“The man who enters by the gate is the shepherd of his sheep. The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.” Jesus used this figure of speech, but they did not understand what he was telling them. Therefore Jesus said again, Ill tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep. All who ever came before me were thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture. The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full. ”I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
John 10: 2-11
The theme of the Good Shepherd and his sheep that we began last week with Psalm 23 continues today. When Jesus said, “I am the Good Shepherd,” he may have brought several Old Testament phrases into the memory of his hearers, such as Isaiah 40:11:
He tends his flock like a shepherd: He gathers the lambs in his arms and carries them close to his heart; he gently leads those that have young.
Or Ezekial 34:11 For this is what the Sovereign Lord says: I myself will search for my sheep and look after them. As a shepherd looks after his scattered flock when he is with them, so will I look after my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places where they were scattered on a day of clouds and darkness.
Or Psalm 100:3, Know that the Lord is God. It is he who made us, and we are his; we are his people, the sheep of his pasture. What an interesting thought that the creator of the universe actually seeks to relate with humanity on a personal level- as loving and caring as a good shepherd. The Bible makes that point poignantly. God’s power holds the universe together, yet we are loved with a personal, caring attention that calls out to us and seeks to maintain a regular, intimate relationship.
As the people tried to grasp an understanding of what Jesus meant, they must have drawn a connection to the way sheep recognize their particular shepherd’s voice and will follow. That is why several flocks could be put in one enclosure for the evening without worrying about losing sheep to another flock. When the morning came and a shepherd arrived to retrieve his flock, he merely called them, and his sheep came out at the sound of his voice.
Remember that painting of a dog listening to an old RCA record player with his head cocked to one side? We love that painting because it is so clear that the dog recognizes this master’s voice. So how do we hear our Master’s voice today? Being truly present in life- aware of what is happening in our midst- may allow us to know where God is leading us. Many times we become preoccupied with the past and anxious about the future. Yes, there is no doubt that God teaches us as we reflect upon the past and dream about the future, but God actively seeks to lead and protect us in the present moments of life – the here and now.
A Nazi prison guard saw a woman prisoner pull another woman out of the line going into a gas chamber. She noticed the guards counting prisoners going in, and she wanted to save a life. Even though it was not her turn, she took the place of another woman in line. A guard saw her pull the other woman out of the line. He witnessed a self- giving love unlike any he could have imagined. He suddenly realized Christ’s self-giving love. You might say that in that moment he heard the voice of Jesus calling him to a new life. God’s voice broke through his life and changed the way he saw himself and others.
Years ago as Christine and I toured the actor Paul Newman’s camp in Ashford, Connecticut, we heard a story of God’s voice breaking through. The camp’s name, “Hole in the Wall Gang,” is taken from the movie Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. The camp serves children who are suffering from life- threatening cancer and disease and creates an environment where they cannot fail.
As we toured the camp, the guide told us that we might see Paul Newman wearing a baseball cap, riding on his bicycle. We didn’t see him, but we did sense the positive energy of the camp. The guide told a story of a little girl catching stage fright at their talent show. The counselors swam through an auditorium of silence as they made their way to the frightened girl. Before they reached her, one camper’s voice rang out like a little bell, “I love you.” Then another camper said, “I love you.” Suddenly the entire auditorium was filled with love, “We love you!” “I love you!” The camper on stage gathered herself as her tears were replaced by a beaming smile. She told the counselors she wanted to try again, and they calmed the auditorium. Then this tiny little girl sang out the most beautiful solo she could muster, and she bowed proudly to thundering applause afterward. It was the voice of Christ in that moment that broke through the fear and anxiety. The guide told a story of another moment when Paul Newman was in the cafeteria meeting a camper who asked who he was. Newman took a carton of “Newman’s Own Lemonade” and pointed to his picture. The little boy stared at the picture and then looked back at Newman and asked, “Are you lost or something?”
Jesus assures us that God comes looking for us- the Good Shepherd wants us to hear his voice and recognize it as our “ever present help in trouble.” Helen Mallicoat’s poem, “I AM” punctuates this point:
I was regretting the past and
fearing the future.
Suddenly my Lord was speaking:
“My name is I AM”
He paused. I waited. He
continued, “When you live in
the past with its mistakes and
regrets, it is hard. I am not there.
My name is not I WAS.
When you live in the future,
with its problems and fears,
it is hard. I am not there.
My name is not I WILL BE.
When you live in this moment
it is not hard. I am here.
My name is I AM.
God’s power in the present redeems our lives and others. In Matthew 25 Jesus spoke of a King who said, “For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you invited me in, I needed clothes and you clothed me, I was sick and you looked after me, I was in prison and you came to visit me.” Then the righteous will answer him, `Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’ “The King will reply, ‘I tell you the truth, whatever you did for one of the least of these, you did for me.’”
On this outreach Sunday, we thank God for the opportunity to follow Jesus by serving the least of these. Their voices call to us. It is the voice of the Good Shepherd calling us to follow him.
A man who had been attacked and left for dead in an alley was rescued by a passerby who took him to the hospital. As he came out of a coma the victim asked the nurse about his rescuer. “He is here, waiting for you to wake up.” As his rescuer walked into the room, the victim said, “I want to thank you for helping me. In that alley I thought I was going to die. When I saw your face, I thought you were Jesus. ” His rescuer responded, “When I heard your voice calling for help from that alley, I thought that you were Jesus. ”
Bless you for responding so generously to the people who are served by our fifty outreach agencies. No amount of fear or anxiety can drown out the voice of the Good Shepherd calling to respond with love to those calling us for help. The words that come from the creator of the universe to each of us could not be more comforting…. “I love you.” Let us hear the voice of the Good Shepherd and follow Him faithfully. Amen.