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Sermon How is Jesus “The Good Shepherd” today

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					Sermon: How is Jesus “The Good Shepherd” today?….John 10:11-18

        Our son Dave was at the end of his sophomore year at Rutgers and he was told he
had been accepted into medical school on an accelerated program. No MCats to study for
or pay for, we all celebrated! During his junior and senior years he would have to
complete his first year of medical school. We all felt confidant it was a good decision for
him to make.
        That summer Dave and other new medical students attended a White Coat
ceremony. They were told, yes, you are all bright, how else would you have been
selected? But being a good doctor is more than being bright and able to do the
“technical” work. Being a good doctor means having compassion, showing the person
you care for them.
        I think you would support this sentiment as you have probably known doctors
who could do their work but who had no “bedside manner.” So a good doctor is not
necessarily good versus bad but can be “caring” versus “uncaring.”
        This comparison may help us with comparison between a good shepherd and a
hired hand as we heard in the Gospel. I don’t suppose many of us are very familiar with
shepherding. You may have had some experiences- I have been on many farms in
England and seen a little sheep rounding but if there is any in the streets of Chester and
Long Valley I must have missed it.
        However the crowd around Jesus daily saw shepherds at work and regularly heard
stories about them from their scriptures, unlike us who are not familiar with the role. We
certainly know of lovely pictures of a very gentle looking Jesus holding a sweet little
lamb as if that was what shepherds did. It is so far from the truth.
        The shepherd had to be gusty, brave, long suffering, self sufficient and able to put
up with humiliation for having his job seen as the lowest in any job ranking. Jesus may
even have selected the job of shepherd because it was the despised one, least wanted. We
know of it’s unpopularity from scripture.
        When Joseph’s brothers came to live in Egypt he told them “Don’t tell Pharaoh
you are shepherds, say you keep livestock because “all shepherds are abhorrent to the
Egyptians.”
        We know David, the youngest of Jesse’s sons had to do the shepherd’s job – he
was dumped on. God too chose the lowly shepherds as the first visitors to the baby
Messiah. So Jesus here reached out to the marginalized in the community we could say
he elevated shepherds or maybe humbled himself as he became one with them.
        And Jesus showed the difference between what a good shepherd was and did
compared with the mercenary employee. The mercenary was only there for the money
and would only stay as long as it was easy. When a crisis erupted, when challenged by
any threat or danger, he would be gone. This employee had no relationship with the
animals; it was just a job, maybe risky but any money was better than unemployment.
        A little story: Two men both psychiatrists were in an elevator at the end of the
day. One looked really haggard, his clothes wrinkled and there were bags under his eyes.
Maybe that is not surprising as the job can be very tiring and taxing. The other was
immaculately dressed and had a sprightly air. The former looked at his colleague and
said, “Boy, I don’t know how you do it. Listening to people’s problems all day, I’m




