Tag Archives: The Good Shepherd


A Sermon for 26 March 2017 – 4th Sunday during Lent

A reading from John 9:1-41.  Listen for God’s word to us.

“As he walked along, he saw a man blind from birth.  His disciples asked him, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”  Jesus answered, “Neither this man nor his parents sinned; he was born blind so that God’s works might be revealed in him.  We must work the works of him who sent me while it is day; night is coming when no one can work.  As long as I am in the world, I am the light of the world.”  When he had said this, he spat on the ground and made mud with the saliva and spread the mud on the man’s eyes, saying to him, “Go, wash in the pool of Siloam” (which means Sent).  Then he went and washed and came back able to see.  The neighbors and those who had seen him before as a beggar began to ask, “Is this not the man who used to sit and beg?”  Some were saying, “It is he.”  Others were saying, “No, but it is someone like him.”  He kept saying, “I am the man.”  10 But they kept asking him, “Then how were your eyes opened?”  11 He answered, “The man called Jesus made mud, spread it on my eyes, and said to me, ‘Go to Siloam and wash.’  Then I went and washed and received my sight.”  12 They said to him, “Where is he?” He said, “I do not know.”  13 They brought to the Pharisees the man who had formerly been blind.  14 Now it was a sabbath day when Jesus made the mud and opened his eyes.  15 Then the Pharisees also began to ask him how he had received his sight.  He said to them, “He put mud on my eyes.  Then I washed, and now I see.”  16 Some of the Pharisees said, “This man is not from God, for he does not observe the sabbath.”  But others said, “How can a man who is a sinner perform such signs?”  And they were divided.  17 So they said again to the blind man, “What do you say about him?  It was your eyes he opened.”  He said, “He is a prophet.”  18 The Jews did not believe that he had been blind and had received his sight until they called the parents of the man who had received his sight 19 and asked them, “Is this your son, who you say was born blind?  How then does he now see?”  20 His parents answered, “We know that this is our son, and that he was born blind; 21 but we do not know how it is that now he sees, nor do we know who opened his eyes.  Ask him; he is of age.  He will speak for himself.”  22 His parents said this because they were afraid of the Jews; for the Jews had already agreed that anyone who confessed Jesus to be the Messiah would be put out of the synagogue.  23 Therefore his parents said, “He is of age; ask him.”  24 So for the second time they called the man who had been blind, and they said to him, “Give glory to God!  We know that this man is a sinner.”  25 He answered, “I do not know whether he is a sinner.  One thing I do know, that though I was blind, now I see.”  26 They said to him, “What did he do to you? How did he open your eyes?”  27 He answered them, “I have told you already, and you would not listen.  Why do you want to hear it again?  Do you also want to become his disciples?”  28 Then they reviled him, saying, “You are his disciple, but we are disciples of Moses.  29 We know that God has spoken to Moses, but as for this man, we do not know where he comes from.”  30 The man answered, “Here is an astonishing thing!  You do not know where he comes from, and yet he opened my eyes.  31 We know that God does not listen to sinners, but he does listen to one who worships him and obeys his will.  32 Never since the world began has it been heard that anyone opened the eyes of a person born blind.  33 If this man were not from God, he could do nothing.”  34 They answered him, “You were born entirely in sins, and are you trying to teach us?”  And they drove him out.  35 Jesus heard that they had driven him out, and when he found him, he said, “Do you believe in the Son of Man?”  36 He answered, “And who is he, sir?  Tell me, so that I may believe in him.”  37 Jesus said to him, “You have seen him, and the one speaking with you is he.”  38 He said, “Lord, I believe.”  And he worshiped him.  39 Jesus said, “I came into this world for judgment so that those who do not see may see, and those who do see may become blind.”  40 Some of the Pharisees near him heard this and said to him, “Surely we are not blind, are we?”  41 Jesus said to them, “If you were blind, you would not have sin.  But now that you say, ‘We see,’ your sin remains.”

