A Different Look at The Good Shepherd's Sheep1
Easter 4 Homily By The Rev. Marcia McRae
St. John’s Episcopal Church, Bainbridge, GA, 26 April 2015
Acts -12; Psalm 23;1 John 3:16-24; John 10:11-18
What is the difference between a guitar & a fish?
[You can't tunatune afish!]
What's the difference between a sheep & a goat?
[Time for congregation to respond]
Noticeable differences2 are in their appearances. A goat is more slender, its tail points up, its horns narrower than the horns of the chubby sheep whose tail points down. Our scientists in the congregation may know they belong to different species & have different chromosome counts: 54 for the sheep, 60 for the goat. We get wool from sheep. We use goat hair in garments & decorative items like the furry cat figure I saw last week at In The Garden.
We hear Jesus talk about separating sheep & goats in Matthew [25:31-46] when he talks about judging the nations when the Son of Man comes in glory. That sounds like God, who creates all creatures on earth, disapproves of goats. We hear a different perspective about goats in Exodus & in Leviticus3.
Exodus 12:5 specifies the lamb to sacrifice for Passover may be a taken from the sheep or from the goats. Both are sources of meat. We know goats provide milk from which we also get cheese. It seems as if goats offer humans more nourishment than sheep. Like sheep, goats are important in the Hebrew Temple sacrifices.
Leviticus 16:9-10 says to choose 2 goats to sacrifice to God: one is slaughtered & offered in the Temple for people's sins, the other is the scapegoat, presented as an atonement for sins & set free to run in the wilderness.
Since goats offer so much, what is it about sheep that appeals to Jesus for the metaphor we hear in our Gospel when Jesus says – twice – “I am the good shepherd”? What separates the goats from the sheep to be useful in this metaphor since a group of goats & a group of sheep are both called a flock, a herd, or a trip.4 A group of sheep has another name: a mob.5 Like sheep, we can get that mob mentality, as we witness in the news.
Like some of us, goats are curious & very independent. Sheep like to stay with their herd, to remain in community. We know God creates us in God's imagine of Holy Community. Maybe that's why, despite our sometimes goat-like independence, Jesus employs the image of us as sheep to emphasize our God-given nature of being made for community.
Maybe Jesus uses this metaphor because there are many goats living in the wild & sheep are domesticated & have a greater relationship with people. Sheep are relational beings.
Maybe Jesus uses sheep as a metaphor for the work Jesus starts & expects us to continue. In today's Gospel he says “I lay down my life for the sheep. I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, & they will listen to my voice.” Sheep breed prolifically – they are prolific at increasing the sheep who know their Shepherd. Jesus expects us to be prolific in sharing the Good News of Jesus' love for all people.
Jesus, the Good Shepherd, has quite an investment in us sheep. The hired hand does not own the sheep. We know the price Jesus has paid for us, the price Peter explains in our 1st lesson, this price that buys us healing & release from all sorts of problems.
Jesus laid down his life for us, & we ought to lay down our lives for one another, as our lesson in 1st John says. It also says: “Little children, let us love, not in word or speech, but in truth & action.” What do this truth & this action look like? What does it look like to lay down our lives for each other?
It may look like 18-yer-old hero, Ismael Jimenez, literally laying down his life in a bus for fellow students he hardly knew. In April 2014 the high school students were going to tour a university in California. Ismael rushed into quick, loving action in the unexpected crisis when a truck hit the bus, instantly engulfing both vehicles in flames.6
The LA Times article says: “Ismael [smashed] open a window at the front of the bus as it was filling with smoke & people were getting burned. He started lifting kids out in an effort to save them...[he] forever [positively] affected the lives of young people he barely knew...7” He would have been the first person in his family to go to college.
Laying down our life may look like forgiving our self when our hearts condemn us, remembering that God is greater than our hearts & knows everything, as we read in 1st John. It may look like
- wooly baby caps,
- toiletries donated to Still Waters shelter,
- like bags of beans & rice stuffed into bigger bags & distributed on the street outside our red doors.
