Led by the Shepherd


By Pastor Michael Cofer
Fourth Sunday of Easter
John 10:1-10

Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd. I’m not sure there is a more comforting image of Jesus in all of scripture. As soon as I read these words, my mind is instantly pulled back to the 23rd Psalm with its green pastures and quiet waters. And it’s such a relief to know that I’m not lost or alone – that Jesus is protecting and guiding me all the way.

Granted it’s not the most dignified thing in the world to be called a sheep. After all, sheep are easily frightened and not terribly bright. They need a shepherd to protect them from dangers – and sometimes from themselves.

And while that may not be dignified, it does pretty well describe some aspects of my relationship to Jesus. I do need his protection. I do need his guidance. I do need his wisdom and courage.

That said, there is a sizable portion of Jesus’ teaching about the Good Shepherd that will really challenge us if we take it seriously. I think we all like the idea that Jesus calls us by name, and that we (his sheep) will be able to recognize his voice and follow him. And that’s were things actually start to challenge us.

See, we’re not meant to stay in the pen. Now, the pen is great. It’s a safe place where we can rest secure. The shepherd leads the flock into the pen for their good.

But, the pen isn’t an end unto itself. Suppose the flock stayed in the pen and never followed the shepherd out into the world… what would happen to the flock?

After a while they’d get hungry and munch the grass where they stand. And for a time, they’d think things are great. But after a while they’d eat it all up. And then they’d get hungrier and hungrier. Maybe they’d fight over the little bit of grass they have left. They’d waste away. And if they stay in the pen long enough, there just won’t be a flock anymore.

The Good Shepherd doesn’t keep the flock in the pen all day. He leads them out. He calls their name and leads them out. He wants them to move to new pastures where they can eat and thrive. He wants them to stretch their legs – to grow strong and mature and that just doesn’t happen in the pen. Nor does he take the flock to the same spot time and time again. The same problem would happen. He has to move them to where the grass is green, even if they’ve never been there before.

Now, let’s make the turn to unpack this metaphor. The shepherd is Jesus. The flock is his church. Note that while he knows each of us by name and calls us by name, he is moving the flock together. He wants to keep the church together and moving as one. Now, the pen is… well… it’s probably right here: a place of rest and safety for his church. And the pastures are… well, for lack of a better term, the pastures are out there. Out in our city. Out in our future.

Hopefully by now you know that I’m not a “God wants to make you rich and comfortable so you can coast into eternal life” kind of preacher. But these words of Jesus are for you: He has come that you may have life and have it abundantly. Abundant life can’t be contained in a pen – even one as nice as this.
So, the first challenge is for the flock to get out of the pen. Now, if you’re with me so far, then let’s talk about the next challenge – following the Shepherd out.
See, as soon as we realize that there ain’t enough grass here to feed us all, the next impulse would be for us to go find some pastures. There’s a million wrong ways to do this, and only one right way.

Should we go back to the pastures we have fond memories of? It was good yesterday, surely it’ll be good tomorrow? Should we choose the best and brightest sheep to work up a plan to scout out good pastures? Should we talk to some of the other flocks and get notes on where they’ve been grazing?
Or, should we look to the good shepherd, respond to his call, and trust that he knows better than the rest of us? Should we trust him to protect us when the way to where he is taking us is rocky and dark?

I think we have some funny ideas about lost sheep. Being a lost sheep doesn’t mean jumping the fence when the rest of the flock is in the pen. Well, it can mean that, but that’s much less common. More common is simply going your own way when the shepherd is driving the flock. Maybe it’s a refusal to move with the flock. Maybe it’s a determination to head toward familiar pastures. Maybe it’s a fixation with a new and novel sight that you just have to check out.
It can be any of these things equally… and it’s usually not callous or malicious. But the truth is quite simple, if you go any direction other than where the good shepherd leads – even if it’s to a place he took you in the past – you are wandering off. It’s the shepherd’s job to know where we’re going and lead the way. It’s our job to trust and follow.

As a congregation, we’ve taken some steps forward in this area. We cannot respond to his call if we aren’t listening. We will not get to the green pastures he has marked out for us if we try to go our own way. That’s why events like last week’s prayer service are so important. Many of the people of Hope have faithful and vibrant private prayer lives, but we need that same humility and trust as a whole church.

We’re used to discussion and debating and voting and consensus to guide our way forward – and all of that can be fine, but if we all agree on any direction other than where Christ is leading us, we’re lost. The abundant life that Jesus has in store for this church begins with seeking his will and listening to him anew.

You know, when we read the Easter story and see the disciples hiding in the upper room with the doors locked even after the reports of the resurrection reached them, we shake our heads and say, “What’s there to fear? Jesus is alive! He’s defeated death and hell and the devil himself!”

Shouldn’t we have that same attitude about our own church? Jesus doesn’t want us to stay small and hidden and afraid. There is nothing to fear because He laid down his life for us, and even death couldn’t hold him. Jesus is alive today and he loves this flock more than you’ll ever know. He has abundant life to lead us to and He is calling us out.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *