I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. 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; I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down, and I have authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my father. John 10:11-18
So we find in our scriptures many references to sheep and many references to shepherds throughout the Old Testament and into the New Testament. We find that there are leaders who are good leaders and bad leaders. And there are images about what a shepherd is and what they do. It was something common to the lives of the people in those biblical times because shepherds abounded. But what’s more, shepherds were not always looked upon as high-class citizens. They were often dirty and smelly because they lived in the fields with their sheep. They smelled like their sheep. But Jesus uses this image in a positive way. He says, ‘I am the Good Shepherd. I'm not just a shepherd, I am the Good Shepherd. I am the prototype. I am the model of what a good shepherd is.’ People would have known when they heard that, that a shepherd is one who tends, who cares for, who protects, who leads, who guides, who makes sure that the sheep have all that they need: food, places to graze, water, protection from wild animals, and thieves.
And so Jesus says, ‘That is what I'm here to do for you.’ But even in Jesus’ day, that idea of being compared to a sheep may not always have gone across as a positive. In fact, if you follow social media, there are plenty of references right now in a derogatory way to calling people sheep by some people's way of thinking based on how we are following, or not following, guidelines and directives about how we should be managing the well-being of our communities right now. Because sometimes the idea is that sheep don't think, they just follow. They can't do these things for themselves. I don't have the video to share with you as I did with the kids. But I shared one in Bible study this week that because it was on Facebook, I was not able to get it in a format that we could use. But it's a short clip and it shows this little shepherd boy, I'm assuming a shepherd boy, and there's a trench that has been cut with a trenching machine, so it's a narrow one like they would put tile down in. And he's standing there looking down, and you see the back end of a sheep and two feet sticking up out of this trench. So he bends down and grabs and starts pulling and pulling, and pops this sheep up out of the trench. And the sheep jumps up, takes one, two big bounds, and the third one goes headfirst back into the trench. Have you ever felt like life is going that way for you?
Maybe the sheep image has more to it than we realized. I don't think he's here this morning, but Ken Clark shared that his dad had a farm and had familiarity with sheep. And I think Ken's comment about sheep was there are vegetables that are smarter than sheep. So what do we do with that? What do we do when we're being compared to this animal that for all practical purposes is utterly helpless, defenseless to care for itself, to provide for itself, to do the things that it needs to do to simply survive and not end up head first in a ditch. But maybe that is the image that we need.
Because there are times when life seems to go our way, when it seems like everything is hitting on all cylinders and we're able to do and manage things that we need to and want to. But I think every one of us has come up against those times where we find that no matter how smart, how capable, how strong, how able-bodied we are, there are some things that we just have no control over. And it's in those moments that it's good to know that there's a good shepherd out there who's watching over us, working behind the scenes, working in ways that we may not always understand. I don't imagine that a flock of sheep following a shepherd, is going to be following along with that shepherd saying, ‘Why’d we turn left instead of right? Why are we going over there instead of over there?’ Because the Shepherd knows. Because the Shepherd is acting on behalf of the sheep and in their best interest.
In fact, the first thing that Jesus says about this Good Shepherd, He makes two very clear statements here. The very first one is, “I am the Good Shepherd. I lay down my life for the sheep.” Jesus is saying, “I am all in. I am willing to put my very life on the line to protect those that belong to me.” In fact, Easter was indeed Jesus’ demonstration of that very fact. When he was speaking this to the people listening, they may not have understood it. But boy, I think looking back from Easter as we do, they can say, ‘Oh, he certainly did, he held nothing back. He gave everything he had to care for those who were interested in him.’ And then he follows up by saying, again, “I am the Good Shepherd. I know my sheep, and my sheep know me.”
This idea of knowing and being known as a significant one, author and educator, Parker Palmer wrote in a book titled, To Know as We Are Known: Education as a Spiritual Journey. He described this concept of knowing and being known as emanating from above. That it is rooted and grounded in love. He says, “It's not that soft sentimental love. It's not that fuzzy feel-good, romantic love.” And I love the way he describes it, he says, “This is a love that is the connective tissue of reality.” The connective tissue of reality. This is the kind of love that holds everything together. And he said “It's an awesome responsibility. As well as transforming joy. It calls us into involvement, mutuality, and accountability.”
