How to Be Part of the Circle of God’s Love
May 7, 2006
The Rev. Dr. Anthony J. Godlefski, Pastor
Montgomery United Methodist Church
John 10: 11-18
“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12The 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. 13The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. 14I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, 15just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. 16I 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. 17For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. 18No 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.”
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, good morning! Our sermon today is “How to Be Part of the Circle of God’s Love.” I’d like to invite you to consider the gloriously beautiful Gospel that we have before us today. It is the Gospel according to St. John, the tenth chapter. These are powerful, powerful words. And the more I read them, the more impressed I was with the strength of their power. I would like to suggest that the opening statement of our Lord Jesus Christ is a clarion call, a clarion call of proclamation of Jesus’s identity.
Now, what exactly is a clarion call? Our wonderful new organ has so many spectacular sounds on it. One of them is a great example of a clarion call. It’s the sound of the festival trumpet. It’s a sound that is never used together with any other sounds on the organ but always as a solo by itself. It shows us what a clarion call is like. [Festival trumpet is sounded on the organ.]
The words of Jesus in the opening of this Gospel are like a clarion call. Let’s take a look at what He said. Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd.” He was telling us who He is, and who He wants to be in our lives. You see, it’s a message of intense and strong love. Jesus said, “My purpose is to be the good shepherd to you, and being this is my fulfillment.”
He goes on to answer a question of how much He cares. He says this: “The good shepherd lays down His life for the sheep.” So the good shepherd cares not just a little bit, not just part-time. Jesus said, “I would lay down my life for you. If there were only one of you, I would lay down my life for you. Why? Because that’s how much I love you.”
You see, the Gospel is a clarion call. It’s Jesus’s intense proclamation of who He is and how He feels about you. He goes on to clarify. He says, “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. The hired hand runs away because the hired hand does not care for the sheep.” What is Jesus saying? He is saying over and again, “I care for you. I care for you so intensely. I am the good shepherd, and I can be your good shepherd.” But notice, Jesus never forces Himself. Jesus never intrudes; Jesus offers. But what an offer, my friend! Don’t pass it up.
What else does He say? “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father.” Talk about a clarion call of Christ! He says the relationship between Him and you is like the relationship between Himself and the Heavenly Father. It’s that intense and strong. It’s that powerful. What a remarkable announcement Jesus is making to us in the gospel! It is an announcement of great strength and great energy.
Jesus says it again, “I lay down my life for the sheep.” “How much do I love you?” asks Jesus. “I love you this much,” and He stretched out His hands for us on the cross. He gave His life for us in ways that perhaps we’ll never understand completely, but we can accept completely. We can say ‘yes, Lord!’ That love is so intense, so big, so completely wonderful.
Jesus’s clarion call is His proclamation of His love for you. Will you accept it? That’s the question before us. Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd.” But He leaves it to you to take out the ‘the’ and put in the ‘your.’
Who needs the good shepherd? Who needs God? Who needs Him to be the savior of our lives? I suggest to you, my friends, that the longer I go on in this life, the clearer it becomes to me that the answer is “each and every one of us.” I am privileged to work with the young folks in our church and to hear about some of the problems that they face and some of the challenges that are before them. Young folks face peer pressure. They face other young folks who perhaps are not God-oriented, who are perhaps telling them what to do, which may not be so good, in order to be accepted and liked and cool. That’s a lot of pressure. They need a shepherd. They need a savior.
Young folks are facing pressure from bullies. Young folks are facing pressure from angry people. Young folks are facing the pressure of self-identity, wondering who they are. Who’s going to tell them? What do they need? They need Jesus. They need you. They need you to lead them to Jesus, so that they can know who they really are, not through the voices of unenlightened peers, but through the voice of Jesus Christ. That’s what they need. They need a shepherd.
Back in the days of Jesus, shepherds were very common, and everyone knew what they were. There was a particular image that the people of the day had in mind about sheep and shepherds. You see, at nighttime, the sheep had to sleep somewhere that was safe. So they would be corralled into a sheepfold. What was a sheepfold? It was a circle of stone that would protect the sheep from predators. But there was an opening in the circle about five feet wide. The opening had no door, so a wolf could get in and scatter the sheep. There was no door, because a door would have hampered the exit and entrance of the sheep into the sheepfold.
So what about that opening? Friend, the shepherd himself or herself would lie down across that opening and sleep there to keep the wolves away. Jesus says, “I’m that kind of shepherd to you. I’m not going anywhere when the wolf comes around, whatever the wolf is for you. I’m not going anywhere when sorrow comes around; I’m going to be with you. I’m not going to escape. I’m not going to run, because I’m not like the hired hand. I am the good shepherd,” He says.
Isn’t that a comforting thought? Isn’t it a comforting thought to you to know that if you say yes to Him, if you are part of His flock, that you are protected? There isn’t going to be any situation that you and I will face alone. He is always going to be with us. He vowed to. He said so in His holy word, and we hold it true. Jesus is going to be with you and love you, all the time, guiding you and protecting you, because He is your shepherd, if you say yes to His love. And there is room in the circle for you, my friends. That’s what He came to say. That’s what He came to proclaim. That’s what He sent us all to tell the world.
Who needs the shepherd? Young folks need the shepherd. Adults need the shepherd. As we go through the tough times of life, as we go through the griefs of life, as we go through the challenges of meaning, as we go through the pressures of everyday life, we need something that’s going to ground us. We need something to tell us who we are. We need to know whom we belong to. And that, my friends, can be Jesus, for you and me. He wants to be our good shepherd.
So how do we respond? We respond in two ways. Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd,” and therefore He calls us to be good, as well, to be good at what we do. Perhaps for you it is “I am the good homemaker” or “I am the good teacher.” “I am going to go the extra mile to emulate my savior.” Perhaps for you it is “I am the good banker.” “I am the good trustee of resources.” “I am the good father” or “the good mother” or “the good friend.” “I am the good grandparent.” You can emulate your savior by being inspiredly good at what you are, for His sake.
And the other thing, my dear friends, is to invite Him into your heart. And if you already have, to invite Him again, and to proclaim the message of the twenty-third psalm. Let’s listen to the old King James version of that psalm. Read it and take it personally, take it to heart. Let this be your response to the clarion call of the good shepherd:
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 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; they 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 forever.
Let these beautiful words give you comfort, the comfort of knowing that you are in the circle of His love, because God loves you. I do, too. Have a wonderful week. Amen.
© 2006 Anthony J. Godlefski