Summary: Too many times, the Good Shepherd image of Jesus comes across as the "Greeting-card Christ".
Sermon: Greeting-card Christ
Text: John 10:11-16
Occasion: Easter II
Who: Mark Woolsey
Where: Arbor House
When: Sunday, Apr 30, 2006
Audio link: http://providencerec.com/Sound%20Files/Srmn060430WoolseyJohn10;11-16EasterIIGreetingCardChrist.mp3
May the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in Thy sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer. In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.
How many of you have seen a Hallmark Hall of Fame movie on TV? It is usually a heartwarming, feelgood flick that the whole family can enjoy. I especially want you to remember the commercials during these movies. A father is feeling unappreciated, or maybe a wife is lamenting over a spat with her husband. Then, just at the right time, a card is placed in his or her hand. There’s that little flip of the wrist to check the Hallmark crown logo, the card is opened up and read, and smiles and tears of joy are spread all around. You feel ooey-gooey all over. Life is good. That is the image that many people have of Jesus, especially when they read a passage like our Gospel today. Jesus is our Good Shepherd, leading us to verdant valleys where we graze under a benevolent sun, then lie down and sleep in complete peace and safety. Are you in trouble? Come to Jesus and He will turn your scars into stars, your pain into gain, and your sadness into gladness. Sure, we may have trouble in this life, but Jesus’ function is to raise our valleys and smooth out those hills so that, as He said in the verse preceeding St John’s text today, "[we] may have life, and ... have it more abundantly". I call this image of our Lord the "greeting-card Christ", or the "Hallmark Hey-soos (Hey-soos is the Spanish pronounciation of Jesus). It is rampant in our churches. Unfortunately, those who promote such a vision of Christ often have more in common with the hierling Jesus warns us about rather than the good shepherd He describes. They mistake the image for the reality; the picture for the person.
In the text for today there are several vivid contrasts that our Lord uses to illustrate His ideas. These include Good Shepherd vs hierling and sheep vs wolf. Since the role of sheep and shepherd is largely absent from our culture today, I have incorporated part of Phillip Keller’s book, "A Shepherd Looks at Psalm 23" into this sermon. A modern-day shepherd and writer, I wish to acknowledge my thanks to him for opening up this part of Scripture.
Our Lord could have paid us a higher complement than comparing us to sheep. When we go to petting zoos we see these nice, healthy, gentle animals without realizing the significant amount of work it takes to raise a large flock. In commenting on Ps 23:2, "He makes me to lie down in green pastures", Mr. Keller states this:
"Owing to their timidity they refuse to lie down unless they are free of all fear. Because of the social behavior within a flock sheep will not lie down unless they are free from friction with others of their kind. If tormented by flies or parasites, sheep will not lie down. Only when free of these pests can they relax. Lastly, sheep will not lie down as long as they feel in need of finding food. They must be free from hunger." (p23)
Later on he says,
"A commonly held, but serious misconception about sheep is that they can just ’get along anywhere.’ The truth is quite the reverse. No other class of livestock requires more careful handling, more detailed direction, than do sheep." (p62)
I have heard others put it this way: "Sheep are dumb".
Phillip Keller continues:
"The first sheep farm I purchased as a young man was a piece of derelict land that had been ’sheeped to death.’ An ansentee owner had rented the place to a tenant. The latter simply loaded the ranch with sheep, then left them pretty much to their own ways. The result was utter desolation. Fields become so overgrazed and impoverished they would grow little but poverty grass. Little sheep trails had deteriorated into great gullies. Erosion on the slopes was rampant and the whole place was ravaged almost beyond repair. All of this happened simply because the sheep, instead of being managed and handled with intelligent care, had been left to struggle for themselves - left to go their own way, left to the whimes of their own detructive habits. ... Because of the behaviour of sheep and their preference of certain favored spots, these well-word areas become quickly infeted with parasites of all kinds. In a short time a whole flock can thus become infected with worms, nematodes and scab. The final upshot is that both land and owner are ruined while the sheep become thin, wasted and sickly." (pp62-3)