5/7/06, Easter 4-B
“11I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. 14I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. 16I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. 17For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. 18No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.” John 10:11-18, NRSV
few years ago a retirement banquet was held for the famous English born American actor, Charles Laughton. After dinner he offered to recite any dramatic role requested. There was a momentary awkward silence, and then a woman asked the actor to recite the 23rd Psalm. The actor thought a moment and then agreed, but only if the woman would recite it after him. She agreed. With all the oratory skill he had mastered, the actor recited the psalm with great force and drama. When he finished, there was a burst of applause.
Then it was the woman's turn. She began slowly, softly and nervously: "The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want..." When she finished, there was no applause, but some eyes were moist and some heads were bowed. The actor put his hand on the woman's shoulder and said to the crowd: "I appealed to your emotions. I know how to recite the 23rd Psalm, but it is clear that this woman knows the Shepherd."
Jesus said, "My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish." God has promised to always be with us.
Also, when Jesus claimed to be the Good Shepherd, He was also identifying himself as The Lord of the twenty-third Psalm. Indeed, Christians everywhere cannot read our text from John ten without thinking of the correlation with the favorite Psalm. These two texts from both Testaments are a major part of our image of the Divine.
Roy Campanella, the Hall of Fame Brooklyn Dodgers catcher, was in career ending automobile accident in 1958 that left him partially paralyzed. In his autobiography, Its Good to Be Alive, written in 1959, Campy talks about the many nights he cried himself to sleep, the pain that racked his body, his sinking into deep depression. He writes, "All my life whenever I was in trouble, I had turned to God for help. I remembered my Bible and asked the nurse to get it from the drawer in the night table. I opened it to the 23rd Psalm and read: "Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil; for thou art with me." "From that moment on, I was on my way back. I knew I was going to make it!" The beloved backbone of the Dodgers became an even greater role model during his thirty-five years of paralysis than he was during his ten-year baseball career. Today, the Roy and Roxy Campanella Physical Therapy Scholarship Foundation continues in his memory.
God has promised to never leave us or forsake us--- and he won't!
All of us have wondered what thoughts would go through our minds in a situation where we thought we might die: I found out the hard way. Driving into the city two years ago in the rain on I-75 approaching the 14th street exit southbound, a car in the lane to my left started moving into my lane and didn't stop. Suddenly I was twirling around not able to gain control of my car. My surprise reaction was to close my eyes and pray something like, "Dear God, Dear God, help me!" And I felt the comforting feeling of hitting concrete and realized that I was safe off the expressway against the right side barrier. It felt so good! I forced my door open and got out, I was OK, and the other driver was also safe and sound. God had promised to never forsake me--- and he didn't!
Someday some preacher will recite the Twenty-third Psalm over our casket and in so doing will testify to the fact that God has "restored our soul," "has made our cups to overflow," that He "was with us" to the end, and that we are "dwelling in the house of the Lord forever." What more can we ask?
God has promised to hang in there with us no matter what comes our way--- and he will! The Twenty-third Psalm is associated with funerals but is really for the living: for those who want to allow God to help them live life at its highest and best.
Others will give up on us but not the shepherd who knows us completely. "The hired man" will not keep track of us, but Jesus, Lord, our Shepherd and King, will rescue us and is waiting to hear back from us. Indeed, like the faithful shepherds of Palestine in the first century, Jesus will risk losing His life to save us. Indeed, He did give His life to save us. However, like any Father He will not force us to follow Him, but will compel and seek our love and loyalty.
Some are asking about the "other sheep that are not of the "Jewish" fold. Of course Jesus is talking about the rest of humanity, beginning with the Gentiles and extending to everybody everywhere. Indeed this text could be something of a preview to The Great Commission. All are potentially included, if we will be faithful to evangelize and give everyone an opportunity to hear and respond. Even worse than racism is the current "big sin" of Americans: and that is Elitism. We cannot be elitists and follow the Good Shepherd.
sermon synopsis by C. Robert Allred, Th.D., Pastor