“The Good Shepherd”Dr. R. Dale McAbee John 10:11-18 Year B - Fourth Sunday of Easter
I take as my text this Fourth Sunday of Easter, three verses from the Gospel according to St. John:
I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me,
just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep.
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. – John 10:14-16
The fourth Sunday of Easter is always Good Shepherd Sunday. I don’t know much about sheep and the only shepherds I’ve seen have been in bathrobes in a Christmas pageant. But sheep and shepherds dominate the poetic imagery of the Bible.
In the three verses from John’s gospel, first Jesus proclaims his identity as the Good Shepherd. This is one of the “I am” sayings in John. It is an allusion to the Hebrew “I Am,” the holy name of God, which was revealed at the burning bush and was unspeakable. In saying “I am the Good Shepherd,” Jesus was connecting himself to the covenant God of Moses as well as appropriating a title that would have been very familiar to his listeners.
Abraham, Moses and David were shepherds. As was the prophet Amos. Throughout the Bible, in the prophets and in the psalms, Israel is imaged as the sheep of God’s pasture, thus making God the Good Shepherd. Ezekiel 34 says “Behold I Myself will search for my sheep and seek them out.”
“I know my own and my own know me.” Bill Mounce notes
“John especially has a rich view of what it means to ‘know.’ When Jesus says he knows his sheep and he knows the Father, he is speaking of an intimate relationship that involves deep feelings of love (Jn. 10:14–15). Such a relationship leads to obedience on our part (10:27). ‘Those who say, “I know him,” but do not do what he commands are liars’ (1 Jn. 2:4; cf. 3:6). In fact, Jesus defines eternal life as ‘knowing God and Jesus Christ,’ which involves both faith in him and love for him (Jn. 17:3). By contrast, John makes it plain that the world ‘does not know’ God (Jn. 17:25; 1 Jn. 3:1).”
There is a wonderful prayer attributed to Fr. Pedro Arrupe who was the head of the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits).
Nothing is more practical than
finding God, than
falling in Love
in a quite absolute, final way.
What you are in love with,
what seizes your imagination, will affect everything.
It will decide
what will get you out of bed in the morning,
what you do with your evenings,
how you spend your weekends,
what you read, whom you know,
what breaks your heart,
and what amazes you with joy and gratitude.
Fall in Love, stay in love,
and it will decide everything.
(From Finding God in All Things: A Marquette Prayer Book © 2009 Marquette University Press.)
Jesus said in John 15
“Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.”
And the great paradox is that Jesus the Good Shepherd is also the Lamb of God slain from the foundation of the world.
The choir’s anthem this morning is Sylvia Dunstan’s wonderful text Christus Paradox:
You Lord are both Lamb and Shepherd; You Lord are both prince and slave.
You peacemaker and sword-bringer of the way you took and gave.
You the everlasting instant; You whom we both scorn and crave.
Clothed in light upon the mountain, stripped of might upon the cross,
Shining in eternal glory, beggar’d by a soldier’s toss.
You the everlasting instant, You who are both gift and cost.
You who walk each day beside us, sit in power at God’s side,
You who preach a way that’s narrow have a love that reaches wide.
You the everlasting instant, You who are our pilgrim guide.
Worthy is our earthly Jesus! Worthy is our cosmic Christ!
Worthy your defeat and victory, Worthy still your peace and strife.
You the everlasting instant, You who are our death and our life. Alleluia
Dunstan’s text finds poetic power in stacking image after image of seeming contradiction yet holding them together in Christ who is “the everlasting instant.”
My area of specialization is the field of Pastoral Care and the word “pastor” is a Latin noun that means shepherd. Regarding the mission of the church’s pastoral care John Patton says
The essentials of pastoral care involve the pastor’s distinctive task of caring for those who are estranged–the lost sheep. Taken from the biblical image of the shepherd, the pastor by virtue of his or her professional calling cultivates wise judgment in order to hear the hurting and offer guidance, reconciliation, healing, sustaining presence, and empowerment to those in need. (Pastoral Care: The Essential Guide).
“Caring for those who are estranged—the lost sheep.” Maybe that’s what Jesus meant when he said, “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.” Going out and bringing in the estranged.
Sometimes we get comfortable with our friends in church. Just like our other social connections being involved in church is one more activity on our busy schedule. And almost always we are most comfortable in church with people who are like us.
I remember when I first went to seminary and came back home for a family reunion, my uncle who had never been a church-goer, said to me, “Have you heard, we joined the First Presbyterian Church.” I said, “Oh, I hadn’t heard. How did this come about?”
