In today’s gospel reading, we hear the fourth of Jesus’ “I AM” statements found in John’s Gospel when he says, “I am the good shepherd.” That image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd has resonated with me over the years. One of the reasons behind that is because when I was a child, we had a Border Collie who was born on a working sheep farm in the Yorkshire Dales. I will always remember the day my father brought her home as a pup and the impact she had on our family. It is not surprising then that as a family we used to love watching that great series “One Man and His Dog”, which showed shepherds and their trusty sheepdogs at work. There are some quite significant differences though between shepherding in this country and shepherding in the Middle East. In this country, the sheep tend to be “driven” by the sheepdog as they are rounded up and herded to where they need to be. In the Middle East, sheep tend to follow the shepherd, responding to his call.
It is really important for us to understand the shepherding practice in the Middle East because it speaks into the very relationship we have with Jesus as our Good Shepherd. Earlier in this chapter in John’s Gospel, Jesus said “The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.” (John 10:2-5)
There are 6 characteristics which are immediately apparent of Jesus as the Good Shepherd:
- He approaches directly—he enters by the gate, in full view of the gatekeeper.
- He carries the authority of God—we are told the gatekeeper recognises his right to enter and opens the gate for him.
- He meets real needs, knowing his sheep individually and intimately—the sheep know his voice, listen to his voice, are called by name, and follow him.
- He has unswerving, intentional and sacrificial love—the good shepherd willingly lays down his life for the sheep. “This is how we know what love is: Jesus Christ laid down his life for us. And we ought to lay down our lives for one another.”
- He is not the “hired hand”—but instead has a personal stake in the flock, is constant and true, and will not abandon it in a time of trouble.
- He reaches out to sheep not of this pen—there shall be one flock and one shepherd.
I believe it is helpful for us to take a moment to think about what the flock of the Good Shepherd is like:
- We are told that the sheep of the Good Shepherd KNOW him – but in a very intimate way “just as the Father knows him and he knows the Father.”
- The sheep also listen to his voice.
- There is ONE flock; they act in unity.
My brothers and sisters in Christ, in light of this, the questions we may ask ourselves today are:
- Do we really know Jesus? How do you get to know someone? You spend time with them, you give them space to be themselves, you share experiences, and you tell stories. We can do that through prayer, worship and reading the Bible.
- Do we really listen to his voice? Have you ever heard someone say: “You might be hearing me, but you’re not listening to me”? Hearing has more to do with the physiological act of hearing sounds than it does with making sense and connecting with the person who is talking to you. Hearing is something that is passive. Whereas listening is something that is active and means “to pay attention to sound; to hear something with thoughtful attention; and to give consideration.” Sometimes we might hear his voice; instead we should together seek to listen to his voice.
- What might he be saying to us today? This is a question I ask of myself every day as I seek to discern God’s purpose for St Michael’s along with others exercising leadership in this place. My heart’s desire is to be faithful and obedient to my calling and to bring glory to God in thought, word and deed. In that, my prayer is never may MY will be done – it is saying to God may YOUR will be done.
- Do we act as one flock in unity following the Good Shepherd? To be in unity we must follow the leader, the Good Shepherd. That means there is no time or space to pursue our own personal agendas. Before we approach the Lord’s table, we are invited to examine our hearts in penitence and we are invited to make peace with one another so that we are reconciled to God and reconciled to one another. We cannot afford to pay lip service to that. We must be prepared to work through differences, to die to self, to take up our cross and follow Christ. We must work at the “loving one another” – it is something we are mandated to do, not simply talking the talk but walking the walk. If you are nice to someone to their face and then character assassinate them behind their back, deal with it. Follow Biblical precedent – repent, be reconciled. At the end of the day there is no space for a wolf in the flock and no space for “hired hands”. Our words and actions need to be consistent, genuine and true.
We do this because Jesus is the Good Shepherd, the author and perfecter of our faith. He is our Lord, our Saviour and our Redeemer, the name above every name. The Apostles were asked “By what power or what name did you do this?” Then Peter, filled with the Holy Spirit, said to them: “It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed.” There is power in the name of Jesus; “salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name given under heaven by which we must be saved.”
We must do all that we can to enthrone Christ in our lives. We must do all that we can to listen to his voice, to serve him in obedience, to set aside everything that holds us back – including our own selfish desires, agendas and ambitions. We must do all that we can to get to know him and discern his will and purpose for us as individuals and for us as his Church here in East Ardsley. This is something we cannot do alone. It is something we do together as the Body of Christ, through Christ and in the power of the Holy Spirit and as you know sometimes bodies need surgery. So may we listen to his voice, may the Holy Spirit open our eyes to see his wonders, open our mind to have a fresh revelation of Jesus Christ – the Good Shepherd and open our hearts to receive him. Amen