01. May 2022
“Most assuredly, I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door, but climbs up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the doorkeeper opens, and the sheep hear his voice; and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. And when he brings out his own sheep, he goes before them; and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. Yet they will by no means follow a stranger, but will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.”
In Name of the + Jesus. Amen.
These days, a popular theme of memes is “don’t be a sheep.” Sheep blindly follow like dumb beasts without thinking, discernment, or wisdom. “Sheep” follow leaders uncritically, doing what they’re told, playing along to get along. They blindly follow, even if it leads to harm, judgment, destruction, and death. Sheep comply with mandates they didn’t agree to, follow rules that make no sense, inflict self-harm, and are self-owned by blind obedience.
So, the memes suggest that you shouldn’t be a sheep. But that’s impossible! Jesus calls His people “the sheep of His pasture.” His prophet says we are “sheep who have gone astray, each after his own way.” His apostle calls the Holy Christian Church the “flock of God” shepherded by the pastor whom the Chief Shepherd Jesus has given you. You can’t escape being like a sheep. Therefore, you can’t live without a shepherd.
The question is not whether you are a sheep or whether you will follow a shepherd. The question is which shepherd to whom you will submit. There is the thief who comes in to steal, kill, and destroy. There is the hireling who cares nothing for the sheep and flees at the first sign of danger, allowing the sheep to be consumed by the wolves. There are the wolves in sheep’s clothing, who secretly manipulate, coerce, and redirect the sheep away from their shepherd, only to devour them.
You can’t transcend your sheepishness. You can’t go it alone. That was and is never good. You are given to be together with others. One sheep who is left alone will ultimately be a dead sheep. It’s hardwired into the nature of sheep to be in a fold. Like attracts like, even if they are all alike in their ignorance and stupidity. A sheepfold without a shepherd wanders off into danger, foreign territory, and ignorance. So being together isn’t enough. You are sheep who need a shepherd. You will follow someone. You will listen to someone.
But not just any shepherd will do. It would be best if you had a good shepherd. The good shepherd knows His own, and His own know Him. The good one knows every weakness of His precious lambs and protects them. He is no hireling but was, and is, and always will be the sheep’s Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down His life for the sheep. He sees the wolf coming and allows Himself to be devoured. Thereby, He reveals the poisoned charms of the world. He breaks the entrancing spell of the wolf. His blood pours out to wash the lambs clean and white. His death overcomes death and brings life to His flock.
That’s how you can distinguish between bad shepherds and good shepherds. The shepherd is known by what He does. Jesus, your good shepherd, saves you from your rebellious wandering, retuning you from the path of death and overcoming the devourer of the sheep. But there’s more, another diagnostic. You can tell a bad shepherd from Jesus the good shepherd by where the shepherd leads you.
The bad shepherds don’t lead you to green pastures and the still waters. They fence you in, huddle you together, and feed you a steady gruel and muddy water diet. They keep you under an all-seeing eye, treating you like a commodity to be counted and fleeced. These bad shepherds command, demand, and require subservience. It’s all law, requirement, and obedience. Their words are dull and lifeless. There is no joy, delight, or beauty.
But Jesus, your good shepherd, has come that you may live and that you may live more abundantly. He leads you out into the world to enjoy God’s creation, be free to roam and feed upon the hills and drink from the springs. His fold doesn’t stay in pen, but He opens the gate and leads you out into the wide world.
But, wait, you say! Isn’t there where the wild things are? Isn’t that where the danger is? Won’t others come along and snatch us? Isn’t it better to be massed together in that little pen, with its slop, mud, mire, and dung? At least there, we were safe and secure, fenced-in and protected? You’ve been led astray so many times with false promises, groundless hopes, and naive dreams. Let’s sit here and sort of life and eventually die.
Except it’s not good. Your fear of the unknown is reasonable but faithless. You have a good shepherd Jesus who has more for you; only do not be afraid. His voice calls you to follow Him as He leads you. He died your death already. Your sins are forgiven now and always. The serpent’s bite and venom cannot harm you. He will be with you the whole way, to guide, protect, defend, and preserve your life. And more than that, He will give you in ways you can’t even imagine. He’ll lead you into the freedom you’ve never known. He will feed you with His life and abundantly today and always.
The peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, guards your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus. Amen.
Rev. Christopher R. Gillespie
St. John Ev. Lutheran Church & School – Sherman Center
Random Lake, Wisconsin