This is the word of God for the people of God.  Thanks be to God!


Are you familiar with the story of someone walking on the shoreline?  Another was behind at a distance.  As the first person walked along, she bent over to pick up something out of the sand then threw it into the water.  She did this again and again and again as she slowly made her way down the beach.  When the other person finally caught up from all the woman’s pauses, he asked:  “what are you doing?”  The woman replied:  “I am throwing these star fish back into the ocean where they belong so that they don’t die here in the hot summer sun.”  The beach was filled for miles with such fish that had washed up with the tide.  The man said:  “There must be thousands here on the shore.  You can’t possibly save all these fish.  Why bother?”  Picking up another and tossing it into the water, the woman said, “Maybe I can’t save them all.  But what I’ve just done matters at least to that one.”

One.  One star fish.  One determined woman.  One skeptical man.  . . .  Something about this story from the gospel of John keeps calling out:  one.  One man blind from birth.  One set of parents hauled in to be questioned.  One angry group of Pharisees and one band of his fellow Jews determined to prove Jesus a fraud.  . . .  Oh and The One:  the Light of the world – the Word of God enfleshed, who happened still to be creating.  According to how it’s told here, even on the Sabbath the Eternal Word stooped once again in the mud in an act of creation.  At the first bringing Adam (the mud-creature) from the adamah (the ground of the earth).  Then on this Sabbath bringing sight to a man whose eyes never had fully worked.

Up to this point, the gospel of John tells the story emphasizing that Jesus was one who really was angering the Pharisees and the temple priests.  Time and again he acts, and the gospel of John records that they were enraged – often ending up divided.  Here in this section of John’s gospel, Jesus is in Jerusalem on the sly.  According to John 7, his brothers were challenging him to leave Galilee to make the five day trek to the Festival of Booths in Jerusalem.  They said:  “Leave here and go to Judea so that your disciples also may see the works you are doing; for no one who wants to be widely known acts in secret.  If you do these things” (the gospel of John records “for not even his brothers believed in him”).  So if you do these things, they said:  “show yourself to the world” (John 7:3-5).  Though Jesus protests that it’s not yet his time; the gospel records that he ends up going anyway.  And when in the middle of the festival he’s found teaching in the temple, some of the people believe he could be the hoped-for Messiah, while others were sure God’s long-awaited promise NEVER would come from Galilee – the place of Nazareth and the surrounding land where Jesus lived and carried out most all of his ministry (John 7:25-44).  The gospel of John even records that Nicodemus, who was one of the Pharisees and a leader of the Jews, challenged the others as he pointed out that their own law wouldn’t allow for the judgment of Jesus without giving him a hearing first (John 7:51).  The longer Jesus stays there in the temple teaching, the more division grows among the Pharisees and priests and the Jews present who have been listening intently.  At last, they are ready to pick up stones to throw at him.  One certainly is upsetting the masses.  As if he has one of those Harry Potter invisibility cloaks, John records that Jesus “hid himself and went out of the temple” (John 8:59).  . . .  And so it happened that Jesus walked along seeing a man who had been born blind.

Now, if it were most of us, we might have high-tailed it out of there.  Jesus is causing quite a stir.  He knows it’s not yet his time, at least the gospel of John keeps recording it so; so that time and again he escapes the rage of those whose buttons he keeps right on pushing.  This one – this one blind man really doesn’t need to slow his progress.  He’s blind – in other words Jesus could have walked right by without the man even seeing him.  He didn’t have to stop for this one.  And yet, one.  One matters to this shepherd.  One is enough to stop.  One in dire need is enough to stoop back down in the mud of the earth to recreate, on the Sabbath, eyes that never worked.  Not due to the fault of his parents or of any act of his own.  But according to Jesus, this one’s deep need was there, so that God’s works might be revealed in him (John 9:3).

