Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed! Alleluia!
It’s now been over 6 months since we moved to Moose Jaw. It’s been completely bizarre in that we still don’t really know many people on account of the pandemic-palooza. But there has also been the transition from being in a rural community to an urban one. It used to be lunch at the only half decent restaurant in town, now it’s a cornucopia of options. People often ask me what’s the biggest difference between the small town and the city. It has to be the street signs. In Moose Jaw you see signs that say “Drive Slow, we love our children.” Back in the small town it was “Gun it buddy! We’ll make more!” Lots of differences to be sure! But there is a marked difference in rural Saskatchewan as farming is still number one. It’s the biggest producer of employment and even ascending more to a way of life and a calling.
And farming is on the menu today in our Scripture readings. You might have picked up on the sheepish theme and tone today. We often call this Good Shepherd Sunday as it draws our focus to Jesus Who is indeed our Good Shepherd. But what makes Jesus the “Good Shepherd”? Literally the original actually says the “Beautiful Shepherd” but we could say He is the “Model Shepherd.” He is the Template of what a Shepherd should be. And that is because of what He says next: “The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (10:26).
This is it. This is what makes Him good, beautiful and the template for what a shepherd should be. We could extend this principle to being a servant-leader. A person who puts the task ahead of the self. How often do we see this in our day and age? Many leaders have selfish gain, success, ruthless cut-throat approaches to becoming top dog. How many politicians enter office poor and come out millionaires on the other side?! Or how many foundations suddenly become flush with cash and donations when they take office? Look around and follow the money. Are such people really there to serve or are they there for other reasons of money or fame or power?
Truly amazing leaders approach their calling and task with a servant heart of humility and service. It is a tone of even self-sacrifice. Think about soldiers in the military. Who are the ones who get the highest honours? The ones who aren’t alive to receive them. People who gave so richly of their own lives that they may save others. The guy who jumps on a grenade to protect those around him. Or the Fireman who runs into the burning building, rescuing a small child, but is consumed by the flames himself. This kind of selflessness becomes the mark and gold standard of leadership, the ultimate service.
Jesus compares Himself as the Good Shepherd to that of the hired hand. This is a major distinction. “The hired hand, who is not a shepherd and does not own sheep, sees the wolf coming and abandons the sheep and runs away. So the wolf attacks the sheep and scatters them. Because he is a hired hand and is not concerned about the sheep, he runs away.” (10:12-13). This is the guy who is only there for the money. He won’t be there when the going gets tough. When the trials come. When the difficulties come. When the danger comes. These kinds of leaders turn tail and run. Spiritually speaking, the “hired hand” of our lives could represent the false gods and idols that people often cling to in times of trouble. Money and wealth, power and position. But are these really rock solid when things get rough? More often than not they are false sources of hope and trust that leave us lacking. This compared to the Good Shepherd who is right beside us through the thick and thin of life, leading us and guiding us.
But the thing is, to have a Good Shepherd must mean that we are also sheep. Sure, they are cute and cuddly when they’re little lambs, but that’s it. They grow up and become nuttin’ but mutton! It’s just not an elegant creature to aspire too, is it? Just think. How many sports teams use a sheep as their team name?? Chicago Bears and Bulls, Detroit Lions, Seattle Seahawks, Toronto Raptors, Minnesota Timberwolves, Indianapolis Colts. Maybe the Anaheim Mighty Ducks might be close! But sheep? Hardly. I guess perhaps the Regina Rams might be a contender! But even then its a majestic Big Horn sheep and not fluffy white lamb chops. It’s just not a strong or confident image or brand.
So why would we want to aspire to that? Sheep aren’t strong or noble. They are prone to wander and get into trouble or eaten by a predator! Despite all these things, we want to be sheep because we belong to the Shepherd. It’s the only reason. We want to admit and confess that we are poor miserable sinners because we then belong to Savior Shepherd Who laid down His life for us and our salvation. If we want the eternal life that the Good Shepherd gives, then we have to be sheep. Not timberwolves or lions or bulls or bears. Sheep.
“I have other sheep that do not come from this sheepfold. I must bring them too, and they will listen to my voice, so that there will be one flock and one shepherd” (10:16). Jesus tells us that there are more sheep out there that need to join the fold. Originally He was speaking of us, the gentiles. First the Jews who followed Christ and then the non-Jews around the world who would also hear the Good News and believe. They too would follow their good shepherd by the power of the Holy Spirit. They would be lead to the still waters of Holy Baptism and be saved. They would eat and drink the true body and blood of Christ at the Lord’s table, prepared in the presence of the enemies of sin and death. They too thankfully would learn to listen to the voice of the good shepherd. But what does that mean? To listen to the voice of Jesus?
Back in the old days, the men were out cutting fresh ice blocks from the lake for the ice house. One of the men lost his most prized wristwatch while working in the ice house. He searched everywhere for it diligently to no avail. He raked through the sawdust and went through the straw but could not find it. The fellow workers also took a stab at it, all to no avail. A small boy on the farm heard about the fruitless search and decided that he would have a go at it when the men were having lunch. A few moments later, the young boy emerged with the watch. Amazed, the men asked the boy how he was able to find it! The boy replied “I closed the door, laid down on the sawdust and kept very still. Soon, I heard the watch ticking.”
The question is not whether our good shepherd speaks to His sheep. The question remains, are we listening for His voice? We hear His voice when we read and study and meditate upon His Word. We may know the 23rd psalm but do we know the shepherd? Do we trust that He will be there for us, beside us all the way, helping us on life’s journey? Do we believe firmly that He has laid down His life for us on the cross and taken it back up again in the resurrection? The grace and mercy of Christ our good shepherd is clear and awesome! He loves us and cares for us, His wandering sheep. He wants nothing more than to gather us into His fold and lead us to the best things yet to come in our heavenly home. Trust Him. Follow Him. Listen to His voice for it is life and salvation now and forever more.
Christ is Risen! He is Risen Indeed! Alleluia!