June 13, 2021 – “Calling All Sheep”
Grace and peace to you!
We welcome our online worshippers, as well as
those here in the sanctuary at West Tulsa UMC.
Growing up I never had much experience with sheep.
About the closest I’ve ever gotten to sheep, is a wool blazer.
While sheep have not been an important part of my life, they are one of the few livestock animals that are found virtually everywhere in the world. Australia has ten times as many sheep as people. The ratio in New Zealand is 20 to one.
Whether we know a little or a lot about sheep, many of us at some point have heard the 23rd Psalm which begins: “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.”
For some of us, it is the passage we requested for a loved one’s funeral. For others it was one of the first scriptures we learned or memorized as children.
Sheep require a lot of care. They must be fed and given water regularly.
They can be scared and scattered easily.
They can’t defend themselves from attackers or thieves.
And they must be led.
In John’s Gospel, Jesus assumes the title, “The Good Shepherd” knowing that His flock, meaning all of God the Father’s children; need someone looking out for them, providing for them, and saving them at all times and and all costs.
Jesus, the Good Shepherd paid the highest price for us.
He is also the Perfect and Spotless Lamb
whose blood sacrifice washes our sins away.
As His flock, we owe Him a debt of gratitude.
With Jesus Christ as our Shepherd and Savior,
we shall not want for anything!!
We are here to worship God!
Over the years I have often encouraged you to claim the Biblical stories as your own. What I mean by that is that at various times in our lives we can associate with different characters in the stories.
So whether it is someone named, such as: Peter, Thomas, Nicodemus, Martha or Mary…OR, it is an unnamed person like the different characters in the Good Samaritan or Prodigal Son stories; I’ve asked you to plug YOUR name in the text as we’ve studied the Scriptures.
I’ve suggested this because even several thousand years after the stories took place, they are timeless, we still experience the same things in life that people did then.
It just seems to me that we are able to experience Jesus more fully by placing ourselves in the story.
It helps our understanding of the meaning of His life if we can feel Mary’s tears rolling down our cheeks as we stand next to her outside the empty tomb on Resurrection Sunday.
We can relate to her fear and grief, not only because we love Jesus like she did, but also because we also because we know what it’s like to lose people we love.
When we insert our name in place of the unnamed disciple walking home to Emmaus with Cleopas, it helps experience Jesus’ presence.
In today’s Scripture lesson from John’s Gospel, Jesus refers to His followers as sheep. Here’s the Message Bible’s paraphrased version of John 10:1-6.
“Let me set this before you as plainly as I can. If a person climbs over or through the fence of a sheep pen instead of going through the gate, you know he’s up to no good—a sheep rustler! The shepherd walks right up to the gate. The gatekeeper opens the gate to him and the sheep recognize his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he gets them all out, he leads them and they follow because they are familiar with his voice. They won’t follow a stranger’s voice but will scatter because they aren’t used to the sound of it.”
(John 10:1-5 MSG)
Are you ready to assume your role in the story as a sheep? THAT’S sort of an odd way to think of ourselves…Isn’t it?
The Bible refers to Jesus by a number of titles…But perhaps His most endearing and intimate title is: the Good Shepherd.
The thing is, when Jesus referred to Himself as the Good Shepherd, it was an easily identifiable description for people of His day to understand.
The people listening to Jesus teach in the Temple courtyard knew that the patriarchs of the Jewish faith, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob; had all been shepherds.
Israel’s greatest leaders, Moses and David had also been shepherds. So it isn’t surprising that the Hebrew Scriptures often used shepherding imagery as they spoke of Israel as God’s flock.
And of course, they lived in an agrarian society, so they were well aware that sheep are among the most helpless and defenseless of animals. They also would have known that sheep are prone to wander off.
Well, I’m just a city boy from south Tulsa, and like a lot of us, I’m not very familiar with farm life and animal husbandry.
