First Reading: Acts 4:5-12
5The next day [the] rulers, elders, and scribes assembled in Jerusalem, 6with Annas the high priest, Caiaphas, John, and Alexander, and all who were of the high-priestly family. 7When they had made the prisoners stand in their midst, they inquired, “By what power or by what name did you do this?” 8Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them, “Rulers of the people and elders, 9if we are questioned today because of a good deed done to someone who was sick and are asked how this man has been healed, 10let it be known to all of you, and to all the people of Israel, that this man is standing before you in good health by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead. 11This Jesus is
‘the stone that was rejected by you, the builders;
it has become the cornerstone.’
12There is salvation in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given among mortals by which we must be saved.”
Psalm: Psalm 23
1The Lord| is my shepherd;
I shall not be in want.
2The Lord makes me lie down in green pastures
and leads me beside still waters.
3You restore my soul, O Lord,
and guide me along right pathways for your name’s sake.
4Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I shall fear no evil;
for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.
5You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies;
you anoint my head with oil, and my cup is running over.
6Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life,
and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
Second Reading: 1 John 3:16-24
16We know love by this, that [Jesus Christ] laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. 17How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses help?
18Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action. 19And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him 20whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything. 21Beloved, if our hearts do not condemn us, we have boldness before God; 22and we receive from him whatever we ask, because we obey his commandments and do what pleases him.
23And this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ and love one another, just as he has commanded us. 24All who obey his commandments abide in him, and he abides in them. And by this we know that he abides in us, by the Spirit that he has given us.
Gospel: John 10:11-18
[Jesus said:] 11“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12The 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. 13The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. 14I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for thesheep. 16I 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. 17For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again.18No 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.”
If I were with you, I would remind us of the children’s song, “I Just Want to Be a Sheep.”
I just want to be a sheep, baa, baa. I don’t want to be a goat, nope, cause they don’t have hope.
I just want to be a sheep, baa, baa. I don’t want to be a Pharisee, nope, cause they’re not fair you see.
I just want to be a sheep, baa, baa. I don’t want to be a hypocrite, nope, cause they’re not hip with it.
I just want to be a sheep!
Let us pray: May the words of my mouth and the meditations of my heart be acceptable in your sight, my Rock and my Redeemer.
So far this Easter season we have looked at the testimonies of people who saw the risen Christ. Mary Magdalene saw Jesus at the tomb and recognized him when he called her name. She responded “Rabboni – Teacher”. Cleopas and friend saw Jesus that evening, were lead through Scripture by Jesus, and recognized him in the breaking of bread. They rushed back to Jerusalem to tell other followers who were gathered behind closed doors. We have no idea how many people saw Jesus then but we know Jesus appeared and was real. Thomas was not there but Jesus came again a week later and again appeared and proved he was not only risen but had a real body. Thomas responds, “My Lord and my God.” We know something is real because it passes the touch test or the taste test. Our senses confirm reality.
But many things are real that cannot be seen. Wind cannot be seen but we know it is real because we see its affect. We feel it. Love seems real and we make promises that we hope will last the test of time. Today’s text is given to us for us to ask ourselves: Does the risen Christ meet the description of the Good Shepherd given in Scripture? Is his life congruent with his teachings and all that the Savior was promised to be. We will look at the title Good Shepherd for this theme can be seen in the Old Testament in Psalm 23 and in the teachings of Jesus in John 10 as one of the “I AM” claims of Jesus.
Jesus lays out three ways to know a if his claim to be “the Good Shepherd” is congruent with how we experience him in life – beyond touching him and seeing him. A Good Shepherd lays down his life for his sheep. Jesus says that means that
- He does not run away in danger. He knows his sheep and they know him.
- He is able to shepherd sheep in many folds. His sheep know his voice and listen to him.
- The Good shepherd has the power to lay down his life and take it up again.
Are Relationship, Voice, and Power observed in this risen Christ?
1“I am the good shepherd.
The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
12The 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. 13The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep.”
The shepherd laying down his life for his sheep is often understood as Christ dying on the cross for us. He did not run away from ransoming us from the penalty of sin – death. We may die but we do not perish. We may walk through the “valley of the shadow of death” but we know that he walks with us. We know that his kingdom is eternal and not of this world. We hear those promises but they are a bit far off and accepted by faith. Are there ways that we see Christ laying down his life for us today? How does that become three dimensional so we can touch and feel and know that God in Jesus is real? Today.
The first thing that comes to mind is the model of how parents – and friends for single people – share resources. They are willing to “lay down”, give away, part of what is theirs so another will be happy. Parents love children even when the child is naughty and immature. They love them when they are tired and grumpy. They care for their creation and share with it; even so God cares for us. We sing “This is my Father’s world” and we can affirm that the sun shines on the good and the bad, on the obedient and the disobedient. We can affirm that blessings of flowers and nature are for everyone. God doesn’t play favorites. If the “climate change” people are right, it is not God who is destroying nature but the greed of people, the hirelings, who were put in charge of “ruling over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground. (Genesis 1:26) Nature itself affirms that God gives life and does not randomly take life, shoot people and destroy. When fire races through an area, it will not be long before new life begins to blossom again. Nature suffers under the condemnation of sin but it is always growing life.
But, you might say, that is all pretty much a passive, perhaps automatic relationship. Good people and bad people like to grow gardens and water flowers. Nature does not necessarily speak to a risen Christ. So my second example of the good shepherd laying down his life and not running away like a hireling is the way parents with wayward children are willing to wait in the sidelines while “youth sow their oats” and mature, praying that someday the child will return home. They often lay down the life of their ego for their children. The parable is the prodigal son. God does not force us to be good, programing us like a robot or drone. The parent lays down his life, shares of his inheritance before his death, welcomes the wayward child, rewards the faithful child and prays for all the whole time. Just because I do not touch Jesus right now, does not mean that he is not there. He is interceding for us. He is speaking to us through dreams, through the Word, through friends. He lays down his life by working with us rather than insisting we do it his way and when we stray, he comes and looks for us.