Indeed the One who stops is the Lamb of God who would take away the sins of the world.  The One who once told a story about a flock of 100 sheep from which one got separated.  Remember?  The Beloved Shepherd leaves the 99 to go after the one.  How often we identify ourselves as one of the responsible 99 that stays with the flock so that the shepherd doesn’t have to trek out in search of us.  No one wants to be the one whose absence panics the shepherd.  We want to keep in line.  Stay with the flock, try to be unnoticed so as not to draw too much attention to ourselves.  That’s the good Presbyterian thing to do.  We may even find ourselves a bit impatient with the one who, we believe, was irresponsible to get lost themselves lost in the first place – as if the one brought it on themselves.  . . .  In all our responsibility, in all our staying in step with the herd; we fail to see the ways in which we ourselves really need to be found.  We end up blind to our deepest needs.

It’s exactly what the good shepherd says that Sabbath on his way out of the temple.  Before it’s all said and done, those who think they see actually don’t.  While the one who never has seen, looks into the face of the One at whose feet he must fall in absolute, unbridled gratitude.  Worshipping the One for whom each one matters.  . . .  A close reading of this story tells us that the newly-sighted man is thrown out by the others.  A commentator writes that as soon as he used the word we, as in “We know that God does not listen to sinners, but to one who worships and obeys God’s will” (paraphrase of John 9:31).  As soon as he draws himself into the circle of belief with the religious leaders; they act “decisively in his regard, cutting him out of the we that he had just grafted himself into, peeling him off from them since he could only corrupt them by association” (Journal for Preachers, Lent 2014; Liz Goodman, p. 8).  They drive him out.  Which is exactly when, “hearing that they had driven him out,” Jesus goes in search of the man; for the man is the only one now able to see.  In the words of that same commentator, it is as if “one outcast is picking up another outcast.  The Church:  a herd of strays claimed by Christ” (Ibid.).  . . .  I like that, don’t you:  one plus one plus one plus one in this circle of Christ’s where every last one of us matters – where there’s always room for one more.  Where we become we.  If only we could see ourselves as Christ sees us, maybe we’d be a little more eager to open wide the circle.  Maybe we’d go in search of those in this world who are hurting deeply.  Those who are lost.  Those who need to be found.  . . .  Whether we’re the ones today in need of seeing, the ones waiting to be found, or the ones to go out gathering in one more; here we become ones united to eternally lift our gratitude unto the One!

In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.

© Copyright JMN – 2017  (All rights reserved.)

Christ, the King

A Sermon for 20 November 2016 – Christ the King Sunday

A reading from the prophet Jeremiah 23:1-6. Listen for God’s word to us.

“’Woe to the shepherds who destroy and scatter the sheep of my pasture!’ says the Lord. 2Therefore thus says the Lord, the God of Israel, concerning the shepherds who shepherd my people: ‘It is you who have scattered my flock, and have driven them away, and you have not attended to them. So I will attend to you for your evil doings,’ says the Lord. 3’Then I myself will gather the remnant of my flock out of all the lands where I have driven them, and I will bring them back to their fold, and they shall be fruitful and multiply. 4I will raise up shepherds over them who will shepherd them, and they shall not fear any longer, or be dismayed, nor shall any be missing,’ says the Lord. 5’The days are surely coming,’ says the Lord, ‘when I will raise up for David a righteous Branch, and he shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land. 6In his days Judah will be saved and Israel will live in safety. And this is the name by which he will be called: “The Lord is our righteousness.”’”

This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God!


The next reading is the classic text for this Sunday. A soaring statement about Christ, the King, who reigns. Listen for God’s word to us in a reading from Colossians 1:11-20.

“May you be made strong with all the strength that comes from his glorious power, and may you be prepared to endure everything with patience, while joyfully 12giving thanks to the Father, who has enabled you to share in the inheritance of the saints in the light. 13He has rescued us from the power of darkness and transferred us into the kingdom of his beloved Son, 14in whom we have redemption, the forgiveness of sins. 15He is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of all creation; 16for in him all things in heaven and on earth were created, things visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or powers—all things have been created through him and for him. 17He himself is before all things, and in him all things hold together. 18He is the head of the body, the church; he is the beginning, the firstborn from the dead, so that he might come to have first place in everything. 19For in him all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, 20and through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things, whether on earth or in heaven, by making peace through the blood of his cross.

