Apologies up front for long distance camera angles. It comes in after a few minutes.
“Resurrected Sheep” John
Delivered to FBC, Shreveport, LA, Sunday, April 25, 2010 , Fourth Sunday of Easter
Rev. John Henson
fourth Sunday of Easter, is known around the world as Good Shepherd Sunday. The
Scripture texts today remind us of our Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ. As a
way to prepare for the day, I googled up some information about sheep and
shepherds. As you can imagine, I found way more information than I could
sort through. I did, of course, read some very funny jokes about
sheep. I’ll go ahead and get them out of the way, “What do you call a
sheep without legs? A cloud.” Or "Why did the sheep call the
police? Because he had been fleeced." And, "What did one
sheep say to the other while standing at the door? After ewe . . . "
Ok. These are baaaaad. One interesting thing I learned,
though, is of how deadly it is for a sheep to get turned upside down on its
back. Once it ends up this way, it is incapable of flipping back
over. If no one turns it over, it will soon perish. Without a
shepherd to come along and turn it over, it will die. As I thought about
this and our Scripture this morning, it struck me how great our Great Shepherd
is. As we have been focusing on the resurrection, we have celebrated the
reality of how Jesus came to us as we were perishing, turned all upside down in
this world to turn us over. We were, in fact, already turned over and
dead and he brought us to life. We are, therefore, resurrected
sheep. As such, we find some lessons here from Jesus about what it means
to follow him. We are hearing this Scripture today on the other side of the
Shepherd laying down his life for the sheep. We are sheep who have
already been affected by the resurrection. So how do we live? As we
go back to Jesus’ words, we hear that we are to live our new lives in a
relationship with Jesus that is like a sheep with the good shepherd.
Jesus described several characteristics of that relationship.
relationship is first one of knowledge. Jesus told the crowd circled
around him I know my sheep. If
we were to back and read the words he has already spoken to a similar crowd
earlier, we learn more of Jesus’ creative comparison of people with sheep,
wanting everyone to know that he is the Good Shepherd and that he is leading a
flock in the direction God has for the world. As a Good Shepherd, he is
familiar with those in his flock. He loves them and cares for them.
He even knows their names (10:3).
mentioned that his sheep know him. The relationship is one based on two
parties having knowledge of one another. Jesus wanted them to know that
his followers know him so well that they know his voice, just as sheep have
intimate knowledge of their shepherd’s voice and get spooked if they hear a
stranger or thief. Jesus leaves the idea that they know it so well
because they have spent time hearing it; they have heard it over and over and
it has registered in their sheep memory.
probably know who Cesar Milan is. He’s better known as the Dog Whisperer
on the National Geographic Channel’s show by that name. The show is a hit
and his career as a dog psychologist has exploded with so many people out there
wanting to change the behavior of their dogs. It is amazing to watch him
work. The key to to his success is in how he seems to truly know
dogs. He goes to where they live, spends time with them and learns
everything about them. In doing so, he allows them to get to know
him. What happens as a result of all of this is positive change.
It is leadership. He is able to lead the dogs and the families to a
better life, all because of a relationship of knowledge. As we consider
Jesus as Good Shepherd today, we see him as a sheep whisperer. He came to
where we live, learned everything about us and seeks to lead us in a new
relationship to real life.
You and I
must understand that the life of resurrection we now have is one of
relationship with our Good Shepherd, one based on knowledge. It is not
just one of academic facts, doctrines or apologetics but one of
familiarity. It is one of deep intimacy. And it begins with the
knowledge that your Shepherd has of you. You can know today that you are
not unknown. God was not surprised when you came into this world.
Jesus was not trying to figure out which one you were when you joined his
flock. You don’t just look like just another sheep to him.
No. He knows you. He knows your name and calls you by it.
other side of that knowledge is that you can know him. As a sheep in his
flock, you hear his voice. In fact, that’s how you got to be in the
flock. You heard his voice and you started to follow it. But, as
you are in the flock and as one who has been given new life, you have the
incredible opportunity of hearing the voice of Jesus that it is so ingrained in
the memory of your heart and mind that it’s unmistakable. Hearing it
triggers something in you that can instantly calm your fears, motivate you to
action, encourage your weary soul, convict you of sin and remind you of
grace. You and I can hear his voice through Scripture, through each
other, through the promptings of his Holy Spirit within us. It is through
his voice that we know him best. The more we hear it, the more we know
him. Are you hearing and knowing in your life these days?
