+ In Nomine Jesu +
Grace to you and peace, from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ. Amen.
The message this morning is based on the Gospel reading from John 10. Jesus says, "I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep."
In the name of Jesus. Amen.
For centuries the Church has observed Good Shepherd Sunday during the season of Easter. In the modern era it's been set for the 4th Sunday of the season, which is, of course, today. The Gospel reading is always from John's Gospel because, of all the gospel writers, he emphasizes most the Shepherd / Sheep relationship that we have with our Lord.
There's no question that we treasure the image of Jesus as our Good Shepherd. In fact, some of the most memorable paintings of our Lord are of Him tending and leading His flock. He walks through the field, staff in hand. His sheep trust Him and they follow Him because they know the sound of His voice. He holds a lamb in His arms, shielding it from all harm and danger. Those images are emblazoned on our hearts and minds and they bring us comfort when we need it most because they aren't based on speculation or longing, but, on the very Word of God. "The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want. He makes me to lie down in green pastures. Yeah, though I walk through the shadow of the valley of death, I will fear no evil, for You are with me; Your rod and Your staff they comfort me."
Not everyone, of course, treasures the image of Christ as their Shepherd. In fact, with just under 7 billion people on the planet and only 2 billion Christians, it is safe to say that 'most' people don't treasure the image. There are a number of reasons why, of course; some are caught up in other religions, having given their allegiance to the god of human imagination. They follow that god, clinging to the images that best depict him. Others are caught up in themselves, believing whole heartedly that they are the captain of their own vessel, the master of their own destiny. They have, as did Adam, succumbed to the temptation to dethrone god and to seat themselves in His place. The Christian cries out "Kyrie Elleison…Lord, have mercy," while self appointed deities mellow to the sounds of "I did it my way." I don't mean to tarnish the memory of old blue eyes, but, as beautiful as his song is, its sentiment doesn't apply to all things, especially to our relationship with the Almighty.
Let me ask you, how of many of you think you have control over your lives? The issue of control is really the classic struggle between man and God, isn't it? God says, "I am Lord and God. I am the Creator of the heavens and the earth. I am the Beginning and the End, the First and the Last. I am the one who put the stars in the sky. I circulate the planets around the sun and I cause the earth to bring fruit and bounty. I am the Lord of life. I call forth the dead and the dead hear My voice and rise at My command." God says all these things and more, and we say, "now, wait a minute, aren't I really in control though of me and mine?!"
Friends, to confess Jesus as your Shepherd is to confess His Lordship, which is ultimately to confess a lack of control over your life. It isn't easy for any of us to let go because to one degree or another, now, stay with here because I'm about to use a highly technical, theological term, to degree or another we are all "control freaks." If you doubt that premise, why do you think we have such a problem praying those four little words, "Thy will be done?" God, as it turns out, knew exactly what He was doing when He made the very first of His commandments "Thou shalt have no other gods before Me."
There is an old fable a young spider who lived in a large barn. One day, while crawling about on the ceiling, as spiders are want to do, he looked down and saw a spot that seemed just perfect for a new home. So he came down on a thin filament of web until he reached that spot for his new home, and there he created a huge, beautiful web. He grew slick and he prospered. One day, while walking about his domain, he saw that thin filament of web reaching up into the darkness above and he thought to himself, I have no need of this, and so he cut it. Instantly the whole web (spider and all) came crashing to the ground and a big, fat cow stepped on him! How quick we are to declare our independence from God, but, the results, my friends, are always tragic! Don't get stepped on by a big, fat cow!
As it has been for centuries, our Lord calls us to let go of our god complex and to follow Him. "Come unto Me (He says) all you who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest." "I am the Good Shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep."
God's love for you, evidenced most clearly in the giving of His Son, is what finally moves your heart to believe and trust in Him and to say, "I'm not really what I thought I was, and I don't really have the control over my life that I thought I did." "God has shown me that He will always lead me with my best interest at heart and that He will protect me from all harm and danger, even to the point of death, even death on a cross. "What greater love has any man than this that He lay down His life for His friends?"
Our Shepherd leads us down paths unknown, sometimes to places unknown and virtually always to situations unknown. All along the way we are tempted to ask, "God, do you really know what you're doing?" "Shouldn't I take the lead for awhile?" "I mean, wouldn't it be better, in this particular situation, if I were in control?"
God, no doubt, laughs and weeps at the same time. But, He bears with us. He keeps calling us by name and showing us just how futile it is for us to take the lead in our lives. "Martha, Martha, (He said) you are worried and upset about many things. But only one thing is needed. Mary has chosen the better part." Mary, as you know, sat at Jesus' feet to hear Him speak when Martha was off scurrying about trying to make everything just right for His visit.
This isn't to say that God simply wants us to sit back and do nothing but read the Bible. In fact, His being our Shepherd prohibits such an understanding. After-all a Shepherd leads and his sheep follow. Jesus walked the road of suffering and death because He "came, not to be served, but to serve and to give His life as a ransom for many."
To follow Jesus is to let go of self that our hearts might be opened to the needs of other people all around us. Trust me, there are plenty of people who have reached the point of utter exhaustion, who have tried with all their might to control their own destiny and to make all the pieces of their lives fall into place, and yet, they stand frustrated, humiliated, even despairing. Maybe you're one of those people. That exhaustion and frustration that you feel, that others feel, exists, mainly because you, they, were created to follow the One who calls you by name, Christ, the Good Shepherd, who bids you to follow Him and find rest for your soul.
The image is one of peace and calm and it is only found in Christ, the One who has laid down His life for the safety and welfare of His flock. He holds us tenderly in His arms, protecting us from everything that would destroy our body and soul. When sin, death and the devil threaten to steal us away, to confine us to the hell we deserve, our Shepherd says, "take Me." "I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep." In the name of Jesus. Amen.
The peace of God that passes all understanding keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus unto life everlasting. Amen.
+ Soli Deo Gloria +
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