Why do my dogs just lay there and snooze while most of the world passes by my house, yet spring up with attention and joy when my wife or even one of my adult children pulls in the driveway? How is it that many a mother, dad, brother or sister can ignore the background noise of TV, roadside traffic and jets overhead but the moment the infant in the house makes a sound it is noticed? What is it about the tone of the voice you love that pulls you in, settles and affirms, calms and soothes you in the midst of life’s storms? How do the little kids in this church lock in on and find and go straight to their family or friends when they come up the stairs for Holy Communion in the land of giants? Kid radar? It seems that many of God’s creatures are equipped with an innate ability to locate the right one, to recognize legitimacy, to sense, to know the real thing, when it comes our way.
Today, the fourth Sunday of the Easter season, the season of fresh new life, the Risen Jesus affirms this God given quality through his teaching about the Good Shepherd. This is another great example of Christ’s belief in us even if our belief in God is fuzzy or not fully formed. This is another instance where Jesus reminds us that we are spiritually equipped beings with the means to walk life’s path with God’s guidance.
Today’s gospel tells us that Jesus is the Good Shepherd, the One who cares, the Real deal, the voice your soul can respond to. And He tells us that the mark of the Good Shepherd is that he or she cares more for the lives of those in his/her charge than for their own. How many times do we hear of the other kind of leaders/lesser shepherds who, when the going gets tough cut and run, or cheat their flock, or abuse or use them for ideological, personal , political purposes or for drumming up business schemes? That’s the most common model the world has seen for thousands of years. But then, thank God, comes the Good Shepherd, Jesus, who literally laid down his life for us by living out fully the call to love unconditionally, He cared so much. He loved us to the end.
As Jesus said in the tenth chapter of St. John’s gospel, “The Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” Jesus did just that by facing death upon the cross of human cruelty and judgmentalism in the 1st century, and He calls us each to become willing to do likewise in our time if that’s what it takes to bring on the era of loving coexistence and well being for all God’s children.
Ah, but in our time, and in light of this Holy season of Eastertide, the Risen Christ, the living presence of God in Christ, invites us – calls to you- can you hear His affirming voice?- Now the Risen Savior calls to you by name and offers to be your Good Shepherd, to guide and care for you come hell or high water, come illness or confusion, come good times or challenging times – even in those times when we feel lost or helpless we can say the famous words of the faithful seeker, “The Lord is my shepherd;” (say it to yourself – say it again to yourself) “ I shall not wont… He restores my soul… and Even though I may walk through the valley of the shadow of death itself I shall fear no evil… for you comfort me and goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life and I will one day dwell in the house of the Lord forever” . (say it again, The Lord is my shepherd.) Psalm 23.
This promise of the nearness and care of God in Christ Jesus is the most assuring gift in the world. It promotes faith. It restores faith. It refreshes faith. It affirms God’s faith in you to recognize Godly yearnings, to sense holy comfort, to do good and walk in loving-kindness. It is no wonder that the earliest Christian communities spoken of in the Book of the Acts of the Apostles recalls on Good Shepherd Sunday the spirituality of the beloved community wherein they lived and practiced the faith where people shared their food with hungry neighbors, their shelter, their money and possession “with glad and generous hearts… from each according to his ability and TO each according to their needs.” That’s what the bible calls “devoting ourselves to the apostles teaching, to the breaking of bread, and to the prayers.” Acts 2:42. And what is this spirit of assurance and generosity all about?
Where is it the Good Shepherd is leading all who hear and hearken to his voice? It’s right there in the very last line of today’s gospel teaching, it’s also God’s will – God’s hope for you – “that you may have life, and have it abundantly.”
An abundance of Life- not a lot of stuff- an abundance of life; you know, solid relationships, fun, creativity, music, a love for nature and care for others, a sense of purpose , loving others, encouraging and inviting others to this dance of life to which our shepherd leads….THAT’S AN ABUNDANT LIFE. Let it become more and more your life. Follow the lead of the living Christ and move boldly forward into whatever is before you with Christ at your side. It will make all the difference in the world, starting in your corner of creation.
For God knows that you know the real thing when you encounter it – when you encounter God. You can sense the Good Shepherd informing your life. You are wired for it/equipped for this naturally. So pay attention and find those still waters. Fear no evil and restore the soul with the One who cares, the Good Shepherd who calls you by name. Amen.