“Sheepish”



Good Shepherd Sunday/ John 10:1-10

“Sheepish”


In the Name of God: Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier. Amen.


In this parish, there are people who do all sorts of things for a living. We have actors and writers. We have security personnel and administrators and tech experts. We have bankers and lawyers and engineers and doctors and homemakers. We have diplomats and scholars. We have marketers and entrepreneurs and many other occupations.


But on this Good Shepherd Sunday, I have to admit that we don’t have any shepherds! The days when sheep grazed in the meadows of Murray Hill are long gone.


And the unfamiliarity with the professional shepherd most of us share may account for a certain lack of enthusiasm we feel for the annual arrival of this day.


Of course, we enjoy hearing the choir sing the 23rd Psalm; this beloved portrait of the Lord God as our spiritual shepherd is probably the most popular psalm in the Bible. And the Gospel reading for this Sunday reminds us of how Jesus adopted this Old Testament image of God and promised that he, God’s Son, would be a Good Shepherd for his “flock” of disciples.


But not only are there no shepherds in the New York City job market for us to know personally; we don’t think of ourselves as sheep!


We don’t blindly obey the commands of a political leader, for example, without first evaluating those commands to see if they are just. Nor do we think of ourselves as being indistinguishable members of a crowd.


We modern people pride ourselves on having personalities that mark us as unique individuals. Just as we don’t value the “herd mentality,” we’re not attracted to a “flock mentality,” either.


But there is a line in today’s Gospel that suggests that this image of Christ as the Good Shepherd still has a value—even to us city dwellers in the 21st Century. This is the passage where Jesus tells his disciples that he has appeared on earth so “that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”


This promise of the Risen Christ speaks to every single one of us. We all want abundant life.


Note that the English word, “abundance” has two meanings. Humans all desire “abundant life” in the sense that we want a number of years of life.


Yet we also desire not just time to live, but also time that is filled with joy and challenge and peace. Another translation says that Jesus came to bring “life in all its fullness.” Again: Not just years of living, but a “full life”.


Now some Christians have argued that “abundance” has a third meaning: They contend that the life Jesus promised includes material blessings. So preachers of what is known as “the Prosperity Gospel” claim that God will provide good jobs and homes and answer all our material needs. He wil do this so long as we trust God to give us these things.


Unfortunately, this third sort of abundance doesn’t always come our way. Jesus himself remarked to his disciples that, “the poor you have with you always.”


But the second kind of abundance—“life in all its fullness”—surely, that’s worth praying for. There are times when we could “get more out of life.” And if Almighty God wants to shepherd us, isn’t it possible that we could live richer, better lives than we are currently living?


Why then doesn’t this happen? Why are we so often disappointed by the results of our efforts to have a good time? Why do we often feel that we could enjoy life more than we do?


Here, I think, the Prosperity Preachers are onto something. For they rightly focus not just on what God does–but on what we do.


And isn’t it true that we often don’t expect much from God? To put it bluntly, aren’t we “sheepish” in asking God for things? Even though we don’t hesitate to pray for a friend who is sick, don’t we sometimes hold back from expecting the best for ourselves?


A “sheepish” person is bashful—afraid to express his opinion or ask someone for a date. A sheepish person tends to stand back from the action—to be a spectator, watching from the sidelines.


Let me offer a personal example of what I am talking about. For me, being spiritually sheepish often means giving in to bad moods.


When I let myself be taken over by gloom, then I don’t even think to look for God’s help. I let my soul put me on the sidelines of life. The skies over me darken, and I can’t imagine that even God could be able to give me abundant life! I need a Good Shepherd.


The mother of the baby who is being baptized today always includes this little bit of advice after her signature on the emails that she sends from her phone: Michelle always writes “Love life and be happy!”



And what better way is there to love life and be happy than to let the Good Shepherd lead us to still waters and green pastures – to let the Good Shepherd restore our souls? What better way to experience life in all its fullness than to surrender ourselves to the Good Shepherd who calls us each by name?


So, maybe there’s something for us sheepish New Yorkers in Good Shepherd Sunday, after all!


Amen.


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