Sunday 3rd May

May 4th – Easter 4        John 10. 1-10

A story about sheep

A woman is walking on the mountains when she sees a huge flock of sheep, lots of sheep are grazing in a very green meadow. She spots the shepherd near them so she goes to talk to him out of curiosity.

The shepherd notices her approaching him and greets her.
“Oh, good morning young lady, maybe I can help you with something?”
“Yes, hi! I was walking on that path over there and I saw this enormous flock and I had to come and know more about them!”
“Sure thing. What is it that you want to know?”
“First, may I ask how many sheep are they?”
“Hmm, of which kind, dear? White sheep or black sheep?”
“Oh. The white ones, for example.
“Right now there are around 200 white sheep on this meadow.”
“Wow, that’s impressive. And how many black sheep are there, then?”
“About 200 too.”
“Oh lord, that’s a lot too!”
“There is always room for improvement. Was there anything else you wanted to ask?”
“Actually, there is. What do they eat?”
“Which ones are you asking it for, darling? White ones or black ones?”
“I don’t know… the white ones.”
“Oh, so the white sheep only eat the best hay in the farm and greenest grass while grazing.”
“Huh, interesting. And what about the black ones?”
“Well, the black sheep eat the best hay and the greenest grass too.”
“Umm okay. There was another thing I was wondering.”
“Shoot.”
“How much wool do these sheep produce?”
“That’s regarding the white sheep or the black sheep, sweetheart?”
The woman starts to get a little annoyed by the man but she still responds.
“The white sheep.”
“These beautiful white sheep can produce an average of 12 pounds. Every year, that is.”
“Uh-huh. And the black ones?”
“So these majestic black sheep produce annually 12 pounds in average too.”
At this point, the woman is already mad at the shepherd and she asks him:
“Why are you asking me every time I make a question about all those sheep if I mean the white ones or the black ones if the answer is always the same for both?!”
“Yes, that’s because the white sheep are mine.”
“Oh, okay, didn’t think of that. And whose are the black ones?”
“Well, the black sheep are mine too!”

 

 

In the Bible the ideal King is pictured as a shepherd.

In Ezekiel 34 first the false shepherds are lined up:

 

Ah, you shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? 3 You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fatlings; but you do not feed the sheep. 4 You have not strengthened the weak, you have not healed the sick, you have not bound up the injured, you have not brought back the strayed, you have not sought the lost, but with force and harshness you have ruled them. 5 So they were scattered, because there was no shepherd; and scattered, they became food for all the wild animals. 6 My sheep were scattered, they wandered over all the mountains and on every high hill; my sheep were scattered over all the face of the earth, with no one to search or seek for them. (Ezekiel 34. 2-6)

 

It might bring to mind false shepherds, kings of today, leaders who are egotistical, perhaps thinking of their re-election, of being popular, rather than the safety of their flock. As a result the numbers are growing of sick and lost and dying, amongst their scattered and unprotected flock…

 

Then in Ezekiel 34 we learn of ideal shepherd King, perhaps modelled on the shepherd-boy David, who became a king after God’s own heart.

 

I myself will search for my sheep, and will seek them out. 12 As shepherds seek out their flocks when they are among their scattered sheep, so I will seek out my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places to which they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness. 13 I will bring them out from the peoples and gather them from the countries, and will bring them into their own land; and I will feed them on the mountains of Israel, by the watercourses, and in all the inhabited parts of the land. 14 I will feed them with good pasture, and the mountain heights of Israel shall be their pasture; there they shall lie down in good grazing land, and they shall feed on rich pasture on the mountains of Israel. 15 I myself will be the shepherd of my sheep, and I will make them lie down, says the Lord God. 16 I will seek the lost, and I will bring back the strayed, and I will bind up the injured, and I will strengthen the weak… (Ezekiel 34. 11-16)

 

We might have in mind the shepherds, the leaders of New Zealand, South Korea or Denmark, all interestingly women, who have done a great job of protecting the sheep in their country.

 

How does the shepherd King protect the sheep?

Well, the shepherd is the gate. The gate stands between the danger outside and the sheep within the sheepfold. The gate is protection from danger. The shepherd literally “lies down” holding their staff. They are ready to battle the wolf outside.

A bit like “key workers” in today’s “frontline”. These good shepherd will lay down their life for their sheep. And they know each sheep by name.

  • I think of the social care worker who lives with their elderly residents in order to prevent Covid 19 entering the nursing home.
  • Or the nurse or doctor who phones the relatives of their Covid 19 patient. They know each patient by name and still think of pain of the relative of their patient unable to visit.
  • And all too many key workers have laid down their life for the sheep they protect.

 

Psalm 121 v 8 memorably says this

 

The Lord shall keep watch of your going out and your coming in from this day forth for evermore.

 

Let’s be clear. The thought of “going out” is particularly scary. With no vaccination, going out, feels pretty risky.

And what about the John 10. 10 promise made by the Good Shepherd, that we should “have life, and life it all its fulness”?

 

Two contrasting verses from Psalm 23, come to mind.

v4 Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for you the Good Shepherd are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.

 

Contrast this with the ‘fullness of life’ in verse 5 of Psalm 23.

You spread a table before me in the presence of those who trouble me; you have anointed my head with oil and my cup shall be full.

 

You see, in the midst of trial and tribulation, Jesus is Emmanuel, God with us. Post lock-down, but pre vaccine, as we venture outside, God the Good Shepherd is with us, his rod and staff a comfort to us.

Yes, God the Good Shepherd want the best for us, life in its fulness.

 

Jesus has very high health and safety standards. Employers, especially those who don’t know their flock by name, have more worrisome standards.

 

Here is a story of a foreman who does not know his sheep:

As he arrived at the construction site, the foreman noticed a man lying on the ground with his eyes closed.
"Hey, you. Wake up and get out of here. We don't allow loitering," he barked as he went inside.
The man moaned but didn't move.
At lunchtime, the foreman noticed the man still lying on the ground, barely moving.
"I told you to leave," he snapped. "This is a construction site. Now move!"
The man just moaned some more.
At the end of the day, as the foreman came out to go home, the man was sitting up, but still hadn't moved from the spot.
"All right, enough is enough" the foreman said. "I'm calling the police. Where are you from?"
The man pointed up. "The roof," he said.

 

Jesus the Good Shepherd does not simply promise us life after death, but a quality of life now.

He promises us a John 10.10 ‘abundant life’; ‘sufficient to keep us’ life; ‘the body in health a strength’ life; life which illuminates and guides our mind, life which bring peace to the heart in a fearful world.

This eternal life is breaking into the here and now.

Yes, God is gifting us green pastures in an age of pandemic.

 

 

Prayer

Lord Jesus, keep us safe from all evil.

Lord, ever watchful and faithful,

we look to you to be our gate, our defence,

and we lift our hearts to know your help;

as we venture outside.


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