Good Shepherd Sunday
April 25, 2021
Psalm 23; John 10.1-10
+ Today is, of course, Good Shepherd Sunday—the Sunday in which we encounter this wonderful reading about Jesus being the Good Shepherd.
Everybody loves this Sunday because…well…everybody loves the Good Shepherd.
This is probably one of the most perfect images Jesus could have used for the people listening to him in that day and age.
They would have “got” this.
They understood the difference between a good shepherd and a bad shepherd.
The good shepherd was the shepherd who actually cared for his or her flock.
They looked out for them, they watched them.
The Good Shepherd guided the flock and led the flock.
She or he guided and led the flock to a place to eat.
This is an important aspect of the role of the Good Shepherd.
The Good Shepherd didn’t just feed the flock.
Rather the good shepherd led the flock to the choicest green pastures and helped them to feed themselves.
In this way, the Good Shepherd is more than just a coddling shepherd.
He is not the co-dependent shepherd.
Today is not Co-Dependent Shepherd Sunday.
The Good Shepherd doesn’t take each sheep individually, pick them up, and hand-feed the sheep.
Rather, she or he guides and leads the sheep to green pastures and allows them feed themselves.
The Good Shepherd also protects the flock against the many dangers out there.
The Good Shepherd protects the flock from the wolves, from getting too near cliffs, or holes, or falling into places of water.
Let’s face it, there are many dangers out there.
There are many opportunities for us to trip ourselves, to get lost, to get hurt.
We all need a Good Shepherd to help us avoid those pitfalls of life.
Of course, the journey isn’t an easy one.
We can still get hurt along the way.
Bad things can still happen to us.
There are predators out there, waiting to hurt us.
There are storms brewing in our lives, waiting to rain down upon us.
But, with our eyes on the Shepherd, we know that the bad things that happen to us will not destroy us, because the Shepherd is there, close by, watching out for us.
We know that in those bad times—those times of darkness when predators close in, when storms rage— the Good Shepherd will rescue us.
More importantly the Good Shepherd knows their flock.
They know each of the sheep.
If one is lost, they know it is lost and will not rest until it is brought back into the fold.
In our collect for today, there is a wonderful reference to the Good Shepherd.
In the prayer, we ask God:
“Grant that when we hear his voice, we may know him who calls us each by name…’
Jesus sets the standard here for us.
Yes, we are called.
But, in our calling, we then, in turn, are, of course, to be good shepherds to those around us.
We are called to serve, to look out for those people around us who need us.
We are called to lead others to those choice places of refreshment.
We are called to help and guide others.
And, most importantly, we are called to see and know those people we come into contact with in this world.
We are not called to simply exist in this world, vaguely acknowledging the people who are around us.
We are to be actively engaged in the world and it the lives of others.
How often do we walk around not really “seeing” anyone around us?
We are called to actually “know” the people we are called to serve.
The God Jesus shows us is not some vague, distant God.
We don’t have a God who lets us fend for ourselves.
We instead have a God who leads us and guides us, a God who knows us each by name, a God who despairs over the loss of even one of the flock.
We have a God who, in Psalm 23, that very familiar psalm we have all hear so many times in our lives, is a God who knows us and loves us and cares for us.
But God accomplishes this love and knowledge through us.
We, by being good shepherds, allow God to be the ultimate Good Shepherd.
We were commissioned to be good shepherds by our very baptisms.
On that day we were baptized, we were called to be a Good Shepherds to others.
Anyone can be a good shepherd.
Certainly, priests and pastors have long clung to this image and applied it to their vocation.
And, they should.
We’ve known the good shepherds in our clergy and lay ministers.
I hope I have been a good shepherd to the people I have been called to serve.
And we’ve all known the bad shepherds.
Bad Shepherds (or hired hands, as we heard in our Gospel reading for today) who have been clergy, or lay leaders, or political leaders or business leaders.
Just the other day, a former member of St. Stephen’s who moved elsewhere reminded me of a situation that I had to endure very publicly with a bad shepherd.
10 years ago I was asked to preach at an Easter Vigil Mass at another church.
There was another clergy person there.
And I preached at that mass about a recent book that had been published by Rob Bell—a very controversial book, but one that was very meaningful to me.
My sermon, however, was not controversial by any sense of the word.
I didn’t preach any heresy.
However, after I finished and sat down, this particular clergy person got up, and before leading us in the Creed, proceeded to “correct” my sermon.
And he wasn’t nice about it.
He was condescending.
And he was downright mean about it.
And he blatantly reprimanded me, right there, in front of everyone, without actually addressing me, by the way, though I was sitting right there.
Now, I had never seen anything like that in all my years in the Church.
In fact, to this day, I have never seen anything like that.
I’ve never seen anyone actually do such a thing.
And there have been times when I have had preachers here with whom I have disagreed, with whom I have been not happy.
But I would never have even considered “correcting” them here in front of everyone afterward.
And I remember sitting there, essentially being bullied and reprimanded and, frankly, humiliated, in front of an entire congregation—at the Easter Vigil, nonetheless!—feeling as though I had left my body.
(That often happens when really difficult things happen to me in my life)
I can tell you that if I hadn’t been in such shock about it, I would’ve stood up and walked out of that church.
And in fact this former parishioner, and I think one other St. Stephen’s member who was there, actually did get up and walk out in anger and frustration.
This, to me, was an example of really bad shepherding.
Even if my sermon was so bad, so theological incorrect (which it wasn’t—you can still read it on my blog), there were other ways to handle it.
But, it wasn’t, after all, about the sermon.
It was about me, and about what he felt about me.
And I can tell you what he intended to do worked. It hurt. Deeply.
This was a concentrated effort to correct and humiliate a person in front of everyone.
In a church.
At the Easter Vigil!
Bad shepherds/hired hands undermine and, chip by chip, destroy the work of Christ in this world.
But, today, we don’t have to worry about those bad shepherds.
We know that bad shepherds, and those who allow them to be bad shepherds, in the end, get their due.
The chickens always come home to roost.
Today, we celebrate the Good Shepherd—the Good Shepherd that is showing us the way forward to being good shepherds in our own lives.
Because in celebrating the Good Shepherd, we celebrate goodness.
We celebrate being good and doing good and embodying goodness in our lives.
So, on this day in which we celebrate the Good Shepherd, let us be what he is.
Let us live out our vocation to be good shepherds to those around us.
Let us truly “see” and know those people who share this life with us.
And let us know that being a good shepherd does make a difference in this world.
Let us make a difference.
Emboldened by our baptism, strengthened by a God who knows us and love us, let us in turn know and love others as we are called to do.
Let us pray.
Holy God, our Good Shepherd, you know us. You love us. You call us each by name. Guide us and direct us in the ways in which we should go. And, in doing so, strengthen us to go where we must. We ask this in Jesus’ name. Amen.