(This sermon was preached at Faith Lutheran Church, Seward, Nebraska, on the occasion of their celebrating 50 years of ministry)
50 years? Really? Congratulations on 50 years of revealing Jesus. 50 years of the voice of the good shepherd being proclaimed through this congregation. 50 years. No one ever said following Jesus, the good shepherd, was going to be easy. If they did, they lied. It’s not easy. Listening to the voice of Jesus and following is extremely difficult. Yet, this congregation has been serious about that for 50 years. It’s astonishing. But it’s being done. Because you are a flock that knows the shepherd.
For the first time, I noticed in this text that Jesus doesn’t say anything about individual sheep. He loves the flock, cares for the flock, lays down his life for the flock, will gather all the sheep into one flock. It’s not so much about individual sheep, but more about the flock as a whole. “Sheep” is plural throughout this chapter.
Of course Jesus loves each individual sheep, but the emphasis here is that he lays down his life for the flock. And he will bring in the other sheep too so there will be one flock, one shepherd. One flock, for whom he lays down his life.
This changes everything in this text for me. We’re not just individual sheep, each of us trying to discern the voice of the shepherd. We are first a flock for whom the Good Shepherd lays down his life. It’s not “you’re a sheep” and “I’m a sheep,” so let’s get together and create a flock. No, it’s “we are already a flock!” and we belong to the Good Shepherd. We are part of something bigger than just us. That’s who we are. Our identity comes not from being an individual sheep who chooses a shepherd’s voice, and then seeks out other individual sheep who agree on that voice, and call ourselves a flock. No, our identity comes from already being part of the flock for whom the shepherd lays down his life. We are already included. It’s already done.
Now, if that isn’t cool enough, there are implications as to what this means about our life together as a flock.
Most importantly, Jesus the Good Shepherd is enough. As a flock, the Good Shepherd is all we need. We are enough right now. Faith Lutheran Church has enough, you are enough, right now. Because, as a flock, the Good Shepherd lays down his life for you.You have been called, gathered, and cared for by the Good Shepherd who sees the wolf yet will always stay with you. The shepherd saves you. Saves us. The whole flock. He knows you and lays down his life for you—as a flock.
He says there are other sheep who do not belong to this fold but who he will bring into the flock. Sometimes we can get frantic about that, and think our primary purpose is in seeking them out, thinking that we have to get them in our doors. So we sometimes put a lot of energy into calling them.
But Jesus says they will listen to his voice, not ours. It’s his voice they will follow, not our individual baaaing and bleating. So when we speak to sheep who may be outside the fold, we do so as part of his flock, taking care to use his voice, his words, doing so in his character—that of the Good Shepherd, which has already embraced us, loved us, forgiven us.
We know the sound of his voice. His voice is always that of love, forgiveness, grace, compassion, a willingness to lay down our lives, our agendas for them. That’s the voice they hear; that’s the voice they will follow.
So as a flock belonging to the good shepherd, we love other sheep, whether we consider them inside or outside the flock–because that ultimately not our concern. It is the concern of the shepherd. So we love all sheep, without strings and without conditions. They will listen to that voice. We show them compassion and mercy—even if they haven’t deserved it. They will follow that voice. We forgive those who offend us. That’s the voice of the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for the flock.
Nobody can ever say that listening to the voice of the shepherd is easy. No one can tell you that following the good shepherd is comfortable. And yet, Faith Lutheran Church has been doing exactly that for 50 years. That is impressive.
I hope you can take this opportunity, as you celebrate these 50 years of faithfulness, to begin to look to the next 50. The good shepherd knows you, and knows you are listening to his voice. Amen.