“My Sheep Know Me”
17 April 2016
The Reverend Todd R. Goddard, pastor
East Rochester & West Walworth: Zion United Methodist Churches
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
He maketh me to lie down in green pastures: he leadeth me beside the still waters.
He restoreth my soul: he leadeth me in the paths of righteousness for his names 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.
Thou preparest a table before me in the presence of mine enemies: thou anointest my head with oil; my cup runneth over.
Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.
At that time the festival of the Dedication took place in Jerusalem. It was winter, and Jesus was walking in the temple, in the portico of Solomon. So the Jews gathered around him and said to him, "How long will you keep us in suspense? If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly." Jesus answered, "I have told you, and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father's name testify to me; but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep. My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand. What my Father has given me is greater than all else, and no one can snatch it out of the Father's hand. The Father and I are one."
I once heard that communication
Has less to do with what you say
And everything to do with how you say it.
The work of Albert Mehrabian confirms the fact that
Better than 90% of all communication is nonverbal.
(For those who really want to know,
55% is body language,
38% is tone of voice,
and 7% is the content of the words spoken)
Communication is the process of transferring information
From one person to another.
We follow certain rules,
Where there is a sender, a message, and a receiver.
There are auditory means, expressive means, visual means, and writing.
Communication is one of our highest cognitive skills.
It takes all of our thinking ability to gather all the sensory information from another,
Compare information with previous experiences,
Utilize every bit of executive function to formulate a meaningful response,
And finally, express yourself back to the original sender.
Thinking is hard.
Communicating thoughts is even harder.
The tools of communication are many and vast.
Metaphor is a powerful communication technique to assert two things are the same.
Unlike analogy, used to indicate two things are similar,
Metaphor, means to carry over, transfer additional meaning above and beyond the obvious.
The Psalmist uses metaphor as a powerful tool to extend meaning and energize his words.
“The Lord is my shepherd” for some today
Means your memories take you back to a funeral parlor or attending a memorial service.
The 23rd Psalm is rightly used again and again as a part of the funeral liturgy.
It is a comforting message, in the midst of pain and grief.
The metaphor message of the Psalmist is
That the Lord guides and protects us through every stage of our lives,
Including life’s darkest valleys.
Others hear the words of the Psalmist as a political statement.
To Hebrews in Persian or Babylonian captivity,
Some would say, our ancestors living in a Kingdom of death,
“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want”
Is a statement that the Lord is my leader;
My enemy captors are not!
The Lord provides me with food- “green pastures”
With water- “still waters”
And protection- thou art with me; thy rod and thy staff they comfort me.
“Thou anointest my head with oil.”
My captors starve me, withhold drink, and subject me to abuse.
My Lord provides me with the necessities of life: food, drink, and protection,
In short, (God provides) life as God intends.
(with thanks to: J. Clinton McCann, at WorkingPreacher.org)
I’m not done with the Psalmist metaphor:
Others, like Thomas Merton, looked around, identified the forces that diminish the abundant life that God intend, and saw something quite different.
Merton looked through the Psalm and saw consumerism.
“You have to be a consumer
And your identity is to a large extend determined by your choices,
Which are very much determined by advertising.
Identity is created by ads.”
In a culture where advertising is pervasive
It is not surprising that our society is characterized by what Alan Greenspan once called “infectious greed.” (Ibid.)
“The Lord is my Shepherd”
Not the paycheck,
Not the house or property I own,
Not the car I drive.
I am the Lord’s!
Not McDonalds, General Motors, Visa or Mastercard!
The 23rd Psalms works …
Whether you are at a funeral seeking comfort,
Oppressed by the political realities of war, politics, or strife,
Or subjected to unrelenting consumerism.
On this fourth Sunday of Easter,
Traditionally known as “Shepherd Sunday”
Our Gospel author uses the metaphor of the Psalmist
To create and build on the identity of Jesus;
Who he is, why he has come, and what he intends to do.
Identity is a common theme for Jesus.
John powerfully asserts in his opening words
That Jesus is the Word,
“the Word was with God, and the Word was God.” (John 1:1)
“And the Word became flesh and lived among us,
and we have seen his glory,
the glory as of a father’s only son,
full of grace and truth.” (John 1:14)
One would think these words alone “seals the deal”
(as my favorite sandwich maker used to tell me every day at lunch).
