The Shepherd’s Power

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Today’s Gospel lesson speaks of the way of the shepherd.  Unlike a thief, the shepherd knows and cares for his sheep.  He has no interest in, or need for, deceit.  He looks for his sheep and calls them by name.  The sheep follow him and he leads them to good pasture.  The point of this passage is to explain the nature of the true shepherd’s power.

Fourth Sunday of Easter
May 11, 201
John 10:1-10
Peder Stenslie

I’m curious what thoughts come to mind when you look at the photo on the cover of our bulletin today.  What do you see when you look at the face of this child?

I’ve been thinking about this child a lot this past week.  For me, my impression when I look at this photo can be boiled down to two fundamental ideas… nurture and power.

We look at the beautiful face of this small child and we see joy… we see health… we see hope.  We instinctively know this small child needs nurture… love and care.  We know the child needs nurture in order to grow healthy… in order to have power for life… power to find joy in simple things, power to overcome hardships, and to fulfill responsibilities… power to enter into healthy relationships with others… and that is why this picture is filled with hope… we see promise of that power in this child’s eyes.

Today is mother’s day… a day to give thanks to and for mothers.  Of course, it’s important to acknowledge that not all mothers are good mothers.  Some are downright terrible.  Yet even though we know not all mothers aspire to be what their children need them to be, we recognize today the power of nurturing love to heal, to strengthen and to give joy and growth… and we give thanks for that power in our lives, wherever it may come from.

We proclaim today the message of scripture that nurturing love is the power that moves the universe.  And all life… like the beautiful child on our bulletin cover… is hungry for that power.

There are some things that Jesus tries to tell us and show us over and over and over again… because we simply have to learn it.  Because our natural inclination is to get it very wrong.  Because getting it wrong leads to terrible pain and ruin for us and others.  The truth about power and nurture is one of these things.  And it is at the heart of nearly everything Christ tells us and shows us.

Today’s Gospel lesson speaks of the way of the shepherd.  Unlike a thief, the shepherd knows and cares for his sheep.  He has no interest in, or need for, deceit.  He looks for his sheep and calls them by name.  The sheep follow him and he leads them to good pasture.  The point of this passage is to explain the nature of the true shepherd’s power.

We human creatures get so confused about power.  We think that power is shown in the ability to control or intimidate others… make others fear us.  We think that power is exercised by taking from others what we want.  We think that power is found in celebrity, in wealth, in popularity… in being admired and envied.  We think that power is measured in things like money, possessions… status… attractiveness… things that we can have more of while others have less.

But that is completely wrong.  These things are, in fact, expressions of weakness… weakness that is afraid of being exposed and so it hides itself behind false images of power.

Jesus’ own disciples had an incredibly difficult time understanding Jesus’ teachings about power.  Once after Jesus talked to them about the way of the Shepherd… about the nature of the power of God… the disciples went off among themselves and began to argue about which of them was the greatest.

When Jesus heard about it, he called the disciples to himself and sat down with them.  He then took a little child and put it among them so they could see the child, just as we took a moment to see the child on our bulletin.  Then, in a gesture of nurturing love, Jesus took the child up in his arms and said to his disciples:  “Whoever welcomes one such child in my name welcomes me, and whoever welcomes me welcomes not me but the one who sent me.”

“This is power,” Jesus is saying to his disciples.  Giving love and care… nurture… to those who need it.  That is power… because it gives strength to others; it doesn’t rob them of it.   It is power because it draws people together; it doesn’t divide them into greater and lesser… or us and them.   True power deepens and enriches relationships.  It increases shared joy.  It makes peace and brings justice.

Control, fear, destroying our enemy… acquiring things… these have nothing to do with power.  They may be paths we pursue in our desire for power… but they are not power.  When we pursue them, weakness spreads everywhere… most of all in our own hearts.

In his teachings, his living and in his dying, Jesus shows us the truth about power.  It comes not from controlling others, destroying our enemy, or being more important than our neighbor; it comes from serving others in love and sharing our gifts and our being with them.

That is the way of the Shepherd; and God gives it to us both as calling and promise.

It is calling as God speaks to us through scripture and by the Holy Spirit.  He calls us to arrange and organize our lives according to the truth about the way of the Shepherd.  True power in life comes through love and care and nurture… both to the one who loves and to the one loved.  We are to seek that power for our lives.  God calls us to reject all the voices around and within us that urge us to embrace this world’s empty delusions about power.

God expects us to learn his voice and be able to recognize it among all the other voices, so that we might always be servants of life, seeking to share with others the good gifts we are given.

The way of the Shepherd is also promise.  It is the wonderful assurance that our lives are always and forever in the hands of one who knows us and loves us completely.  Everything we are… have been… and will be… belongs to God.  His will for us is to draw us into deeper relationship with him… to give us his strength and power to grow, change and heal.  His purpose is to give us life that is new and whole and that never ends.

To that end, God calls us, pursues us and draws us in.  Our task is to hear… to turn ourselves toward our shepherd’s voice… and to let ourselves be drawn in by the only real power in this world… the power of God’s love that creates and renews all life.

Amen.