All We Like Sheep Have Gone Astray
Easter 4A John
Easter 4 A,B,C
John 10:1-10; 10:11-18; 10:22-30
Today is the fourth
Sunday of Easter. It is better known as Good Shepherd Sunday. It has
been Good Shepherd Sunday for centuries. For centuries, we have had
reading about the Good Shepherd. For centuries, we have listened to
the twenty-third psalm read on this day. For centuries we have sung
a hymn such as “Savior Like A Shepherd Lead Us.” It is usually
easy to find a theme or an anthem for a choir or a soloist on Good
Shepherd Sunday. Usually on this day, the reading from the Gospel
comes from John, chapter ten. We are a lectionary church and so we
have designated readings for all Sundays, including Good Shepherd
Sunday. In the readings for Good Shepherd Sunday, a preacher could
focus on the good shepherd, the door into the sheepfold, or the
sheep. The focus for today will not be on the good shepherd nor on
the door to the sheepfold but today we will examine the Biblical
image about sheep.
So focusing on
sheep, the setting for today’s sermon grows out of two further
Bible passages: The book of Isaiah says, 53:6, “All we like sheep
have gone astray; we have turned every one to his own way; and the
Lord has laid on his servant the sins of us all.” The second Bible
verse is from the Gospel of Matthew where Jesus had been out in the
countryside healing people of their illnesses. In chapter 8 and 9 of
Matthew, the miracles are grouped together, and at the end of this
section on miracles of healing, Jesus stood before that group of
people who still were sick, who still were poor, maimed, blind and
lame. Jesus looked on
all of them, and I quote from the Gospel of Matthew 9:36: “I will
have pity on them for these people are harassed and helpless, like a
sheep without a shepherd.”
In the sermon for
today, I would like to compare us as human beings to sheep. I would
like to focus on three characteristics that we human beings share
with sheep, that we are like sheep without a shepherd.
The first is this:
we human beings are vulnerable to the wolves of life. We know that
our lives are essentially and intrinsically vulnerable to death,
disease, and injury. We know that. We know that life is infinitely
fragile and easily broken and hurt. Our lives are like beautiful
dainty glass sculptures.
While on vacation
one time, I was watching a glass blower. He was blowing this glass
and started to make a glass plate. No, not a solid glass plate but
he was making a glass plate that looked like a lacey spider web. He
took a piece of molten glass; it was like a dot. He then took a fine
instrument and started to pull the glass out of the dot and he wove
it like a spider web. It was the most intricate thing that I had
ever seen being made in my life. It seemed if you blew on it, it
would disintegrate or shatter. As I watched him making this spidered
glass plate, my mind flashed back years ago when I had been in
Ireland, and there I had seen a beautiful glass plate, baleek China,
Irish baleek. It was the most gorgeous thing I had ever seen. I
impulsively decided that I needed to buy it for my mother. I bought
it for my mother and I foolishly mailed it back to Minnesota, and
what arrived in the mail were a thousand beads of little glass.
And that is the way
life is: infinitely, delicately fragile. Life is easily shattered
and you know that. Suddenly, it is a car accident. Suddenly, it is
cancer or another debilitating disease that strikes a person living
in our home. Suddenly, the heart attack, the infection, the birth
defect. Everything was going so well last week, and this week it has
all changed. Yesterday was glorious and today is tragic. You and I
know that. We are vulnerable to disease, accidents, and all kinds of
disasters, enormous disasters, that suddenly shatter our lives with
almost no warning.
We are not only
vulnerable to the diseases and accidents but also to the
vicissitudes of history, to the insanities of history.
Before September 11th, all those people and
families were living in relative peace in New York City.
Suddenly, there was a terrorist attack and life was changed
in a moment, in the twinkling of an eye for all the citizens of the
United States. Before
September 11th, the people were living somewhat
peacefully in Afghanistan. September 11th there was a
bombing and suddenly life in Afghanistan was changed.
A few years ago,
the Kurds were living in peace in Iraq, and in a moment of
historical time, a million people were pushed up against the
mountains, driven like a herd of sheep, up into the snows of the
mountains, being shot at like lambs being led to the slaughter. Who
would have guessed about the insanity of history?
One time, I was
visiting Weimar in Germany, Weimar the city of the German
intellectual Faust, Weimar, the capital of the Weimer Republic
before Germany. And above the hills behind Weimar, were the gas
chambers of the German concentration camp named Buchenwald. We were
at Buchenwalk and saw the gas chambers, the stacks of shoes, the
piles of skulls, the baskets of teeth, from the Jews who were gassed
in those insane moments of history.