He said, “Well you know we opened up the second store and it’s really underperforming. We thought if we expanded our social connections, it could be really good for business and since we focus on rare wines we thought First Presbyterian was a good choice.”
I thought, but did not say, “If you’re trying to sell wine you should hang out with the Episcopalians.” He thought of church membership just like the Rotary Club or his Country Club.
But being in church is completely unlike most of our other social involvements. Being in church reminds us that we are broken and in need of the power of God to do for us what we could not do for ourselves.
And being in community with others means that we take the time to listen to them. Jesus says regarding these other sheep that he will being into the fold, “and they will listen to my voice.” But I bet you the way he was able to bring them into his fold so that they would listen to him, was because he first listened to them.
Jesus’ listening was a finely tuned x-ray machine that could penetrate into the depths of a person’s body/mind/spirit. To the rich young ruler
“ Looking at him, Jesus felt a love for him and said to him, “One thing you lack: go and sell all you possess and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven; and come, follow Me.” But at these words he was saddened, and he went away grieving, for he was one who owned much property. (Mark 10:17-27).
Jesus listened deeply, heard his un-voiced spiritual hungers, which the young man could not even feel, and then offered the way of salvation. But he was not ready to change.
Do you remember the story of the woman at the well in John 4? Jesus listened so carefully to her and she to him, that she rushed in amazement to her neighbors and said
“Come see a man who knew all about the things I did, who knows me inside and out. Do you think this could be the Messiah?”
This past summer I taught an intensive course entitled “Listening in Pastoral Ministry” at a nearby Catholic seminary. It involved 40 hours of class instruction. Months before when I planned the course I could not imagine how I would fill up the time. As I drove away the last day of class I had so much more I wanted to say.
On the back of the bulletin are four of my favorite quotes from the class. Let’s say them together.
- Our listening creates a sanctuary for the homeless parts within another person.- Rachel Naomi Remen
- “When you listen generously to people they can hear the truth in themselves, often for the first time.”- Rachel Naomi Remen
- “To listen another’s soul into a condition of disclosure may be the greatest gift we ever give another human being.” – Douglas Steere
- “The friend of my soul is the one who guards and honors the bits and pieces which I call ”- Ian Jones
- “My friend listens to the music beneath my words and sings it to me when I forget.” – Anonymous
Dietrich Bonhoeffer in “Life Together” says
“The first service one owes to others in a community involves listening to them. Just as our love for God begins with listening to God’s Word, the beginning of love for others is learning to listen to them. God’s love for us is shown by the fact that God not only gives God’s Word, but also lends us God’s ear. . . . We do God’s work for our brothers and sisters when we learn to listen to them.”
Dear sheep of the flock of God, live in union with Christ and listen to the Great Shepherd of your souls. And listen to each other as Christ listens to us.
Let us pray:
O God, whose Son Jesus is the good shepherd of your people:
Grant that when we hear his voice we may know him who
calls us each by name, and follow where he leads;
who, with you and the Holy Spirit, lives and reigns, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.
(Collect written by Massey Shepherd) http://liturgy.co.nz/reflection/597a.html
About the writer:
For twenty-four years, Dr. R. Dale McAbee worked with Rehabilitation and Psychiatric patients at Baptist Health Louisville as well as those in treatment for Substance Use Disorder. Recently he has become the Oncology Chaplain. He is a Fellow of the American Association of Pastoral Counselors. For the last eight years, he has been Choirmaster at Concordia Lutheran Church and prior to that served St. Mark United Methodist for 13 years, Church of the Ascension in Frankfort for 2 years and Tunnel Hill Christian Church for 2 years as music minister.
He is a native of Spartanburg, South Carolina and earned the BA in Music from Furman University, the Master of Divinity in Pastoral Care and Counseling at Southern Seminary and a Doctor of Ministry degree from Columbia Seminary. In the spring of 2009 and summer of 2017, he served as Adjunct Professor of Pastoral Care at Saint Meinrad Seminary, Saint Meinrad, Indiana.
Scripture and Music:
1 John 3:16-24
O Perfect Love
Faith of Our Mothers (Broadman Hymnal 1940)
With Grateful Hearts Our Faith Professing
Savior, Like a Shepherd Lead Us
Mothering God, You Gave Me Birth
Happy the Home When God Is There
The King of Love My Shepherd Is
Abide with Me
Christ Is Made the Sure Foundation (Dale Wood)
My Shepherd Will Supply My Need (Wilberg)
God s Family of Love (Ruth Ellen Schram)
The Lord Is My Shepherd
His Name Is Wonderful
The King of Love My Shepherd Is