Fourth Sunday in Easter
1 Peter 2:19-25
Alleluia! Christ is Risen!
Christ is Risen Indeed, Alleluia!
Today, the fourth Sunday in Easter,
has the unofficial title of Good Shepherd Sunday
as there are sheep and shepherds
all over our readings for today.
as the Good Shepherd
is one of the most common images all throughout the scriptures
and has caught the imagination of many
particularly those who love Psalm 23.
But what does it mean to call Jesus a good shepherd?
Well, what does a shepherd do?
They take care of the sheep.
At text study this week
(done over zoom of course)
we were discussing sheep,
and how well
they aren’t very bright
and if Jesus is the shepherd
that means we are the sheep,
one colleague suggested
that people might be offended
by being associated with such dim creatures,
while another pointed out
that when she looked at her life
she identified with the sheep,
always getting into scrapes
and needing to be rescued by the shepherd,
and her point is hard to deny,
even at our smartest and best intentioned
we humans have a way of getting into situations
where we at least need a little help to get out of,
even if we insist that we don’t at the beginning,
by the end we realize that we have need of a shepherd.
That same colleague mentioned the story of Shrek the Sheep
as an example of this.
It’s been a few years since Shrek was in the news
but Shrek was a sheep in New Zealand
who decided that he didn’t want to be sheared,
and so he escaped,
and hid from his shearers for six years,
by hiding in caves,
which I think is one of the funnier parts of the story.
Now Shrek was a kind of sheep
that was bred for the production of wool,
without a shave his wool kept growing and growing,
when they finally caught him
he looked like a giant cotton ball with a nose and feet.
I’ll post a picture and a link to his story
along with the video of worship
and when they sheared him,
his fleece weighed 60 pounds
and contained enough material to make suits for 20 large men.
Now Shrek may have thought he was free
and hiding would ensure that,
but the longer he hid from the shepherds
the more weight he had to carry around.
Imagine the freedom he felt
when he finally had a haircut after six years!
We humans are often like Shrek the sheep,
there are times when despite the good care our shepherd is taking of us
that we feel like we could be freeer on our own,
and off we go,
we don’t need a shepherd we insist,
hey look a nice comfy cave we can hide out in,
and at first it may seem like fun and freedom,
but as time goes on
we find that there are things we can’t do for ourselves
and these things begin to weigh us down
until we are hauling around a fleece of monumental proportions,
our sins and worries,
mistakes and vulnerabilities
all tangled around us
obstructing our movement
and only the shepherd can set us free.
And the whole time
the good shepherd has been looking for us.
God is not willing to remain at a distance from us
and so is continually calling to us and searching us out.
That’s what we see in our gospel for today,
the story actually starts a chapter back,
with Jesus healing the man born blind,
we read that together about a month and a half ago,
Jesus sees a man blind from birth,
heals him, and when the man goes to the Pharisees
they don’t believe his testimony about Jesus
and kick him out of the temple,
Jesus goes and finds the man,
he seeks him out
and what we have today
is Jesus teaching the man born blind who he sought out
and the pharisees that kicked him out.
Be careful he tells the gathered crowd,
it is perilous to follow the wrong shepherd,
the implication being
that the pharisees are the wrong shepherds.
But they don’t get it.
So Jesus tries another image
saying “I am the gate for the sheep”
the gate open in the evening
allows the sheep into the sheepfold
and closed keeps them safe from anyone not supposed to be there.
Open in the morning it allows the sheep to access food and water.
And Jesus must have received more blank stares from his audience
because he summarizes it for them
whether he’s the shepherd or the gate
or any other number of images he says look
“I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly”
This is Jesus’ mission statement in the gospel of John.
The Word present at creation in the beginning
becomes flesh and lives among the people
so that they may have abundant life.
Jesus is the way to life
because he himself is life.
And as all of Jesus’ varied imagery shows us,
what abundant life looks like
depends on the time and place,
at night abundant life for the sheep is being gathered together
behind a closed gate that keeps out all the things that go bump in the night
that like to eat sheep.
During the day
abundant life looks like the ability to roam,
to find the tastiest bit of grass
or most refreshing drink of water,
but all the while the shepherd is there watching,
calling to the sheep
keeping them close
so that the shepherd can point them to abundant life
whatever that happens to look like in the moment,
and if one sheep wanders off,
the shepherd goes looking for it,
brings it back to the fold
and the care of the community.
We are like sheep,
to have full abundant life
we need the care of our good shepherd, Jesus,
who knows each of our names,
who calls and gathers us
and leads us to abundant life
and yes, sometimes that may actually feel restrictive
we long to leave the fold
and so we make a bid for freedom,
we strike out on our own
and Jesus notices,
calls out for us,
goes out in search of us
for as long as it takes
and when he finds us,
only he will be able to set us free
from the heavy load we are carrying,
the load that we created.
If you are a sheep who has wandered far and long
and now in this time of uncertainty
would like to return to the fold
but fear that the load you are carrying is too heavy
too much for even the good Shepherd,
it is not,
Jesus knows your name
and is calling you back
and there is no load so great
that Jesus can not set you free.
And if you are a sheep
who has remained close to the shepherd
but is starting to chaff at staying within the pen at night,
remember the shepherd guides us to abundant life,
even if it’s not quite like we imagine
the good shepherd has our best interests at heart.
Whatever kind of sheep we are
Jesus knows us,
and calls to us,
guiding us along
offering comfort and life abundant,
he truly is the good shepherd. Amen
Pastor Emily Johnson preaches weekly at Christ Lutheran. These are manuscripts of her sermons given at Christ Lutheran. Feel free to engage with them in the comments section of the blog.