The Good Shepherd Lives (April 25, 2021)
John 10: 11-18
The Good Shepherd Lives
There is a story I really love. It’s about a doctor who goes to make a house visit to a dying man out in the field. And because it’s in a field, he takes his dog with him in the truck. And he heads out to visit this man. When he gets there, he walks into the house and shuts the door behind him. He walks over and he does his normal stuff and reassures the man. At the end, the man says “Doctor, I’m scared. I don’t know what will happen.” The doctor stops, and he points to the door where there’s a scratching sound of the dog trying to get in. He says “my dog is out there. My dog has never been here. He does not know what is inside this house. It could be dangerous; there could be a trap; there could be a predator; there could be any of a number of things. My dog does not know. What my dog does know is that his master is in that house, and that if his master is in that house, then that’s where he wants to be and it will be OK.”
This is the main point of the song we have been singing for the last month: Because he lives. Because he lives, I can face tomorrow. I don’t know what tomorrow holds. Tomorrow could be dangerous; there could be a trap; there could be a predator. I don’t know what tomorrow holds. But what I know is that my master will be there tomorrow, and therefore that’s where I want be and it will be OK. That’s what the song really boils down to, and what I was trying to convey to the children last week. Because he lives, I can face tomorrow. That is an unconditional statement, even without knowing what tomorrow holds.
This scripture says a lot of things, and there are a lot of lessons that are present within it, but the one that stuck out to me as I was reading it on Monday morning was that the Good Shepherd would lay down his life for the sheep. If there’s a wolf, or a lion, or any other type of predator that winds up there, the Good Shepherd will stand and fight and defend, even if it means his own death. The sheep are safe. And Jesus claims to be the Good Shepherd for us, his sheep. This is why we can trust Jesus. Being the Good Shepherd is why we can trust in him; because he would lay down his life for us.
And furthermore, because we have the hindsight of the entire gospel and we’re not living in this moment weeks or months before Jesus is crucified, we know that not only would Jesus lay down his life for us, he has laid down his life for us. He’s lived it out, he’s followed it up and walked that talk. And furthermore, because he lives, we know that he has the power to defend us. He is not going to be overpowered by the forces around us because he conquered even death. Because of the resurrection, because of his life, because we know he would lay down his life for us, we know that nothing can ultimately harm us. Like the dog in the story, we know the Good Shepherd is in tomorrow. We know the Good Shepherd is there and whatever it is that threatens us, we know it will ultimately be OK.
But here’s the thing: you have to trust the shepherd. Flocks of sheep are under constant threat. There’s always a threat of a wolf, or lion, or bear, or another shepherd. Always a threat that something could come and disrupt them, something to come and kill them. Sheep are not exactly the most defensible animal in the world. But they also need to go out because they need to graze. So they need to be out into the field. It is the trust that the shepherd is there and will protect them that allows them to head out into the world, to head out into the pasture and consume what they need. It is our trust that ultimately Christ has us, as the song says “in the palms of his hands” that allows us to live and go out and explore. To know that Jesus has our back, as they would say.
But sometimes what happens is we pick a different shepherd. We pick one of those bad shepherds, we have a hired hand. There’s a whole host of things that we place our trust in that isn’t Jesus, and I’m not going to get into those for the purposes of this sermon, but there’s things we trust in that aren’t God. And then there’s times where the wolf shows up, and maybe we get a chunk bit out of us, maybe we survive without any consequence; but we place our trust in something and it’s not there for us in the end. When we get in trouble, we get hurt; and then the next day, or two days down the line, or month, or years, or decades down the line the Shepherd is opening up the gate to graze, but we wonder if we can trust anymore.
For the sheep to do what they have to do, for the sheep to live, they have to trust the shepherd and head out into the field. You have to trust the shepherd to head out too. If you don’t trust the shepherd, what can happen is you only go so far as you can protect yourself. So you only go so far, you only go so far as to be able to run back into the pen if you need to get behind the security of the fence. So you only go about a 10 yard radius out in front of the gate. Sheep need a lot of grass though. If a sheep was only going within a 10 yard radius out in front of the gate, eventually they will eat up all the grass that is there. Sheep need to have another pasture, they need to have a larger pasture so the grass has a chance to regrow and they get different nutrients.