In today’s society we are disconnected from the realities that farmers and ranchers face when trying to raise livestock. We don’t really think about the weather, sickness, predators, or rustlers that threaten the lives of their animals.
Why should we? As long as we can go to a department store and purchase a wool sweater, or walk into the nearest grocery store and buy whatever kind of food we want, we don’t even think about how those things got there.
That’s one reason it was such a shock to us to see empty refrigerator case in the meat department early in the COVID pandemic.
So, if we weren’t raised on a farm or ranch, we probably have a kind of glamorized mental picture of animals.
But, if we think of ourselves as a clean white lamb being carried in the arms of a strong shepherd, the image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd falls short of what it really means.
We tend to develop that mental image based on paintings, or stained glass windows that show a not-very-Jewish, pristine and gentle Jesus, surrounded by or holding pure white docile sheep.
Those pictures and windows don’t accurately depict the reality of the rough work of shepherding, or the way that sheep in a pasture look.
We have one of those windows here in our sanctuary. The lamb Jesus is carrying is cute and clean. It’s an animal you’d certainly WANT to rescue.
BUT, it doesn’t show what a lost lamb would really look like…Does it?
A lost lamb or sheep would look ragged, there would be all kinds of things stuck in its wool. It might be caked with mud and dirt, it might be bloody from being attacked, and it would be really lost.
It seems to me that it’s easier for us to relate to dogs than sheep.
Our family had a much-loved West Highland Terrier named Watson some years ago. Watson’s story is one I’ve told before but it bears repeating because of the way it relates to today’s message.
Watson was a wonderful family dog. He was great around kids and was very devoted to Theresa. In fact, Watson and I had an ongoing competition to see who could show more devotion to Theresa…and I’m sorry to say that I think HE usually won.
But Watson wandered away from home one day. He was such a quiet dog that we didn’t notice he was missing for a while. We looked all over the house and yard for him and didn’t find him.
I set out on foot to look for Watson and didn’t find him. It was a rainy day and beginning to get dark so I expanded my search by driving around the neighborhood calling his name…
And of course, the longer I searched the more concerned I got.
I was calling “Watson…Watson” as I drove, and out of the corner of my eye I saw what I thought was a dark brown dog slowly crawling up a grassy slope about two blocks from our house.
Watson was a totally white haired dog and I thought, “Surely that’s not him,” but I stopped to check anyway.
It WAS Watson. His long white hair was saturated with the muck from the pond down the hill he was crawling up. he was trembling terribly…and he was bloody from the gash on his throat.
Evidently a fox, a coyote, or another dog had attacked Watson; and he was near death.
I knelt down and picked up our dear family pet in my arms…taking on his his mud and blood.
I carried Watson up the hill to my car and took him home, then Theresa and I took him to a veterinarian.
The good news is that Watson’s life was saved.
Watson had wandered off from home…Curiosity got the best of him…He was attacked by a predator and was almost killed…
When I went looking for him and called his name, he recognized my voice and came to me as best he could manage…Then Theresa and I got him medical care as quickly as possible.
That’s the Gospel story of Jesus the Good Shepherd who rescues and saves God’s lost sheep!
Question: Do you still feel like assuming the role of a sheep in this Bible story?
Real sheep require constant attention. They need to be lead, fed, and cleaned…or they don’t stand much of a chance. When Jesus called Himself the Good Shepherd, He claimed that title knowing what kind of trouble His sheep are capable of getting into!
The image of a muddy sheep, bleeding from the throat doesn’t make for good stained glass…Does it?
Beautiful stained glass or not, Jesus is the kind of shepherd that cradles suffering sheep to His chest.
He is the Good Shepherd who will get mud and blood all over Himself as He rescues His lost lambs. Jesus Christ leads His flock besides “still waters” and through the “valley of the shadow of death.”
He said, “You are my flock because the Father gave you to me…and I will lay down my life for you.”