This is the word of God for the people of God. Thanks be to God!

While most Americas this week are starting to think about turkey, our first reading for today takes us instead to sheep. Scattered flocks. Bumped and bruised and neglected sheep. Lost sheep that have been abandoned by the shepherds who were supposed to lovingly tend them. It never has sat well with God for the sheep of God’s pasture to be mistreated – to be left to wander aimlessly because, for whatever reason, good shepherds stop leading well the sheep. “The days are surely coming,” says the LORD through the prophet Jeremiah, “When it will no longer be so!” (Jer. 23:5 paraphrase). God’s sheep need a loving shepherd. Leaders who will stick with them to take them where God needs for them to go.

At long last, we have the brilliant message of Colossians. After it all took place, those words were written. A hymn to the most amazing one: the one who has rescued and transferred the sheep to a most blessed place. The one who rules over all things – not just the sheep. The one in whom everything that is God fully dwells so that all the sheep can live secure. Tended. Safely in everlasting peace! . . . Today is Christ the King Sunday and it is a beautiful day to hail Christ the sovereign of all! The one who reigns forever and ever and ever as Lord – first in everything; for through him, heaven and earth come together for peace to remain in all forever. It’s the end of the liturgical year today. We celebrate the cycle all the way through his birth, baptism, ministry, sacrifice, triumphant resurrection, and abiding Spirit at work forevermore. Today we pledge our allegiance to the one at the center of our faith: Christ, crucified, risen, ascended, and alive through all eternity! Today he deserves all the pomp and circumstance – the rousing coronation chords of a hymn like “All Hail the Power of Jesus’ Name!” and the fervent call for all to gather to praise as in “Come, Christians, join to Sing.” Before this service is over, we’ll sing in “Crown Him with Many Crowns” and recite words of faith that keep our eyes on the kingdom that is God’s. . . . But first, another reading for this day. A gospel text assigned for the day when we gather to give a cheer to Christ our King! Listen.

“When they came to the place that is called The Skull, they crucified Jesus there with the criminals, one on his right and one on his left. 34Then Jesus said, “Father, forgive them; for they do not know what they are doing.” And they cast lots to divide his clothing. 35And the people stood by, watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, “He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, the chosen one!” 36The soldiers also mocked him, coming up and offering him sour wine, 37and saying, “If you are the King of the Jews, save yourself!” 38There was also an inscription over him, “This is the King of the Jews.” 39One of the criminals who were hanged there kept deriding him and saying, “Are you not the Messiah? Save yourself and us!” 40But the other rebuked him, saying, “Do you not fear God, since you are under the same sentence of condemnation? 41And we indeed have been condemned justly, for we are getting what we deserve for our deeds, but this man has done nothing wrong.” 42Then he said, “Jesus, remember me when you come into your kingdom.” 43Jesus replied, “Truly I tell you, today you will be with me in Paradise.””  (Luke 23:33-43, NRSV)

It’s a truly odd way to end a year – what with a day called Christ, the King and a reading that leaves him literally, and us figuratively, hanging on a cross. Behold our King: bloodied and dying before our eyes. . . . We Christians are a paradoxical lot – gazing upon a man gasping for his final breath – spitting out words like “forgive” while everyone around scoffs to say: “He saved so many others. If he’s the mighty chosen one, let him save himself!” . . . The King of the Jews – and all Creation. The King we claim even over us? . . . What does it mean for us to celebrate a day when we keep before us a king who is dying on a cross?

