You already have a Shepherd, and it’s not you. But this Shepherd guides you, knows you, loves you, gives you life, and now calls you to follow, doing the same, for the healing of the world.
Pr. Joseph G. Crippen
The Fourth Sunday of Easter, year B
Texts: John 10:11-18; 1 John 3:16-24; Psalm 23
Sisters and brothers in Christ, grace to you, and peace in the name of the Father, and of the + Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen
Over the years, I’ve learned a number of truths about serving faithfully as a pastor that I now teach to our vicars.
The one I teach first and often, is: “Your people already have a Savior, and it isn’t you.”
Everything I know and do as a pastor is helped by this. Whether it’s relieving the anxiety of carrying the weight of people’s needs, or it’s pulling me from the temptation to see myself as the only one who can do something, remembering that you all have a Savior and it isn’t me has saved my life in ministry more times than I can remember or count.
So hear this truth your Savior gives you today: You already have a Shepherd, and it isn’t you. This is also good news. With the overwhelming problems of the world, anxieties about our families or our lives, fears that we aren’t doing enough, aren’t good enough, aren’t . . . whatever enough, we seem to believe we’re the Shepherd to fix it all, make things right. We carry the weight of others, the weight of our lives, the weight of the world, and forget that maybe we have help.
Well, you do. You have a Shepherd. And thanks be to God, it isn’t you.
And today your Shepherd claims to know you as well as God knows God.
Let that sink in for a moment. Can you grasp it? Within the life of the Trinity, Father, Son, and Spirit live and dance and move in love. Love, according to Scripture, is the essence of what holds God together. So how well do you think God knows God within that love? The inner knowledge of God begins before the universe began, so at least more than 15 billion years ago. Can there still be secrets within God? Hidden actions? Unknown stories?
But the Son of God, your Shepherd, says: “I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father.” Just as God knows God, your Shepherd knows you. And loves you.
How many people actually know us as we truly are?
We don’t help with this. We put on appearances, worrying about what other people think. We keep our fears to ourselves, believing others would ridicule them. We keep our sin and brokenness inside, certain others would turn away if they knew. We keep our inadequacies locked away, not wanting others to realize how inept we feel. We keep our doubts hidden, not wanting our friends who share our faith to think less of us. We sometimes don’t even let our sadness or grief be known, fearing no one will care.
Yet your Shepherd knows you fully. All these things, and more. As well as God knows God, within God’s Triune life, your Shepherd knows you. Loves you. Calls your name.
What might that mean for you, for your life, for today, for tomorrow, to realize this?
Hear this, also: your Shepherd wants to guide you.
The complexity of the world today is almost beyond comprehension. Now that we understand there are many, many systems of brokenness, simply knowing what to do is really hard. We used to think sins were just bad things we did. Now we know it’s more, that we’re also involved in systems of racism, prejudice, oppression, violence, and countless others, sometimes without knowing. For people who care about faithfully serving God, loving as Christ, how can we ever know what to do?
Well, your Shepherd wants to guide you in that. Lead you to green pastures that all can share, along paths that are right and good, for your life and the life of the world. Everything your Shepherd teaches you in the Gospels is meant to lead you, is the loving voice calling to you. Even when the path winds through valleys of death and pain, suffering and fear, you are never alone, your Shepherd’s staff is guiding you.
Decisions about how to be faithful and loving and Christlike aren’t going to be easy in this complicated world. But you can trust that Jesus, your Shepherd, is helping and guiding, through the grace of the Holy Spirit.
But your Shepherd not only guides you. Your Shepherd gives you life.
In this Easter season our ears still ring from the Alleluias that broke out in the darkness of our fear, and we once again walk in awe of this mystery of Christ’s death and resurrection.
Today, remember where your Shepherd has walked. Through the valley of the shadow of death, into death itself, and out on the other side, now alive and loving and calling to you.
Your Shepherd who knows you better than you know yourself isn’t stopped even by death, lays down his life and takes it up again, all to offer you abundant life, life that is full and rich with love, life that doesn’t even end at death.
What might this mean for you, for your life, for today, for tomorrow, to know this?
This is all good news. But your Shepherd says one more critical thing today: The people of the world already have a Shepherd, too. And it isn’t you.
This is one of the most remarkable things Jesus ever said. “I have other sheep that don’t belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.”
There are other sheep unknown to us. Other folds. Others whom Jesus knows fully, as God knows God. Others whom Jesus loves, and calls, and guides, and gives life to.
We don’t know anything about this. He might be talking about other faiths. Other nationalities. Other planets and beings, even. There is a cosmic breadth to your Shepherd’s embrace, and it will be reached. There will be one flock, one Shepherd.
And you and I have no say over any of it. How much energy have we wasted wondering about people of other faiths, or of no faith, and their place in God’s love, or about what sins are forgiveable? How arrogant have we Christians been about a truth we don’t own?
But your Shepherd says, that’s none of your business. That’s my job, my Shepherd work. And the only thing you need to know is, they’re mine, and I love them as much as you. And one day, I’ll bring all together.
This is your Shepherd, and this is the life your Shepherd wants for you. And all those other strange sheep.
What would life be like if you trusted your Shepherd with all this? First John today suggests it would be radically different. People who follow such a Good Shepherd, he says, really follow. If the Shepherd lays down his life for others, so do the sheep. If the Shepherd’s love abides in the sheep, then they love other sheep. “How does God’s love abide in anyone who has the world’s goods and sees a brother or sister in need and yet refuses to help?,” the elder asks today. “Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth and action.”
That’s what’s next. Our lives, transformed by the presence of our Shepherd knowing, loving, guiding, bringing life, now follow the same path. Not as The Good Shepherd to our sisters and brothers. That job’s taken. But as anointed followers, copying the life and love and teaching of our Shepherd. Not because we will save anyone. Again, that job’s taken. But because our Savior and Shepherd chooses to touch others with our lives. With our love and grace in actual deeds and life.
This is how your Shepherd will heal this world, fill all creation with life and love, and bring together one flock.
So now it’s time to follow.
In the name of Jesus. Amen