Direct contact with the risen Lord today is often done through his representatives – the Word, the people, the music, and more. Does our heart not burn within us like the two on the road to Emmaus when we read the word and a verse speaks exactly to the dilemma we are facing? Does not our spirit rise within us when we hear the music playing that speaks Christ’s words to our weary souls on Sunday morning? Does not love enter our barren spirits when we are hugged, embraced and cared for by friends – even when we have blown it?
Jesus is the Good Shepherd that brings life to our world today and does not run away like a hireling. He stays in relationship with us. He speaks daily through his creation, through his partnering with us as we grow and learn his ways, and through his various representatives. He does not run away like a hireling when we are ugly, sick or grumpy. He cares and leads us to green pastures, beside still waters and restores our spirit – for his name’s sake. He walks with us through the valley of the shadow of death and prepares a banquet for us in his kingdom.
4I am the good shepherd.
I know my own and my own know me,
15just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. 16I 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.
The voice of Jesus today is worldwide, building a universal church that includes people from every tribe and nation and which speaks every language. Those early disciples did not imagine that there would be followers of Jesus in the United States, half a globe away, even if they had known the world was round. One of the proofs that Jesus lives is how the early church quickly evolved into a mission group reaching out to the then known world – England, Rome, India, Ethiopia all had early witness and churches. Our challenge today is molding the great diversity of a living Christ into a universal Church where all are welcome and hear Christ’s voice.
“The sheep hear his voice.” Was Jesus speaking about an auditory experience to be expected by the saved? The “in” people hear and the “out” or “not-quite-in” people must keep straining to hear. Not likely. If I have “voice”, it means I have the right to speak, to offer suggestions, to make my opinion known realizing it will be listened to. It does not necessarily mean I am the only voice in the room or the determinative voice on a matter. I am not the commander nor am I a beggar, I am partnering with the community. So listening to Jesus’ voice may not necessarily carry the sense of command as much s the right to comment and contribute, to partner with me. As I grow older, I realize partnership with Christ is not the same as the power struggles of becoming I had with my parents. Jesus partners with his sheep, speaking to them, guiding them. He is not driving and domineering. He moves them at their pace, looking for food and directing them but never in a demanding way. He may sing to them and he knows each one. We hear his voice in all aspects of life.
But so often God seems silent. To this response, I think of our modern day active listening slogan – hearing someone into voice. When God uses his voice through silence, it does not imply absence but focused listening. As we speak and God listens, we clarify our thoughts, our wishes, our petitions and find our own voice and identity. God’s silent voice partners with me to draw me into voice.
Religion is universally identified with prayer. Here prayer, hearing God’s voice, is linked with Him knowing our name. For the Christian, there is a personal relationship. After the crucifixion, resurrection, there was no physical Jesus but perhaps followers reflected on the Good Shepherd and looked for voice. Was there personal relationship where the follower has voice? The post resurrection experiences point to experiences with the risen Christ who knew names, knew histories and personalities, and who personally partnered with follows to accomplish goals. Those qualities still grow in Christians, in you and me today, and direct us to meaningful goals. We hear his voice through prayer, through Scripture, through music, and through community as his silent voice guides us into our better selves.
Perhaps a question worth pondering from our text today is to ask ourselves how much time we spend listening to the voice of Jesus and catching up on his news daily? If we believe he is alive, risen and active in our world, do we tune in to hear his broadcast daily or are we content to receive a Sunday vitamin pill that is being regurgitated by the pastor? I find as a retired person, having time to sit and listen is a great blessing. I love Tevya in Fiddler on the Roof when he sings about being just a little wealthy and reflects that then he would have time to sit with the holy men by the Eastern wall and reflect on the words of God. Jesus is alive, is risen, and does speak today but are we listening?
17For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again.
18No 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.”
Power is the third witness to the reality of the risen Christ present in our world today. Jesus had the power to lay down his life and the power to take it up, to live again. Jesus walked through death in order to show us that death does not have the final say, is not the end of the road.
I see this power in hospitals started in his name, hospitals that defeat disease. I see it in schools that defeat ignorance. I see it in translation efforts that defeat the barriers of language. I see it in refugee camps that resettle people running from war and terror. These efforts are not just generated by Christianity but Christianity does have a long record of reaching out to the needy.
Personally, faith in the reality of Christ in our world gives us power to do that which we thought was impossible and which the world does not model. We can forgive our enemies, those who hurt us or abuse us. That does not mean we keep allowing abuse but we can forgive those who were less than we wanted them to be. We can turn the other cheek more than seventy times seven.
Christ alive gives us power to love the difficult to love. Many parents find deep love for children born with developmental challenges. Others are able to persevere with children in drugs, children who are wayward and children who are ungrateful. It is not easy but God gives us the power, the power to take up life again after the death of our dreams.
That first Easter season must have been a very confusing and emotional time. The early followers did not have centuries of Christians sorting out theology and beliefs. They met behind closed doors in fear of being killed. They were the first to live into what resurrection would mean and how it would shape their future. Relationship with Jesus would not be broken but would take on new dimensions. They would hear his voice in new ways – prayer, music, friends. And they would find new strength and power to face the trials they would face. Jesus was indeed the Good Shepherd who did not abandon his sheep during times of upheaval. They would learn to recognize him in new ways, even as we are learning today.
The Lord is my Shepherd and I shall not want!