Saturday, May 07, 2011

Sermon for the Second Sunday after Easter
St. John’s Church – Moultrie, GA
May 8, 2011

If there is any danger or shortcoming in Lectionary preaching as opposed to say taking a book of the Bible and examining it verse-by-verse is the fact that unless we are all serious Biblical scholars it’s often hard to ground exactly where we are in a particular book. For instance, in our Gospel this morning which is perhaps one of most familiar stories and images of Jesus as the Good Shepherd, we are somewhat lost as to what precedes this episode.

Certainly this wonderful story and imagery of Jesus as our Good Shepherd does a perfectly good job of standing on its own, but what if we take a minute to see what happens just prior to this story to see if something bigger is going on.

Tell the story of John 9

In light of what precedes Jesus’ I AM statements of being the door of the sheepfold and the Good Shepherd, he’s clearly setting this up as a contrast to the “bad” shepherds who are blindly leading the “lost sheep of the House of Israel.” The Pharisees, Sadducees, religious authorities, Scribes, lawyers, etc. are not giving the people anything resembling life, but rather a downward spiral into spiritual death. The Good Shepherd is telling the people that they need to stop listening to the hirelings that ultimately care nothing for the sheep, but rather when trouble comes flees and leaves them to fend for themselves.

Jesus says that he as the Good Shepherd is willing to lay down his life for his sheep. He’s not going to run and hide, but will do anything in his power to protect his flock.

Contrast this to the very strong words of Jesus in Matthew 23 when he says of the Pharisees:

Then spake Jesus to the multitude, and to his disciples, Saying The scribes and the Pharisees sit in Moses' seat: All therefore whatsoever they bid you observe, that observe and do; but do not ye after their works: for they say, and do not. For they bind heavy burdens and grievous to be borne, and lay them on men's shoulders; but they themselves will not move them with one of their fingers. But all their works they do for to be seen of men: they make broad their phylacteries, and enlarge the borders of their garments, And love the uppermost rooms at feasts, and the chief seats in the synagogues, And greetings in the markets, and to be called of men, Rabbi, Rabbi.
These false shepherds do not care for the sheep, but only for themselves. They lay heavy burdens on the people with no intention whatsoever to bear them themselves. As we remembered again during Holy Week, our Good Shepherd bore his cross until twice he fell under its weight. He took the heaviest thing on this earth onto his shoulders and felt its weight and burden.

Only toward the end when he fell the second and painful time is the crossbeam handed over to a stranger to carry the rest of the way as a sign that we should bear one another’s burdens as well.

But we do not do this alone. We don’t just attempt to do this ourselves.

Only when we recognize the impossible situation that we all face can we begin to understand the dead end street that we are walking down if we continue to follow the false shepherds of this world, disguised in the form of self-reliance, rugged individualism, secularism, and the like.

These false shepherds lure us into thinking that we can do it on our own, and the reality of this life if we are honest tells us otherwise. It tells us that we are powerless of ourselves to help ourselves. Actually, those of the words of the collect for the Second Sunday in Lent in which we ask that God might help us both outwardly in our bodies and inwardly in our souls to be defended from all adversities that will happen to the body and the evil thoughts which assault and hurt the soul.

The false shepherds will convince us that this isn’t true. The Good Shepherd helps us acknowledge that it is true but that he will lead us into green pastures where we might find rest and nourishment both for the body as well as for the soul.

Lord, help us all to come to you, recognizing that we are all sheep who have gone astray, we have all erred and strayed like lost sheep, and that on our own we are all sheep without a Good Shepherd. Grant us grace to lay aside our pride in order that we might recognize ourselves as lost and wayward without your guidance and protection. Give unto us the discernment to recognize the false shepherds from the one, true Good Shepherd that we might hear your voice, and know you as the only source of life, that you might call us each by name, gathering us into your one flock under your protection as our Good Shepherd and Bishop of our souls.

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