Laying down our lives for each other may look like
- solitude in hours of practice at the organ &
- in the choir &
- behind the scenes polishing of silver &
- washing the chalice after Holy Eucharist.
The Good Shepherd has invested his entire life to purchase us. As sheep of Jesus' flock, we are valuable assets8 who have vital work to do in God's economy, which is based on love. Like sheep producing wool & mutton in an agricultural economy, each of us is important & needed, as one commentator notes & adds: without each of us, Jesus' mission & work [our work]...are impoverished. We matter. YOU matter!
As sheep who belong to the Good Shepherd, our worth does not depend on how much we do. Jesus loves us. In our Gospel, notice: There is no “fine print on Jesus’ promise to be the Good Shepherd... that he’s only a good shepherd for the most useful... sheep. Jesus isn’t going to leave us to the wolves or turn us into [mutton or] dog food...if we don’t produce. [Jesus] cares for us & has blessed us. He has laid down his life for us. [His] sacrifice,...love, [&] continued care...are...gifts,...given without condition,...without exception.”9
God loves you. No exceptions. All are welcome.
This no-exceptions love & welcome makes this
Body of Christ a
"happening place where we live God's love".
As we live into our mission to be an open, caring community that celebrates God’s love through Jesus’ teachings &, guided by the Holy Spirit in worship, fellowship, education, & service, we can embrace all God’s children, creatures, & creation.
Austin, Mary. “Greener Pastures”. Sermon suite. http://www.sermonsuite.com/frompulpittopewthisweek.html. Accessed: 21 April 2015.
Harper’s Bible Commentary. General Ed.: James. L. Mays. San Francisco: Harper & Row Publishers. 1988.
Holy Bible with the Apocrypha. New Revised Standard Version. New York: Oxford University Press. 1989.
http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/words/what-do-you-call-a-group-of Accessed: 25 April 2015.
Keller, Phillip. a shepherd looks at Psalm 23, Grand Rapids: Zondervan Publishing House. 1970.
Lectionary Page. http://www.lectionarypage.net/. Accessed: 7 April 2015.
Liggett, James. “Wool and mutton”. 4 Easter (B) 2015. Accessed: 21 April 2015. http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/stw/2015/04/06/4-easter-b-2015/
Serna, Joseph. Melanie Mason. “Fatal bus crash: Student died saving others, school official says”. LA Times. http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-orland-bus-cr25 April 2015.ash-students-20140414-story.html#axzz2ytedgVic Accessed: 25 April 2015.
Sheep vs Goat. http://www.differencebetween.net/science/nature/difference-between-sheep-and-goat/ Accessed: 24 April 2015.
1 Note: Homily influenced by the Rev. James Liggett's sermon “Wool and mutton”. Accessed: 21 April 2015. http://episcopaldigitalnetwork.com/stw/2015/04/06/4-easter-b-2015/
2 Information in this homily on differences of the two are from “Sheep vs. Goat”. Accessed: 24 April 2015. http://www.differencebetween.net/science/nature/difference-between-sheep-and-goat/
3 Holy Bible with the Apocrypha. New Revised Standard Version. Pp. 64 & 114, respectively
4 http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/words/what-do-you-call-a-group-of Accessed: 25 April 2015.
6 Austin, Mary. “Greener Pastures” Sermon suite. http://www.sermonsuite.com/frompulpittopewthisweek.html. Accessed: 21 April 2015.
7 Serna, Joseph. Melanie Mason. “Fatal bus crash: Student died saving others, school official says”. LA Times. http://www.latimes.com/local/lanow/la-me-ln-orland-bus-cr25 April 2015.ash-students-20140414-story.html#axzz2ytedgVic Accessed: 25 April 2015.
8 Ibid. Liggett. “Wool and mutton”.