The life of
a resurrected sheep is also one of security. Jesus told the crowd that
nothing could snatch his sheep from his hand. It is helpful for us to
remember that earlier in this chapter, John reported Jesus’ words about the
thief who comes into the pen to steal, kill and destroy the sheep. Jesus
also had previously (6:39) said that I
shall lose none of those he has given me, but will raise them up on the last
day. Jesus boldly stated to his opponents that followers of his would
stay with him and his teaching because he was truly the Messiah; truly one with
God and they would be under his blessing and protection.
already heard the Psalm 23 this morning. Our minds are certainly there
when we here about shepherds. This is such a familiar psalm, the most
recognized of all I am sure. We think of the comfort it brings. And
it does bring comfort. But it also reminds us that there our pathway
ahead has valleys and shadows of death and enemies. Our journey is not
always easy and is full of uncertainties, but the one constant is of how God
provides security all along the way. Mary Schertz, reflecting on the
difficulty of the pathway before us at times as highlighted by Psalm 23 has
said, Until we also notice that the
paths of righteousness could also mean the ways of justice. Or until we notice
that the poem also talks about walking fearlessly through valleys that are like
night, filled with deep shadows. Or until we notice that the table spread with
abundant food also happens to be surrounded by enemies. Then the bucolic scene
takes on a darker cast and is no longer
quite so pleasant to contemplate.1 Even so, God provides security, in the midst of the challenges that surround us.
It would be
impossible to talk about sheep and shepherds without also mentioning the role
of the sheep dog. Any good shepherd protects the flock with dogs, who watch out
for the flock. It is a surefire security system. Remember the cartoon character Sam the sheepdog, with his red overhanging hair, always keeping Ralph the wolf out of the flock? He was a good sheepdog, always grabbing Ralph by the neck and getting him away from the sheep. That's what a sheepdog does. It chases away
wolves and thieves and allows the sheep to do what they do best—eat and follow.
Our Good Shepherd has provided us with his plan of protection to keep us from
getting snatched as we journey along, from those things and people and
distractions that threaten to remove us from the kind of life we now have in
resurrected sheep, you and I must hear these words and know of the security
provided by our Good Shepherd. As a follower of Jesus, you can know that
nothing can snatch you away from the love of God in your life through Jesus
Christ. Nothing can affect that love and the resurrection life he has
provided for you. Your life—and this applies more to the abundant quality
of it– now and your life to come after your body gives way is protected by God
through Jesus. Nothing can get past the shepherd’s crook or the
watchful eye or the amazing love of your Good Shepherd to affect your
resurrected life. You like the psalmist can say, Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me.
life as a sheep in God’s flock is also one of trust. It is to be lived in
complete trust of the Shepherd. Jesus said that one characteristic of
those in his flock was that they followed him. They not only knew his
voice and enjoyed his security but they followed him. They, like sheep,
trusted their shepherd so much that they followed him wherever he led them.
think about trust, a quote from Martin Luther King, Jr. comes to mind. He
said, Faith is taking the first step even
when you don't see the whole staircase. The journey ahead of us
as followers of Jesus is one we can’t completely map out. It is not
one with much predictability or certainty. It is step by step. And
sheep do that pretty well.
knowledge of Jesus and understanding your security in him will lead you to trust
Jesus enough to follow him wherever he leads you. Living with trust in
the shepherd will lead you to follow him and his ways in your home, in your
relationships and marriage, in your vocation, at your school and in every other
facet of your life. It is living with the understanding that Jesus knows
the best way. It means that when you are enjoying the green pastures or
even when you are walking through the valley of the shadow of death, that you
will keep your trust in him because you know him and are aware of your security
with trust in the shepherd will lead us to follow as a flock as well. We are a
flock here and God directs not just sheep but flocks of sheep. Where are
we to go as a church? Who will be the next shepherd of this flock?
How do we attract new sheep for a flock whose size is dwindling down?
These are great questions for us during the interim time and they are great
opportunities for us to exercise our trust in the Good Shepherd.
author Leith Anderson tells a story about sheep in “The Lord is my Shepherd.”
I own a marvelous little book
written nearly a quarter of a century ago by a former shepherd, Philip Keller.
He titled the book A Shepherd Looks at Psalm Twenty-Three, He tells about his
experience as a shepherd in east Africa. The land adjacent to his was rented
out to a tenant shepherd who didn't take very good care of his sheep: his land
was overgrazed, eaten down to the ground; the sheep were thin, diseased by
parasites, and attacked by wild animals. Keller especially remembered how the
neighbor's sheep would line up at the fence and blankly stare in the direction
of his green grass and his healthy sheep, almost as if they yearned to be
delivered from their abusive shepherd. They longed to come to the other side of
the fence and belong to him.2
Scripture today tell us of a day when Jesus stood before a group of sheep, most
of whom were on the other side of the fence looking abused and forlorn.
And Jesus reminded them about life under the Good Shepherd. We gather
here this morning as those with a choice as well. It seems the only real
choice is the one where the sheep are resurrected, living out their lives with
a knowledge of their Shepherd, protected by his security and trusting in his
leadership. Yes, the real choice is to be a resurrected sheep, turned right
2 A quote from Leith Anderson, "The
Lord Is My Shepherd," Preaching Today, from http://www.preachingtoday.com