Kings aren’t supposed to die. Not like this. They are to be strong. Brave. Protective of all their subjects. How many kings had his people known? The Pharaohs of Egypt – they certainly were impressive kings. Their own King David, after the fiasco of King Saul. While David is remembered as an amazing King for Israel, uniting the lands and ruling from Jerusalem; he made some significant mishaps too. He had another man killed so that he could take his wife as his own without a guilty conscience – a violation of commandment #10 and 6 and 7 and depending on how you look at it number 5 and 8 too. His own family would be a mess from there on and while he one day would come to see the horror of his ways to beg for mercy before God, King David’s actions set in motion the demise of his heirs. O, God’s people knew of kings. The king of Assyria who would take over Israel to the north leaving Judah surrounded on all sides until at last arose the king of Babylon. Then of Persia. Then Alexander of the Ancient Greek kingdom of Macedonia. Then the Caesars of the Great Roman Empire. God’s people had had their fill of kings. One after another invading their land, taking them over, plundering their homes and business and highest holy place, the Temple. Those are the kinds of kings left famous in history. Mighty military men who commanded others to do as they said, or else. Who took what they wanted, or else. Who impressed with excess, or else.

One commentator writes of the gospel text assigned for this day when we hail another King: “These last moments of Jesus’ life seem to be in contrast to what is valued as great in our world. The world presented to us in newspapers or on television is not poor, but is a world of glamour. In this world, the ideal is to be rich and beautiful and influential. . . . This passage of the Bible takes us by the hand and gives us the surprising news: Christ is highest, and. . . (he) does not help himself, but he helps others who need his help. Still more: he does not meet evil with evil, but repays evil with good” (Feasting on the Word, Yr. C, Vol. 4, Eberhard Busch, pp. 332, 334). Yes. Here is Christ, our King. Humbly dying before our eyes.

What does it mean for our lives to claim this one King? This one who spent his days doing the very same things it’s recorded that he did on the cross. He went about his land bumping into people who needed help. Be it food or physical healing or the healing of full inclusion in his circle. Whoever he met, he invited into his way. He showed abundance and mercy and peace. He didn’t mysteriously fix every problem of their lives – Rome still ruled. Instead, he transformed their lives by showing them the more excellent way to be. He spoke the truth of God that was in him. He challenged those who cared more about their rules than their people. He welcomed the least and the lost and said God welcomed them too. Christ, the King. Our King – poured out his life that others truly might live too. He showed us how to dwell now in the kingdom belonging to him: God’s kingdom where love is the rule of the day. Compassion and kindness and hope: the most powerful weapons ready for his use. . . . What does it mean for our lives to claim this one King? We know. It means we live likewise. Feeding and healing and welcoming strangers in. We exercise mercy and pursue peace and let ourselves be changed from the inside out by compassion and kindness and hope. We keep as the golden rule the charge to love – even when others scoff and mock and deride. We forgive, as we are forgiven by our mightily merciful King. What does it mean for our lives to claim this one King? It means everything – each day, to live the way of his rule. . . . All hail, our King! Crown him with glorious crowns! Christ, the dying and rising King!

In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.

© Copyright JMN – 2016  (All rights reserved.)


Herding Sheep

A sermon for 26 April 2015 – 4th Sunday of Easter

John 10:11-18  (NRSV scripture included below.)

I know in this season of Easter, it seems like going backwards to hear this text that I’m about to read from the gospel of John. After all, it took place before the crucifixion and the resurrection. Still, every fourth Sunday of Easter we get a nod to at least a part of John’s tenth chapter along with that great Psalm of the Lord as our Shepherd, with us each step. We have no need to want. Good Shepherd Sunday it’s been nicknamed by preachers who probably have grown a little bored with going back to it every year. But maybe, just maybe, at this point a few weeks after the resurrection, we need the reminder. . . . So, listen for God’s word to us in a reading of John 10:11-18. These are words recorded to be on the lips of Jesus. Listen.

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The 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. The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. I 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. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No 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.”

This is the word of God, for the people of God. Thanks be to God!