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absolutely whacked.” The second man paused a moment, smiled and said, “Who
listens?”
         Jesus told them that as a good shepherd he would protect them, stay with them
throughout any danger. Jesus made it clear that he knew each and every one of them.
Each and every sheep of his flock was known to him and in relationship with him. To the
listening crowd this message was clear. They knew that good shepherds knew each
sheep in their care, and that these sheep each knew the shepherd and would respond to
their shepherd’s voice and only their shepherd’s voice.
         Talk about a 24/7 job; it is like parenting but a little less glamorous and probably
more smelly.
         The people heard what Jesus said and could relate to his message. Here was
someone who wanted to know them and to protect them and love them. We hear it too.
How wonderful to feel and know that Jesus cares. He cared for the crowd around him, he
said he knew them. In the same way he cares for us today.
         David, the Psalmist, in today’s Psalm shows he understood this too. His Psalm
begins “The Lord is my shepherd” Not just any shepherd, mine. But then he spoke
about God as “God over there.” “He makes me lie down…He revives my soul.”
However, when he talked about his deep fears he showed how God knew him. “Though I
walk through the valley of the shadow of death, you are with me; your rod and staff
comfort me…. You anoint my head with oil” …
         Yes God in Jesus cares for you and knows you. That sounds good and comforting
but it also brings discomfort. In fact it is also very scary. Being known by God means
that God knows all the sins you commit, all the lies, the deceits, the prejudices you
harbor, the mean thoughts. It is very uncomfortable to realize that you are known. If you
stop and think, you realize that it is true and has always been true that God, all powerful
does know all about you.
         However this understanding of God’s power has not stopped you or me
committing sins or stopped any others either, unfortunately.
         Others! Jesus spoke about others too. In this Gospel message he said, “I have
other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also.” The church has
understood that Jesus referred to non Jews, or Gentiles. He was not disparaging in any
way, but told them that Gentiles were also to be included in God’s kingdom. We believe
this and Christianity has understood its mission is to everyone who will listen, no
exclusions.
         For me following this statement of Jesus means that all are welcome into the
church, all are free to choose which way they worship and all who have experienced a
call from God are invited to explore that sense of call. It is very important to me that our
church, the Episcopal Church welcomes women, welcomes all men and women
irrespective of their race, sexual orientation, ethnicity, age… to pursue a sense of call to
ordination. But ordination is not the only way God calls us. Our diocese has produced a
set of materials which invites all people to examine their role in the church and to discern
how God is calling them to serve. Lay ministry is the first ministry and most Christians
serve as lay people. I did not serve better or worse when I was a lay person; my role now
is just a different one. There is so much ministry to be done. If you want to discern how
you could be serving God in ways different from the present, do come and talk to me
about what discernment would be or could be for you.



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        And Jesus is telling us yet more here. He says he is the Good Shepherd. He is
not just any pretty good protector of sheep who does his best. Jesus is saying that he is
the one who intentionally cares so much that he is going to give his life for his sheep. He
knew that his listeners understood shepherds took risk when they undertook this job. But
they did not become a shepherd thinking,” I can do this for a while till I get killed” No
one I know takes a job which she knows will kill them. The risk may be there but it is a
calculated risk and he feels he can overcome the danger.
        I was thinking about what it is to take risks this week at a clergy gathering. Over
the past months some of us in our diocese accepted the offer to train as peer coaches and
then to be coaches and coaches. I have coached a colleague and been coached by
another. When I called my coach I soon realized that it was up to me how I answered the
open ended questions. If I wanted to talk about deeper matters and concerns it was a risk.
I was talking about things which were hard to say. If I chose not to talk about certain
concerns I received no support or challenges. No risk, meant no gain. But when I took
the risk of sharing I often received very helpful responses.
        Sharing our faith can also be a risk, we never know how someone will respond.
Too often we step around the subject and say nothing. But Jesus promised to be with us
when we talk, promised to give us the words to say.
        Jesus our Good Shepherd is the one here beside us. To Jesus being the Good
Shepherd is not a risk but a promise. During his earthly ministry he stated many times he
was going to give his life for his people. “His people” it means all people, you and me.
He gave his life for you even though you may feel undeserving. He gave his life for you;
it was his to give. He laid it down freely in love and for love. He has given us an
example that we have before us of sacrificial love.
        So often we feel undeserving; we are aware of our far we have fallen short of
living the way God wants us to live.
        A pastor of a church in Brooklyn went to visit a lady who was dying. He sat
beside her listening as she talked of her life. She had been the breadwinner for the family
only receiving low wage, for menial labor jobs, working long hours . She was afraid that
when she died and approached God that she would be unworthy. The pastor took her
rough and calloused hands and said, “When you stand there in the presence of God just
show God your hands.”
        Jesus was the sacrificial lamb. Nails were driven into his hands and feet. He was
the one who both cared for the lamb and became the lamb. In the same way he is both as
one with us in his humanity and is God in his divinity. He showed that by stating he
was a shepherd he associated with the least, the marginalized in the community. And
Jesus was the lamb who was slain; he is there with us in all our suffering.
        As you go forward in your life today carry the knowledge that God the Good
Shepherd cares for you. Share the faith that our God, this Good Shepherd loves you.
And receive and give the care and the love that God the Good Shepherd gives you and
wants you to offer to all God’s people.
Amen




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