From today’s New Testament lesson: “Let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.”
I like to start off a sermon with a quote from the day’s lessons. It lets me focus in on what my main point is going to be. And unless you’ve been dozing through the entire first portion of this morning’s service, you’re probably aware that today we are being told Jesus is our Good Shepherd. Indeed, the fourth Sunday of Easter is always celebrated as Good Shepherd Sunday.
To be honest, this is one of those weeks when I’d much rather be sitting over with the musicians or in a pew with you guys. When I read the gospel for today, I sighed. What could I possibly say about Jesus as the Good Shepherd that hasn’t been said a thousand times before? And even if you’ve never heard about Jesus comparing himself to a shepherd…..the gospel is pretty self-explanatory. Jesus is the shepherd. We are the sheep. Jesus is so invested in protecting his flock he will lay down his life for us. What more can I say?
So I did some research – and by research I mean I typed “Jesus as Good Shepherd” into Google.
One reflection I found online came to this conclusion: “Jesus is the one shepherd we, as sheep, can trust. All we need to do is let Him….and HE will take care of our every need without us having to do anything on our own.”
I found this take on the Good Shepherd almost offensive. Really? We don’t have to do anything on our own? I suppose I could interpret what was written as nothing WE do truly makes us worthy to receive the love of Christ. By his death – by his resurrection – HE made us worthy.
But I’m not the kind of guy who likes to sit around and wait for things to happen. And I don’t believe that God intends for us to simply wait for all the goodness of God’s love to shower upon us. We have that love. We have that salvation. Now what are we going to do with it?
That’s why I included two quotes from scripture in the opening of this sermon.
“I am the Good Shepherd.” That is comforting and a wonderful image for us to think about.
But I want our time together to be spent thinking about a plan of action. What are we called to do? So I also wanted to include that phrase from the First letter of John.
“Let us Love….not in word and speech, but in truth and action.
Word and Speech are fantastic. We need to get the message out there. But there is also action involved in love.
So how could I reconcile the gospel with Jesus taking charge as the Good Shepherd with a call to action – with US showing love to the world in actions?
My research continued and I ran across a video on YouTube about modern-day shepherding. There was a tranquil woman named Janis Reuter who lives and works on a small sheep farm in East-central Minnesota. She explained in about three minutes what it’s like to work with sheep in the 21st century. She is a shepherd – a shepherdess to be exact.
The thing that struck me most about the video was the beautiful Border Collie which was her sheepdog.
And then I was inspired! We are called to be sheepdogs.
Yes…in the image of Jesus as the Good Shepherd, we are the sheep of his fold and the lambs of his flock. But doesn’t the Good Shepherd need a little help? Doesn’t the Good Shepherd need some sheepdogs to help him out?
I was off and running.
There is an old Scottish Proverb which states: “There is no good flock without a good shepherd, and there is no good shepherd without a good dog.”
Indeed, the shepherd and his sheep need the help of a few good dogs to manage the flock.
Do you know how sheepdogs are raised and trained? From the time they are puppies they are raised within the flock of sheep. This gives the dog a sense of belonging – a sense of responsibility to guide and protect the fellow members of his flock. Just as we – members of Christ’s flock – can take on a responsibility to guide and protect our fellow sheep.
In Janis Retuer’s video, her gorgeous border collie never once barked or growled at the sheep. He simply ran around the flock and gently indicated where they should be headed. Yes, Janis, the shepherd, gave instructions to her dog with single words, but it was the dog who ran ahead and did the job.
That sounds exactly like that passage from the epistle this morning. “Let us love….not in word or speech, but in truth and action.” Like the border collie who didn’t bark at the sheep, but showed them the way to go by gently directing them on the correct path.
I don’t know about you, but I get tired of evangelists and politicians ranting and raving about what we should or shouldn’t be doing. The wages of sin. The evils of demon rum. The consequences of a misspent youth. You better watch out. You better not cry. You better not shout. We are inundated with people (some of whom probably have good intentions) lecturing us on right and wrong. Words! Babble!
The Good Shepherd has an enormous flock to manage. I suggest that some of us sheep step up to the plate and become border collies. Let us help out our shepherd by gently directing – sometimes nudging - some of the sheep in the right direction. The sheepdog doesn’t bark orders to get the wayward sheep back into the fold.
The Good Sheepdog of the Good Shepherd runs out of his or her way and SHOWS that little lost lamb where to go.
The Good Sheepdog doesn’t rely on word and speech but rather on truth and action.
The gospel lesson goes so far as to remind us the Good Shepherd will lay down his life to save his sheep from predators. Indeed, Jesus as the Good Shepherd died to save us. We as Good Sheepdogs can help with predators as well. The sheepdog WILL bark and growl when there is imminent danger to the flock. And sometimes, that border collie actually gets into a some roughhousing with a predator. The sheepdog is there to help the shepherd in whatever way is necessary.
And now, I am going to read to you, word for word, the opening paragraph from the website allaboutsheepdogs.com
“A sheepdog is a shepherd’s best friend. The properly trained sheepdog achieves this by cutting the shepherd’s workload – saving time and money. Of course, these dogs don’t see what they do as work. Their reward is pleasing their master, which means they go about their tasks with a cheerful spirit and an instinctive desire to receive approval. This, in turn, enables the shepherd to carry out his work confidently.”
That paragraph was not written by a theologian. That was not a commentary on today’s gospel reading of the Good Shepherd. But that introduction to a website called allaboutsheepdogs.com certainly states to what we as Christians – what we as sheepdogs of the Good Shepherd – are called to do.
We are called to help with the workload of Jesus, our shepherd. With a cheerful spirit, we are called to assist in leading the flock in the right direction. And when members of the flock stray, we are called to gently lead them back into the fold. When danger threatens the flock, we are called to bare our teeth and make some noise – and perhaps get a little messed up – defending the good of the flock.
In the story from Acts this morning, Peter and John are being questioned by their persecutors about where they have received permission to talk about the resurrected Christ. Peter is filled by the Holy Spirit and given the words to eloquently proclaim salvation in Jesus’ name.
I pray that the Holy Spirit may fill all of us with the energy – the drive – the desire – the stamina – to truly be sheepdogs to help our good shepherd – with a cheerful spirit. May we help our fellow sheep who have gone astray. May we assist our fellow sheep who are in danger of getting lost from the flock or attacked by predators.
Let us love…not in word and speech, but in truth and action.