Sunday, May 07, 2006

John 10:11-18 - “Outside Looking In”

4th Sunday of Easter (Year B - LCMS Readings)
Saturday, May 6, and Sunday, May 7, 2006

A poem by Connie Bratcher called “The Good Shepherd”

The Good Shepherd always walks in front
Gently leading the way,
Never behind driving or pushing,
But lovingly guiding each day;
And when a sheep wanders away
From the security of this place,
The Shepherd corrects the wayward one
In love, mercy, and grace.
Oh, what love and tender care,
Such blessings God bestows
Upon the sheep that closely follow
The way The Shepherd goes.

Copyright © 2000-2001, Connie C. Bratcher

Ah, it’s Good Shepherd Sunday making us all think of that beautiful image of Jesus holding a little lamb, Jesus being that happy shepherd watching over those darling little lambs who are pure white on wonderfully green fields. It’s such a beautiful image that Jesus uses to describe how He cares for His people, cares for us like a loving shepherd.

It’s a beautiful image, but do any of you remember how the crowd reacted? The people who heard Jesus speaking that day, the Jews, the leaders, do you know what they thought of what Jesus was saying?

They said Jesus was demon-possessed for saying these words. They said that Jesus was raving mad for what He said about being the Good Shepherd. They were ready to ignore Jesus, if not actually have Jesus kicked out of town like a crazed lunatic.

Why? When we think of Jesus calling Himself the Good Shepherd, we get such a good feeling. We sing nice hymns about it, and make nice paintings of it, and make little trinkets of it, and there are nice greeting cards with nice little poems about it. We think of Jesus being the Good Shepherd as such a nice image that it’s hard for us to remember just what an offensive thing it was that He saying.

To the Pharisees, Jesus was saying something dangerous and rebellious. The Pharisees weren’t going to make a poem about the Good Shepherd; they were going to use those words of Jesus as a reason to kick Jesus out of town.

But just what was so rebellious, dangerous, and crazy about what Jesus was saying? Well, there’s lots in that section of John chapter 10 that probably got the Pharisees upset, but let’s look one thing today. Let’s look at verse 16 and see why that upset them.

In verse 16, Jesus says, “I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.”

Jesus is using this picture language of a shepherd and sheep and flock and other sheep, but what is Jesus really saying? The Pharisees knew exactly what Jesus was saying. Jesus was saying that in His view of God and God’s kingdom that not only would there be salvation for the Jews but that God would also save the Gentiles, the non-Jews. Jesus was saying that He was sent by God the Father to save the sheep—the Jews—but that He was also sent to save the other sheep—the Gentiles, the non-Jews. God’s kingdom was going to be one big flock—one gathering of God’s people, both Jew and Gentile, all of God’s people together.

Well, that infuriated the Pharisees and other Jewish leaders. Who was this Jesus guy? How could Jesus say that God’s kingdom would include the Gentiles, the pagans, the unclean, the uncircumcised? God’s kingdom had been given to the Jews. The Jews were God’s chosen people. Certainly God wouldn’t defile Himself by letting the Gentiles come into the kingdom, into the flock. How dare Jesus imply that God would stoop that low.

That idea that God’s kingdom would come through Jesus to save all people, that idea seems so common to us, and Jesus teaches that idea with the image of a shepherd and sheep that’s become so beautiful and normal to us, so we have a hard time remembering that it seems scandalous, blasphemous, devilish to the Pharisees. Jesus was busting their idea of God’s kingdom, and the Pharisees were furious with Him.

And the Pharisees were wrong, of course. They had an idea of God’s kingdom that was small, limited, and really not in touch with what the prophets had said in the Old Testament. The prophets had already shown that God meant to save all people through the Jews. We have seen this wondrous love in Jesus, the plan of salvation to save all of God’s people.

Thankfully the Pharisees were wrong about that limited view of God’s kingdom, because otherwise, you and I wouldn’t be here. We’d be those other sheep; we’d be the ones the Pharisees didn’t think deserved to be part of the plan. Now, though, we can rejoice that God’s love is much bigger than that. God’s love reaches out to His entire Creation. God sent His Son with a plan of salvation that forgives and restores and resurrects all believers.

If you’ve ever been concerned that maybe you weren’t included in God’s kingdom, weren’t going to be included in eternal life, then just look at the kind of fight Jesus started when we told the Pharisees He was going to include you. When Jesus says that He’s going to save other sheep, the Pharisees say He was possessed by a demon. Now remember: when Jesus said that about the other sheep, He was talking about you. He got those Pharisees all upset, because He wanted to make sure that you were included in God’s kingdom.

Good Shepherd Window at Redeemer Lutheran Church
How many of you know that one of our stained glass windows over here is the Good Shepherd window? You’ll have to come see it after service. There’s a picture of a shepherd’s crook and two sheep—Jesus is the Good Shepherd and we are the sheep. The other picture brings this together—Jesus with a cross in the background but He is also holding a shepherd’s crook.

We are a Church that celebrates that Jesus is our Good Shepherd with a Good Shepherd window, but do you know what is behind that window?

(open window, youth pokes head in from outside)

There are other sheep on the outside looking in (youth crawls inside).
There are other sheep not yet part of this flock (youth crawls inside).
There are other sheep that Jesus will bring (youth crawls inside).

(Youth go over to sit in front of the pulpit)

These youth today are actors, they represent the other sheep in our community, they represent the people who are on the outside looking in, they represent the people that we might forget, ignore, keep outside, leave outside, these youth represent the other sheep, the kind sheep we sometimes don’t want in this flock.