In the portion of John’s Gospel that we are focused on today, Jesus is teaching in the Temple courtyard as a rabbi. His audience is a mix of disciples, Pharisees, and the usual curiosity seekers.
It was in that setting that Jesus tries to explain as simply as He can how His role was different than that of the religious establishment. He said:
“If a person climbs over or through the fence of a sheep pen instead of going through the gate, you know he’s up to no good—a sheep rustler! The shepherd walks right up to the gate. The gatekeeper opens the gate to him and the sheep recognize his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out.”
(John 10:1-3 MSG)
As I said earlier, Jesus was using imagery that His audience should have recognized. Some of them got it, evidently some did not.
The Scripture says:
“Jesus told this simple story, but they
had no idea what He was talking about.”
(John 10:6 MSG)
It must be frustrating to be teaching something incredibly important…and your students just don’t get it.
I read a little bit of a school assignment in which the student practically rewrote biblical history. The student wrote:
“In the first book of the Bible, Adam and Eve were created from an apple tree. One of their children, Cain, once asked: “Am I my brother’s son?”
God asked Abraham to sacrifice his son Issac on Mt. Montezuma. Moses led the Hebrews to the Red Sea, where they made unleavened bread, which is bread without any ingredients.
Solomon, one of David’s sons, had 500 wives and 500 porcupines.”
Well, Rabbi Jesus’ students didn’t catch on to the first parable so, He tried again:
“Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture.
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.
I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”
(John 10:7-10 NRSV)
Do you remember what Mary Magdalene called Jesus when she heard His voice at the empty tomb? That’s when she realized He wasn’t the gardener.
She cried out, “Rabbi! Teacher!”
Jesus was a revolutionary rabbi. He didn’t just teach His interpretation of the Hebrew Scriptures…He said that He received His knowledge directly from the Father.
In today’s passage Jesus is making another bold claim. “I am the gate for the sheep,” He said. That’s the same thing as saying, “No one comes to the Father…except through me.”
Well!…That got the attention of the religiously self-righteous! It was a shock to their senses AND their sensibilities. It’s still shocking to SOME people. Just ask Universalists like Carlton Pearson what they think about Jesus’ claim to be the ONLY way to an eternal life spent with God…
It’s through Him! Jesus is the Gate, the Door, the Way; to a right relationship with God…All other ways are dead-ends!
In John 10:20, the Pharisees didn’t call Jesus the “Good Shepherd.” They called Him “demon possessed and stark raving mad”!
The Good News today is that Jesus is CALLING ALL to be the sheep of His flock…Jesus calls His sheep by name.
Even when His sheep wander off from home and get hurt…He walks the neighborhood calling us back.
How often, when Jesus calls our name have we:
Played like we didn’t hear Him? Looked the other way? How often have we misunderstood Him? Denied Him? Doubted Him? Run off with another shepherd?
When we come crawling back to Him all muddied and bloodied..Jesus scoops us up with the strong arms of a carpenter…and with a great big smile on His face says, “Welcome back! I’ve been looking for you!”
Then Jesus tells us all over again: “I have great plans for you! I have the free gift of spiritual and eternal life waiting for you in the sheep pen!”
Jesus wants you and me, and everyone else to claim our spot in his herd.
Do you hear Him calling your name?
“I will remember your great deeds, LORD; I will recall the wonders you did in the past. I will think about all that you have done; I will meditate on all your mighty acts. Everything you do, O God, is holy. No god is as great as you. You are the God who works miracles; you showed your might among the nations. By your power you saved your people, the descendants of Jacob and of Joseph. When the waters saw you, O God, they were afraid, and the depths of the sea trembled. The clouds poured down rain; thunder crashed from the sky, and lightning flashed in all directions. The crash of your thunder rolled out, and flashes of lightning lit up the world; the earth trembled and shook. You walked through the waves; you crossed the deep sea, but your footprints could not be seen. You led your people like a shepherd, with Moses and Aaron in charge.”