Some of you may know better than me that there are different ways to herd animals. Think about cattle. You don’t go out in front of cattle hoping they will follow. Cattle are driven – from behind. Poked and prodded to get them to move from this patch of grass or to that river of water. I’ve actually seen it on a trip to Honduras with Heifer International to learn all about the ways training and livestock are making significant differences in the lives of whole communities. . . . Some of you’ve met my puppy and it’s been great fun watching him do that whole Alpha dance. That’s the thing with dogs. They have that pack mentality and need to know which one is in charge: the Alpha. Once established, the Betas all fall in line behind. . . . I’ve heard of a training course on moving horses. Whole companies are getting their leaders to go through it. Because, supposedly, if you get still enough; centered enough in yourself with total calm in your body, mind, and spirit, supposedly you can get the massive beast of a horse to move alongside you where ever you go. As long as you keep centered – no pushing, no pulling, just intently moving forward. Step by step the horse will walk with you. Amazing! . . . For you cat lovers out there who know how much they have a mind of their own, I once met a man who told me his four cats cuddle close as he has near amazing sway over them. I mean, let’s face it: anyone who can herd a bunch of cats has to have a VERY special knack, right?

And then there’s sheep. Sheep are herded from the front (Feasting on the Word, Yr. B, Vol. 2, Nancy R. Blakely, p. 450). Did you know that? Sheep literally learn the voice of their shepherd and then follow where ever their shepherd leads them to go. Out in front, the shepherd will take the flock to green pastures for grazing. And to still waters for the drink of refreshment. The shepherd calls: “Come!” And the sheep come – one after another and all in a bunch. Supposedly sheep even have the capacity to recognize the face of their shepherd. And over time, sheep can be taught to respond to their own names – kind like we humans can (www.sheep101.info/history.html). It’s not really that the sheep trust. They just follow where ever the shepherd leads them to go. Which, of course, can be dangerous if they don’t have a well-meaning shepherd. . . . We hear often that sheep are considered dumb or mindless. And left on their own, the sheep will wander where ever. Even into all kinds of trouble. But if you ask me, sheep are kinda brilliant: following when led by the shepherd from the front. Because rest assured when trouble arises, like a ready-to-strike snake, or a hungry wolf in the middle of the path – the sheep have added protection. First you gotta take out the shepherd before you can get at the sheep. Protected in front like that, no matter where the shepherd leads, together the sheep always are gonna be okay.

Shepherding is one of the oldest professions. Because sheep were one of the first animals domesticated due to their natural ability to follow. One source claims that sheep were the first commodity spawning trade between peoples. The source of international relations because somewhere around 3,500 B.C.E., the production of wool became one of humankind’s most ancient, highly-sought achievements (www.sheep101.info/history.html). Back before we put up fences around our own property to keep in what we wanted in and out what we wanted out; sheep had to have a shepherd to keep them from harm’s way. The flock had to be moved by the shepherd from one place to the next to ensure sources of food and water. And in places like the Middle East where Jesus lived, rocky terrain and arid deserts made the work of shepherds incredibly important to the survival of the sheep.

We know that sheep were invaluable to the ancient Israelite enterprise. It’s part of why the Old Testament is filled with all sorts of ancestors in the faith who at some point in time literally were shepherds of sheep. Sheep provided milk, and cheese, and wool. When slaughtered they provided hides and, of course, meat. . . . Remember too that sheep were one of the most important sacrifices in Judaism: a costly offering to lift up to God. Every year a Jewish family was to remember the Passover when God freed the people from Egyptian enslavement. Jerusalem even had a gate called the Sheep’s Gate, through which sheep would be led right into the Temple for the annual blood offering. . . . We’re not that far from Good Friday and Easter morn. So that you see the parallels. Jesus becomes the sacrificed lamb. Once and for all, the offering is made. Freedom from all that would enslave is accomplished.

