Sermon for the Fourth Sunday of Easter
April 17, 2016, East Bernard Express, East Bernard, Texas
Sermon Text: John 10:22-30
Sermon Theme: “The Good Shepherd Gives Us Our Spiritual Security”
(Sources: Anderson, Cycle C. Preaching Workbook; Online skywriting.net/humor, good shepherd; online good shepherd.skipheitzig.com; original ideas and personal examples; Concordia Pulpit Resources, Volume 26, Part 2, Series C; Brokhoff, Series C, Preaching Workbook; Believer’s Commentary)
Grace, mercy and peace to you from God our Father and from the Lord Jesus Christ.
The story is told about a recent seminary graduate who was very proud of his new status as pastor of a big church. He was giving a kids’ sermonette one day, during which he explained that “pastor” meant “shepherd.”
He also told the children about sheep, pointing out that sheep were not very smart and needed lots of guidance. He explained that the shepherd’s job was to stay close to the sheep, protect them from wild animals, such as wolves, and keep them from wandering off and doing dumb things that would get them hurt or killed.
So he pointed to the grownups in the church, saying they were the sheep, and then he pointed to the children, saying they were the little lambs and needed lots of supervision and direction.
Then he held out his arms in a gesture of helping someone and asked the children, “If you are the lambs, then who is the shepherd,” obviously indicating himself as the answer.
After a few seconds of silence, a bright little boy spoke out, “Jesus, — Jesus is the shepherd.”
The young pastor, obviously caught by surprise, said to the boy, “Well, then, who am I?”
The little boy frowned thoughtfully and then said with a shrug, “I guess you must be the sheep dog!”
Jesus is the Good Shepherd, the Great Shepherd, and pastors are the under-shepherds. Jesus saw the people as the sheep in need of a shepherd.
In last Sunday’s text, Jesus referred to the people as fish, many different kinds of fish to be caught. And quite a few Sundays ago, He suggested that the people were baby chicks, as He compared Himself to a broody mother hen, protecting her chicks from all harm.
As you know, sheep are docile; they follow one another. They are not known for their strength. They are timid and fearful and require meticulous care. Isaiah 53:6 says, “All we like sheep have gone astray,” alluding to the fact that sheep are prone to wander.
I have a rather macho friend who would be saying, if he were here listening to this sermon right now, “I ain’t no sheep, and I ain’t no chicken, — I’m a fish, — a marlin, –they’re smart and put up a good fight.”
In spite of what I know my friend would say, it is no accident that God has chosen to call us his “sheep.” The behavior of sheep and human beings is similar in regard to our instincts, our fears and timidity, our stubbornness and stupidity, our perverse habits, and if we’re honest with ourselves, we’ll have to admit it.
Today is known as “Good Shepherd Sunday, with the Introit proclaiming, “I am the good shepherd, I know my own and my own know me, and I lay down my life for the sheep.” Our sermon text, the gospel text from John, elaborates on this thought. And Psalm 23 is the lectionary Psalm for today, “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.”
The image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd is one of the most powerful images in the entire Bible, and, in spite of what my friend may think, — the most widely loved image. Even those of us who are pastors, that is “under-shepherds,” are also sheep under the Good Shepherd, and, because I need the guidance, help, strength, healing, uplift and love of Jesus, I rejoice in being called a “sheep” or even, a “baby chick.”
One of my most favorite pieces of art is a statue I have in my studio at home, of Jesus as the Good Shepherd, holding a lamb in one arm. It was given to me one year by the St. Paul Friendship Committee, and I deeply treasure it. As an artist, I have done pen, ink and watercolor paintings of Jesus, the Good Shepherd, many times, most showing Him holding the lamb in his arms, but one with the lamb across His shoulders. In all of the versions, the lamb was always white.
But Pastor Joseph P. Andrajack, pastor of Lutheran Church, in Amarillo, has a painting hanging in his dining room depicting Jesus gently and lovingly holding a young black lamb. The painting was done by an inmate with the Texas Department of Corrections who likely viewed himself as an outcast, or, if you will, a black sheep of his family, and perhaps of the family of humanity. The obvious implication of the painting is that our Lord loves and accepts the black sheep of the family of humanity. He loves the black sheep that each one of us was at one time.
But this image goes deeper than that. In order to save us poor miserable sheep, the Shepherd became one as well. He took upon Himself all that is the dark sinfulness of humanity and bore it unto death on a cross – taking upon Himself the full wrath of God that our enmity with God deserves. It is so awesome that this Lamb who was slain rose again to be the Good Shepherd of His people.
Today’s Epistle from Revelation says, “They have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb. . . . For the Lamb in the midst of the throne will be their shepherd.”
All of us crave security, — job security, financial security, health care security. Even though there has been much talk in recent years about how Social Security may go broke in the years ahead, many retired folks feel a certain amount of financial security when their Social Security check is deposited in their bank account each month.
But more than that, all of us crave spiritual security. The Good News is that the Good Shepherd provides us our Spiritual Security, and there is no worry that Spiritual Security from the Good Shepherd will go broke some day, in spite of the fact that we have all been black sheep at one time or the other.
I love the Peanuts strip wherein Lucy shouts at Snoopy, “You know, there are times when you really bug me!” Then she turns away from him, thinks for a moment, and says softly, “But I must admit there are also times when I feel like giving you a hug.”
In the next frame, she gives Snoopy a big hug. When Lucy leaves, Snoopy, with a big grin on his face says to the world, “That’s the way I am – bugable and hugable!”
I’m sure that’s the way you and I appear to Jesus, our Good Shepherd, — we are both “bugable” and “hugable.” How He must shake His head in sadness when we leave the fold to seek out worldly things that are bad for us, or when we follow other sheep who drift away from the flock, and we let them “shepherd” us, which must be disappointing to the Good Shepherd considering they are blacker in sin than we are. And so now He has two black sheep to go after.
Providentially we have the blessed assurance of three things: ONE, you and I belong to God’s flock. Jesus says in verse 29, “My Father, who has given them to me, is greater than all, and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.”
TWO, you and I have Jesus’ promise, “and no one is able to snatch them out of the Father’s hand.”
THREE, you and I are given eternal life. Jesus says in verse 28, “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish.”
But how do we know that the Good Shepherd’s Spiritual Security isn’t as undependable as some say Social Security is?
In our text, because they had no faith, the Jews in the Temple questioned Jesus as to whether He really was the Messiah. Because we have faith, we know Jesus is more than just a teacher, prophet and martyr. He says in the final verse of our text, “I and the Father are one.” Only when we see Jesus as God can we explain His perfect life, His prayer power, His miracles, and both His resurrection and ascension. If He is not God, how can He send the Holy Spirit? How can one plus one make one?
The two are one in essence: in being, life, and love. The two are one in truth. The two are one in will and purpose. As Jesus Himself says to us in the text, “I and the Father are one.” The Good Shepherd is God in the fullest sense, and is equal with the Father in every way. There is no greater Spiritual Security than knowing that! Amen.
The peace of God which passes all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.