Sermon: April 30, 2023

“Following The Shepherd” | John 10:1-10

It was a new kind of plane, and it was on its first flight. It was full of reporters and journalists. A little while after takeoff, a voice was heard over the speakers. “Ladies and gentlemen, I’m delighted to be your pilot for this plane’s historic first flight. I can tell you the flight is going well.

Nevertheless, I have to tell you about a minor inconvenience that has occurred. The passengers on the right side can, if they look out their window, see the closest engine is slightly vibrating. That shouldn’t worry you because this plane is equipped with four engines, and we are flying along at an acceptable altitude. As long as you are looking out the right side, you might as well look at the other engine on that side.

You will notice that it is glowing, or more precisely one should say burning. That shouldn’t worry you either since this plane is designed to fly with just two engines if necessary—and we are maintaining an acceptable altitude and speed. As long as we are looking out of the plane, those of you on the left side shouldn’t worry when you look out and notice that one engine that is supposed to be there is missing. It fell off about ten minutes ago. Let me tell you that we are amazed that the plane is doing so well without it.

However, I will call your attention to something a little more serious. Along the center aisle all the way down the plane a crack has appeared. Some of you are, I suppose, able to look through the crack and may even notice the waves of the Atlantic Ocean below. In fact, those of you with good eyesight may be able to notice a small lifeboat that was thrown from the plane. Well, ladies and gentlemen, you will be happy to know that your captain is keeping an eye on the progress of the plane from that lifeboat below.”

Now I realize that there are some situations that we ought not joke about, and a plane crash is perhaps one of them. But that little story about the plane and its pilot seemed so descriptive of our lives and the world today that I couldn’t help but tell it.

Sometimes we find ourselves in situations very similar to that plane flight. Everything around us seems to be falling apart and the person in charge seems to be as remote as the captain in the raft on the ocean far below.

But the person in charge of our lives is not remote. We talked about the Walk to Emmaus last Sunday and how Jesus came alongside the two disciples as they walked and talked. That’s how Jesus is—He comes alongside us in the different situations of life that we find ourselves in. He walks with us even when we don’t realize it—even when we don’t recognize Him. Jesus is a man of action! Two weeks ago—in the Upper Room—Jesus said “Peace be with you” to those gathered there in fear. He wasn’t talking about the peace of sitting on the beach or on a stump alone in the woods. He was talking about a peace of action, like Himself. He was talking about service—and I don’t mean lip service!

I read once about a billboard promoting a new church. It had a picture of a sofa on it. It boldly proclaimed that this new church was a really comfortable church. Comfortable? There’s nothing comfortable about the Gospel of Christianity! If church becomes comfortable then we have allowed spiritual thieves and congregational robbers to come into our midst.

Martin Thielen, a United Methodist Pastor, wrote a book he titled, What’s the Least I Can Believe and Still Be a Christian. We might go so far as to change the wording of his title to read, “What’s the least I must do and still be called a Christian?” Have we gotten fat and lazy? Have we forgotten where our allegiance lies?

I have to wonder how comfortable Jesus was when He was dying on the Cross. I have to wonder how comfortable the first Christians were when they were being plunged into pots of boiling oil or ripped apart by wild beasts in the Coliseum. I have to wonder how comfortable Christian missionaries were when they were attacked and beaten—tortured or killed no matter where they took the Gospel.

God save us all from “Comfortable Christianity!

In our text from John’s Gospel this morning Jesus is using terms that should have been easy for those listening to understand. In the Old Testament God himself was called the “Shepherd of Israel” and the leaders that God appointed over his people were called shepherds; but God denounced the “false shepherds” and promised to provide us with a true shepherd—Jesus.

Sheep and their shepherds were prevalent throughout the scriptures and even in some of the hymns we sing today. Just think about the first verse of the most quoted Psalm which was our Responsive Reading this morning: “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” I read something that a friend of mine posted this week on social media talking about the part of the Psalm that reads, “My cup overflows.” He said he saw a marquis sign that said, “If someone asks if my cup is half full or half empty, I just feel lucky to have a cup.” How true is that?

When Moses was called by God to liberate his people from bondage in Egypt what was he doing? He was shepherding the sheep of his father-in-law. When Samuel went to the home of Jesse in Bethlehem looking for the next king, where was he at? David was out shepherding the sheep. When the Messiah was born in Bethlehem where did the angels go first with the news? To the shepherds in the field watching over their sheep.

