Let us pray,
May the words of my mouth and the meditations of all our hearts together be acceptable in your sight, O God our rock and our redeemer. AMEN
Today is the 4th Sunday of Easter. We are still celebrating the resurrection. It’s not hard to do that as we continually look outside and see signs of new life. The trees bursting to life, flowers blooming, (sniff) pollen in the air.
The past few weeks our gospel readings have been continuations of that story of the resurrection of Jesus. They have recounted to us the stories of what happened in those days after the women found the empty tomb. But today we get something different. Today our gospel reading is not a story but rather it’s a teaching of Jesus. This teaching (if you will allow me to be theological for a moment) is what we call a Christological teaching. It tells us something about who this Jesus, who this Christ, who this Risen One is.
The images today are all images of a shepherd. Jesus says, “I am the Good Shepherd.” There is something about shepherd imagery in the bible, isn’t there. The shepherd was an extremely important character. Abraham was a shepherd, as was Jacob. Moses was a shepherd of the flock of his father-in-law Jethro, David was out tending his sheep before he was made to fight Goliath, The shepherds were the first to hear the good news and visit the Christ child in the manger. And the list goes on and on, there are so many stories about shepherds in the Bible.
It’s almost like saying someone is a shepherd is a clue , our ears should perk up, that this person is important.
Jesus says, “I am the Good Shepherd.”
But what does that mean? It would have been clear to first century Palestinians, but it’s a little more distant from us. By a show of hands, how many of you have had some interaction with a shepherd this week? Anyone? I didn’t think so. So we have to look past our own experience for clues as to what exactly Jesus means.
Psalm 23 gives us some idea as to what it means to be the good shepherd.
Clara is going to come read that psalm to us this morning.
This is a text that is widely loved. So many people turn to this text in times of trouble. As many of you may know, in addition to my time here at the church, I have been doing a unit of Clinical Pastoral Education at the Bayview Campus of Johns Hopkins Hospital. I have been working as a chaplain going to visit those who are sick or dying. I can’t tell you how many times I have had people ask me to share this psalm with them or they share this psalm with me. Something about this Psalm brings comfort to people.
So I think this tells us at least two things about the good shepherd.
First, the Good Shepherd provides for the needs of the sheep by leading the sheep to lush green grass and to the refreshing waters of the still pond. And secondly, the Good shepherd provides solace and protection when times are hard because the good shepherd walks along with the sheep during these difficult times.
Now if Jesus is the good shepherd, it follows that we as Jesus-people are called to be sheep. I remember as a child at church camp we would sing this song (which is ridiculous to me now, maybe some of you know it): “I just want to be a sheep, ba ba ba ba”
But I don’t think that our calling ends at just being sheep. I sincerely believe that we are called to be good shepherds to one another and to the world.
We are called to provide for one another,
nurture one another,
and to walk with one another through the painful and difficult times of life.
We are called to take up apprenticeship with the ultimate good shepherd and learn what it means to tend to the needs of our sisters and brothers.
One of the ways that we are given the opportunity to tend to one another right here in our context is to get to know and support our children. Each year we give a visible sign of our support and our prayers to our third graders when we present them with a bible. And so, today, I’d like to invite all the children up to the front to help me preach this sermon.
Who knows what this is? A Bible… That’s right, it’s a Bible. Who knows what’s in the bible? (Stories about God and Jesus.) That’s right. Well, today the church is going to be giving Bibles to all of the third graders, but before we do we are going to play a game. Actually, we aren’t going to play the game. They are going to play the game and we are going to help them out!
So this side of the church is going to compete against this side of the church. If you are in Kindergarten or 4th grade you are going to be on this side. If you are in 1st or 5th grade or pre-K you are going to be on this side. Third graders, you will have a special job that I will tell you about in a minute.
So the bible has lots to say about people taking care of one another and about being like shepherds for one another. So we are going to look for those this morning. I need everyone to take out the pew bible. When I call out a bible verse, your job is to find it and stand up or raise your hand and let us know that you have it. Then one of the 3rd graders will bring you a microphone and you will read that text to the rest of us. Now kids, you have the most important role of all! Your job is to cheer for your team. I doubt that they can find these without your cheers.
John 13: 34-35
1 John 3:17-18
1 Thessalonians 5:11
1 John 4:7
Friends, indeed, let us love and care for one another Just as God, our good Shepherd Loves each one of us. AMEN.