A Shepherd Worth Trusting

Easter 4 St Petri         21/04/2013

A Shepherd Worth Trusting

Text: (John 10:22-30) 

The Fourth  Sunday of Easter has been celebrated for many centuries as  “Good Shepherd Sunday”, and the Gospel for today picks up that theme again.  The care and herding of sheep was a different matter in Jesus’ day than it is today.  They didn’t have motorbikes or helicopters to herd sheep, or even sheep dogs, but  then they didn’t have the size flocks we have either.  The picture we have from Jesus’ stories is of a lone man walking around the countryside with maybe 100 sheep, moving them around from one pasture to another and locking them up in a safe place at night.  They may also have gathered together with other shepherds at night for safety, as shepherds seemed to be doing on that first Christmas.

Because of the smell they accumulated, sleeping near sheep, and perhaps the disreputable behaviour some of them  indulged in, shepherds didn’t have a really great reputation in those days.  Wealthy landowners would hire shepherds to do the dirty work, but of course hired help never quite value the sheep as much as an owner might, and could not be relied on to stick to the job if the sheep ever came into real danger.  In much earlier times, King David was remembered as a former shepherd boy, who did defend his sheep against all dangers, but that romantic view of a shepherd was long in the past.  In that sort of tradition, kings and religious leaders  could also be referred to as shepherds of their flock – we have the same ideas reflected in our terms ‘pastor’ and ‘congregation’.  But the reality was less glamorous most of the time and good shepherds were few and far between at the best of times.

So when Jesus asked the Pharisees whether they wouldn’t surely go looking for a sheep that got lost in the rough country (Luke 15), of course they thought he was joking – they would have sent the hired help!  So when Jesus refers to himself as a Good Shepherd, he is taking them back to an ideal they had since lost – of a King of the line of David who was promised to lead God’s people with faithfulness and goodness.  A shepherd like that is worth following.  Someone you can trust, whose voice you want to hear and recognize, because that way lies not only safety but real life, eternal life.

…Feast of Dedication

–       commemorating the purification of the Temple after idolatry

–       Porch of Solomon or Porch of Judgement (place where kings made judgements and dispensed justice

–       shepherd readings were standard texts in the synagogues

–       Jesus is questioned by ‘the Jews’ – questions which are looking for pre-conceived answers

The Question of the Messiah

–         King of the line of David, son of God, symbol of Israel

–         Archetype and model of all OT shepherds

–         Many different expectations about Messiah…

–         Militaristic conqueror?  Spiritual leader? Royal dispenser of justice?

–         Servant leadership dominated Jesus’ own thinking

–         Here concentrates on faithfulness

The Question of Faithfulness, Trust & Belonging

–         Jesus is a faithful shepherd, can be trusted

–         Will fulfil his mission from the Father and not lose any of his flock

–         Inspires faith, trust in the ones who belong to him

–         His ‘works’ inspire faith in John the Baptist, but not his questioners; he is not the kind of Messiah they want, so they do not hear his voice

–         Of course our lives are also full of questions, full of doubts, and within the faith relationship these only work to deepen our lives

–         For those who do hear his voice, he is their shepherd, their guide and protector, and they are his

–         As we belong to Jesus, we belong to one another

–         This sense of belonging is perhaps the greatest need in our society, also in the Barossa Valley, and is the very Gospel gift we have been given to share

–         Don’t forget to give the first 5 minutes after church today to someone you don’t usually spend time with, especially people from outside your own congregation

The God Question

–         It always get down to the God question

–         What kind of God are we asked to trust? How is God disposed toward us?

–         Jesus responds to his questioners in a way that shocks them:

–         I and the Father are one!  Jesus is God, or rather perhaps God is Jesus (Luther)

–         They pick up stones to execute him for blasphemy

–         If God is Jesus, then they are on the outside, because they have rejected him

–         He has done God’s works among them (his own works) but they don’t recognize him (See John 1:10-11)

–         But Jesus shows us the Father’s heart (Luther again)

The Question of Obedience & Eternal Life

–         To those who hear his voice he empowers as children of God and gives them eternal life

–         What we have been calling ‘resurrection life’

–         This is power for a life lived on a higher plane

–         Not ‘holier than thou’ or morally superior

–         Rather a life of quiet confidence that whatever we think or say or do, nothing can separate us from the love of God

–         Obedience is (Latin) ‘listening towards’ – hearing the voice that is calling us to a life of fulfilled joy, of care for the neighbour and the world around us, of partnership with the Triune God in nothing less than the redemption of the whole world

–         Cf John 6:29 ‘This is the work of God, that you have faith in the one he has sent’

–         The obedience of faith – faith is obedience – the only thing that makes God angry is when we reject his gift, the gift of faith

Finally…

There is only one false journey, which leads to futility – which proceeds from a false start – a life without faith in Jesus.  Everything else can work, but this false start doesn’t

–         Not a prescribed journey – first this, then this, etc

–         Not a new law or a new list of rules or demands

–         Rather a shared journey through life, empowered by resurrection life, headed for a destination which turns out to be the companion

He is risen!  He is risen indeed!

Graham R. Harms

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