Sheep are really interesting creatures. We think of them as being all fluffy and white and happy as can be grazing in green pastures. The sheep most people think about are the happy go lucky lambs jumping and playing in the pastures while their moms are busy eating dandelions and grass.
All these images are true as far as it goes. But those of us who have put sheep in the barn to shear or tried to load on a truck may have a different picture in our minds. Or we may picture that ewe that always had to see what the grass was like on the other side of the fence and got her head stuck and didn’t have sense enough to turn it just a little bit to get back out.
I raised sheep for a few years and the one thing I remember is that they did indeed know the sound of my voice. The minute they heard me call “sheep” they would come running because that usually meant I had something for them to eat besides grass and dandelions. They always would come when I called.
Actually it only took one to start and then the rest of the flock would follow. Isn’t it odd that they were like that?
Three of the four scriptures today make a reference to sheep and how we are like them. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing and maybe it’s neither.
People follow leaders they trust because they have charisma or charm or some gift they value. We can find many examples in history of people who have followed leaders, some good and some bad. They trusted them and believed in them. Hitler, JFK, Martin Luther King, Desmond TuTu, Ghandi, Jim Jones, David Koresh are just a few who people have followed.
We are all followers. Just like sheep will follow one other sheep all of us will follow someone we trust. Some of us may not admit that but we do. Think about it. Who or what do you follow?
In our culture today there are so many different things pulling at us, tempting us, enticing us to follow or taste, or buy. Every one of us is tempted every day to stray from the path Christ shows us in the Scriptures. Every time I turn on the TV, the radio, or surf the Web I am confronted with advertisements for one thing or another. Every newspaper and magazine is filled with advertisements tempting me to trade my car for this model that gives me the best gas mileage or can park itself or maybe it’s an ad for the latest fad diet that will get me to lose all the pounds I’ve gained this winter in just 2 months with no sweat. Every ad tries to get me to understand that everything is all about me, what’s best for me.
Every ad, every commercial, is trying to get us to be better looking, more comfortable, and, if we think about it, better off than our neighbors. That’s not what Jesus taught his disciples. That’s not what his disciples taught after he left.
But like sheep we follow the ad men’s hype. After all who doesn’t want to be younger, stronger, and healthier, and better off than our parents were?
That’s the exact opposite of what we are hearing in our lessons today. Luke tells us in Acts 2 how the disciples spent time learning, sharing, breaking bread together, and praying. They sold what they had and cared for each other. They gave to all those who were in need.
Peter talks in a similar vein when he tells those who serve masters to put up with that way of life. He says the way we put up with our suffering and discomforts for being followers of the Way are noticed by God. It’s not the pain and discomfort we deserve when we do wrong that he’s talking about but the suffering we encounter for being His followers. Jesus set the example for us in the way he responded to the suffering and torment he endured for being the Son of God, by taking all our sins upon him. Peter said, “We are healed because of his wounds. Like sheep we have wandered away but now we have come back to the Shepherd of our souls.
In John’s gospel lesson today Jesus talks about sheep and how his sheep know his voice and will follow him. I like to think we get that but maybe we’re no better at understanding that than the disciples were. Jesus changes the story then to make it easier to understand. He tells them he is the Gate and all those who come through him will be able to go in and out freely and find pasture.
Jesus came so that we could have life, real and eternal life, life that matters, life that makes a difference. But we can only have that life if we choose to follow him or come through the Gate.
Friends, we are all followers. Today we are again being asked to make a decision who we will follow, the world or Jesus. I am going to try to stay on the path Jesus shows us. I hope you will join me there and help me not to stray.
Thanks be to God for his abundant grace. Amen.