"The Good Shepherd and the Good Sheep" – John 10:11-18
John 10:11-18 (NRSV)
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.”
My wife and I are privileged to own two vehicles. One is our good car – the one we bought when our first child was born. It safely and comfortably transports the kids around town and is our only option for long road trips.
And then there’s the other car. We try not to ask it to do much more than get me the 11/2 miles to and from church every day. It leaks oil; it has barely an inch of exterior that isn't’ dented, cracked, or missing paint; it has more pieces than I care to admit joined together with plastic zip ties; and seven years ago I put a CD into the car stereo system and to this day it has refused to eject it.
Sometimes life kind of works out like that – you have at least two options, but you only deem one of the options as “good.”
If I say, “Coke or Pepsi,” you know which one you think is good. Same thing if I say, “Democrat or Republican” or “IU or Purdue.” Anyone who grew up with brothers or sisters has probably thought that only one of you was the “good” sibling (or at least felt like one was treated by your parents as the “good” sibling).
In today’s scripture Jesus announces that he is good. Of all the voices pleading for us to follow them, it is Jesus’ voice alone is “good.” As the good shepherd, Jesus promises he will stick around when trouble comes, unite divided groups, die to protect us from the forces of darkness, and guide us in a voice we would recognize.
I believe this is true. I believe that of all the voices vying for my attention, Jesus alone is the good shepherd. I believe that Jesus sticks around when trouble comes. I believe Jesus will united what is divided. I believe Jesus died to protect me from the forces of darkness.
Where I struggle, however, is with Jesus’ promise that the flock will know and follow Jesus’ voice.
How many of us can say with absolute certainty that we hear (and follow) Jesus’ will in our lives? How many of us are confident that when we encounter the next big decision – the next fork in the road – Jesus’ voice will guide us to make the correct decision?
I hope I’m not the only one struggles with this daily!
How do we, as people who desire to be led by Christ, know if we are following the good shepherd as opposed to simply following our own desires, demons, or indigestion?
Reading and wrestling with scripture is certainly one way to hear the voice of Jesus. Another is by worshiping with and committing yourself to a faith community. Also, you can spend time in prayer and meditation, as I know many of you do.
But what about the times when scripture fails to speak to us, when faith communities fail to love and accept us, or when we can’t bring ourselves to pray because we we’re not sure anyone or anything is actually listening? Is there another way to hear the voice of the good shepherd?
Another way to hear the voice of the good shepherd is by following the sheep that are already going the right way (to be clear, that’s metaphorical sheep!).
Often I have encounters with people and am struck by the feeling that these are people I ought to follow because they’re on the right path; they are people I could learn from, and they just “get it.” These are people who manage to embody the voice of the good shepherd through their faith, selfless actions, and peaceful presence.
Here’s an example: You remember my car situation – how I have one good car and one bad car? Well, last Friday I learned that one of my brake pads had fallen off the bad car. The mechanic assured me brake pads are very important for a vehicle and told me to leave the car there, although he was unsure if he could get to it that day or the next. I was solo parenting that entire weekend – the good car safely and dependably transporting my wife to Nashville, Tennessee – and I needed my car to transport the kids to/from school and ball games.
I drove back to the church and was weighing my options when a colleague I had just met a couple days earlier arrived for our scheduled lunch meeting. I told him about my predicament. He responded with a gentle chuckle, shook his head and said, “Believe it or not, we just bought a new car this morning. Why don’t you take my van until your car gets repaired?” He then said, “People have been very generous to us and I’d like to help out by helping pay for the car repair.”
It was clear this was no power-play or pity party on his part; and I accepted his generous offer. Later I called my wife with an update on the car and said, “The car’s broke again and in the shop, but don’t worry, I’m borrowing a minivan from someone I just met.”
We ended up spending the afternoon accompanying one another on errands and having holy conversation – an experience made possible because of his selfless generosity and grace.
I tell you that story to testify that the voice of the good shepherd can be heard all around us, often in unexpected places and people. I heard the voice of the good shepherd in one family’s unexpected, abundant, and selfless generosity – generosity made possible because others had been generous to them. I found sheep who were already following the voice of the good shepherd, and I made an effort to follow close behind.
When you look around at the sea of humanity, it’s tempting to think that we’re all just a bunch of stupid sheep who can’t get our act together. However, there is something faithful about seeking out the sheep who are being guided in the right direction and following closely behind.
This is the gift Christians are called and blessed to be in the world: we are called and blessed to bear the presence of Jesus for all people.
I have been privileged to have been led by faithful sheep my whole life. Honestly, it’s the primary reason why I chose to stay in the church and it is why I still believe that there is a good shepherd to follow.
Even when the words of scripture fail to comfort us, when the actions of a community hurt us, when we doubt that prayer is worth the effort, may we be open to the idea that there are people whom God will put in our lives who can teach us, inspire us, and lead us along the path. Only then can we hope to guide others toward the voice of the good shepherd.
And all God’s sheep say, "Baaaaa!"