Who do these youth represent? Who are the other sheep on the outside looking in? Other ethnicities—besides white, of course. Blacks, Hispanics, Native Americans, Arabs, illegal immigrants. And even though we have Hmong in this congregation, could it be that we still have trouble including them?

Then there’s skateboarders and teens who try to dress like gangsters and Gothics and people with tattoos and piercings in different places. There’s homosexuals and other alternative lifestyles. There’s criminals and prisoners and drug dealers and drug addicts and prostitutes.

This weekend with Shantytown all of our youth represent the homeless, the poor, the people who don’t feel they have enough to be part of our club.

These are all examples of the other sheep, the people we have trouble imagining inviting to Church. If you were surprised about three youth crawling through the window today, think of it as a representation of what Jesus is telling us here in John chapter 10. He’s got other sheep, He’s got other people that He wants to bring into His kingdom, and those people might not be the people we’d expect to be in God’s Church. As surprised as you might have been about youth crawling through the window, well, just remember that Jesus as the Good Shepherd is just as surprising.

You see, when you start thinking about who are the other sheep in our world, in our community, now it’s a little harder to think that we’re much different than the Pharisees. The Pharisees didn’t want to include the Gentiles in God’s kingdom; maybe we have trouble including others too.

This Good Shepherd window, it’s our mission window, God’s mission to the other sheep, the mission God has given us.

If we just kept the window closed, the other sheep would only hear us saying: YOU’RE WRONG, YOU DON’T BELONG.

But if we open the window, the other sheep will hear: YOU’RE WRONG, BUT YOU BELONG, YOU ARE LOVED, YOU ARE FORGIVEN.

If we keep the window closed—in other words, if we keep ourselves closed off from the people around us, the other people in our community that need to hear about Jesus—if we keep the mission window closed, well, those other sheep quickly get the message: they’re not welcome.

However, if we open that mission window, if we look for ways that God can use us to invite others to hear about Jesus, if we open that mission window, those other sheep will still hear about their sins, about how they’re wrong, but they’ll see that we’re all wrong in our sins. And what else will they hear? What will they hear in here besides that their sins are wrong? They’ll hear that Jesus forgives them, that Jesus loves them, that they belong here, that Jesus started a fight to the death to make sure that the other sheep got to be part of the flock.

Maybe it’ll help us to keep that mission window open if we remember how surprising it is that we’re in the flock. What kind of sheep did Jesus get when He brought you into the flock? If you say that Jesus got a wonderful, good, holy, saintly, upstanding sheep, then I don’t think you’re being honest enough with yourself. If you’re really thinking that Jesus brought you into the flock because you’re just such a prize-winning, blue ribbon sheep, then take another look. If you really look at yourself, what kind of sheep did Jesus get? A prideful, mean-spirited, cheater, liar, gossiper, selfish, sinful sheep.

When you realize that it is just so surprising that Jesus would take you into His flock, when you realize that you were one of those other sheep, one of those people on the outside looking in, when you realize that there’s nothing that makes you any better than any of those other sheep out there, well, then maybe it’s easier to start seeing that we need to open up that mission window. After all, Jesus opened up that mission window for you.

As you think about how this congregation might work to reach out to the other sheep, other ethnicities, illegal immigrants, skateboarders, gangsters, alternative lifestyles, criminals, prisoners, drug dealers and drug addicts, the homeless and the poor, as we think about how to reach out to the other sheep—never accepting their sinful behavior as good, never accepting their false beliefs as truth, but looking instead for ways to show them God’s love, truth, forgiveness, and salvation—as we look for ways to reach out to those other sheep, remember that the mission of Jesus to be the Good Shepherd to all of the sheep, that mission is a part of this church. It’s one of our windows, the mission God has given us to reach out with the Gospel to the other sheep.

If we just keep the window closed, those other sheep will only hear us saying: YOU’RE WRONG, YOU DON’T BELONG.

But if we open the window, the other sheep will hear: YOU’RE WRONG, BUT YOU BELONG, YOU ARE LOVED, YOU ARE FORGIVEN.

God opened that mission window when He brought you into His kingdom, when He gave you faith in your heart. And God will open that mission window to the other sheep out there and will bring them into the flock, the kingdom, His salvation.

I asked Soul Power to sing this next anthem called “Requiem.” Written by singer/songwriter Eliza Gilykson, it’s a prayer for the people who were devastated by the December 2004 Southeast Asia Tsunami. With permission, we altered the words to use it as our prayer in today’s service as the youth raise money for tsunami relief through Shantytown. As Soul Power sings, please use this as your prayer.

By Eliza Gilkyson
From the album, Paradise Hotel
© 2005 Red House Records, Inc. Used and altered by permission.

Jesus Christ, full of grace, awaken
all our homes are gone, our loved ones taken
taken by the sea
Jesus Christ, calm our fears, have mercy
drowning in a sea of tears, have mercy
hear our mournful plea
our world has been shaken
we wander our home lands forsaken
in the dark night of the soul
bring some com fort to us all
oh, Jesus Christ, come and carry us in your embrace
that our sorrows may be faced
Jesus, fill the glass to overflowing
illuminate the path where we are going
have mercy on us all
in funeral fires burning
each flame to your mystery returning
in the dark night of the soul your shattered dreamers,
make them whole,
oh, Jesus Christ, find us where we've fallen out of grace
lead us to a higher place
in the dark night of the soul
our broken hearts you can make whole
oh, Jesus Christ, come and carry us in your embrace
let us see your gentle face, Jesus.