4/25/99, E4A

“His Sheep Know His Voice”
John 10: 1-10

any New Testament stories metaphorically refer to us as sheep, or potential sheep. In the Final Judgment, the sheep are placed on the right hand and go to heaven, and the goats are on the left and go to that other place. So, the idea is to end up numbered among the sheep.

However, if you have ever spent any time around sheep you would not want to be a sheep. Sheep are the geekiest animals in the world: We don’t want to be bland, fearful, helpless, and delicate, like sheep. No sports team would select sheep as a nick name--- The Atlanta Sheep. What would the cheerleaders yell: “Rip ‘em up. Tear ‘em up, Bah, Bah, Bah.”

Sheep can’t even run good: They just kind of hop along on four stiff legs. They are not graceful like a running horse, nostrils flared, mane flying in the wind, an athletic gate. Sheep will follow any shepherd that feeds them, even the bad shepherd who will eventually abuse them. Geeky sheep just follow each other around, if one jumps off a chill, the rest follow.

We are not like sheep; Or are we? Do we follow even bad role models. Kids acting out what they see on “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” Others wearing the right labels so that they will fit in with the crowd (I remember doing that myself). Adults fitting into the right house, the correct car, using politically correct words. Are we like sheep? Do we like sheep go astray and get lost? Jesus was right, we are indeed like sheep.

Note that the natural enemy of the sheep, other than themselves, are pictured in these “Red Letter” words of Jesus, as being the Priests and Religious Leaders of Jerusalem.

There is a distinction in what our current English refers to as “Religion,” and “Spirituality.” “The Vent” said this week (weekday column in Atlanta Constitution which allows folks to vent their opinions anonymously) “Religion is for folks trying to avoid hell, Spirituality is for them who have already been there.” Jesus is naming the religious leaders as thieves and robbers; or as bad shepherds.

Nearly every commentary and sermon I read this week on this text implored each of us to examine our own operative motives to see whether we are the bad shepherds that take advantage of the sheep, or good shepherds that love and care for the sheep? Many of us here have opportunity for leadership in Christ’s Church; locally, conference wide, or nationally. Are we working hard to build our reputation, or politicking to build up Christ’s Kingdom?

John Wesley’s great fear for Methodism was not that it would disappear; he knew enough about social systems to know that it could last a long time on the momentum he had set in motion. Rather, his fear was that it would become just another dead cold denomination. Methodism is at its greatest as a movement, not as a monument.

There have been schisms all along the way. Some great denominations have come out of the main branch of Methodism. Most have separated for great spiritual reasons that divided us. The argument over the doctrine of entire sanctification led to the founding of The Church of the Nazarene, out in California, around the turn of the century. Today, their average attendance in Sunday School is about the same numbers as the main body. Most of the groups called Churches of God, that split over speaking in tongues, have a heritage in Methodism. The Free Methodists formed over free pews, and freedom from life term offices for bishops. The other separated groups do not have bishops at all. All of this is to say that there is a constant process of self-examination going on in believer’s hearts that test the spiritual authenticity of their outward and visible denominational loyalty. There are always theological, biblical, and social issues that threaten schism in the church.

One of Jesus’ Messianic roles is to be the “Gatekeeper,” or true shepherd and head of the Church. The Gatekeeper calls to the sheep, they recognize his voice, and they come jumping submisively along on their weak stiff legs to the gate of heaven.

Is not that image of submissive sheep a picture of us? We are in trouble again, afraid and needy, the big bad wolf is about to eat us alive, we are out on a high mountain ledge and are about to drop off. Or, we are in the midst of a living hell on earth, and we can’t find any way out. In those situations our minimalistic faith will not suffice. We don’t even know how to call out for help. Maybe it takes trouble to get our attention. But finally, through the circumstances of life, we get quiet and listen. For the first time we hear the Good Shepherd’s voice calling; calling, O sinner come home! “Come unto me all who labor and are heavy laden and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me, and you will find rest for your souls.” But first we have to listen.

Folks who work with sheep say that when sheep are lost and in trouble, they will all get quiet and listen for the shepherd’s voice. That is a conscious decision that we make. It is our part in the faith agreement. We listen and He faithfully calls. We open our hearts, and He comes in.

And there is one more thing about this sheep imagery. It may be the best, the most precious, part of the story. Jesus Christ himself became a sheep. He submissively died as the Lamb of the New Covenant. The Old Testament lamb was continually slain on the blood Altar of the Temple; but Jesus, The Lamb of the New Testament, was slain once and for all on a Cross for all of us. Jesus, The Lamb that was slain, the Good Shepherd, died that we might find salvation in this life and eternal life in the world to come. All who hear his voice and respond affirmatively are brought into the heavenly sheep fold forever.

So, how about you? Where do you stand? Outside the gate hoping to get in, or do you have the assurance that you have a place there already with your name on it?

a sermon synopsis by C. Robert Allred, Th.D., Pastor

4/25/99, E4A