To help the world
remember the horror of that epoch in history, Elie Weisel wrote the
book NIGHT. Elie Weisel had been taken from his home to Auschwitz
and then to Treblinka, concentration camps, and he survived them
both. The book, NIGHT, is about that night that his family was taken
from their home. That night when he was taken to Auschwitz. That
night when he was walking along in a men’s camp when he saw his
little, blonde, six year old sister being and mother led into the
gas chambers. That night when he gave up his belief in God. That
night when he realized that life was even more fragile and
vulnerable than he had thought. Not only to disease, but to the
absolute insanity of history.
Or I think of the
Gulag Archipelago, and
Solzeneitzen, who chronicles a similar story in the Soviet Union, in
the 1930s, where millions upon millions of Slavic people, perhaps
200 million, were being led like little lambs to the Gulag, being
led to and burnt in the slaughtering houses of life. Yes, life is
vulnerable. It is absolutely vulnerable to the insanities of
Today, in the
insanities of our economic and social systems, millions upon
millions of children are dying, like starving little lambs. Today
itself, 40,000 children will die of starvation. 40,000 during the
course of this day. And the past president of UNICEF said, “It is
absolutely unconscionable that we allow 40,000 children to starve to
death a day, when we have the means of preventing it.”
Children being led to the slaughter.
We know that life
is that way. Today, if you think that you are a fat lamb, and a fat
sheep, and things are going well for you, you better knock on wood
because tomorrow you may be slaughtered, along with your family and
your own life. And if you don’t think it is possible, I don’t
think I would let God know
what you are thinking.
is nasty. On the edges and at the inner core. You too can be quickly
led to that slaughtering house before you can blink your eye. So we know that. It is obvious. We are like sheep. We are
vulnerable to the vicissitudes of life and human history itself.
first point of the sermon for today is that we are like sheep. We
are vulnerable and life is very, very fragile, like the spider
webbed glass china plate that I sent to my mother years ago, a china
plates shattered into a million pieces of glass.
second point is that sheep are rather dumb animals. Now, sheep are
not dumb because they are so unintelligent, but sheep are dumb
because they have such a strong herd instinct is stronger than their
reasoning and intelligence. Human beings are compared to sheep. It
is true that sheep are dumb animals and dumb due to their strong
herd instincts. If one sheep goes over a cliff, the whole herd will
go over the cliff as well. Do you know that is literally true? One
sheep goes over the edge, and the whole herd will go over the edge
of the cliff. That is literally true. Or do you know that if we took
a pot of feed right here, and if the lead sheep did not eat from
that pot of food, all the other sheep would die of starvation. I
mean, sheep are dumb animals, but not because they are
unintelligent, but because the herd instinct is so strong they
follow the lead sheep and follow the flock. Their herd instinct is
stronger than their intelligence. Likewise, we as human beings,
often suffer when our herd instinct becomes stronger than our
intelligence. We too follow the leader. We, too, follow the leader
and follow the crowd. We think back only to Nazi Germany and how
many intelligent people blindly followed the lead sheep and the pack
of sheep. It has happened so often in human history. The most
intelligent and educated among us often do not want to admit that
their herd instinct is stronger than their intelligence.
would like to play a game with you. You can play the same game and
it is kind of fun. It is to think of illustrations in ourselves as
human beings where our herd instinct overrules our intelligence.
Some examples: early in the morning, driving to work, you often pass
the school buses during the cold mornings of January and standing on
the corner, waiting for the school bus, will be a group of older
children, half of whom are wearing skimpy t-shirts, even though it
is cold outside. Right? The herd instinct dominates over
intelligence. Or, in Minnesota, on a cold winter morning, when women
wore miniskirts. Dumb? Right. Or, how about those women who wear
pointy shoes and four inch spikes and can barely walk. Dumb? Right.
Or, how about those young men who wear spikes in their tongues and
need to talk around the diamond in their mouth? Dumb? Wait until
they look at pictures of themselves twenty years in the future, and
as they look back at their old pictures and see the diamond stud in
their mouth, they will say, dumb. Right. What I am suggesting is
that sometimes the herd instinct is so strong in us as human beings
that it overrules our intelligence and we do rather dumb things.
Think of all the brilliant people who worked for Adolph
Hitler and agreed with the intelligence behind is Aryan
theories of the superiority of the white race. Think how many people
in the southern states and in the northern states believed that
blacks were/act intellectually inferior. Yes, the herd mentality
affects the way we think.
do the same thing with our values. Follow the logic. Today, in
America, we have more abortions than live births. I wonder why?
