“My Life for Your Life”
Sunday, April 22, 2018
St. Timothy’s UMC- Rev. Mark M. Vickers
John 10:11-18 New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)
11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 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. 13 The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 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. 17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. 18 No one takes[a] 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.”
We make a gigantic move in our Biblical text this morning, from post-resurrection appearances to kingdom work imperatives. We have before us now very familiar passages both surrounding the nature and relationship of the shepherd. Too often we take these images for granted. In our culture of Biblical reading, we have often elevated the image of the shepherd and the sheep to the equivalent of angelic proportion.
Now, I haven’t had a great deal of experience with angelic presences but I have spent my fair share of time among sheep. Let me tell you, sheep are not all fluffy and white. Most of them are gray, dingy and for the most part smell like dung. They aren’t friendly and they have a mind of their own. They are territorial, hence the need for a shepherd to keep them in community. They are hard headed and often belligerent.
The other part of this equation is the role of the shepherd. Once again we have molded our vision of the shepherd into the angelic little boy who makes his way to the stable at Bethlehem with a cozy lamb wrapped around his shoulders; hair neatly in place and for the most part well groomed. However, in the time of Jesus and for our modern day shepherds this is not the case.
When I was in Ireland several years ago I had the opportunity to meet a “real-life” shepherd. His appearance, smell and caked on dirt was repulsive at best. His quiet Irish drawl was the sound of sandpaper rubbing against tree bark. However, his compassion and understanding for caring was tremendous. He told me when I asked about his shepherding role that “he knew his sheep and his sheep knew him.” He told me in so many words what he did, what he “was born to do” as an 11th generation shepherd. He knew nothing else! Barbara Essex, in her commentary on the Gospel of John tells us similar words, “the shepherd and the sheep knew each other.”
Jesus, in the Gospel of John this morning reminds us of the role of the “good shepherd.” In Greek the word for good is KALOS- which translates, “ordered, sound, noble, ideal, model, true, competent, faithful, and praiseworthy.” Jesus dismisses the thought that he was the average shepherd. He embodied all of the hard working notions of the shepherd interwoven with the fact that he was understanding, he would guide, feed, and care for the “sheep” who were understood to be the people. In the radical contrast of this text, in reference to who is really going to do kingdom work, Jesus explains that the “hired hand” is not able to carry out the work of the shepherd. The hired hand is only concerned with the money! So when the wolf approaches (taken to mean, those that were not part of the flock) he runs away!
Too often, we focus on the shepherd and the sheep in this text when maybe, just maybe we should focus on the “wolves,” those who are outside or on the periphery of the flock. One commentator suggests that “it is the witness of that shepherd that enables us to invest in the flawed institutions and life-styles that surround us.”
Let us ask ourselves then, what happens when we become so comfortable in our own communities? Do we become so inwardly focused that we lose sight of those outside? Jesus reminds us that he is equally committed to those outside of the “comfortable community.”
As we begin to see the move from the quiet little shepherd boy to kingdom work, we must understand that our mission is to reach those outside of these walls. Verse 16 is the imperative mission statement, “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.”
My friends, we must become “lovers of the outside”! Andrew Walls, a noted church historian and expert in missions says this, “The geographical center of faith has moved from Jerusalem to Syria to Southern Europe to Northern Europe to the North Atlantic to the Southern Hemisphere. To keep up with the new people Jesus aims to bring in, believers have to learn to inhabit different cultures and look at Christ in new ways. Christianity,” Walls suggests, “has a bias for the periphery.” (Christian Century, March 28, 2018, p.25)
Not only does this take place on a global level but it has to correlate at the local level. The local church, us, have to engage those that are on our periphery. Those who make our lives challenging and difficult! Those sheep who are dirty, smelly, and hard-headed.
These are days when I feel that we as the church often live in a house of mirrors. You know, like the carnival house that you walk in and when you attempt to exit, all that you see is your reflection. I believe that the kingdom work we need to be keenly aware of is when we reach those on the edge and to listen to them! Often times it is those who have not heard Jesus’ voice that are the one’s best able to help us hear it and understand it in a fresh new way.
My friends, as we continue to be engaged in kingdom work, let us be mindful that The Good Shepherd is with us and that we are to be that example in our lives and to those that are on the periphery of the world, show them the kingdom!
AMEN & AMEN