So much of communication is not what we say,
It is how we say it.
John reports Jesus speaking, again and again, about his identity,
To different crowds,
In different locations,
and in different circumstances.
The issues of his identity is not a universally accepted fact.
Some of his disciples call him “Rabbi”, others call him “Messiah.”
Nathanael calls him “Rabbi”, “Son of God”, and “King of Israel”, all in one sentence (John 1:49)
Nicodemus calls him Rabbi and “teacher who has come from God.”
The Samaritan woman at the well called him “prophet” and “Messiah.”
Authorities dismiss him as merely “Jesus, son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know.” (John 6:42)
To some he is a good man, to others he is a deceiver and demon-possessed.
(with thanks to Frank L. Crouch, as found at workingpreacher.org)
The issue of Jesus’ identity is not a universally accepted fact today, either.
To those who simply can not live with inconsistencies in their life,
The intersection of science (prove it to me) and religion (this is what I believe without proof)
Relegate Jesus, at best,
To the sub-basement as a wise teacher or prophet,
Or, at worst,
As a delusional, historic martyr.
Some may, at best, think of Jesus as a “higher power,”
And never be able to move beyond that “least common denominator” theology.
Others may be so deeply submerged in salvation concerns
They feel the need to mention the name of Jesus in just about every sentence they speak.
Dr. Frank L. Crouch, of the Moravian Theological Seminary in Bethlehem, PA astutely states:
“How we engage those who hold different views of Christ remains
a vital question for individuals and communities of faith.” (Ibid.)
Jesus is asked, flat out, “If you are the Messiah, tell us plainly.” (John 10:24)
Jesus’ two-fold response begins, first with the obvious,
”I have told you, and you do not believe.” (John 10:25)
What they wanted to hear was Jesus proclaiming that he was a political savior,
Sent by God,
To free the Jews from Roman occupation.
This would give them cause to have him arrested.
What they were afraid of hearing was that
Jesus planned to tear down
Their scandal plagued,
Oppressive organized religion,
The center of which, was in plane sight,
Right across the Temple courtyard from Solomon’s portico,
Symbolized by the Temple itself.
This would have threaten the religious leaders iron fisted control and power.
Secondly, he tells them “you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep.”
Ah, the metaphor!
He builds on the 23rd Psalm;
Words known by every Jewish leader and member of his audience.
Jesus provides the necessities of life: food and drink, safety and security;
All that which God intends,
Over and against all that God despises – corruption, slavery, and death.
Those who belong to me; they know me and I take care of.
Those who belong to you; you violate them and you oppress them.
“No one,” Jesus says to the intently listening crowd,
“No one will snatch them out of my hand.”
“No one will steal my sheep as long as I’m their shepherd.”
Baptism is our no-trade clause.
Once you are one of our Father’s sheep
You are “in it to win it.”
You are promised “eternal life,” and you “will never perish.” (John 10:28)
The message of Jesus is comforting, to those who seek comfort.
Like the Psalm that precedes the Gospel, the message of Jesus is political, too.
You can serve the Caesar’s in Washington, Albany, or in the Town Hall –
You can serve the Bishops, doctrine, and the never-ending appetite of organized religion –
Or you can serve the Lord,
Follow his guidance,
and receive his benefits of food, shelter, and protection.
The message of Jesus speaks, yet again, about consumption.
You can be a slave to the shepherd known as economics, marketing, and advertising;
A never-ending cycle of “I want, I want, I want.”
Or, you can serve as the Lord as your shepherd:
The provider of all that is necessary,
The one who calls us to bring down the rich and raise up the poor,
The one whose will redistributes the abundance of some
To ensure that all have enough.
The cultural reality of our state and nation
Prohibits us from speaking about four topics in public,
Especially at church:
Politics, religion, money, and sex.
Today’s Gospel from John addresses three of the four.
Choosing to be a member of Jesus’ flock is a political statement.
We choose the Lord as our shepherd; we don’t need another.
It defines our stewardship, that, provides for the food, drink, shelter, and protection of everyone in the flock … because this is God’s will.
It brings us comfort, especially during those most difficult decisions or circumstances in life.
The Lord is my shepherd.
What do you say?
We don’t need any other.