Summary: Easter 4: Good Shepherd Sunday - Jesus fulfills his role as the great shepherd of the sheep. He knows them, cares for them, gathers them from all over the earth, dies for them and raises them to new life.
Hey, I want you to do something for me. I want you to pretend to be a sheep. No, not a sheep in a metaphorical sort of way – but I want you to put yourself in the position of a real, four-legged, wooly sheep. Your task over the next few minutes will be to look at life and look at the world from the perspective of one of these little critters. In order to play the role properly, there are a few things that we need to keep in mind:
• You are delicious! I mean to tell you – there are folks that would just love to sink their teeth into a good mutton chop. There is a demand for you – but clearly that demand can only be satisfied at a substantial cost to the sheep.
• You are a sitting duck. You can’t defend yourself very well. Because of this you are timid, fearful and easily panicked. Consequently you prefer the company of other sheep. Safety in numbers, I reckon.
• Some say that sheep are not very sharp. In fact, sheep are dumb and gullible. I don’t know about you, but I’m a natural for that role.
• Finding food consumes most of your waking hours and you are not very good at it. In fact, you need to be kept away from poisonous plants and precipices and ravines. Why, because sheep are so stubborn that they’ll insist on eating and drinking stuff that isn’t good for them or wandering close to danger.
Ok – let’s set the scene. There are enemies out there who want to chow down on you. Let’s be clear - you are worth more to them dead then alive. You can’t defend yourself. You hang out with others because going along with the crowd makes you feel safe. Half the time, you are not aware of the trouble that surrounds you. Admitting that you are wrong is hard and Lord knows that being wrong is a very normal condition. You really have a hard time doing the right thing and, in fact, doing things that are bad for you seems to come second nature.
Ok – ready to play sheep? Let me warn you - it isn’t going to be easy for us. In fact, you may find it a bit humbling. Admitting that we are helpless and dependent goes against the grain. You see, we spend most of our lives learning independence. We study so that we can get jobs to earn our own way. We look forward to the day when we don’t have to worry about money. We work out so that we can be strong and face life head on. We study self-defense and learn how to protect ourselves. At the end of the day, being independent and self-reliant become badges of honor among us. So being a sheep - being in a position where we are weak and defenseless - is a struggle. That’s why things like swine flu and a bad economy are so, so troubling for us.
Let’s take this in another direction. Instead of being real sheep, I’d like for us to think about being sheep as a metaphor for living the Christian life. Now we need to know that all of the weaknesses and dangers that real sheep face – we, as spiritual sheep also face. For example, real sheep become targets because they are delicious to their enemies. There are those that want to have Christians over for dinner – well done, by the way. As spiritual sheep, we are targets for those who are hungry for lamb chops. Saint Peter tells us that the devil prowls around like a roaring lion looking for someone to devour. (1 Peter 5.8) Did you get that? We’re little more than a Scooby snack for the devil. In another place Saint Paul tells the Roman believers: “We are considered as sheep to be slaughtered.” (Romans 8.36b) Like it our not – our rugged independence does us no good against these enemies.
In the spiritual realm – we are sitting ducks. Remember how God rescued the Israelites from slavery in Egypt? Imagine watching God go to work to free his people from the Pharaoh – the plagues; the pillar of fire; the cloud; the opening of the Red Sea; manna from heaven; flocks of quail flying into the tents; water from the rock. Wow! Can you imagine? These folks got to see some pretty amazing things. Even so, we read how they fussed and complained against God. We read about the rebellion and the idolatry. At the end of the day – these people – because of what they had seen, had every reason to trust and follow God. But they didn’t – the innate weakness of sheep came through and they fell.