Narrator: Today we celebrate one of my favorite Sundays of the year. It’s the Fourth Sunday of Easter and every year, we call this day Good Shepherd Sunday.
Angela – But, why?
Narrator: The scriptures we read reflect the theme of Jesus as Good Shepherd.
Daniel – Shepherds were very important people in Jesus’ day.
Jesus – Shepherds are important people in any age. Even today.
Angela – But, why?
Mobley – You cannot over-estimate the importance of sheep – or shepherds. But especially sheep.
Anna – Why would you even say that?
Mobley – What?
Anna – You know, sheep are so important! Shepherds are so important. It’s people who are important. They are more important than some dumb sheep.
Mobley – Dumb WHAT!?! Who is calling who DUMB!?!
Mobley – What?
Narrator: Whom. It’s whom. You said, “Who is calling who dumb?” To be grammatically correct, you should have said, “Who is calling whom Dumb?”
Narrator: Okay, I think we are losing focus here, people.
Narrator: Sorry, Mobley. People, and sheep, listen up. As I was saying, the scriptures on Good Shepherd Sunday describe the way that Jesus is our shepherd. Using that metaphor, Jesus as shepherd and those he loves and cares for as sheep, was an easy way for Jesus to get across an important lesson to the people of his time. Because they, the people of his time, were familiar with shepherds and the role of shepherds with sheep.
Anna – Well, I never saw a shepherd.
Angela – That’s because you are living in, like, 2017. Jesus lived in like, uh, um. What year did Jesus live?
Daniel – Jesus lived in the first century.
Angela – So what YEAR was that!
Daniel – Let’s just say it was a long, long time ago. About 2000 years ago, in fact.
Narrator: Well, in Jesus’ time, there was no doubt about it. Everyone knew that at least to sheep, shepherds were important people.
Jesus – Throughout the Scriptures, the people of God were referred to as sheep, and those who cared for them – whether kings or prophets, were often referred to as shepherds. And I was sent to be a shepherd to the flock of people - God’s people.
Anna - So, not sheep?
Jesus - Not exactly.
Narrator: In today’s text, Jesus uses an image familiar to the people of his day, to make a point about spiritual leadership. Good shepherds bring people to life through Jesus, but those who avoid Jesus are dangerous to the flock.
Angela - In what way are they dangerous?
Narrator: They distract people from believing in, and trusting in God. In some cases, they even destroy people’s belief and trust, because they pretend that what they do and say is from God, but then they act in ways that are opposite what God desires.
Jesus: So instead of loving people, being forgiving, and merciful, and helpful to people, they get in the way of people’s faith, say and do hurtful things, are unloving, unkind and dishonest – in other words, they are everything that is the opposite of what I taught is the way that God operates, and what God wants people to do.
Narrator: Jesus came to save people from sin, and to give them eternal life. Believing in Jesus is essential. But there are some people who misrepresent what God wants, and misrepresent how God says we should treat one another.
Jesus: So, what I said is, “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.”
Daniel: Where is the gate?
Narrator: Not where, who.
Anna: Who what?
Narrator: Not what, who. “Who” is the gate?
Mobley: What is this, an Abbott and Costello routine?
Angela: Let me get this straight. The gate is not a thing, but a person?
Narrator: The gate is Jesus.
Daniel: But I thought Jesus is the shepherd.
Narrator: He is. Jesus is both gate and shepherd.
Mobley: I’m confused. Who are the sheep, then?
Daniel: You are, Silly.
Narrator: Yes, Mobley, you are a sheep. And when Jesus told this story, he was being metaphorical. That means he was comparing people to sheep, or saying that the relationship of Jesus to his people, is like the relationship of a shepherd to his sheep.
Anna: Now I’m confused.
Jesus: Don’t feel badly, little sheep. My disciples were confused as well.
So, I gave them this explanation: “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not to listen to them. I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture.” Now this is the part I really want you to remember: “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”
So, believe in me. Follow me. It is through this gate of belief and trust and knowing me, that you will be given full, abundant, true and eternal life.
