Sermon: Easter 3 Year A*
May 3, 2020
The Rev. Eileen Weglarz
Acts 2:42-47; Psalm 23; 1 Peter 2:19-25; John 10:1-10
As long as I can remember, sheep have been referred to as being sort of, well, dumb. But recently I read in Barbara Brown Taylor’s book, The Preaching Life, a story she tells of a conversation she had with a friend who grew up on a sheep farm in the Midwest. According to him, sheep are not dumb at all.
He says, “It is the cattle ranchers who are responsible for spreading that ugly rumor.” And all because sheep do not behave like cows. Cows are herded from the rear by hooting cowboys with cracking whips, but that will not work with sheep at all. Stand behind them making loud noises and all they will do is run around behind you, because they prefer to be led. You push cows, but you lead sheep, and they will not go anywhere that someone else does not go first—namely, their shepherd—who goes ahead of them to show them that everything is all right.”
Sheep know their shepherd and their shepherd knows them. Taylor’s sheep expert friend went on to say that it never ceases to amaze him, growing up, that he could walk right through a sleeping flock “without disturbing a single one of them, while a stranger could not step foot in the fold without causing pandemonium.” Sheep and shepherds apparently develop a communication of their own.
As we read in John’s gospel, “He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them…(John 10:3b-4a)
The desire of the Good Shepherd is to give life to the sheep. In opposition to the design of the thief, which is to kill and to destroy, Jesus has come to vindicate the truths of God, to redress grievances, to revive waning zeal in faith, to seek the lost, and to bind up what has been broken.
The thief or the false shepherd has a very different agenda. Think back to some of the horrific stories of the past where cult leaders led their followers into exclusive camps and isolation from the rest of society. They alone had the truth and could not be part of the rest of the world. Eventually, some were poisoned, sometimes committing suicide, and other times some were shot by their own leaders. False shepherds…they kill and destroy.
Jesus came to give, not take. He is to us Life sprung up from the dead. He has come that we might have life—as a criminal receives when he is pardoned, as a sick person experiences after being cured—life as known by a dead person who is raised.
But Jesus also came that we might experience life more abundantly. This is a joy greater than just having lost something and then found it, more abundant than what was promised by the Law of Moses, better than anything we could ask for or even think of.
He came to give life and something more, something better—life with an advantage, life that is full, life without death or the fear of death. Those who have come into relationship with Jesus have already passed from death into eternal life—not only an everlasting reality, but also the fullness of life with God.
In John’s gospel, “…eternal life refers to that quality of life in relationship with God that is profoundly meaningful and fulfilling. And in light of this experience of God through Jesus, the whole created order lights up as a sacramental witness to the source of life.” (David Rhoads)
The Church itself is founded by the love of the shepherd for the sheep, which in turn is held together by the love of the sheep for the shepherd and for each other. This is why schism has long been labeled a sin against love, and why without love, all other marks of the church are like a noisy gong or a clashing cymbal. In other words, the way to unity and fidelity is the way of love.
A story is told about a young woman who had a baby boy. Just after her son’s baptism, a ragged old man came to her and offered to grant her one wish on behalf of her son. Thinking only the best for her baby, the woman wished that her son would always be loved by everyone he met. The old man said, “So be it,” and vanished.
As the boy grew, everyone loved him so much that he never lacked for anything. Yet things did not turn out as expected. As adored and admired as the young man was, he experienced a terrible emptiness within him. He could have anything he wanted, just by asking, but he had no real friends. He never knew the joy of a day’s work or a personal achievement richly rewarded. His neighbors took care of all of his needs. As a result, the young man became cynical, jaded, and selfish—because none of his actions ever brought him any negative consequences.
Finally the day came when his aged mother died. At the funeral, the same mysterious old man appeared and offered the man himself one wish. He took the sage up on his offer, and asked that his mother’s original wish for him to be changed. Rather than being loved by everyone he met, the man asked the old wizard to give him the power to love everyone he met. And, as the story goes, from that day forward he knew happiness such as no one on this earth has ever known.
What is happening in the lives of the people in the Church at large, or in our congregation, that makes clear that we are hearing the Shepherd’s voice?
H. King Oehmig writes, “The Gospel message is that Jesus is the ‘unfound door’ that we all seek. The doorway to the heart’s deepest desire: to know and be known by God. And the question before us each day is ‘Do we want to walk through the door?’ Do we want to step through the Gateway of Jesus into the Realm of Light? Or do we want to be a huddled mass of scurrying sheep, uneasy and bleating, and mutton for the world.”
The decision seems to be ours to make. As we prayed in this morning’s Collect, “O God, whose Son Jesus is the good shepherd of your people: Grant that when we hear his voice we may know him who calls us each by name, and follow where he leads; who, with you and the Holy Spirit, lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever.” Amen.
*Sermon resource: Synthesis, Easter 4—Year A, May 3, 2020.