This is the sermon I preached on Sunday, at St. Timothy Lutheran Church. The gospel text is John 10:1-10.
Did you know that sheep come with blue, orange and other colors on their fleece? In Bethlehem, this was one way shepherds could distinguish their sheep from others. They dyed the sheeps’ coats. During our time in Bethlehem, we observed the shepherds directing their flocks of sheep. Some gently and carefully led their sheep. Others drove the sheep, angrily hitting them with a rod. The good shepherds stood out.
In today’s gospel, we see the tender relationship of Jesus and his sheep. The shepherd initiates contact with the sheep. They don't have to go looking for a shepherd. He comes to them.
Often, the sheep of more than one shepherd would be enclosed in the same pen. But In the morning, when it is time for the sheep to be separated and taken out to graze, the shepherd would call his sheep out of the combined flock by name. Each shepherd could identify his sheep. Can you imagine that? Sometimes, we are unable to identify our children or grandchildren from a sea of faces. But trying to find one particular sheep, how do you find that special one?
The shepherd invests time and effort in his relationship with the sheep. He knows them by name and can call them out of a crowd; and the sheep know the shepherd’s voice. This maintains their special relationship, which takes effort and attention.
Sheep recognize the voice of their shepherd; and they will follow his voice, demonstrating the intimacy between shepherd and sheep. With such affinity, the sheep trust and follow their shepherd.
Jesus, the Good Shepherd, invests such time and attention to develop an intimate relationship with us. He knows us by name, but knows us far more deeply. Jesus knows the secrets of our hearts. Knowing the shepherd’s voice means more than simply recognizing Jesus’ voice. It implies a deep bond, attachment and connection. Without that, a sheep may follow the wrong voice and get lost and hurt.
Do we know Jesus’ voice? Do we know him enough to trust him? Do we trust Jesus enough to do what he says and follow him to a safe place or pasture? We hear many voices in our lives. Countless try to contradict Jesus’ message. Plenty will tell us that another way is safer, easier, richer.
Such voices belong to thieves, sheep stealers or any who try to deceptively lead us astray. These have hidden agendas; taking for themselves without much thought about what others are losing.
Sheep desperately need to be led and to follow their shepherd. So do we. We are not to blindly follow, but to pursue Jesus through faith, trust, and love.
The Holy Land’s landscape is harsh, rough and rocky. One can easily stumble. The shepherd’s job is to know the landscape in a way the sheep cannot—to be aware of sources of sustenance and of danger—to be trustworthy, loyal and caring in a way sheep stealers are not. That’s how to lead the sheep. I find this image comforting. When things seem out of control in our lives and we do not know which way to go, knowing that Jesus is going ahead of us and that we are not alone changes everything.
Jesus also calls himself the gate. He issues an invitation, promising salvation, nurture and abundant life to all who pass through the Jesus-gate. It is Jesus as the gate that first offers salvation. Jesus is the way in and out of the sheepfold. The shepherd is the gate to shepherding. Our Christ-gate is the promise of both security and freedom. Our place in the sheepfold and our identity as a member of the flock is determined by our relationship to Jesus as the gate.
Jesus declared, “I am the Gate. Anyone who goes through me will be cared for—will freely go in and out, and find pasture. A thief is only there to steal and kill and destroy. I came so they can have real and eternal life, more and better life than they ever dreamed of” (vv. 9-10).
This is a promise Jesus gives us today—not something that can only be experienced after death. Jesus is the passageway through whom we find abundant life. This does not mean that the one with the most toys wins. It refers to the quality of life that comes through attachment to Jesus.
Jesus speaks of exceptional life. According to the Greek, it is more than expected—outstanding, remarkable and unusual. Aren’t these interesting adjectives to describe the life Jesus offers? The “more and better life” is one of abundance in relational, not material terms.
More and better life looks different in particular places and to distinct people, but always manifests itself as a response to whatever seeks to rob the children of God of their inheritance of life, purpose and joy.
Many voices call out to us with their siren songs, trying to draw us to follow them. They call our name, but their promises are hollow. They don’t care about us.
How can we recognize and respond to the Jesus’ voice? Spend time with him in prayer. Read his word. The more we develop our relationship with Jesus, the better we can distinguish his voice from all the others in our noisy world. Listen and we will hear it.
Jesus calls us to live into his promises of salvation and abundant life; and share it with others. We can respond by becoming part of Jesus’ mission to bring abundant life to all God’s children. This means paying attention to what robs God’s children near us of life and then stand with them against those forces so that they may have, not just life, but more and better life. Salvation also means being commissioned by Jesus to help others experience abundant life, whatever their circumstances.
The church …is the place that sends us out to experience and share… with all God’s children and the world God loves so much (David Lose).