and metaphors, we are all the above.
We’re all shepherds. We all tend to, care for, and love our family [and] our friends. In our baptismal promises, we make promises to ‘shepherd’ our community [and] to live like that idealistic community in Acts where all are cared for and tended to.
We also all tend to play the gatekeeper, [that is] deciding who is and who is not worthy to enter into certain communities and spaces. Note that in his explanation Christ actually doesn’t refer to himself as the shepherd but as the gatekeeper (and gate), the one that gets to make that decision. However, we ourselves like to make those divisions.
We all do not want to be associated with the sheep. I remember when I was interning at The Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd in Olympia, [while] I was setting up a Facebook page for the youth group for the cover picture on the page I had a picture of lambs laying in pasture in Ireland; a beautiful, peaceful image. It wasn’t within a couple of hours that our office manager came up and informed me that I needed to change the picture on the Facebook page because “Although we are the church of the Good Shepherd, we’re NOT sheep.” There are plenty of references in the Bible of us as sheep. We don’t like that because we tend to think of sheep as unintelligent, as ones who follow blindly whoever is there to lead them; but, notice that the sheep are the ones that know their shepherd’s voice.
This post-resurrection Easter time, we see ourselves on a journey, similar to Lent but different. The first Sunday after Easter, Doubting Thomas, a journey of seeking to understand which leads us through areas of doubt. Last week was the Road to Emmaus, a text that spoke about our eyes and hearts being open. Today we have a text about hearing the shepherd, having our ears open to , listening to, and knowing the shepherd. [The] sheep know that the shepherd is the one that leads them beside the still waters, leads them to their rest, leads them to their restoration in mind, body, and soul. The sheep also know that the shepherd is the one that comforts them and is present with them in the darkest of the valleys. At times we’re all sheep and we would hope that we always hear and follow the voice of THE Good Shepherd.
We are all at times the thieves and bandits. The ones that try to lead the sheep astray, knowingly or unknowingly, by distracting them and ourselves from the message, the voice, and the mission of the Shepherd.
Psalm 23 ends with “surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life and I will dwell in the house of the LORD forever”. The more accurate translation is “only goodness and mercy shall pursue me (chase me down) and I shall continually return to the LORD”. It is the Shepherd who leads us on that path back to the LORD.
So no matter where we find ourselves in this parable, we know that we are all the above.
I didn’t forget the sheep herding dog; at times, we are called to get the others back to their path as well.
No matter where we see ourselves in that: as the shepherd, as the gatekeeper, as the sheep herding dog, as the sheep, or as the thief and the bandit in this time, in this place, and in this moment…
May we all only have mercy and goodness pursue us.
May we all continually return to the path and the house of the LORD.
May we all be listening to, heeding, and obeying the voice of THE Good Shepherd. Amen.
The scriptures were Acts 2:42-47, Psalm 23, 1 Peter 2:19-25, and John 10:1-10.
The sermon was originally preached on May 7, 2017 at Gloria Dei (Kelso, WA).