Good Shepherd Sunday John 10:22-30
Delivered to Church for the Highlands John Henson
Fourth Sunday of Easter, April 16, 2016
Things mothers say that always need to be said: “Did you brush your teeth?”, “Don’t EVER let me catch you doing that again!,” “Going to a party? Who’s going to be there?”, “If it’s not supposed to be green, don’t eat it,” “You will always be my baby,” and, “Go ask your father.” There is another one that must be remembered: “Your actions speak louder than your words.”
What we hear today in John’s gospel is that Jesus’ actions spoke louder than his words about being the Good Shepherd. Jesus said—and demonstrated—that he and the Father were one; that when people saw him (his actions), they were seeing what God was like. And his point here with the religious leaders who were questioning him was that the people following him in his flock were those who had witnessed that he was Messiah and God’s Son through his identification with them, his sacrificial care, and his provision of eternal life.
These words of Jesus invite us to consider how good a shepherd Jesus is for our lives. Our text for today has put us before the events of Easter. The conversation Jesus had with these religious leaders was just a part of a larger one that continued from John 9. Jesus had just given sight to a man who had been blind from birth, a powerful act of healing and one that stirred up the favor of the people but also the jealousy of some of the religious leaders. The religious leaders questioned the formerly blind man’s parents, then the formerly blind man himself, and then took their questions to Jesus. Their hope was to get him to go on record saying he was the Messiah.
Jesus answered their questions by saying, “The works that I do in my Father’s name testify to me.” In other words, I will let my actions speak for themselves. He noted that they had seen his actions and refused to believe that he was from God and doing God’s work. He also told them that his followers, the “sheep”, had also seen his actions but did believe in him. He was for them—and anyone else who wanted to be in his flock– a good shepherd. They knew this because they knew his voice, which spoke through his actions. They knew he was a shepherd who identified with his sheep, getting to know them on their level and building a relationship of proximity and trust. They knew he was a shepherd who cared, one even willing to lay down his life for them. And they knew he was good in that he provided for them eternal life, the kind that made life full and real right then not just at some point in the future.
We really aren’t much different than the people who were around Jesus when he spoke. We are sheep still in need of a shepherd. And we need one that is good. In this day when so many people are turning from religion to have none at all, there is a crucial need for the church to offer an authentic version of Jesus. The place that offering begins is within ourselves. We are to hear the words of Jesus as expressed in John’s Gospel today, but we are also to see his goodness in his actions. Jesus, for example, is a good shepherd to us because he identifies with us as sheep. Isn’t that what the incarnation was about as God got up close and personal? Jesus led his flock from the ground-level perspective of one who experienced suffering, injustice, rejection, loneliness, homelessness, poverty, temptation, grief, and in so many other ways. Jesus knows what it is like to be us.
Jesus is also good in that he cares for us. We are sheep who have gone astray before and can do so again. We can easily get distracted by the promises of people who claim to care for us, by the smell of greener grass in another pasture, or with sheep who are headed down a dangerous pathway. Jesus is aware of the dangers we face and has shown that he cares so much for us that he would lay down his life for us sheep. I love the part of Psalm 23 where the psalmist recognizes he has no reason to fear evil because God has cared for him, noting “Thy rod and thy staff, they comfort me” and sees how God has even set up a dinner table for him in the presence of his enemies. This is the kind of shepherd God has given to us in Jesus.
Part of his care is his provision. Jesus directs us away from the pathway leading to our destruction and leads us to a better place; to a real life. This real life is what we find Jesus living and one he calls—and enables—us to live as well as a reality of his resurrection. It is the kind of life characterized by such a close union with God that our actions show that we are one with God. When we are truly at one with God, then we are at one with God’s concerns for this world. Our works will speak more loudly than our words, as we do the acts of our good shepherd: self-sacrifice, care for the needs of others, and protection of those who are vulnerable.
As we go out into this new week, may the words of “Blessed Jesus” we sang earlier go with us,
Thou has promised to receive us, poor and sinful though we be
Thou hast mercy to relieve us, grace to cleanse, and power to free:
Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus, early let us turn to Thee;
Blessed Jesus, blessed Jesus, early let us turn to Thee.
[The audio version of this sermon is here]