The Lectionary Texts
I John 3:16-24
As we continue in this Easter season we affirm that “The Lord is risen….Indeed!” But really, what difference does that make? How does this affirmation make life any better? What does a risen Lord give us – what does it get me? Or maybe more to the point, how does a resurrected Lord change me?
Without a doubt, we live in a “what’s-in-it-for-me” kind of society. We are a consumer society that makes decisions based primarily on how things benefit us personally.
So, your parishioners might be wondering:
- How does an Easter faith benefit me?
- How is an Easter faith benefiting me as we continue to live with the Covid-19 Pandemic?
- How does an Easter faith benefit our brothers and sisters in Nicaragua and Honduras, who are not only dealing with the pandemic but the damage left behind by two category 4 hurricanes hitting them just two weeks apart? Where is Easter joy for them today?
While the words we have from Jesus in our Gospel lesson were spoken before his crucifixion and resurrection, they take on new meaning in light of the Easter miracle. But again, what is that meaning? What is the benefit?
It is no mystery that the image of the shepherd was frequently upon the lips of our Savior. Just as Walmart, super-highways, fast-food, large grocery stores, Facebook, and the internet are a part of our lives today, sheep and shepherds were a part of Jesus’ life. They were ingrained in his heritage and culture. Abraham was the keeper of great flocks. Moses was tending the sheep of his father-in-law when God called him to service. David was a shepherd boy called in from the fields to be the King of Israel. In the Hebrew scripture, the image of Shepherd was often used when referring to their Kings.
The 23rd Psalm is frequently referred to as the shepherd psalm opening with the well-known phrase, “The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.” Jesus, too would have known those words by heart. When the Prophet Isaiah spoke of the coming of the Messiah, he said: “He will feed his flock like a shepherd! He will gather his lambs into his arms.” Jesus, his disciples, and those who followed him would have known this reference to a shepherd well.
Jesus told a parable about a shepherd with 100 sheep, one of which wandered off. In our way of thinking, it would be best to stick with the 99, but not this shepherd. He left the 99 to go in search of that one lost sheep. Later, when Jesus was speaking to a great throng of people, Mark tells us that he had compassion upon them because they were “as sheep without a shepherd.”
Clearly, this image was a dominant one for Jesus, especially when we put these words into focus on our side of the Easter event.
For Jesus, what does that look like? The good shepherd protects the flock with his own life, while the bad shepherd would be quick to run and leave the sheep to their own defenses. And sheep have next to no natural defenses to those who would prey on them.
But then we come to what I believe is the central theme of Jesus’ life in verse 18. 18No one takes my life from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.”
In other words, Jesus had options. Jesus clearly understood that his life was in danger and that he willingly chose the path of the cross. Jesus’ prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane gives witness to this. He prayed that the cup of suffering might pass from him but then said, “Not my will be your will be done.” This is a loving shepherd dedicated to protecting his flock even at great sacrifice. What are we willing to sacrifice out of thanksgiving for the gift of love? What is sacrificial about our mission in life? What is sacrificial about your congregational mission statement?
To truly know the Easter miracle is to be transformed by it in a way that benefits the world around us here and now. Yes, the Easter miracle has eternal dynamics, but it should also impact our mission here and now.
How might your congregation give of itself for the benefit of those in the neighborhood? How might you as pastor be willing to do the same?