One Flock, One Shepherd
- Let's focus on the One Shepherd first and then later on on us, the One Flock
- Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil!
- Hymnal of Israel: Trust the Shepherd!
- Terror of the 21st century
- Even or especially in our times: Trust the Shepherd!
- Terror of Jesus' days
- Cross nothing unique
- One of the dark valleys is being described in today's scripture: The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them.
- Who is the wolf? Rome was founded by the twin Romulus and Remus, nursed by a wolf
- Who is the hired hand? Chief priests who identified themselves with the Roman occupation
- John the evangelist got a message for the people in troubled times: You are not owned by your circumstances
The Parable of the Lost Sheep (Matthew 18: 12-14)
- What do you think? If a shepherd has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. So it is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be lost.
- every person is precious to the Lord
- especially the lost ones
- rest assured: once you get lost, the Lord goes after you
- sometimes though, the lost sheep do not want to be found
- then it's time for the other 99 to say farewell as hard as it may be: "God be with you till we meet again, by his counsel's guide, uphold you: with his sheep securely fold you. God be with you till we meet again."
- This shepherd knows what it's like to be a sheep
Being enfolded in love by the Good Shepherd is an image of God's love for Jesus and for us. Starting with the surprising assertion that the divine logos became flesh and dwelt among us, John proclaims that God has inhabited the world in the person of Jesus in a unique way. God knows the people from up close. We can't be enfolded in love by someone who doesn't want to get "up close," can we? Jesus has shared our human experience and knows intimately what it means to suffer and to die. No wonder that the sheep can trust this Good Shepherd. This is a shepherd who knows exactly what it is like to be a sheep, and by extension, what it is like to be snatched by the wolf.
Belonging to Jesus, knowing him and being known by him, shapes us as a community of faith. The community is founded not upon doctrinal unity but upon God's knowing us and being for us. We do not achieve that, but it is the way God is. God is for us. This isn't a personal, just-me-and-Jesus relationship but that of a community, a flock, watched over by the Good Shepherd. There is no such thing as an individual Christian. Just as there is no separate singular form of the word sheep, we are not separate from one another: In our essential belongingness, our being is bound up with the entire flock: with believers who break bread and say prayers with us, and with those sheep whom Jesus knows and God sees, but whom we can scarcely bring ourselves to acknowledge and welcome, let alone live alongside (or die to protect).
- Can (will) we move over and make room?
Now this is where things become more difficult, making room for one another in the fold of God's love. It seems like we ought to find it easy and even natural to relax into the warmth of God's care, to move over and make room for everyone else. And yet this image, of church people themselves not recognizing the immeasurable worth of each individual in the eyes of God, is just as powerful today as it is in any age. Church people have a hard time not thinking about who's in the flock, and who isn't, which may equate with who's loved by God, and who isn't...or at least, who isn't loved by God quite as much, or in the same way, as we are. And yet, it's not up to us to decide who's in or who's out; this text tells us that Jesus has "other sheep" elsewhere and that he intends to draw them in, too. In any case, the flock is not yet finally fixed. It is open-ended. There are always others who recognize the shepherd's voice and enter the fold.
- An open-ended flock
Like Jesus, we are to provide a space where all are welcome. The flock is open-ended, not closed. Jesus owns up to having "others" that he cares about, too, and remembering that nurtures in us a whole new perspective on hospitality. It's more than a warm welcome to worship and a cup of coffee afterward. Deep hospitality is difficult; it tests us. It calls, even pushes, us out to our growing edges. In biblical tradition, the practice of encounter shows up most often as the practice of hospitality, or philoxenia. Philo is Greek for love, and xenia, for stranger. Love of stranger, in other words, which is about as counterintuitive as you can get. For most of us, xenophobia - fear of stranger - comes much more naturally, but scripture is unnatural. According to Jonathan Sacks, chief rabbi of Great Britain, 'the Hebrew Bible in one verse commands, "You shall love your neighbor as yourself," but in no fewer than 36 places commands us to "love the stranger."'" The reality of any of God's children as other than "other" is, ironically, a hard thing to grasp. After all, we ourselves are "other," too, when we meet strangers.
Jesus reminds us that we are his sheep and that he will not abandon us when the wolf come. While we may hope this means we'll be protected from the wolf, Jesus does not promise that. Instead he promises his presence and reminds us that his death was, while not inevitable, one might say, predictable given his life. This may seem like a cold sort of comfort because this Easter message doesn't convey that all's right with the world and sin is conquered. There are still wolves a plenty. Jesus' followers are still afraid. And there is a dire need for courageous resistance. But while neither our ancestors in the faith nor we have been promised safety, Jesus, who has walked this path before us, does promise his resurrected presence.