The text of the sermon, based on John 10.1-10 and Psalm 23, preached with the people of St. Matthew’s Episcopal Church, Spartanburg, SC, on the 4th Sunday of Easter, April 30, 2023.
Easter Day, being only one day, cannot…never can give us enough time to consider all that the resurrection of Jesus means for us. Therefore, we have the Easter season. Also known as Eastertide or the Great Fifty Days. Running, this year, from April 9 to May 28, Easter Day to the Day of Pentecost. (The Greek word pentekoste meaning “fiftieth.”) This 7-week period is meant to be a party, our continued celebration, allowing us more time to contemplate, at length and at leisure, the meaning of Easter.
That meaning can be expressed in the question: What is the relationship of the risen Jesus with us? To put this another way: Who is Jesus and what is he to us? To put this yet another way: Who are we and what are we to Jesus?
On the Fourth Sunday of Easter, the subject – according to our lectionary, for, every year, we read from the 10th chapter of John’s gospel – is Jesus, our Good Shepherd. Therefore, we are his sheep.
I was born and raised in St. Louis. In the city. I knew, have known, and do know little about life in the countryside. Even less about sheepherding.
Today, Jesus, waxes poetically and at length about sheepfolds, shepherds, and sheep, gatekeepers and gates, thieves and bandits, voices and strangers, leading, following, and running away. I confess my confusion. And I am not alone. For those who first heard him and these figures of speech, “did not understand what he was saying to them.”
Most people I know, including me, when seeking to communicate with others and discerning a lack or loss of understanding avoid figures of speech: allegories, analogies, euphemisms, metaphors, puns, even parables. Rather, we use more concrete terms. What does Jesus do? He continues along his merry way: “Very truly, I tell you” (which is his way of saying, “This is important, so pay attention!”), “I am the gate for the sheep.” Yet without bothering to tell us how he can be both shepherd and gate!
C’mon, Jesus! As my father, when uncertain of my meaning, oft would implore, “Make it plain!”
Several years ago, Pontheolla and I enjoyed a seven-month around the world sabbatical. Among the many places we visited, indeed, lived for weeks at a time, was South Africa. Particularly KwaZulu-Natal. And there, in a Zulu tribal enclave in a valley called Shayamoya, we met Christina Gasa, an 80-year-old “go-go” (in the isiZulu language, grandmother).
Christina, sharing vignettes of life in her culture, told us that all the sheepherders knew one another’s sheep and by name. At night, one could hear the shepherds calling their sheep. The sheep, knowing their shepherds’ voices, would come.
Today, I hear Christina’s voice. For, all these years later, she helps me understand the word of Jesus and the song of the psalmist as reinterpreted by Easter…
Jesus, our Lord – no one and nothing else or less – is our shepherd, who leads us…
To “green pastures” and “beside still waters,” images of growth and peace, which “restore our souls,” our inner being…
And along “right pathways,” for he, as the way, truth, and life, never leads us astray, but always only to God. And “for his name’s sake,” thus, true to himself and his mission, proving to be for us precisely who he says he is.
In all of this, Jesus never promises a life without affliction and adversity, without the “evil” of “enemies,” all who wish us harm, and, that final insult to life in this world, “death.”
Nevertheless, our end always – and followed, pursued by “goodness and mercy,” the goodness of God’s kindness – is a place at God’s eternal table with the oil and brimming “cup” of gladness.
Therefore, in this life, come whatever, whenever, however, we need never fear, for Jesus, our Lord is our shepherd.
© 2023 PRA
Illustration: The Good Shepherd, James Tissot (1836-1902)
 John 14.6
2 thoughts on “Our Lord is our Shepherd”
Thanks for this Paul! I like being a sheep at times and being led! My faith is strong so even when I’m unsure I keep going anyway because God is in control. I don’t always understand the path, but thankfully I’m willing to learn whatever God is trying to show me. Thank you for sharing the “GoGo” story too, such wisdom in the story. Pretty cool that all the shepherds know each other’s sheep and all the names!! AND that the sheep come when called. Not all of us do that.
Loretta, a friend commented that she, initially, would reject my advocacy that we “own” being sheep, for sheep, she wrote, in her experience, are almost suicidally stupid. I replied that sheep know whose voice to follow and that, for me, I would desire to follow Jesus in that faithful fashion and, thus, forsake my personally wayward ways. She responded, “Wise words.” Customarily, I am not so arrogant as to “amen” myself, but, in this case, I will!