Good Shepherd Sunday – 4th Sunday Easter
S. Easter 4.23 “Good Shepherd Sunday” John 1:1-10
Today is “Good Shepherd Sunday” our gospel reading (always from John 10 on this Sunday of the church year) of Jesus our Good Shepherd. It’s especially appropriate today as we install another pastor for Our Savior, the Rev. Andrew Smith. And our Lord’s words today are most apposite for what it is to be a good shepherd of Christ’s flock…
Ancient people lived much closer to shepherds and knew their work. We perhaps need to be reminded? A shepherd leads, feeds, and defends the flock. Simple as that. (More on that in a sec). Jesus begins by distinguishing a shepherd of the flock from a thief or robber (cattle rustlers being a problem in the ancient world as much as in the American wild, wild West 😉
In a favorite scene, in one of my favorite films, “Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade” Indy’s archeologist dad (played by Sean Connery) has been captured by “Nat-sees” as the elder Jones calls them in his Scottish burr, and is being held in an old German castle. Indy comes to rescue him by crashing in through the window, swinging from an adjacent turret on his ever-handy whip.
Shaking the glass shards from his jacket and standing up, his father immediately conks him on the head with a (fake!) Ming vase. When Indy comes to, Henry goes “Junior! What are you doing here?” “Rescuing you, dad!” “Ah, sorry! I thought you were one of those Nat-sees!” And Indy replies, in a beautiful line, apposite for our reading today: “Uh, they use the door dad.” “Oh, so they do.”
Because it’s their house. 😉
Because the sheepfold is Jesus’ house, he uses the door. The ones who come crashing in through the windows or bounding over the fence are intruders. They try to convince us they’re Indiana Jones, but, really—they’re thieves and robbers. And we’ll say more on that, too, in a moment.
Obviously, this is a metaphor. So, what is the “door” here by which Jesus enters? Well, he says what it is, in vs. 7: “Truly, truly, I say to you, I AM the door of the sheep.” And he is the Word of God, so the Word of God is the door by which a true shepherd enters the sheepfold, the house of God. People who do not come in through the door, the Word, are thieves and robbers.
How does this fit Jesus? Well, remember, last week, how, on the road to Emmaus, the Lord opened the minds of Cleopas and his friend (who did not recognize him at first) by showing how all the Scriptures—Moses and the Prophets—are his Story?
Jesus is Adam’s promised Seed who crushes the devil’s head, and rescues Adam and Eve’s lost and straying children from their new, (bad!) friend.
Jesus is the Seed of Abraham who, of all Adam and Eve’s children, is the Patriarch of Faith, who was saved not by his works or deeds, but by believing the promise of God that his Seed would be LORD, God, Savior, Shepherd.
Jesus is the Seed of David, the Shepherd-King of Israel who defended Israel from their enemies, defeated the big ugly giant Goliath (who would enslave them) by a well-aimed rock from his slingshot (a massive underdog win there, that cost Vegas bookies their shirts. 😉
Really, the whole Story is about how Israel is constantly wandering away and straying from these three faithful fathers—Adam, Abraham, David—and getting lost and enslaved by robbers and thieves, but how God constantly sends Israel more good shepherds to break into their captors’ castles and liberate them.
This story set Cleopas’ and his friend’s hearts on fire, in good way. They recognized Jesus by his teaching, leading, and (above all!) feeding by his own hand. This is the way.
Peter, first pastor of the New Testament, was, like Indiana Jones—a good but problematic rescuer. You’ll recall Indy’s “rescue” only ended up with them both getting captured by Nat-sees. It was only the fire they accidentally started, trying to escape, that got them out. Better to be lucky than good; better still, to have Providence on your side 😉
Peter did not see how the cross could be the key to this Story, the Door by which all of us must enter the fold of Christ. So, when Jesus is being sentenced to die on a cross, Peter denies that he even knows who Jesus is.
Peter and John are among the first at the tomb. They find the Shroud of Turin, and believe something cool has happened, but do not know the Scriptures that Jesus must die and rise and in this way rescue the sheep from sin, death, and hell. So they don’t get it.
At the end of John’s Gospel, Peter has gone back to fishing for a living and has caught nothing. Jesus stands on the shore and calls his lost and straying shepherd; but Peter does’t recognize him, until Jesus feeds, leads, defends, and commands Peter: “Feed my lambs. Tend my sheep. Over all, a watch to keep…”
And Peter tells us in his first epistle it is by the pure preaching of Jesus, by holy baptism, by the holy supper that we lost lambs are led, fed, defended from the wolves and robbers, and are not just brought into the sheepfold, but as living stones are being built into the very spiritual, heavenly house of God himself—not just in the house, but part of the House, vital members of Christ’s Holy Body.
And as Peter and Paul led, fed, defended the flock by the holy preaching, holy supper, and holy baptism of Jesus, so do the faithful pastors of the New Testament.
And we know them as shepherds, not robbers, because they come in through the door; by the Word of Christ Jesus. They preach not themselves but Jesus Christ the Lord, and themselves your servants, for Christ’s sake. They bear the marks of the cross like Jesus and his first apostles. They are battered, bruised, despised, and scorned for the folly of the cross.
Yet, their voice sounds just like Jesus’ because Jesus is all they preach.
In I Timothy 3, Paul gives a list of trademarks of the shepherds of Christ: above reproach, married men, sober-minded, self-controlled, respectable, hospitable, able to teach, not violent but gentle, not lovers of money, not recent converts.
But a good shepherd is hard to find. For instance: none of the clergy of the Roman Catholic Church fit the 2nd criterion of being married men with children well-brought up!!! None of them are “apt to teach” because they anathematize the Gospel by holding to the Council of Trent. And their “papa” claims (what Peter never did!) to be Christ on earth, ruling the church, a mark of the antichrist.
Maybe worst of all, Rome violates the holy scriptures’ command in Acts 1 that THE CONGREGATION (the lay estate) discerns the Holy Spirit’s will, searches for, and elects their pastors to the office. But the bishops of Rome disenfranchise the lay estate and foist false shepherds of their choosing on the church. But not only Rome. Notoriously, Methodists deny the right of congregations to call their pastors, as do many Anglicans and Lutherans.
But today, you put Andrew Smith into the office here, as one who bears all the marks of the Good Shepherd. This is a mighty and holy responsibility, which is not taken lightly; it’s a sign he enters through the Door, the Word, as a true shepherd of Christ’s fold.
There is one final door in this story, the most important of all. Jesus doesn’t seek entrance into institutions. He seeks entrance into your sanctuary—which he gains (borrowing the vessels of his under-shepherds 😉 washing your earthly edifice by holy baptism, entering the side-door of your ear by his holy word, bursting through the front door of your mouth by his body and blood, making you one body with himself, our Good Shepherd.
In the Name of Jesus. Amen.