Hear the sound of your name as the one you love speaks it. Hear the sound of your name as your best friend in all the world is on the other end of the phone. Remember the sound of your name when your mom called you for dinner, or maybe used your entire name when you did something you shouldn’t have done, or sang you to sleep at night. Even remember the sound of your name when used in anger, or in fear, Kathy, get out of the street! When you hear your name like this, you know the one who is speaking it knows who you are. They’ve known you forever, they knew you before you were born, they’ve expected your homecoming, they named you, they love you.
Today we hear Jesus call us by name, if we are the sheep, and Jesus is the shepherd. In the verses right before these we heard read this morning, Jesus says “the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice.” And in our passage, “I know my own and my own know me…they will listen to my voice.” Hear the sound of your name as this one who loves you speaks it. You were called into being before you were born. Your name was spoken at your baptism. You are called to be the person you were created to be, the minister you were created to be. Kathy, follow me, you’ll be fed by green pastures and still waters, I will guide along right pathways, and be by your side through the valley of the shadow of death. I will feed you, and fill you. You have been anointed for the work I call you to do.
Each of us are called by name, often lovingly, sometimes urgently, like the sheep, we seek that voice that calls. Sometimes, we wander far and get caught in the brambles, we get hurt, we break our leg. The radical nature of this shepherd is come back for us. That is the good news of this shepherd. Because shepherds don’t do that. The shepherd pictured on the front of our bulletin today wouldn’t have gone back for the hurt and lost sheep. He would have aided that sheep’s demise, a hurt or lost sheep is a liability to an ordinary sheepherder.
I have mixed feelings about Shepherds. The one’s we see portrayed in artwork often look kind and caring, very pastoral. I’ve heard people say that shepherding is good for people who want to be alone; they don’t really have to talk to anyone except the sheep. Some of the commentary’s say that in Jesus’ time, shepherding was for the miscreants, the dregs, shepherding was a job that was scorned by most. A shepherd had to endure the ravages of heat and cold, the attacks by the wolf and other predators. The shepherd had to keep track of all those sheep. A shepherd’s job was not for the faint of heart.
But you and I are called by name, and this particular shepherd is not like the others. This shepherd says and does something truly radical. “I lay down my life for my sheep. I lay down my life in order to take it up again.” What shepherd does that? Jesus, this shepherd, shows us how to live our lives in the new creation. Jesus leads the way of death and resurrection. Jesus shows us that we don’t live our lives as servants because of our reward now or at the end of time, Jesus shows us that in living our lives fully as new creations, as transformed and transforming people, our daily lives spent in the muck and the mud and the mess, have meaning.
We are loved absolutely and abundantly. Jesus laid down his life; he suffered and was killed, and was resurrected from the dead. We follow the shepherd in laying down our lives and taking it up again as a response to that amazing love. And we are transformed and created new on that journey. The journey is not about the endgame, but about being the body of Christ while we journey together. It is about the love and care we have for each other and the rest of creation.
All of the great stories show us this reality. Homer’s Odyssey, Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, C.S. Lewis’ The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, Madeleine L’engle’s A Wrinkle in Time, George Lukas’ Star Wars, J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter stories. The hero’s, female and male, in these stories, engage on a journey of transformation, and at one point realize that the death they need to die, is a death to something that gets in the way of their calling. They each must lay down their live in order to take it up again.
Because of our limited human imagination, we think death is an ending. Jesus, the shepherd, shows us that death is just the beginning. It is the beginning of the new creation. It is the beginning of transformation. It is the beginning of being created in God’s image. Death is painful, death is hard, but the promise is that Jesus takes up our life again; Jesus shows us how to do it.
If we are to live this life fully alive, fully aware, fully engaged; if we are to live this life called by our baptism, called by name, marked as Christ’s own forever, we must follow the shepherd to the green pasture, beside the still waters, through the valley of the shadow of death. We must follow the example of the shepherd to die to that which keeps us from ourselves, we must die to that which gets in our way of helping our brother or sister, we must tear down the walls that we build around us that prevent us from seeking and serving Christ in all persons.
And we must rise again to the promise of new life that Jesus shows us.
Alleluia. The Lord is risen indeed: Come let us adore him. Alleluia.
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