When Jesus says, “I know my sheep and they know me,” he even goes so far as to compare that to the relationship that Jesus has with God the Father. That as the Father knows me and I know him, so my sheep know me and I know them. That it's a mutuality. It's not just a one-way where Jesus is sitting there looking through the surveillance video, watching about our lives, and taking notes, but this is an intimate, personal, right next to you relationship. Much like those things that some of those early shepherds would have been ridiculed for smelling like their sheep. Well, it's because they spent time with them, a lot of time with them.
How does Jesus know us? It's because he's there and present. How do we know Jesus? It's when we are there in present and in a relationship with him. That idea that it's involvement, mutuality, and accountability. That being a part of Jesus’ flock is not something that we passively do. It's not a mindless activity where we just walk along as a part of the flock. But the thing is, the sheep still have to pay attention. They have to listen for the voice of the shepherd. They have to watch where the shepherds leading. And we may think there are times where we're not sure. We're not sure right now what Jesus is calling me to. We're not sure where Jesus is leading us or guiding us, or what the next step is going to be. And for as much ridicule as people may have about being a sheep and a part of a flock, together, we're a flock. We’re Jesus’ flock. And the thing about being a part of a flock is we don't always have to know everything. And sometimes we need to trust the rest of the flock as much as we trust Jesus as well.
Having a good shepherd means that the flock is healthy. It means that the flock is living in harmony, united, and participating in all of the things that are going on as a flock. We have been limited over the past year in some of the ways that we can do that. And yet, part of being the flock is recognizing that, as Jesus said, “I have other flocks.” But he's calling them together that they may be one under one shepherd. You have been the flock, even recently, as some of you have come and shared with me, ‘Hey, I met a new couple who were at church last week, their names are so-and-so and they've been interested in coming here for a while.’ You've extended hospitality and love by including them by getting to know them, by finding out who they are, and letting them know that you've noticed that they're here.
We are the flock that extends this love of Jesus through the ways that we engage in our community through still being able to provide meals for Just Neighbors. For hopefully at some point, maybe later this summer, being able to resume the meals that we serve, to have Me-N’-U come back once again, because we have a lot of friends who came and partook of those meals that we'd gotten to know, that we haven't seen in a while. We share this love of this flock that we're a part of with others. As much as Jesus is going before us and working to bring that flock together, we also participate in that work of sharing the blessings of what it means to be a part of a flock.
Under the leadership of a Good Shepherd that we have in Jesus, being a part of a flock has its benefits. It's in another passage where Jesus even talks about it and says that “none will be lost.” He compares it to the shepherd that leaves the 99 sheep to go and find the one that is lost or falling headfirst into a ditch. But I know that Jesus’ work doesn't end there. And from what we've heard about sheep, the shepherd is probably busy and there's probably more than one at a time that he has to sometimes go off and find and bring back because they've stepped into a mess.
We are blessed to be known by this God who sent His son to live as one of us, who ultimately gave his life for us, who rose again and continues to seek us out and calls us to Himself. We should know His voice. His voice should be one that speaks comfort, hope, joy, peace, and encouragement into our lives. The Good Shepherd, not the hired hand that's gonna run away. The Good Shepherd who would willingly and does give his life for us, is the one who has called us to be a part of this flock. If that voice doesn't bring peace to your life, then maybe you're listening to the wrong one. You are known by your shepherd, and your shepherd desires that you would know him. May we continue to live as a part of this flock, and what's more? May we know that this is not our flock to determine who gets to be a part of it. Jesus has gathered the flock. Jesus continues to call others to be a part of the flock. It's not for us to look them up and down and say, ‘Yeah, you can come in. No, you can't.’ That’s Jesus’ job. It's his flock, He's the shepherd. So may we be known and know this Lord and Savior, who calls us in love, who calls us to a relationship.