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Promise of Pasture and Protection

This is the sermon that was for the people of St. Timothy Lutheran Church. The gospel text is John 10:1-10. If you'd like to see the video of the sermon, you can find it here.
Today’s gospel is not a parable, but rather metaphor-laden teaching. Jesus is using figures of speech. Here we find Jesus as the gate and shepherd offering the promise of pasture and protection. How does this happen?

First, the shepherd knows his own sheep. This does not happen immediately but over time. It takes an investment of time for and attention for a shepherd to know the sheep. Over such time the sheep get to know their shepherd’s voice from the voices of other shepherds that they should not follow. We can take comfort the in the fact that God has taken that time and attention to know us by name (Mike Baughman, Edgy Exegesis, patheos.com).

The shepherd leads his sheep and the sheep follow. Sheep need to be led. They follow each other and unless someone is making sure the sheep in the front are going the right way, there’s trouble. Sheep do not have great depth perception, so they need to be led through the gate. Unless a gate is wide open, they cannot navigate it.

One of the main roles of a shepherd is to protect the sheep from theft, injury (falling or getting caught in rocky clefts), attack by wild animals, wandering from the flock and disease. The shepherd would literally become the gate that would keep the sheep enclosed at night. Shepherds would lie down on the ground across the opening to protect the sheep. This way they would be aware of any approaching danger to the sheep. I cannot help but think of the verse that follows today’s gospel, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” What a powerful image.

Jesus speaks of thieves and bandits who would harm the sheep. We don’t know for sure who he meant at the time. Was it the Pharisees? Was it disruptive, sneaky people within John’s community? In John’s time anti-Christian people may have been sneaking into the church. Christianity was illegal in the Roman Empire because Christians didn’t worship the Roman gods. Generally, it may refer to any deceptive leaders or people—those with hidden agendas (Brian Stoffregen, crossmarks.com).  We have all known people like that, haven’t we?

Jesus is the gate. In the last section of the gospel reading the metaphor changes from Jesus the shepherd to Jesus the gate. Jesus is the way into the safety of the sheep pen and the means through which the sheep can go out to pasture. He is the “boundary transition point” (Ewart) through whom we find abundant life, which is the quality of life that comes from relationship to Jesus. That relationship is one of believing and trusting into Jesus, abiding in Jesus and eternal life.

In today’s gospel, we hear such relationship words as “knowing, naming, calling and hearing.” “Know his voice” does not mean simply being able to tell the sheep or people apart. It means having a deep bond, attachment and connection (David Ewart, holytextures.com).

What salvation looks like here in John’s gospel is pasture and protection—that’s the abundant life. Another way to translate the word rendered “saved” in verse 9 is “they shall be kept safe.” So, we would have, “Whoever enters by me shall be kept safe.” There is safety in the sheepfold (Stoffregen). The thief may “steal…kill and destroy,” but Jesus promises protection and pasture. Jesus gives abundant life, which is “exceptional, outstanding, remarkable and unusual” (Johannes Louw & Eugene Nida, Greek-English Lexicon). It is well-illustrated in Psalm 23.

In John’s gospel, salvation is more than forgiveness, but abundant life itself; and abundant life is contextual, “defined by release from whatever is robbing us of God’s intentions for us” (David Lose, workingpreacher.org). How do we live into God’s abundant life? We join ourselves to Jesus’ mission to bring abundant life to all God’s children. How can we do that today? How do we ensure that others have pasture and protection?

For one thing, let’s avoid hoarding, like so many are doing. Hoarding is done out of fear. If we trust the shepherd’s leading, we trust his provision and protection for us. There’s nothing wrong with stocking up a bit when you shop, but don’t go crazy like those that fill up their shopping carts with all the chicken they can find. This is one way to be sure that others have enough.

We can ensure others have abundant life by being careful to maintain physical distancing. I didn’t say social distancing because we really need each other. We can wear masks when out in public. All of this is for the sake of the other, not us. These are among the ways we can be sure others can participate in the abundant life Jesus promises.

Many voices call our name, especially in times of stress and uncertainty like that in which we live today. There is the voice of more so that I have enough, the voices of fear and worry about tomorrow, the voice that calls us to take care of myself and mine. It is a scary time in which we live. Meat processing plants have closed. People have worked there who have Coronavirus. And what about church? What will worship look like when we will we be able to reopen our church buildings? Can we recognize and respond to the voice of Jesus calling our name? Do you hear him?

Let us pray.

O God, you have called your servants to ventures of which we cannot see the ending, by paths as yet untrodden, through perils unknown. Give us faith to go out with good courage, not knowing where we go, but only that your hand is leading us and your love supporting us; through Jesus Christ our Lord.
Amen.    (ELW, p. 304).

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