Shepherd Me, O God

Fourth Sunday of Easter, May 7, 2017      Good Shepherd Sunday

Our text starts out by Jesus saying – very truly – or better yet, “I tell you the truth”.  Jesus always tells us the truth.  At first it sounds a bit like an Abbott and Costello routine with who’s on first – “who’s the gate, who’s the gatekeeper, whose voice,     who is the Shepherd?”  Even as Jesus makes the “I am” statements, it sounds like he  has multiple identities.  And there are other players in this scenario as well, bandits and thieves, those looking for what they can get by snatching it away.  He also notes that there are thieves and bandits out there, those who will try to steal you away from the fold.  Sometimes we are our own thieves and bandits.  We steal from ourselves when we wander off and forget to come back to be fed and nourished with others in the flock.  I wonder what you know about thieves and bandits… what steals you away from being who you want to be?  Who or what steals you from Jesus?  And what about this abundant life?  It seems like there’s at times a very fine line between what offers us abundant life and what steals life from us.

We had sheep on the farm I was raised on.  There were at least three sheep that I can say knew my voice … Ike, Skeeziks, and Emma.  I was about six when Ike was born on a wintry night in the era when Ike Eisenhower was President.  He came to the house to be warmed up and his mother refused to feed him when taken back to the lambing pen.  So he became a bottle baby and it was my job to give him the early evening bottle.  As he grew he would follow me around the barnyard from chore to chore, knowing that I usually would stop at the grain bin for a pocketful of oats.  At six, I believed he loved me because I loved him and took care of him.  Growing older, I began to realize that he probably loved me more because I fed him.  We had a relationship – they trusted me and linked me to sustaining life in those morsels of oats and pasture they grazed in.  Skeeziks and Emma were ewes in the flock, and they too sought the pocket-filled treats of oats, but did allow us to have a brief ride clutching their wool-laden backs.  They also tend to have weak hearts, and too much exertion or running can drop a sheep in their tracks.  They were easily spooked and would run themselves into corners in an effort to get away from their perceived enemy.  They were fragile creatures in many ways, and needed watching.  Because of their boxy structure, if they ended up on their side on a hillside, they could not right themselves and would suffocate.  It was the shepherd, the one tending them, who needed to come and help them get back in balance, to right them.  They also preferred to be lead than pushed or driven from behind.  They wanted the shepherd to be the one out front, making sure things were safe for them.

We may not want to see ourselves as these fragile creatures, but we get ourselves boxed in corners, too.  We sometimes have trouble getting in balance unless we have assistance to get back on our feet.  Jesus, our gate, is here to guide us, to right us and help us find our balance, to offer us food that will nourish us spiritually – more than a snack at his table, but real body and blood that fills us and strengthens us.  This gate, this shepherd knows us, calls us by name, and is with us to do battle with that which is evil and steals us from being about God’s mission and steals our very lives in ways that we sometimes can’t describe.  Jesus acts as our passage way to the abundant life that we have been promised.  Jesus says, “I am the gate.  Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture.”  Jesus is the door, the gate, and Jesus knows us, calls us by name, leads us – tells us the truth. We enter the gate to God’s Kingdom through baptism, being named and claimed, made a child of God, and the Holy Spirit comes and dwells in us.  Jesus Christ indeed is our Good Shepherd, and models for us how to care for God’s sheep, and how to lead.  As he is our gate – our door, so we can lead others through this gate so that we might grow in faith and grow in our own faithful serving.  There are many thieves and bandits – those things that steal us away from an abundant life… it might be the latest fad, such as those new “mud-stained” jeans that cost over $400, or food, beverages, vehicles, or electronics that promise us a better life if we only add them to our lives.

The text from Peter today speaks to us about being disciples, followers who can be about God’s work with conviction because Christ has already cleared the path, destroyed sin, death, and the devil by his sacrifice on the cross for us. Sometimes we can use the excuse, “I don’t get all this Bible language – I don’t understand what God’s trying to say to me.”  It’s baseball season, and perhaps some of us are more into baseball than others, have a team we especially root for.  One of my favorite players from years ago was Ernie Banks who played for the Cubs.  He used to say, “It’s a beautiful day for a ballgame … let’s play two!”  Ernie loved the game and he loved being on the field, playing through some rather dismal losing seasons and some very near challenges for the pennant.  He was always eager for the new season of spring training and those summer days of game after game, giving it his all.  We are in a variety of seasons of our lives.  Some of us are just beginning spring training; others have been playing for many innings and have had a variety of kinds of seasons – losing, struggling, elated with great hits and moving up the ladder of success.  Some have retired but still love the game and keep coming to the ball park because “it’s a beautiful day for a ballgame.” God is our manager, Jesus our coach, and regardless of what part of the season you’re in, it’s a beautiful day, week, year, lifetime for God’s game.  Let’s hustle out through the gate of Jesus Christ and play our best ball for the mission of God is in front of us, and we’re being called to give it our best effort.  There will come that day when we will be called to God’s Hall of Fame, and that’s a promise worth hustling for.  That’s an Easter Promise the Shepherd keeps for us.   AMEN

Texts:  Acts 2:42-47,  Psalm 23,  1 Peter 2:19-25,  John 10:1-10