The Good Shepherd - Reflections 4-22-2021

Texts for the Fourth Sunday after Easter
April 25, 2021
Sheep by Ingrid

Acts 4:5-12
Psalm 23
1 John 3:16-24
John 10:11-18

I was installed at my first church on the Fourth Sunday of Easter in 1985. It was the tradition at that church that the children from our mid-week music and Bible classes would lead worship on “Good Shepherd Sunday”. I remember how delightful it was to see these small beings climb up on steps and tippy-toes to read the lessons for the day. Since children’s ministry was a significant part of my job description, this was indeed the perfect setting for being installed as one of their shepherds.

Since then, I have a bunch of Good Shepherd Sundays (36!) under my belt. Many of them have been child focused; I imagine that the thought of fluffy lambs and children are a good feeling scene for most people. This year, since we are not meeting in person yet, I gathered up cotton ball and marshmallow sheep instructions (two different crafts; cotton balls and marshmallows do not really work well together!) to send home for the children along with their Bible lesson. The hope is that the children will take away the idea that Jesus loves them the way the Good Shepherd loves his sheep, or that Jesus is the Good Shepherd who loves them as his sheep. I’m not sure which way is less abstract for them. 

Do you think that the Good Shepherd analogy still makes sense for people today? The Israelite story is filled with shepherds. Rachel was a shepherd. Zipporah and her sisters were shepherds. Moses was tending sheep when God called to him from the burning bush. King David started out as a shepherd before becoming king. The image of God as the Shepherd of the flock Israel was common by the time of Jesus.

Iowa City is still close enough to farming, I suppose the analogy might work. People from bigger metro areas may have never seen sheep in the pasture. And even if they have seen sheep safely grazing, they probably haven’t seen shepherds out in the fields keeping watch by day or night. Most of our local sheep at least are brought into a structure at night. We also don’t really need to worry about wolves around here. Coyotes could be a danger to lambs, but a shepherd wouldn’t die in the fight. Sheep do, however, know their owners voice and listen to the call to return at night.

It is really easy to focus on the comforting and secure words “I shall not want” and “he restores my soul”. We long for a relationship that will calm, reassure, and soothe us, especially through the year that was so disruptive, anxiety-producing, and divisive. The idea that the Good Shepherd laid down his or her life for us in a wolf fight lends an edginess to the scene that we might not want.

But edginess is a part of Jesus’ ministry. I can imagine some of the people of his day were also quite comforted by the thought of being gathered and safe in God’s flock. But I can also imagine that after hearing Jesus say “I am the Good Shepherd”, they heard blasphemy. In the first lesson, Peter and John had been arrested for healing in the name of Jesus. Peter reminded the religious leaders (wolves in temple clothing?) that they crucified Jesus and God raised him up. The leaders rejected Jesus and God exalts him.

Back to the analogy, how does the shepherd dying ultimately benefit the sheep? With shepherd out of the way won’t it end up a sheep smorgasbord as the wolves move in?

The plot thickens on this Good Shepherd Sunday.

The 2nd lesson from 1 John, starts with
16 We know love by this, that [Jesus Christ] laid down his life for us—and we ought to lay down our lives for one another. 17 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 help?

Read those verses from John again. It is the Love of God who laid down his life and we are called to do the same. Wait, I’m a sheep. I’m supposed to lay down my life for others? Yep. That’s the plan.

And, the word “sheep” makes no distinction between singular and plural. We, the sheep, are to reach out in love. That, according to 1 John, is how this whole thing works. We see that love story moving through Jesus’ followers in the book of Acts and the Epistles, and then in early, middle, and late church history. The love story is alive this day, COVID and all. God’s love abides.

We give thanks for our Good Shepherd who walks with us through these valleys and shadows. We can be secure in the promise that our Shepherd is with us always.

We sheep also are called to share that promise and to walk with others through these valleys and shadows.

How to Find Us

Gloria Dei Lutheran Church in Iowa City

Gathered by grace. Scattered for service.

123 E Market Street
Iowa City, IA 52245