Easter 4 A 2020 Sermon
Grace to you and peace… “Alleluia! Christ is Risen
Christ Is Risen Indeed! Alleluia!”
This morning we remember and celebrate the Good News that the One raised on Easter morning is our Good Shepherd. Now, I must admit that I do not know a whole lot about sheep. But I bet some of you gathered here this morning do know a lot about sheep. After all, since the 1930’s San Angelo has been called “The Wool Capital of the Nation.”
It has been estimated that once there was over one million Angora goats within 150 miles of San Angelo. And that at one time San Angelo “lifted up” the sheep and goat industry with it’s annual “Miss Wool of Texas Pageant.”
Sadly, the annual event went away in 1972.
Today in Tom Green County, and in the surrounding counties, there are still a lot of sheep ranches in business even though most of the wool industry has largely gone overseas. Even so, the San Angelo Stock Show and Rodeo is held every year and the Stock Show still features sheep and goats.
Now, I brought this up because in the time and place that Jesus spoke the words that we heard today in our Gospel text; the sheep industry was an especially important contributor to the economy. In fact, sheep grazed in great numbers out on the open range.
In a part of the world that was not well suited for growing crops, the vegetation that did grow on the parched land was enough to feed and support large herds of sheep. It was in this wild, desolate land that shepherds led their flocks during the day. And at night, the rocky terrain was also well suited for protecting large herds of sheep.
Rocks and large stones could easily be gathered, and these were used to build a “sheepfold;” an enclosure with walls high enough to protect the sheep from predators. Other times, caves and other natural rock formations would be used to protect the sheep.
History informs us that at night, as the sun was going down the shepherd would lead the sheep into the enclosure through the one opening to the “sheepfold,” and then the shepherd would sleep in that “one opening” to keep the sheep safe.
It was this image of the “sheepfold” that Jesus used today in our Gospel Reading to help illustrate the Good News He wanted to share with His disciples. Jesus said “Very truly I tell you; anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and 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.”
The sheep know the shepherd’s voice and follow their shepherd even when other shepherds are calling out to gather their sheep.
In the book, “In the Steps of the Master” written by H.V Morton in 1935, Mr. Morton describes the relationship this way. As an eyewitness, he wrote “Early one morning I saw an extraordinary sight not far from Bethlehem. Two shepherds had spent the night with their flocks in a cave. The sheep were all mixed together, and the time had come for the shepherds to go in different directions.”
“One of the shepherds stood some distance from the sheep and began to call. First one, then another, then four or five animals ran towards him; and so on, until he had counted his whole flock.” In the authors amazement… the sheep heard their shepherd’s voice and they followed Him.
Take a moment and think about all the voices that you hear each day as you go about your daily activities. You hear voices from the TV, from the radio, from social media and podcasts.
You hear the loud voices of politicians, journalists, and co-workers. You hear the voice of your spouse, your children, your neighbors, and your relatives. And each of these voices is vying for your attention and for your loyalty.
Today we live in a world where we are saturated with competing voices; and these conflicting voices make it hard for us to make decisions. And these voices make it hard for us to discern what is true and what is false. And that is why, I believe, it is very important for all of us to regularly attend worship services and to study the Bible together; and it is important for us to read the Bible on our own and for us to talk to God on a regular basis through prayer.
These are all important because it is through listening to the voice of the Good Shepherd that we hear the Good News the Good Shepherd speaks to us. Such as… the Good Shepherd knows each of us by name. And the Good Shepherd promises us the forgiveness of sins, the resurrection of the Body, and the hope of life everlasting.
By reading scripture we hear the voice of the Good Shephard that said “Go and tell John what you hear and see: 5the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the poor have good news brought to them. 6And blessed is anyone who takes no offence at me.” Matthew 11:2-6
This is the voice of the Good Shepherd… not the doom and gloom we hear from the world today.
Even so, we live in a trying, and confusing time. The coronavirus has caused illness and death in our world. The coronavirus has wreaked havoc on the global economy and in the workplace. The coronavirus has shut down whole industries and overwhelmed the healthcare system.
The coronavirus has introduced social distancing and stay-at-home concepts to our communities. The coronavirus has encouraged new voices to shout out to us SAYING that we should only be concerned about looking after number one.
But thanks be to God… for in the midst of all these competing voices is the voice of the Good Shepherd that calls out to us by name to come and follow Him. The Good Shepherd states in our text today “The thief comes only in order to steal, and to kill, and to destroy. I have come in order that you might have life - life in all its fullness.” Verse 10 The Good News Translation
Of course, the text does not mean that we will always have an easy life, or that things will always go our way. The text does not state that we will never experience suffering, or illness, or social isolation. But it does mean that we are not alone. The Good Shepherd is with us.
As the Psalm today states “He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his name’s sake. Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil: for thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.” Psalm 23:3-4
I will fear no evil. For thou art with me. This is the Easter message. We are not alone. We have never been alone. God entered our world and journeyed with humanity as we traveled through all the hills and all the valleys of this world. God overcame death and the grave through the death and resurrection of our Good Shepherd. And now the Good Shepherd calls out to us to come and follow Him, so we can have life, and have it abundantly.
This week as you travel in San Angelo be on the lookout for the sheep statues located in front of businesses and houses of worship throughout San Angelo. May they serve as a reminder to you to listen to the voice of the Good Shepherd, and to trust in His leadership as you go about your daily activities.
Let us pray: God of Hope, when we are troubled by fear and uncertainty, teach us to commit our lives to your care, so we can listen to the Good Shepherds voice, and trust in the knowledge of your love and forgiveness, that we may find peace in Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.
Prayer of the Day: O God our shepherd, you know your sheep by name and lead us to safety through the valleys of death. Guide us by your voice that we may walk in certainty and security to the joyous feast prepared in your house, through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever. Amen.
Hymn of the Day: The King of Love My Shepherd Is ELW # 502