Sermon for the Fourth Sunday of Easter

Psalm 23; John 10:11-16

A large number of our neighbors in this society are experiencing isolation and loneliness. In a recent poll, the American Psychiatric Association “finds that, early in 2024, 30% of adults say they have experienced feelings of loneliness at least once a week over the past year, while 10% say they are lonely every day. Younger people were more likely to experience these feelings, with 30% of Americans aged 18-34 saying they were lonely every day or several times a week, and single adults are nearly twice as likely as married adults to say they have been lonely on a weekly basis over the past year.” This demonstrates certain serious challenges we face, not just as Americans but as the Church. That so many of us are walking alone, though surrounded by other people, is a testament to how our politics divide us, consumerism creates invisible barriers of insecurity between us, corporate culture dehumanizes us, and our cultural milieu seems to prevent us from seeing one another, understanding one another, knowing one another, or making ourselves known to others. To this, there is no easy response. It also isn’t the fault of those who feel this way, or even yours and mine, but a society that, like the air we breathe, has insidiously wormed its way between us all.

Whatever the broader solution might be, we have the words of the Collect today that tells us that no matter how lonely we might rightly feel, there is, despite our senses, our Good Shepherd, caring for us. As it said, “Grant that, when we hear his voice, we may know him who calls us each by name, and follow where he leads.” We hear his voice, and he calls us by name, he who knows each of us & loves us as a shepherd his sheep.

“I 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. 13 The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own, and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me, and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep.”

Jesus knows us, and we him. Yes, we may go in and out of our days experiencing isolation, but we are a part of a flock, and we do have a Good Shepherd, who cares for each of us more than we could ever know. There is a relationship of mutual, intimate knowledge, as he knows the sheep and they know him. They each have a name, a sheep-y personality, and each is individually loved. If one were to go astray, as Luke 15:3-7 tells us, the shepherd will not abandon it though he has 99.

Those who are hired hands don’t care. Legally in this time, if two or more wolves showed up, a hired shepherd was permitted to flee. The shepherd to whom they belong would never do such a thing, because they are objects of his love. For example, This mutiny The Truceless War, lasted for 3 years, weakened Carthage further, and set the stage for a second war with Rome, and a third which would end with their ruin. The hired hands are not reliable. At that time, it was the efforts of one man, Hamilcar Barca, a loyal Carthaginian, who turned back the mercenary army, that saved Carthage. A true shepherd, rather than the hired hand.

God recognizes that we, too often, have very poor shepherds, no better than hired hands, who watch over us. Per Ezekiel, Mortal, prophesy against the shepherds of Israel; prophesy and say to them: To the shepherds—thus says the Lord God: Woe, you shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep?…Thus says the Lord God: I am against the shepherds…I will rescue my sheep from their mouths, so that they may not be food for them.” Our so-called shepherds today are, too often, not much better. Political shepherds fill their own pockets. Spiritual and religious shepherds shill for the powerful or abuse their congregants. Corporate shepherds use consumerism to exploit our weaknesses. But Jesus never ceases to be the Good Shepherd, Jesus laid down his life for us, he is the shepherd who drives away the wolves, and he is the one who knows us, truly knows us, walks with us, guides us, and when we hear his voice and follow him, embraces us.

There are some odd reversals in the text: a shepherd loves his sheep, but only dies by accident, never on purpose, but Jesus does; furthermore, the death of the shepherd usually means death for the sheep, but here, his death is our life. He will lay it down by his own decision, and can (and will) take it back up. The laying down of the life is predicated on raising it up again. He is shepherd then, and is shepherd now.

Of course, he also had more sheep than just those hearing him. Those “not of this fold” refers to Gentiles and the world-wide scope of the Gospel. Though different, they will be brought in by the shepherds gathering action, a single flock formed under a single shepherd, all loved the same, with utter, self-giving love. This is not a God who is perpetually angry, a God who is distant, a God who is watching for us to stumble. This is Jesus, the Good Shepherd, who, though we walk through the valley of the shadow of death, is with us, providing for us, preparing a table and anointing us with oil.

You may be lonely, or feel isolated. You may not have anyone to whom you feel truly known. You may feel distant from God, or that he despises you. You may feel like a sheep in the dark, alone and frightened. But the God of the Old Testament who calls himself our shepherd is revealed to be the Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ, who knows us, and as we know him and listen to his voice, are guided by him into new life, resurrection life, bought through his own self-sacrificial giving of himself, laying his life down for us. May we lay down our lives and trust our Lord who leads us to the green pastures and still waters, that we may be blessed by him to everlasting life. Amen.


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