“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away—and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13 The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. 17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. 18 No one takes it 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.”
Scripture quotations are from the New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Want to hear something ironic? What people really need in our culture is to be to be in a community where they are loved and valued for who they really are. And yet, often out of fear of rejection we have a hard time letting people know who we really are. So we tend to fake it, fearing to reveal any aspect of ourselves that is vulnerable or broken. Because if people really knew what we were like—how unworthy or incompetent we feel —there’s a lot higher chance they wouldn’t want much to do with us.
Sometimes we even fool ourselves into thinking we’re someone we’re really not. Our façade, our pretense is so good and we’ve been putting that out front for so long that we begin to believe it ourselves. Sometimes we feel like the only way we can like ourselves is if we pretend to be the person we show everyone else.
Think how wonderful it would be if everyone had a community of people that surrounded them and held them in love. No matter what. Knowing their deepest secrets and worst faults, a community of people that recognizes they are wonderful nonetheless.
If you’re one of those people who can be authentically who you are and still trust that you are valued, you are fortunate indeed. If you are part of a community that would go to bat for you, stand up with you, defend you, back you up—not because you’re perfect, but for no other reason that you are you, cling to it with everything you’ve got. Communities like that are, unfortunately, really rare.
Even though that’s the image scripture uses to describe the church. As the body of Christ, that’s who we are and what we’re supposed to reveal to the world—this is what an unconditionally loving community looks like. For whatever reason, we have a hard time claiming our identity.
When Jesus refers to himself as the good shepherd, he’s describing himself, of course. And yet he’s also describing what those who follow him are like after he’s no longer physically present as an individual person. We are the body of Christ, we lay down our lives for the sheep. That’s why Jesus sent his Spirit to his followers after his resurrection. Not so we can behave like the hired hand who runs away when things are tough, but so that we can reveal who Jesus, the good shepherd, is. Filled with his Spirit, that’s who we are.
Jesus says the good shepherd cares so much that he’s willing to lay down his life for the sheep. He’s describing the community he’s setting up as well. This is the attitude of those who follow him. Willing to set aside our own discomforts, our own agendas, our own priorities, in order to show another how valuable, how loved they are.
Jesus takes this to a global scale when he talks about other sheep, not of this fold. The good shepherd cares just as much for them and brings them. The goal is one flock, with all the sheep knowing that no matter what, there are others who know them, love them, value them.
People of God, he’s talking about us. We’re the ones that get to know them, then love them and value them no matter what. That’s who the good shepherd is. That’s who we are as the church, the body of Christ, too.
All of which means something today on Earth Day. We are called to care for and to love those most vulnerable, those whose frailties and weaknesses are known to us.
Earth Day makes it clear who those are. When we care for the earth we are actually caring for those most vulnerable to climate change. For us here with every advantage, we have the luxury of continuing on with our lives, almost unchanged, even though the world is fundamentally changing around us. But there are other sheep who don’t have the resources we have, who are extremely vulnerable to the danger of climate change. There are those, largely living in poverty, who simple aren’t equipped to deal with the flooding that’s happening—which brings disease and unsanitary conditions. They are at risk from the drought—which brings hunger and an inability to make a living which continues the cycle of poverty.
What these people living in danger need is a community of people that will surround them and hold them in love. No matter what. Knowing their situation, a community of people who considers them worthwhile and valuable nonetheless.
They need to see what the good shepherd looks like. People who, because we follow Christ, are willing to put aside our own prejudices and even our lifestyles for their sake. People who, unlike the hired hand, won’t run away from them or ignore them or pretend their plight isn’t real. People who recognize the value of these other sheep, and take seriously the work needed to restore Creation in a way that helps people living in poverty.
The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. Some of us experience a good shepherd kind of community, one that knows us and loves us will stand with us. But there are other sheep on this Earth Day who are suffering alone and vulnerable. It’s necessary to help these impoverished now, but it’s also necessary to eliminate a serious cause of their poverty.
At the back today is some information and resources to help us be part of this holy work of restoring Creation. Even though we have the privilege of ignoring this crisis, we don’t. The good shepherd, out of love for us, has laid down his life for us, and invites us to follow him in showing those most vulnerable, those other sheep, how loved they are too. Happy Earth Day.