Narrator: You see, Jesus wants abundant life for all people. That is why he came. That is why he continues to shepherd his people. The life he offers is only available through him. But the reality is that there will be people who will try to distract you with fancy words or concepts or other means like denying the very existence of God, or saying that there is another way to the life that Jesus offers besides just following Jesus, listening to his Word, and obeying him.
Mobley – You got all that from this gospel?
Anna: Why did Jesus talk about gates and shepherds?
Narrator: Well, just before this reading, there is the story of the man who had been blind from birth. Jesus healed him, and for the first time in his life, he could see.
Angela: Jesus healed a blind man, and that made him think of gates and shepherds?
Narrator: Well, what happened after Jesus gave sight to the blind man made Jesus want to warn people about those who were like thieves and bandits, who don’t enter the sheepfold by the gate.
You see, when the blind man could see again, everyone was shocked.
Daniel: Who wouldn’t be?
Narrator: Right. Well, the Pharisees were supposed to be the shepherds of the people of Israel. They were supposed to care for them, and teach them, protect them from spiritual harm, and nourish them. But when the formerly blind man came in to the synagogue, the Pharisees interrogated first his parents, and then him. He told them it was Jesus who had healed him. They wouldn’t believe it. Finally, when the man insisted that it was through Jesus that he was healed, they threw him out. They expelled him from their community. Any good Jew was to have nothing to do with him. They refused to believe that Jesus’ healing work came from God.
Mobley: So, bad shepherds, right?
Narrator: Really bad shepherds.
Daniel: So, what is the point today? We aren’t exactly sheep, you know.
Daniel: Certain company excluded – meaning, included in our flock.
Mobley: Gee, thanks!
Narrator: Well, what do you think? Are there those today who might be like the bandits and thieves that Jesus spoke about?
Anna: How about people who say other people aren’t good enough to be in their church?
Angela: Or people who say that God doesn’t love everybody or that some people aren’t acceptable to God?
Daniel: Hey! Who says that? I’ll give ‘em what-for!
Narrator: Remember what Jesus said about abundant life? He said that he came to save all people. He came to forgive sins and make all people acceptable in the eyes of God. He came to make sure that everyone could have abundant life. He came to be the gate, to be the one who shepherds all people into that kind of life. And anyone who says that he or she believes in Jesus will do the same by sharing Jesus’ way of love and mercy, kindness and forgiveness.
Daniel: What does a-BUN-dant life mean? I have a hard time even saying that word. A-BUN-dant. A-bun-DANT.
Anna: Doesn’t it mean having a lot of life? I heard it means having a rich life. I want to be rich! Does it mean that if we say we believe in Jesus, that God will make us rich?
Narrator: Not exactly. Abundant life means a full life – a life full of good things. But they are not the kind of things that you put in your piggy bank, or other riches that we pile up, although there are some people who do say that those kinds of riches are signs of God’s blessing.
But Jesus came to give us life that is full to overflowing with God’s love – so full, that we can’t help sharing it with other people, and telling them where it comes from. When the bible, or our pastor talk about eternal life, they aren’t just talking about life after death. They are talking about life that begins here and now, and is made full by knowing the one true God and Jesus Christ, whom God sent into the world.
Abundant life is knowing the voice of the good shepherd who truly cares for us. Abundant life includes life in community, and finding security and nourishment not from material riches, but from being part of the flock of Jesus Christ. It is life that is full of meaning and value which lasts in some way even after we die.
Mobley: You know, it’s really true what Jesus said about sheep.
Narrator: What’s that, Mobley?
Mobley: That sheep know the voice of their shepherd. That they follow the voice of their shepherd. Without a shepherd we struggle to find good food and we sometimes get lost, and then we can’t find our way home. Sheep won’t follow a stranger’s voice, but if our shepherd speaks, we know his voice and we follow him, because we will find our true home in him.
Narrator: Well said, Mobley. There are many voices speaking to us in our world today. But God sent just one voice, the voice of our shepherd Jesus Christ. It is the voice of our one true shepherd, Jesus, that will bring us home, give us abundant life, love us, care for us, protect and nourish us, all for the sake of love.
Narrator: So, people, let’s give God thanks for sending Jesus, who is for us both gate and shepherd, who knows us and whose voice of love and care we recognize.
All Together: AMEN!!!!!!