However: Jesus doesn’t refer to himself as a sheep here in the gospel of John. Rather, Jesus embraces for himself that traditional metaphor for God from the Israelites beloved sacred Psalms. “I am the good Shepherd,” Jesus proclaims – not just to anyone who will listen; but to some Pharisees of the Jewish people who drove out a recently-healed-by-Jesus blind man (John 9:34). That’s what happened right before chapter 10 of John. In the presence of those who would not properly care for one of God’s suffering children, Jesus declares himself the kind of shepherd that readily protects the sheep. The model shepherd. The pattern of how a shepherd should be. You see, Jesus senses what is going on. He knows that some sort of threat is upon the sheep. A ravenous beast is breathing down their vulnerable necks. No one seems to care that the man born blind from birth finally can see! His own parents are too afraid to speak out (John 9:21). Jesus is the good Shepherd. He hears the cry of his one little precious sheep. He will risk the loss of his own life if that’s what it takes to make that sheep well. Standing between this newly-sighted child of God and the religious leaders whose anger burns hotter each day, Jesus will protect at all costs. His deep love for the one in need will put him in harm’s way so no ill will come upon the one he just has healed.

If Jesus is the good shepherd, then like the newly-sighted man, we are the sheep – known members of his treasured flock – unless we’re busy being like those who ignore the cry of ones in need, or even become the threat to all the rest. . . . Every year the fourth Sunday of Easter brings us to this gospel text. I know many of us have romanticized visions of the LORD, our Good Shepherd. Psalm 23 is by far the favorite of more Christians than almost any other biblical text. . . . And in the good Shepherd, we see one out in front of us calling us to come – herding us to follow to where he needs us to go. One flock listening to the sound of his voice – moving at the recognition of his face. Being kept safe together by a good shepherd who cares so very deeply for us. Isn’t that beautiful? A message we need to hear especially after resurrection when disciples might be wondering where in the world he is. He’s not going to run away at the first sign of trouble. He’s not going to jump out from the front of the pack when the hungry wolf pounces upon the path. He’s sticking right there so that nothing can get at us. Like a momma bear ready to roar and swat so her little cubs won’t be hurt, the good shepherd defends his flock. . . . It’s that same natural instinct that causes him to call us forward as well. Because he knows us. . . . When we’re honest we can admit that all too often, left to our own devices, we sheep will nibble and nibble at one patch until there’s nothing left for us there to eat, right? We’d strip the soil bare and keep right on eating the dust of dirt if it wasn’t for the good shepherd who leads us to new places to be nourished; fresh pastures where we can be fed. Refreshing waters that will quench our thirsty souls. . . . Thank God for our good shepherd – out in front: protecting, providing, willingly becoming the lamb to the slaughter if he must that we might be spared any harm.

For our part, as the Risen Christ’s sheep, we must learn to listen, then follow at the sound of his voice. We know all sorts of other voices are ready to tell us which way we should go. “Over here,” they whisper. “This way,” they beckon. Not always down paths that seem so bad. But certainly away from the ways the good shepherd needs for us to go. . . . For us today, listening for his voice means knowing him. Learning who Christ was and how he lived his life. Where he would go and call us to come follow. Discerning when we see the face of the Risen Christ at work among us today. For through us, with the Holy Spirit in us, the Risen Christ lives yet today! . . . Remember in that parable from Matthew’s gospel when he said feed and give drink to those who hunger and thirst? Welcome the stranger and truly bring them in. Clothe those vulnerable to the elements. Comfort the sick and be with those locked away in any kind of prison (Mt. 25:31-46). Then, indeed, we are face to face with the Risen Christ. . . . Listening for the good shepherd’s voice will get us to where we need to be – individually and collectively as his church. It’s part of what the session of this church continues to seek. The voice of the good shepherd calling this congregation forward. Forward. Forward to the future which the good shepherd has in store for this church. Following the one who walks out in front, protecting, seeking to provide. . . . Until we are left affirming: “the LORD is our good Shepherd! Surely all the days of our lives, and forever, we shall dwell in the midst of our God!

In the name of the life-giving Father, the life-redeeming Son, and the life-sustaining Spirit, Amen.

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