THE SHEPHERD AND THE SHEEP
(Youth Confirmation Sunday)
11 [Jesus said :] "I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand is not the shepherd who owns the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. 13 The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.
14 "I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep 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 are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. 17 The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life — only to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father."
Some words in the English language are the same in the singular and plural. That is not true in many other languages. In English words like shrimp, deer, salmon and the word sheep may be singular or plural.
In the words of Jesus that John writes in his Gospel book, the word sheep is plural. When Jesus says, “The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep,” he is talking about all the sheep in his flock.
It is true that Jesus says that the kingdom is like a shepherd who goes
to find and bring back the one lost sheep out of a hundred. But you can bet your boots that the safest place to stay is in the flock! In the flock with the good shepherd is safety, security, plenty of pasture and quiet water to drink. On your own, well, you may just think you are hearing a shepherd’s voice, when you are being seduced by the howl of the wolf. I would strongly suggest to you that the wolf is not there to benefit the sheep, but his own appetite.
So here we have Jesus saying he is the good shepherd and the good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. If Jesus is a good shepherd, then there must be bad shepherds as well. Jesus talks about the shepherd who is only a hired hand. The sheep aren’t his; their ultimate protection is not his; he won’t die to save the sheep.
The good shepherd will die because he is good. Good has so many meanings to us. It doesn’t mean that he keeps the laws; is a moral person. It means he is genuinely interested in the welfare of the sheep. He know in an intimate way all about the sheep. He knows each one of you in this room today.
Hope that didn’t frighten you, but he does. He know which of you like to indulge in stuff you shouldn’t because it is harmful. He knows which of you have a tendency to make every anthill of a worry into a mountain that casts it shadow over all the rest of your life. He know that some of you never feel loved, although he has loved you from your very conception. He knows that thoughts, fantasies, dreams, ambitions get in the way of following the good shepherd. He knows that ultimately the sheep’s greatest problem is not environmental, but genetic.
We are born sinners. Sin corrodes. It is the “wolf” in our lives, in our mind, our hearts. It eats us up. It destroys us. The path of sin is wide and broad. Just around one little bend away from being with the other sheep and you are lost. The wolf is tucking his napkin into his shirt because another tasty morsel of the solitary, do-it-by-myself, go-my-own-way sheep is headed in his direction.
We are like that — wanting to do our own thing. How many of us really have a basic need for the community of Christians we call “our” church?
We need, let’s see, money, prospects for the future, a good family life, a few friends perhaps, but the church, this community of Christians?
You young people renewing your baptismal vows today and all of us also live in a culture which says I know what is good for me and you can’t tell me what to do. Perhaps even worse and something I have already alluded to is our belief that we can be Christians and don’t need the church.
Now there are plenty of reasons why we may not wish to be in a community of persons called a congregation or a particular church.
Sometimes we get stepped on and that hurts when you are in a church group. Some members are unappealing. And the way the church is graying, who thinks that old people are fun, except old people? You are young, vibrant, able to dance until you drop. And just plainly, is there any fun in being a church member? Sometimes, tell me honestly, isn’t this church going stuff a real drag, a downer with all this talk of sin and death and stuff like that? I mean who couldn’t think of better things to do on Sundays but going to church? All true and in some cases truer than I would like it to be.
But that is forgetting that we need and have a good shepherd. The purpose of being in a flock is for protection and care. The shepherd through the church of which he is the head feeds us on the Blessed Sacrament. He nourishes us with love, his love which can only truly be experienced through others whom he loves, loving us.
I get between 3 and a 100 e-mails every day. Some are addressed to my name. Some tell me that I had better take a cold shower before I open this one. Other want me to go to so many exciting places and they have a plan for me to get there, that I would never have time to be with you. Others want to feed me information about politics and arouse my passion for or against whoever this particular person favors. I continue to be asked to buy this, enroll in this on line university, get my degree. I may open one or two a day at the most.
What am I going to do? I spend more time deleting e-mail than praying, than readying what God would like to say to me.
My doctor says I should exercise every day; my therapist just gave me a whole slew of exercises to help my body. Important right? Wrong. I have too much to do. Sermons to write, people to see, programs to develop, worship services to prepare, wife and grandkids to help, the house, the yard — why I don’t have time for church do I? Do I?
All of these and more — having a good relationship with my wife; having some fun, maybe going fishing at Rose Davenport’s ponds are nothing less than “hired hands” who will not be there when I truly need help.
Only, only the good shepherd. Only the good shepherd can and will lay down his life so that after I have indulged in all that which destroys I may have life, truly live while dying, and then live without anything to mark, “this is the final resting place of ________”.
You young people today are at a beautiful age, 16 give or take a few months. No girls are ugly at 18 and no boys are not handsome at that age. We say, life lies ahead of you; go for it.
Go for it within the flock. Never forget that only the flock brings safety because in the flock you will know about the good shepherd. He knows you intimately; he cares completely; he has given his life so that no wolf, let me repeat, nothing can destroy you when you have his forgiving, consoling presence, and regardless of the allure, the perfume that seems to lure you away from the church, from the flock, from the community that belongs to the good shepherd, nothing is as sweet a smell as that of home. This community is your home, your flock, your people. They will always care and love you because they have experienced as you have, the care and love of the good shepherd.
“How great is the love the Father has lavished on us, that we should be called children of God! And that is what we are! Dear friends, now we are children of God, and what we will be has not yet been made known.
But we know that when Jesus appears, we shall be like him, and we shall see him as he is.” The Good Shepherd and we his sheep.
Then you’ll hear the words: “Come, you blessed of my Father before the creation of the world (see how well he knows you and your being born), inherit the kingdom prepared for you.”
When the roll is called up yonder, let’s all be there. There to praise the shepherd who gently firmly led us by the hand, prepared pasture for us with wolves all around, led us through dark valleys, and the shadows, dark as death, and all the time the shepherd’s two dogs, goodness and mercy hounding us, so we can live in the house of the good shepherd forever. Amen.
Walter W. Harms, retired pastor
Austin, TX U.S.A.