May 11, 2014
You can still see the shepherds and their sheep in the hills surrounding Jerusalem, and when two shepherds meet, their flocks mix together becoming one large flock of sheep. But as they turn and go their separate ways the shepherds call out to their flocks and the sheep separate, each sheep knowing the voice of his shepherd and following him.
Our Gospel reading today ends at verse ten but it is in verse eleven where we hear Jesus call himself the Good Shepherd. We are used to hearing about Jesus as the Good Shepherd. He is good because he cares about his flock, and he does not abandon us to death. In today’s Gospel passage Jesus refers to himself as ‘the gate’. The sheepfolds used to be rudimentary enclosures made of stone with thorns lining the top to discourage anyone from climbing in. There were no doors only an opening in the stone fence. At night A shepherd would lay down in front of that opening, putting himself in the way of any intruder who would try to come in and steal or kill his sheep. Jesus does the same for us, he puts himself between us and death, he protects us from those things that will truly hurt us.
And he leads us. Jesus goes before us and we are meant to follow. We are not forced to go with him, but instead he calls us trusting that we will hear his voice and follow him. It sounds so easy; all we need to do is listen and follow. But we know from experience that it is not that easy because we are surrounded by so many sounds, so many different voices calling to us that there are times when we don’t seem to be able to hear Jesus calling us at all. What are all these other voices calling to us and telling us to follow them instead? We are pulled in every direction by consumerism and societal expectations. We are told that we should be concerned with what we own and wear, or with how much money we make. We are told that if we own certain things, or eat certain food or live a certain lifestyle than our lives will find meaning. There are voices telling us that we need to look a certain way or sound a certain way to have value. And there are the voices in our own heads, like the voices of fear and hate which won’t let us let go of old pain. There are the voices of anxiety which fills our heads with fears about the future, or shame about the past. Each of these things calls to as as if they are our rightful shepherds. Each of these voices calls to us, pretending to know us, promising to solve our problems, promising to give our lives meaning. And sometimes these voices sound so exciting, they promise instant gratification, they promise certainty and comfort and an easy road.
With all these different voices trying to get our attention, it is no wonder that we find Jesus so hard to hear. But he is calling us, his voice is quiet and beckons without demanding. We can hear his voice most clearly when we read scripture and when we gather together for worship, and when we can see him go before us in the cross and resurrection.
But we are left with a choice. Who do we follow? While we know the answer is of course, Jesus, if we were honest with ourselves we know that this choice is not an easy one to make and fully commit to. The voice of Jesus is not always a comfortable voice to follow. He does not offer instant gratification, and he does not lead us down an easy road. But when we choose to follow the voice of Christ and choose to put our faith in the Good Shepherd we are given true peace, and our lives are given real meaning.
In our psalm today we are reminded that the peace and comfort that God gives us comes from doing what is righteous even when we are confronted with all the other voices that want to lead us astray.
Verse 4 says:
Even though I walk through the darkest valley,
I fear no evil;
for you are with me;
your rod and your staff—
they comfort me.
God does not promise that he we will always lead us in sunshine and safety, but that even when we are in the dark and troubling places, even if we are at deaths door, if we follow our true Shepherd we have nothing to fear. Because Christ goes before us, even death loses its sting.
I think the hardest thing for us to learn is to trust Jesus. The world is so different from the kingdom of God making most of the things Jesus tells us to do seem unrealistic and even downright crazy. He tells us to love our neighbor, and that our neighbor includes strangers. He tells us to love our enemies and to turn the other cheek. He tells us not to worry even though our lives are filled with a million little things to worry about. He shows us that the path he leads us down is a path that goes through the cross and that we are expected to pick up our own crosses and follow him. So it takes real trust in Christ in order to follow his voice. We need to trust that he sees our path better than we do, and that he will not lead us astray because the path that he leads us down is a path of love, real love.
Today we celebrate Mother’s day, and perhaps Mother’s know better than anyone what real love feels like. Most Mothers know what it feels like to be willing to sacrifice her own life for the sake of her child. It doesn’t matter how good or bad that child is, or how old that child is, she loves him completely. That is how God feels about all of us, that is how God wants all of us to love each other. We are loved completely therefore we are called to love each other completely as well.
This is not an easy task, but it is a beautiful one.