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By His Side

John 10:1-10

The Rev. Jon Roberts

30 April


Calvary Episcopal Church

Indian Rocks Beach, FL

1“Truly, truly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door but climbs in by another way, that man is a thief and a robber; 2 but he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 To him the gatekeeper opens; the sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. 5 A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.” 6 This figure Jesus used with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.
7 So Jesus again said to them, “Truly, truly, I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. 8 All who came before me are thieves and robbers; but the sheep did not heed them. 9 I am the door; if any one enters by me, he will be saved, and will go in and out and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.


Christ the Good Shepherd, Thomas Cranach the Younger, 1540

The only safe place for a sheep is by the side of his shepherd, because the devil does not fear sheep; he just fears the Shepherd.

Once there was a Rancher from Texas who had a large herd of sheep. There was this outsider, a visitor who came to visit his family who happened to be a young preacher, just out of seminary, somewhere up north. The Texan decided that the young man could use a little experience in life, a teaching moment, so he asked him if he wanted to take a ride. They hopped in his pickup truck and rode across the wonderful and rich pasture land that he owned. Seeing the sheep out in the field, the 23rd Psalm, the Lord is my shepherd, came to mind. All he needed was an application and there it was. This one lone sheep did something pretty dumb. It reached for grass on the opposite side of the fence and got its head stuck in the fence. Sheep are not known to be too smart. Because he was telling this young preacher, you know, you gotta be a shepherd to his sheep and you gotta lay down your life and you gotta sacrifice and you gotta be courageous.
And as they driving he saw the opportunity and he looks and on that fence line where you know, it was like this and the sheep was stuck. His head was trying to go through. The fence, But he couldn't back his body out. He was completely stuck. So the preacher was looking like, what is this all about? Never seen this before and. Trust me. He got out, he went over, he opened that. Fence as much as he could and he could tell that the sheep was rustling to get free. Out goes the sheep, and it almost looked like he wanted to kiss them or lick him on the side of the cheek. And he did say, well, the Ranger felt very much gratified by this whole illustration and went back to the truck. And did this and done.
You got to be ready, Preacher. When the time comes for you, what are you going to do? So start driving again. Wasn't even a mile later. And lo and behold, wouldn't you know it? Another sheep with his head stuck and the fence. Well, now is that moment. He cuts off on the brake, stops the truck, and he says, “Preacher go out there and do what you are supposed to do.” What happened next, the Rancher couldn’t believe his eyes, as the preacher grabbed hold of the fence, leaned forward and stuck his own head in the fence. There, stuck, the Rancher shakes his head and says, “He just doesn’t get it.”
Maybe a lot of us don’t get it either. Christ, who is the Good Shepherd, teaches us how to help people. When they get stuck in life, we don’t help them any by getting stuck ourselves. Sheep will sometimes do do things that are uncanny and maybe, there would rather follow along rather than to lead. Sheep are very loyal, very loving. They can be very sweet. In our church, we look for these same attributes. Turning to the 23rd Psalm, and echoed in the Gospel, Jesus wants to protect us from the One who doesn't want us to be saved. This predator is like a lion, a lesser one, who looks to steal, kill and destroy. He wants us to get our head stuck in the fence so that we become easy prey. Have you ever thought about how the Lord is my shepherd, in whom, I shall not want? It has a double meaning, to some respect. If Jesus is providing everything we need, why should we want anything? He's given us our family. He's given us our oxygen to breathe and food and our table and a roof overhead. Why, why should we want anything? Because it is in our nature. We should not want anything when we follow Him, but we do want to chart our own course. We want to test the boundaries. Roaming free has its advantages and the feeling of being independent feeds our desire to provide for ourselves. Jesus reminds us there are risks for those who do not listen to the shepherd's voice.
Do you listen to the Shepherd's voice? Are you asking him to place you where there is still water, or do you want to dare the rapids? Are you asking for him to protect you with his shepherd's hook and his staff, or do you push Him away and say, “I got this”? When you walk through the valley of the shadow of death, then you will know the importance of staying close. Sheep value peace in the midst of pain and death as they hear His voice calling out and saying “follow me.” Most of the sheep will follow, but there is that one who does not. There's no name to that one, because at any given time, that could be any and us. In our life where we feel stuck in our sin, from the stuff that we just can't part from the Good Shepherd is near. Yet, why do we wait sometimes to call upon Him during our biggest problems, our direst needs? Jesus knows that we get scared. He knows that we need. We come to church so that we can hear the Shepherd’s voice, and find peace.
More of this is clarified in the example of following Christ Jesus in his baptism. God makes Himself known through His son, who he sent to shepherd us. He said, “This is my Son.” If you want to know “Me”, this is who you need to follow. The 23rd Psalm, given to us by a boy, David, who was a shepherd, three thousand years ago, is an extension of God’s love and protetction. The 23rd Psalm is real and applicable today. The 23rd Psalm has been on the lips of the person dying of cancer. The 23rd Psalm has been on the lips of a parent who has lost a child and wonders where they are. The 23rd Psalm however does not have to be earmarked only for dire occassions. It should also be on our lips in everyday life. Who doesn’t want to find still, calm places to rest? Who doesn’t want a bit of comfort when disappointment and anxiety get you stuck? And, eventually, more importantly, Jesus equips us to be His hands and feet, His hired hands, if you will (Rancher’s term). You are in such a rich opportunity to look after others, protect them and give them this peace. You can give them guidance.
The Lord is my shepherd. He better be! I always get a sense of when I read this scripture it is God’s actual words for me and yet, there must be a sense of spiritual frustration that our Lord must have as a shepherd. As sheep, on many Sundays when we read the text for the day, you can just tell Jesus is like, “all right, you don't get it.” “This is not the first time. Let me say it again in plain speak.” Today, He tells us about the importance of listening to Him. He warns them about the devil that's roaming around trying to harm them. If the shepherd is too hard for them to grasp, he uses a different metaphor by saying, “I am the gate.” Further, He says that it's the gatekeeper who decides who gets in and who cannot. When the shepherd brings the sheep through the gate back into the fold, are you confused on whether Jesus is the Shepherd, the Gate, or the Gatekeeper? It's not meant to be confusing because what we're seeing, here, a week before Holy Trinity Sunday is that God is all three. He is the One who leads us to safety (Jesus). He is the One who decides our safety (Father) and He is the One who provides the passageway to safety (Holy Spirit.) God's role in our lives is determined by all examples so that His beloved sheep are called once again to that place, to where Christ lives.
He knows us and is hands on. Remember, a shepherd needs to shear the sheep. It is for their good. Sometimes the wool gets a little too scratchy. It's that sin that can kind of materialize and pile up and quite even cover our eyes and block our vision. The shepherd will shear the sheep because it's good for us. When He gets down to that bare skin, so pure, so soft the shepherd reaches for the oil and rubs it on like a baum to give soothing comfort. Good Shepherd Sunday is a time to teach how the Church is a place where to find the still water and green pasture in God’s Word and Sacrament. A place where sheep can find peace. Where are we supposed to roa,? We're supposed to be right here. Right here, within the church. Worshipping God, calling upon Him. With one accord, praising His name, listening to the voice we are like sheep. Hopefully, one day, we will become his hired hands. Maybe His Ranchers or maybe His Preachers, to help Him, help others, from becoming ensnared by those who threaten the flock. He calls us to be by His side, because the devil doesn't fear sheep. But He does fear the shepherd.

[1] A.W. Tozer, Of God and Man, 1960.
[2] John 10:1-10

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