This is a continuation of the earlier passage in the tenth chapter of John. There Jesus said “I am the gate for the sheep.” Now he says “I am the good shepherd.” So, which is it? Well, are you an offspring or a parent? Are you a sibling or a neighbor? We’ve all got multiple roles to play. Jesus is searching for images that will make sense to us, that will connect with us. We need access and acceptance. Jesus is the door, the entrance, the way into an experience of love and transformation. We need guidance. Jesus is the one who leads us.
And there it is. It seems innocuous to us. A no brainer to most of us. But we live in an “I got this” culture. “We don’t need no stinking leaders” is the mindset. I once heard a commentator sneering at the passage in Matthew where it says that Jesus had compassion on the crowd “because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.” (Mt 9:36) “Paternalistic” was the cry. “That’s the problem with religion,” the commentator said. “It is a crutch, something to keep us down. We are meant to pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps. Our heroes are the ones who made it on their own, the self-made men and women who take what is a raw deal and turn it into gold. Those who push themselves, who claw their way up, who . . .”
Whoa, slow down there, Sparky. OK, sure there are those “dog eat dog” types out there, but surely none of them are reading these preaching notes. We know better. We are ready to follow the Shepherd. So, no controversy here.
I know that. Just making a point. Just engaging in some literary banter. I know that we always turn to the Shepherd when it comes to making decisions about how we will live our lives. I know that we will follow wherever he leads us and do whatever he tells us to do. I know that we are ready and eager to live the life of faith that we are called to live – when we get a moment, in our spare time, Sunday mornings for sure, most of the time anyway, when we can squeeze it in. It is a busy life we lead, and we don’t always have room for everything that we would like to be able to do. Some days we are just getting by with the necessary stuff and are worn out before the extras. Like faith. Like life, abundant life.
Hmm. OK, maybe we all struggle with the idea of a shepherd—of needing one, instead of being one, I mean. Maybe we, too, are more likely to say we can do it on our own more than we need a savior. Maybe we are part and parcel of our culture more than we really want to admit.
I like the band fun. That’s how you have to write their name by the way: fun. Apparently, there is a Scandinavian death metal band called Fun, so the pop group fun. had to change its name. Lower case f with a period at the end: fun. We haven’t heard much from them lately. They sort of disappeared once they got famous. Anyway, I liked them, but I confess I was caught out by one song. It is titled “One Foot,” and the refrain repeats the phrase, “I'll put one foot in front of the other one.” Catchy; it has this “just keep swimming” feel to it (Finding Nemo - keep up here). But when I listened closer, I was disturbed.
The second verse goes like this: “Happiness stumbled upon a chapel last night / And I can't help but back up when I think of what happens inside / I've got friends locked in boxes, that's no way to live / What you calling a sin, isn't up to them / Afterall, I thought we were all your children / But I will die for my own sins, thanks a lot / We'll rise up ourselves, thanks for nothing at all / So up off the ground, our forefathers are nothing but dust now.” Then the refrain: “I'll put one foot in front of the other one / I don't need a new love, or a new life / Just a better place to die.”
Another slam against the church, and maybe we deserve it. We’ve spent more time calling out sins than we have claiming all as God’s children. But along with throwing off the authority of the church, comes the decision that we don’t need a savior — “I’ll die for my own sins, thanks a lot.” OK, I get that. Again, we probably need to take some of the blame for that kind of attitude. If we don’t live as though we are following a savior, but instead are relying on our own righteousness, then what else can we expect from our children?
But what really got me was what we are left with when we stand on our own: “I'll put one foot in front of the other one / I don't need a new love, or a new life / Just a better place to die.”
The one who came that we might have life weeps when his children have aspirations only for a better place to die. These are the ones for whom he was willing to lay down his life. These are the ones he wanted to gather in. These and so many others who are wandering around out there harassed and helpless are in need of shepherd.
All of which says we won’t hear the voice of the shepherd if we don’t think that we need to listen. We often struggle with how to hear the voice of God in our lives. But determining that we do need to be listening for that voice is a major step that far too many skip. So how do we let others know that this voice is a voice worth hearing?