And obviously I’m stretching a metaphor here, sheep don’t act like that, but we do. We do. The reality is that if we wind up in the situation we don’t trust the shepherd in our spirit, then the gate gets opened and Jesus is trying to nourish our souls, but we refuse to go more than our comfort zone. We refuse to go more than what we can get back in. We refuse to make ourselves vulnerable. At times the Spirit is trying to teach us, and what we’re comfortable with works for a while, but then the grass runs out and we wind up malnourished. And we have to trust Jesus to move us into the next pasture.
If we go to the Scriptures and we study Scripture, but every time we study scripture it’s only our favorite passages, like every time we study Scripture it’s only Matthew 28 and we read every single time; then we get early reassurances that Jesus is raised from the dead, that Jesus is with us, and that he will be with us even to the end of the age. At the beginning we get a lot of reassurance. But then, every time we go back it’s less and less. And if the Spirit is within you telling you that you need to turn Kings to learn what the Spirit wants to teach you today, but you don’t trust it enough to go in the Old Testament, or into the history books. So you open the Bible and once again it’s Matthew 28, and once again Jesus will be with you even to the end of the age. But you wind up malnourished, because that wasn’t what you needed to hear today.
If you wake up screaming “God, why aren’t you teaching me anymore?” Perhaps that’s because you did not trust God enough to open up a different book, to open up a different place, or to do devotions in a different way from what you knew.
In order to live life, we half to trust the Shepherd has our back.
And that is incredibly hard. That is incredibly hard to do. Especially if we have been burned before. And that is why it can be so good to hear the testimony of other people. That’s why I can be so good to hear people give their testimony of “this is when I got in trouble, this is when I was staring down a bear that thought I was dinner, and the Good Shepherd came and saved me.” And hearing those testimonies from our friends, from our elders, that can be powerful because it reminds us that the Shepherd can be trusted. So when we wind up face-to-face with the bear, we can know that the shepherd will be there.
And in those moments where there aren’t very many testimonies showing up around us, that’s when the Scriptures come in handy. Most of the Scriptures are testimonies. That’s what the Scripture really is: a testimony of a whole bunch of people, over thousands of years, living life and getting into trouble and God showing up as the Good Shepherd to deliver them. And they write it down. That’s what most of this is; definitely most of the Old Testament. That’s what it is: stories of God showing up to deliver people. And reading this time after time again, and hearing the stories can be so beneficial. Because we will get in trouble. We are human, and we get into those moments of trouble, and it can be good to go, “you know, I once read a story of someone who got into a very similar situation, and here’s where God showed up for them. Maybe I should look for God in that same place.” And then we give our testimony to those who don’t read the Scripture of how God delivered us, so they can refer to our story when they get in trouble. So that they can know the Good Shepherd can be trusted.
I begin sermon prep on Monday, and I usually try to make sure that I have the sermon written by Wednesday or so because there’s a few things that have to happen after I’m done. So I’m writing this sermon at the beginning of this past week. And let me tell you that as I’m reading the story about the Good Shepherd, and looking for imagery and words to speak about this lesson that the Good Shepherd can be trusted, it hit differently this week. Monday was the anniversary of the Oklahoma City bombing that took the lives of 168 people, 19 of which were children. And then Tuesday was the anniversary of the Columbine shooting that took the lives of 12 children and a teacher. And then Wednesday was the anniversary of the Sri Lanka bombings two years ago, that took the lives of over 267 people in that country. And that’s all surrounded by over 30 mass shootings that we’ve had in this country over the last month, and it’s all surrounded by the end of a trial of one police officer who took the life of a citizen and the news reports of another police officer who took the life of a citizen.
And I’m reading this passage that is proclaiming from the Word that the Good Shepherd can be trusted. And I’m reading it in the midst of all of this death, and commemoration of death. And all the while, I am also preparing a funeral for this afternoon.
As I read this, and as I prepare this, the whole time my mind is screaming “can the Good Shepherd really be trusted? Can you look at all of this and say that?” But really, as I’ve gone through this week, this Scripture has ultimately become more powerful for me. Because, yes, I can say that. Even with all these events and commemorations and anniversaries of events remind us that we are not yet in the Kingdom. What Christ is screaming throughout the Gospels, at least to me this week, was that there may be things that can touch your mortal body, but you are not your mortal body. Nothing will damage your soul. No matter what tomorrow holds, Jesus will be there. And we know this because he lives. We know this because the resurrection happened. And that is a promise ultimately. And I can know that my master will be there, and that’s what matters. It doesn’t matter if tomorrow has a trap, or a predator, or is safe; I will be OK because he lives and can be trusted. And so will you. Amen.