It’s probably safe to assume that not many students go to their High School guidance counselor wanting to become a shepherd. In fact, it’s unlikely that most of us have ever even seen a shepherd except maybe in a picture or on television. It’s not a common profession in our culture—but in Jesus’ day the work of a shepherd was well known though the actual shepherds were considered to be the lowest of the low in society.

My mother tells me that when I was young, I wanted to be a garbage collector. Not that the work was glamorous or anything but since they only came to our house once a week, I assumed that they only worked one day a week. In reality I guess I kind of got my wish since I only work on Sunday.

Jesus liked to compare spiritual principles to things found in everyday life. In our teaching today, Jesus uses the imagery of a shepherd to help us better understand how He relates to His followers. The first image is that of a shepherd going and coming through a door to the sheepfold. The second is that of sheep coming and going through that door.

Brothers and Sisters, we have a shepherd who cares about us. In the eyes of Jesus Christ our Shepherd, we are more than a social security number. We are more than a picture on a driver’s license. We are more than the unused balance on a credit card. We are more than a statistic on a computer printout. We are known by God and cared for by God and cared for by our Lord. We are the sheep He tends.

For us, the church is a sheepfold into which we enter and from which we exit. It’s a place of security—a place of safety—a place of promise. Life is not easy! In the community of other sheep—going and coming together—we find support for living.

To get a sense of how Christians are like sheep let’s consider some characteristics of these animals for a moment. Sheep are social—and they tend to flock together—mostly because there is protection from predators in numbers. I believe that the term “straying sheep” can not only refer to what are known as “backsliding Christians” but also to “loner” Christians who try to go it alone without the help of other Christians. Christianity is a communal religion—not something we do alone. And a sheep or a Christian who isn’t with the flock—or in the church—is the one most likely to get attacked.

Without a shepherd present, sheep tend to follow the first sheep that makes a move, even if it’s a foolish one. So, for believers, this means it’s equally important to stay with the flock and to stay connected to the shepherd. St. Peter wrote that Jesus is both a shepherd and a guardian.

A few years ago, I noticed a post on social media that read: “I chose the road less traveled and now I don’t know where the hell I am.” In these times of technology that we find ourselves living in it is almost impossible to get physically lost. I have a GPS system in my truck that tells me how to get where I’m going and how long it will take me to get there, which was most helpful on my trip to and from Augusta this week. My smart phone knows where I am even when I don’t. But it’s easy for us to make a wrong move and become spiritually lost and for this we need Jesus—the proclaimed “Good Shepherd,” and why we must rely on His Church!

When we were living in Warwick there was this tree at the end of our street that fell during a storm, and it fell on a tree with a spilt trunk. The tree with the split trunk was holding up the tree that had fallen. I believe that’s a perfect illustration of the church! I believe that’s what it is to be a Christian—holding our brothers and sisters up and allowing others to hold us up as well.

George Adam Smith, a 19th century Biblical scholar tells of traveling one day in the Holy Land and coming across a shepherd and his sheep. He fell into conversation with him, and the man showed him the fold into which the sheep were led at night. It consisted of four walls with a way in. Smith asked him, “This is where they go at night?” “Yes,” said the shepherd, “and when they are in there, they are perfectly safe.” “But there’s no door,” said Smith. “I am the door,” said the shepherd. Smith looked at him and asked, “What do you mean you are the door?” “When the light has gone,” said the shepherd, “and all the sheep are inside, I lie in that open space, and no sheep ever goes out but across my body—and no wolf comes in unless he crosses my body; I am the door.”

In our text John refers to “thieves and bandits” who enter the sheepfold in other ways than the gate to steal and kill the sheep. In today’s world, thieves and bandits steal our minds and hearts with false promises.

Jesus Christ is our Shepherd—He is the door—and He is the only way to the Father!

Corrie Ten Bloom once said, “You may never know that Jesus is all you need until Jesus is all you have!

The great preacher Fred Craddock once said, “Because the life you seek is not in knowing but in being known, not in seeking but in being sought, not in finding but in being found.

Jesus is the gate that leads us to salvation—whoever enters through Him is saved. Jesus is the “Good Shepherd” who knows our voice and we know His. Jesus is our protection from the thief’s and robbers of our day. Jesus has come so that we may have life and have it to the full.

Thanks be to God!

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