Sunday, April 25, 2010

Jesus’ Sheep Period - A Sermon

Great news from the land of goats – friends have been celebrating the births of several goats this weekend. Yippee!

I know, goats aren’t exactly sheep, but they’re close enough to remind us how much we see Jesus using sheep today. In fact, the entire chapter in which we find today’s Gospel is all about sheep. You can’t look at today’s passage without looking at the whole chapter where Jesus repeatedly says he is the Good Shepherd, and his sheep know his voice. You might call Chapter 10 Jesus’ Sheep Period (you know, like Picasso’s Blue Period).

You might call the lectionary for today a Sheep Period, too, since John is the author of Revelation as well as the gospel. John loves sheep.

So, what’s up with all the ovine language? Why does Jesus refer to everyone as sheep and himself as the shepherd? Why – in Revelation – is Jesus called a Lamb?

Well, maybe the Lamb is easy. After all, Lambs are innocent and are at times used as sacrifice. Jesus was innocent and was certainly sacrificed for us, right? We are all washed in the blood of the lamb. It reminds us of that Passover where the lamb’s blood was painted over the doors of the Israelites, and they were saved. Yes, we are still in Easter, celebrating our Passover.

The thing is, not only is Jesus the innocent victim, but he’s also the Shepherd.

Think of the Irony of being both Lamb and Shepherd – not just any shepherd but the Good Shepherd.

That’s like the Irony of being fully human and fully God.

We’ll never understand how the smart shepherd can share the same place as the not-so-bright sheep, or the sheep can become a leader (but look at Peter all the sudden). After Jesus ascends, Peter and the other apostles take on the roles of leadership – they become the shepherds even though they themselves felt lost.

How could they do that?

By listening. And recognizing the voice of their shepherd. The voice of the shepherd for sheep is a touchstone. It guides and comforts, gives structure and direction. Sheep aren’t that bright, but they know whom to trust.

And that’s what the apostles did. They listened. More, I suspect than merely with their ears, they listened with their hearts. They learned to say, “That doesn’t sound like Jesus” when evaluating a situation. Or they might say, “Now THAT sounds like our master,” when they decided upon an action.

You know how it is when someone is accused of something and you say, “That doesn’t sound like them.” Perhaps that’s how we might want to approach our lives of faith. After all, none of us is really all that smart.

But we can recognize our master’s voice, our shepherd’s voice. Assuming, of course, we know what his voice sounds like. Some days, I have a hard time knowing for sure. But I know what he doesn’t sound like. He doesn’t sound like greed or anger or hatred or fear. He doesn’t sound like someone who is self-serving or suspicious.

The Lamb who is our shepherd may even sound naïve in its insistence on answering injury with pardon, hatred with love. But that’s the voice we follow. It is only in following that voice that we will be brought home to the cool waters.

Like little lambs who are just learning their shepherds’ voices, sometimes we don’t quite hear Jesus in our daily lives. But like them, we keep listening, keep learning that voice. And in time, we will with certainty know which voice to follow.