Today, in America, young women who get pregnant keep their babies,
adoption agencies have closed down or are much smaller, and even if
it would be better for the baby to be adopted and for even the
mother, if the baby was adopted, she will keep the child. Why? That
is what culture dictates right now. You love your baby only if you
keep the child. Other examples. We all know that cancer causes
smoking but our government still financial subsidizes the tobacco
industry. We all know that the icebergs are melting and that we are
experiencing global warming which will only get worse, but we still
drive enormously large, gas guzzling cars, even if the environment
is destroyed. We all know that our prisons have the highest
population rate in our history and that the United States has more
prisoners incarcerated than any other nation except South Africa,
yet we still accept a high degree of violence on our television
sets, this TV violence contributing to a violent society. We all
illicit sexuality is rampant in our society but we condone
glamorization of sexual infidelity in our media. The fundamental
principle is true: we
human beings are like sheep and in sheep, the herd instinct is so
strong that it often overrules our intelligence and rationality.
third characteristic of sheep is that they wander away from their
shepherd and likewise with human beings, we wander away from God and
do not fully realize what we are doing. I know very few human beings
who say: “I don’t believe in God. I don’t believe in Christ. I
renounce God and Christianity and therefore I am a new direction
with my life.” That type of behavior rarely happens. Instead,
human beings drift away from God, drift away from Christ, ever so
slowly, losing the closeness and deep faith that they once had. And
someday, after months or years, they wake up and say, “Where is
God? Where is Christ? What happened to the faith that I once had so
many years ago?” What I am suggesting is that we human beings are
like sheep and we wander away from God.
four characteristic of sheep is not only are we vulnerable to the
wolves of life and not only are we herd animals who follow the
crowd, but we human beings do not have strong homing instincts. When
sheep get lost, they do not find their way home. Now, if you are a
dog living in Montana, you can place a dog twenty or thirty miles
from his home in Montana and that dog will find its way home. A dog
has a very strong homing instinct. A sheep has absolutely none. A
sheep when it is lost, does not find its way back home. So somebody
has to go out and find that sheep and bring them back.
so it is with the church. When people, like sheep, get lost, we need
to go and find those people who are lost. That is why in the church
we are called, “one, holy, catholic, and APOSTOLIC church.” And
you underline the word, apostolic because the word, apostolic, means
sent. We are sent out into the world to find all those sheep out
there who are lost, who are being eaten up by the wolves and coyotes
of life. These lost
sheep are not going to find their way back. We Christians are a sent
people. We are a shepherd people.
one of the great deceptions of life and one of the great pretenses
of life, is that we are not sheep. I am a strong, self reliant male
man, a strong self reliant woman. I can control my life and destiny.
I am not a sheep. One of the great illusions of life is not to
acknowledge our true identity.
that we human beings are like sheep without a shepherd, what does
God do? For sake of the argument, agree with me momentarily that we
human beings are like sheep. Then, if we are like sheep, what do we
need more than anything else in the world? Water? Food? Protection?
No, we need a good shepherd who will provide for us water, food and
protection. We, as sheep, won’t find our own food, water and
protection. If we are sheep, the greatest need for us is to have a
provided a shepherd for us in the person of Jesus Christ. We human
beings are sheep and what we need most is a shepherd and that
shepherd is Jesus Christ.
personal relationship is formed between the good shepherd and the
sheep. The shepherd knows the name of the sheep and Jesus Christ,
the good shepherd, knows your name. Christ knows you personally,
your name and the sound of your voice.
often hear that we Christians are to have a personal relationship
with Jesus Christ, and sometimes, that begins to sound like a cliché.
But there is a truth to the metaphor, to the description that Jesus
is the shepherd and we are the sheep, and that there is a personal
relationship between us. God wants us to have a personal
relationship with Jesus Christ, our good shepherd.
where does Jesus, our good shepherd, lead us? To green pastures and
still water. The green pastures are the food that God provides for
us; that is, the Bible, the Word, the Sacraments. We nourish and are
nourished by the spiritual sustenance of the green pastures. Jesus
also leads us to still waters and the still waters represent the
Spirit, the Holy Spirit, the Spirit of Christ. So we Christians are
led to the Word and the Waters of the Spirit by the good shepherd
who provides food for our souls.
good shepherd, Jesus, also leads us in the paths of righteousness
for his name sake. I have always understood the word righteousness;
that God leads us into right relationships, but I never could grasp
what “for his name sake” meant. Finally, after years of thinking
about this, I finally got it. I finally understood. “For his name
sake” means the Powerful Presence of God. Name means Powerful
Presence. Christ leads us into right relationships that please the
Powerful Presence of God. There are relationships that please God:
relationships with Christ, with our spouse, with our children, our
grandchildren, our friends, our enemies. There are relationships
that please the Presence of God. And there are relationships that
don’t. Christ, our good shepherd, leads us into relationships that
last place that the good shepherd leads us is to the cross where it
all becomes very strange. That is, the shepherd becomes the sheep,
the lamb of God, who is led to the slaughter and he is killed on our
behalf and his blood cleanses us from all sin. It is all so very
strange to the mind that the good shepherd leads us to the cross
only to become a lamb and be sacrificed for our sin.
so I end the sermon with one basic question, a very important
question. “Do you have a personal relationship with Jesus Christ,
the good shepherd?” Amen.