Sermon for Sunday, 25 April 2021 Easter 4
By Revd George Mwaura
Psalm 23 and John 10: 11–18
Good shepherd, you know us better than anyone else. Open the ears of our hearts so that we may recognise your voice and follow you to receive salvation and eternal life.
I grew up among the Maasai people of Kenya, who are pastoralist and nomadic in lifestyle.
They lead lives that were not radically different from that of their first-century counterparts in Palestine.
It was fascinating to see them wandering endlessly in search of fields
where their sheep and cattle might graze.
Every night, the sheep were led into a protected sheepfold, known in Maasai language as ‘emuatata’.
Sometimes, there would be four or five flocks gathered into the same sheepfold for the night.
The shepherds would then take turns staying up throughout the night,
making sure that lions or other wild animals were not able to break in and kill the livestock.
If a stranger happened to be there in the morning,
they might have wondered if there was any hope of separating one flock from another.
But it was a remarkably simple matter:
each shepherd went to a different corner of the field and began to call the sheep.
As the sheep heard the shepherd’s distinct voice,
they immediately began to move towards the one that belonged to their shepherd.
After a few minutes, all the sheep were separated into their own flocks,
and the shepherds led them away to pasture.
Sheep know the voice of their own shepherd, and they follow it.
What about us: do we really know our Shepherd?
Most of you are good Christian folks.
You attend church every Sunday, receive Holy Communion, and perform good works.
But I wonder: is this proof enough that you know the Shepherd?
You know, it is possible for us to be like Apollos in the Book of Acts, who was well versed in Scriptures.
We are, however, told that his knowledge of Christ was insufficient
and Priscilla and Aquilla had to introduce him to the Shepherd.
Likewise, for you and me, there is more to it than simply talking about the Shepherd.
We must know the Shepherd not just as our guide
but as the Shepherd of our souls and Lord of our lives.
In our passage Jesus identifies himself as the Good Shepherd,
contrasting himself with those shepherds of Israel who are rebuked by God in the book of Ezekiel.
Jesus saw the Pharisees in Israel as the kind of shepherds Ezekiel condemned.
The paralytic man in John chapter 5, for example, had spent years unable to walk
and was forced to support himself by begging.
Yet when Jesus healed him on a Sabbath day, the Jews went ballistic.
It is clear they would have preferred that this man not be healed at all
than for him to be healed on the Sabbath.
Our Gospel reading is emphatic that Jesus is the True Shepherd; the Cornerstone of our faith
and the only name by which we must be saved.
The image of a Good Shepherd is a reassuring one
and we can take comfort in the knowledge that Jesus loves us and cares for us
because we too, like sheep, are daft, easily lead astray and prone to attack by the enemy.
A good shepherd will protect us from attack, whereas a hired hand will flee to protect himself.
We, like sheep, must know the shepherd and be able to recognise his voice.
There are many people in our world today who want to lead us
and the question we must ask ourselves is this: Who can we trust?
We cannot trust politicians, because they often make promises that they have no intention of keeping,
and most of them are liars and bullies.
You all know what happened in Iraq and the elusive weapons of mass destruction, don’t you?
Surely you have not forgotten the deliberate misrepresentation of facts over Brexit.
And I am sure you all witnessed with sadness the final chapter of Trump’s presidency.
In Russia, we have seen President Putin annex a region of Eastern Ukraine,
support a murderous dictator in Syria, and recently poison and imprison the leader of the opposition.
Then of course we have the Kagames, the Jai Boseneiros and, the Musevenis of our world.
Oh, I could go on, but I think I have made my point: we simply cannot trust politicians: period!
And neither can we place our hope in priests, church ministers and leaders,
because they too are subject to human weakness – unless, unless – they lead us in true faith.
Too often we have seen, especially within the prosperity gospel churches, our brothers and sisters
being cheated and conned of all their savings by low-life pastors whose aim is only to enrich themselves.
Too often we have read with sadness of the thousands of children who have been abused
and betrayed by the priests and ministers in the churches of Christ who were meant to shepherd them.
No, we cannot place our hope in human hands.
We must then turn to a higher and trustworthy shepherd:
somebody we can trust more than earthly ministers and politicians: and that shepherd is Jesus.
He is the only one we can trust to lead us.
He accepts us as members of his flock and gives us boundaries that will protect us.
He gives us spiritual nourishment, rest, and joy. He laid down his life to bring us closer to God
He protects us from Satan’s attempts to distract us while we are on our Christian walk of life.
He is good to us all the time and the eternal life he offers can never be taken away from us.
In contrast, the religious leaders of Jesus’ day were nothing more than hired hands.
They were selfish, but Jesus was selfless.
They abandoned the flock, but Jesus laid down his life to save his flock.
They obeyed their own lust, but Jesus completely obeyed his Father’s will.
The religious leaders cared only about themselves and their chosen ones,
but Jesus cared for everyone, even those on the margins such as the Samaritans and the Gentiles.
The sacrifice of the Good Shepherd was completely unparalleled in the history of humanity
and it calls us as a church and individuals to respond.
Jesus commanded us in the Great Commission to go and make disciples,
teaching them to obey everything he has commanded,
and he promised that he will be with us to the very end of time.
Friends, we are called upon to be shepherds and to witness God’s love;
we are to be there for each other.
We are to care, support and defend one another even with our own lives if need be.
We are to go out and encourage others, especially non-believers, to join the flock,
by our faith and positive actions.
Not because we have hidden agendas or want something from them,
no, but because our discipleship is intentional.
We are to guide Christ’s sheep, especially if we are in positions of leadership within the church.
In other words, we are to be good shepherds ourselves.
And if we place our faith in Jesus, we will be able to overcome barriers
that would otherwise hinder us in this work.
Ladies and gentlemen, let us pray to the Good Shepherd to grant us wisdom and intelligence to hear, recognise, and follow his calling