By The Rev. Sherry Deets
4 Easter – April 29, 2012
John 10: 11-18
Our gospel text begins, “I am the good shepherd…” What we need to know is that, in Jesus’ day, the term, “good shepherd,” would have been heard as an oxymoron – a contradiction of terms. In Jesus’ day, shepherds were anything but good. They lived as nomads, grazing their sheep on other people’s land. They were notorious for lying, cheating and stealing. They were Jews, all right, but they were low on the gene pool. They didn’t observe the kosher food laws, they didn’t practice ritual cleansing, and they certainly didn’t attend synagogue on the Sabbath. And so, for Jesus to identify himself as a shepherd is quite remarkable. It goes along with his willingness to befriend the outcast, touch the leper and eat with tax collectors and sinners. It speaks of Jesus’ humility, to become as one of us in order to redeem us from our sinful nature and give us grace to become more like him. Paul said it best when he wrote to the Philippians,
“…Christ Jesus, who, existing in the form of God,
didn’t consider equality with God a thing to be grasped,
but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant…” (Philippians 2:6-7)
Or, in the case of today’s text, taking the form of a shepherd. All this is to say, we don’t have to be perfect in order to walk in Jesus’ company, he meets us where we are.
We are given verses 11-18 from Chapter 10 of John’s gospel this morning – but just before Jesus says “I am the Good Shepherd”, he ssay, in verse 10, which anchors the whole passage: “I have come that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” “I am the good shepherd”.
Abundant life. That phrase, as much as any in the Bible, captures what most people I know — including myself — long for. Not just more life, but abundant life. Not just more stuff, but life — real life. Jesus in this passage makes a promise, a huge promise, a life-changing promise.
He’s not the only one who makes promises. Most of the ads we’re subjected to, day in and day out, also promise abundant life, but it is abundance understood precisely as more — more money, more possessions, more cars, more sex, more Facebook friends, more…. You can fill in the blanks as well as I can of all the things hawked, promising to give us life.
Of course there’s a cost to buying into this scheme. Actually, it costs two things. First, you need to believe you are insufficient, that you are not good enough and do not have enough. That you are not worthy, in fact, of love and respect and happiness unless you purchase whatever is being advertised. The ads work by creating in us a sense of lack, a sense of profound insufficiency. And the only way to satisfy that lack is to buy the product in question, and that’s the lure of ads.
The second cost is that it’s a lie. Whatever you buy — sneakers, iPad, car, deodorant, whatever — may be just great in and of themselves. But guess what? It’s not going to fill that sense of need or rid you of that sense of lack. In fact, disappointed once again, you may end up just going shopping again — or overeating, or shooting up, or settling for someone who doesn’t value you, or whatever — hoping against hope that this time it’ll work and you’ll be acceptable.
Now, against this backdrop, hear again the promise of Jesus: “I have come that they may have life, and have it abundantly.” But Jesus doesn’t just make a promise, he puts his money where his mouth is. Or, more accurately, he puts his life where his promise is: “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.” And “I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord.”
But why? Why does Jesus the good shepherd lay down his life? To tell us that we are, in fact, enough. Jesus, especially in John’s gospel, doesn’t die in order to make some kind of payment to God or to satisfy God’s wrath. Jesus, in John’s Gospel, is the Revealer, the One who comes to make the invisible God visible and the unapproachable God accessible. Jesus comes to reveal that God loves the whole world, no exceptions. Jesus comes to tell us that we are already beloved, that we are enough, that we need no shoes or book or car or reputation or lover or high status job or big bank account or list of achievements or anything else to be deserving of God’s love. That — God’s unconditional and unending love – we already have.
But that can be hard to believe. So many messages, so much money, are devoted to trying to tell us that we are not enough, that we are not worthy of love, that we need to earn acceptance. And it’s our job and privilege to name those messages a lie and to point to the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for the sheep — for us! — simply out of love.
But it is hard to believe at times. Let’s make no mistake about that. Which is why we should listen to even more of Jesus’ message: “I lay down my life for the sheep,” he says. “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.” Jesus, in other words, didn’t come just for the original group of disciples. He came also for us, and we are now invited to hear and believe this message of grace and acceptance and to share it with each other and all those we meet.
Precisely because it’s hard to believe, though, I’m going to ask you to try something. It may feel risky for some, and so I think it’s worth explaining why we’re putting ourselves out there. Jesus’ message of love needs to be said again and again, not just by a pastor, but by all of his disciples. If we don’t remind ourselves of this message, who will? And so I’d like to suggest that each person turn to another whoever is next to you or near you and say these simple words, “You are a beloved child of God, and you are enough.” That’s it. “You are a beloved child of God, and you are enough.”
This is part of what it means to be the Body of Christ — to remind each other of God’s promises and speak Jesus’ message of love, acceptance, and grace to each other. And, who knows, maybe having had the chance to practice saying these words to each other we’ll find the courage to say them to others in our lives as well.
Jesus meet us where we are. Accepts us, zits and all. “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not be in in want.” Amen. (based partially on an article by Dr. David Lose – working preacher)
The text of this sermon is the property of the author and may not be duplicated or used without permission.