April 29, 2012: A Real Shepherd for Real Sheep

The Rev. Dr. C. Steven Teague, Rector
Fourth Sunday of Easter

What loss has left you with chronic heartache – you know the kind of heartache you feel when you wake up each morning? Separation and loss are devastatingly painful. Jesus says he’s a shepherd who’ll lose his life for his sheep, before he’ll lose them. Of course, he’s not just speaking of sheep. He’s speaking of us, who know life’s value, love’s depth, and the pain and cost of loss.

Once I lost a special ring, given to celebrate completion of my Anglican studies. The ring was a sign of beginning a new life chapter – ordination as a priest, and the affection of the giver, as well as a continuing reminder of the Good Shepherd I am trying to follow. So when I couldn’t find it where I normally place it, I panicked. In childhood we hear stories Jesus tells of lost people getting found, having faith enough to move mountains. If you ask with the right words, and rub the faith genie, you get your wish – right? I long ago outgrew thinking God is in the business of retrieving lost objects, or finding parking spots. I asked anyway. I could be wrong. In case I was right, I retraced my steps, and searched the floor again around my desk. Could it have fallen off my finger when I was taking out garbage? Days pass – no ring, and continuing heartache. Should I just confess – say I’d lost it and let’s order another one; or just keep waiting, hoping it would turn up before I got caught not wearing it? One Sunday morning I put on a suit I had not worn for a couple of weeks. In a pocket, my fingers touched — my lost ring. I felt a weight lift from my heart. A grin filled my face. We know that moment of joy when what was lost is found. Multiply that feeling exponentially. That doesn’t come even close to God’s love and desire for us, willing to lose life to let us know.

A couple of differences with my loss and Jesus’: the ring means a lot, but I wouldn’t die for it. Secondly, the Good Shepherd doesn’t lose the sheep. He’ll die to keep them safe, unlike a hireling who draws a salary, concerned with supporting a family and a pension plan – which are very crucial and important. For the hireling, though, his safety and the loss of a paycheck far outweigh the sheep. The Good Shepherd knows all the sheep by name – cares and loves each one. They know him – and he loves all as none other does. He doesn’t ask us to believe something, say the right things, just listen and follow, even calling those who have been excluded from other sheepfolds.

Is there anything or anyone you’d give your life for – to protect and save their life? We’ll give blood, bone marrow, a kidney, a savings account – but would we die? Some people aren’t as smart as sheep. Real sheep know their real shepherd’s voice and come when called. They recognize love and care.

Do you realize you are valuable enough – so loved, to be died for? Jesus is the Good Shepherd, and if you can’t understand it – just trust it. Even with Jesus we can get lost, wander and stray, look like a buffet for wolves and sharks, and predators who’ll eat us alive, or take us to the cleaners with no hesitation. Yet we have a shepherd who won’t let us finally be lost. He comes and finds us, never to send us out of his flock. And when his sheep thought they are dead in the water – the shepherd’s life is lost, they find a new reality.

He lays down his life because he loves as some think he shouldn’t. He’s been gathering as friends those outside the certified flock. He eats with outcasts – laughs with sinners, takes in tax collectors, women, touches lepers, and those unclean with social disease. In Jesus the kingdom is coming to all – especially those who have been locked out from God. He gathers all into the Father’s embrace of love and grace who are willing to be so loved and embraced. He is the Shepherd who brings everyone home, even those who think they’re not his kind. He dies for enemies – his and ours; for those we hate, exclude, and can’t seem to forgive. So how can we continue hating and excluding?

People today hunger for authentic community. Their spiritual journeys are different than ours, – or even nonexistent,  and we need to listen, to learn, hear them and help them learn how much the Good Shepherd cares for us all, even those outside the flock. The Good Shepherd teaches us to be humble, and realize we don’t have all the answers. So we create a safe place where people can be known and loved – where we share our deepest concerns and pray for each other. We are a flock, under the Good Shepherd, open to learning, trustworthy, loving unconditionally, forgiving without end, and realizing our enemies may have something to teach us. People long for such a safe, loving community.

Listening for and follow the Good Shepherd’s voice is hard. He calls us out of our comfort zones. We panic and fear. That’s a scary place. Always know we have a companion – a Shepherd who knows and loves us anyway, and willingly dies to let us know. We are such a community, church for others – not because we are so nice, but as we hear and heed the Good Shepherd.

We are a church trying to point to the Good Shepherd – help people hear a voice. They’ve heard enough fear, hatred and shame. They need a different voice, of love – the Good Shepherd’s. And the more we know our Shepherd’s voice, maybe through us they’ll catch a voice unlike they’ve never heard – not ours, but his, and they too will know, we can lose – we can lose what we love most, but not forever – we won’t be lost – the Shepherd dies and then lives to let us know.


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