john davies
notes from a small curate

updated regularly
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK




    John 10 - On being sheep

    Good Shepherd Morning Prayer 29/4/2007


    Acts 9:36-end, John 10:22-30


    My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand.

    This is a sermon about what it is like to be a sheep. Because that's what we are.

    Now, sheep aren't very well thought of really. They may look nice and white and fluffy, especially when they are lambs, but we tend to think of them as daft animals, without much sense.

    The gospels bear this out; Jesus tells his parables of the lost sheep because he understands that everyone listening to him knows that sheep get lost easily:

    And when he comes home, he calls together his friends and neighbours, saying to them, "Rejoice with me, for I have found my sheep that was lost." Luke 15.6

    When Jesus tells his disciples to go out into the world witnessing to him he calls them sheep, because he understands that everyone listening to him knows that sheep are vulnerable:

    'See, I am sending you out like sheep into the midst of wolves; so be wise as serpents and innocent as doves.' Matthew 10.16

    When Jesus looks at all the people who have come to hear him preach and teach he thinks of them as sheep, because he knows that sheep need the guidance of a shepherd:

    When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd. Matthew 9.36

    He answered, 'I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel.' Matthew 15.24

    Now no-one really likes the sound that a sheep makes. If someone is talking or complaining stupidly, we tell them to stop bleating. But clearly Jesus, who sees himself as our Good Shepherd, listens to the voice of his sheep.

    And no-one really has much time for people who are sheepish - who are embarrassed or ashamed or who lack self-confidence. People like that tend to get forgotten or ignored. But clearly Jesus, who sees himself as our Good Shepherd, keeps a particular look out for ones such as those.

    My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand.

    Now, I've been reading what some farmers say about sheep. They agree that sheep are happy to follow along with the flock most of the time. And they agree that sheep do need a leader.

    "We have not been able to figure out exactly how the leader is elected, appointed, or created," says one present-day shepherd, "Most of the time, the leader will be an older ewe, unless there is a ram in the flock, and then he is almost always the leader."

    The leader isn't usually the one in the front, they tell us. They will generally be the one bringing up the rear. "Actually this is pretty smart," they say, "because if the big bad wolf is going to jump out and eat someone, it's probably going to be the first in line, not the last."

    Now this suggests that sheep do after all have some sense. And when the shepherd takes the ram away from the flock, and suddenly they are leader-less, shepherds tell us how interesting it is to see that different sheep react in different ways, they aren't all the same, but different characters emerge to work out which way they are going.

    Sometimes it is the boldest that will take the lead, "Hey, follow me, there is nothing to be afraid of."

    Sometimes it is the one that just doesn't care less, "Stay here and starve, see if I care, I'm going out for lunch".

    Sometimes it is "If you go, I'll go".

    But generally it is one of the older ewes that looks back and says "What a bunch of wimps, come on!" as she heads out.
    [1]

    The one thing that is clear from all this is that sheep need a leader. And ultimately sheep need a shepherd.

    It's not stupid to want to group together in a big flock. That brings safety and security.

    It's not stupid to want to be guided by someone. That brings order and stability.

    What is stupid is getting mixed up in the wrong flock; what is stupid is following the wrong leader.

    Jesus said:

    'Beware of false prophets, who come to you in sheep's clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. Matthew 7.15

    Sheep aren't that stupid. They have to learn quickly which leader to follow. Not the wolf with the growl; not the shrill shouting youths messing about up in the farmer's field. They learn quickly the sound of their shepherd's voice, and it is that which directs their way.

    My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me.

    We are the sheep of Christ. We flock together here, the rams and the lambs, the bold ones and the old ones, the timid ones and the careless ones. And all that we are asked to do by our shepherd is to listen out for his voice. He knows us, and if the ears of our hearts are attuned to him, then we will follow.

    Today is our annual parochial church meeting. And what that has meant for us over the past few weeks is that we've had to try to pay particular attention to the voice of our shepherd, guiding us to take our particular place in the flock.

    You may have heard that voice strongly, and so with confidence you have put yourself forward for a particular role or task. Or you may have equally heard that voice strongly telling you to take the equally difficult decision to step down to let someone else take your place.

    You may not have heard that voice so clearly, in which case you may have decided for now just to follow - which is fine, that's part of how a flock, how a congregation, how a community works.

    You may be thinking that you need to take a little more time to ask that voice to come. And so we will do that now; take a time of silence first of all to thank our Lord for being our Good Shepherd, our help and our guide, and then to praye for each other and listen to see what he may be saying about where in the flock he wants us to be.


    [time of silence]

    My sheep hear my voice. I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish. No one will snatch them out of my hand.


    Let us thank God that we are in his hands, and by his grace and love are already together sharing in eternity.


    Notes
    [1] Comments from present-day shepherds from www.woollydesigns.com