4th Sunday of Easter
Rev. D. K. Schroeder
John 10:1-10 Sermon
April 13, 2008
Hymns (from the Service Book and Hymnal):
530 "The King Of Love My Shepherd Is"
522 "The Lord's My Shepherd I'll Not Want"
526 "The Lord My Shepherd Is"
524 "Saviour Like A Shepherd Lead Us"
THE VOICE TO WHICH WE LISTEN
TEXT (vs. 3-5): “The watchman opens the gate for him, and the sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognise a stranger's voice.”
This past Friday, which was April 11th, I tore off the previous day’s page of my “Ripley’s Believe It Or Not” daily calendar to reveal the new interesting fact for Friday.As you may know, Robert Ripley was an American cartoonist of the past century who would collect odd-but-true facts from all around the world, and would publish them in cartoon type panels.These panels were published in daily newspapers all around the country.Even though Ripley himself died in 1949, his work has continued to this very day.Of course this material makes good fodder for a daily calendar.
Anyway, one of the oddities reported for this past Friday reads as follows, and I quote:“Shrek, a merino sheep, has escaped being clipped for six years while living in the hills of central Otago, New Zealand, had a fleece that weighed almost sixty pounds.”And that is an odd, but true fact.
Of course this would make one start to wonder.How in the world could a sheep, which was most likely part of a larger flock, escape being sheared for so long?The sheep must have been hiding.How did this sheep survive on its own?
My experience with sheep comes largely from my time in Australia, and I did learn a bit about the critters when I was there.I know that I’ve used other sheep illustrations before from Australia, and I also know that I’ve told many of you informally some of the story I’m about to share, but I don’t believe I’ve ever used it as a sermon illustration.
I’m going to introduce you to a couple who were part of my congregation in South Australia, Adrian and Gloria Johnson.Adrian was the manager of Curnamona Station.A Station in Australia is like a very large ranch.
To get to Curnamona Station, specifically the homestead part of it, I had to go to the town of Yunta, South Australia.Yunta itself would be no larger than Bee if it was even that big.At Yunta, you had to fill your vehicle with fuel in order to make it the rest of the way to Curnamona and back again.From Yunta, I headed north on the only road going out of town.It was not paved, and not very smooth in places.Once I started north, it was another seventy or so miles of open country before the Curnamona Homestead came into view.This was definitely a remote location.
I could tell you a lot about the place.Briefly though, they had to generate their own power.They were able to get one television station by satellite.Their telephone was transmitted by radio.And since the ground water had such a high mineral content and bad taste, they captured every drop of rain water they could in huge tanks for drinking.
The sheer size of Curnamona Station was phenomenal.It was 768 square miles; and I do mean miles and not acres.On this station, they had 10,000 head of cattle, and 30,000 head of sheep.The livestock would roam this huge station, feeding mostly on a small shrub called saltbush.Windmills would pump water into large stock tanks so they could drink.
I remember going there during shearing time, which was absolutely fascinating to watch.Shearing crews would go from station to station in order to shear the sheep.They had special quarters and a kitchen just for them on the station.
These guys would go out on motorbikes to round up the sheep and herd them back to the station for shearing.They also had their dogs, usually border collies or blue heelers to help them.After they had rounded up all they could, they would have someone in a small airplane survey the station from the air, and radio down to the guys on the motorbikes if they spotted some strays along the way.Some of the more experienced guys were even able to lay a sheep across the seat and bring them in that way if they had to.
Most of the time, this method of herding sheep worked very well.However, it wasn’t fool proof.Considering the size of the property and the number of animals involved, the odd sheep or two could get missed.It does happen.Now I’m not sure about the size of the station in New Zealand that was mentioned on my Ripley calendar, but it seems hard to imagine that an animal could get overlooked or passed by for six years.
I’ve seen what a sheep looks like after being missed for just one year.It is an ugly sight indeed.The wool is all matted and scraggly and very dirty.Besides, the animal is very uncomfortable with all that wool.I can’t imagine what a sheep would look like after being neglected for six years.
Now here’s a little lesson on sheep.They are basically very stupid creatures, and they rely a lot on others.They also have voracious appetites, and are almost continually grazing.In a place like Curnamona Station, where there is nobody watching them all the time, they pretty much stick together in a flock and move about from place to place all together.As long as they are with a group, there is no problem.They rely upon each other for guidance.
However, there will be sheep that wander off or get left behind; and when that happens, the sheep’s whole deportment changes.Since there is nobody in charge, and there are no other sheep to follow, the sheep can’t figure out what to do.In a sense, the sheep goes nuts.It becomes very skittish, and is afraid of just about everything.It will hide out or run away because it basically doesn’t know what to do.The sheep becomes feral, and is very difficult if not impossible to manage.
When such a sheep is found, of course they’ll shear it. And sometimes it can be re-introduced into a flock and get along okay.But as it sometimes happens, the sheep has completely lost whatever faculties it had in the first place, and it winds up being butchered and served up for supper.
Well, let’s leave Australia and Curnamona Station for awhile, as we look at our text for today.Today is the Sunday after Easter which has come to be known as “Good Shepherd Sunday.”It happens every year at this time, and each year in the three year cycle uses a different Good Shepherd text as the Gospel reading, with each year taking a slightly different focus on the subject.
Today’s text is the first ten verses of the tenth chapter of John’s Gospel.Here we are focusing upon the importance of the voice of the shepherd, and how important that voice is.
Like I mentioned before, sheep are basically stupid creatures that rely on others to lead them.They are also nearsighted, so they don’t see things at a distance too clearly.And apart from the ram, which can butt things with his head, the average sheep has no real way to defend itself.
With all these strikes against it, the sheep does have one real attribute, and that is a very keen sense of hearing.The sheep can not only hear and recognize others in the flock, but it can learn and recognize the voice of the shepherd who takes care of the sheep.
There are various sections in the Bible where God compares people with sheep.And knowing what we do about sheep, it doesn’t seem like a very nice analogy.But whether we like it or not, it doesn’t take a lot of study to see that it is both fair and true.
In Jesus’ day, people tended sheep differently than they do on Curnamona Station.The shepherd knew all of his sheep, and even had them named.During the day, he would take them to graze and to drink.And when the day was over, he would herd them back into the pen for the night.The pen was solid, and there was only the one way in and out.The shepherd would then lie down to sleep in front of the gate so that nothing else could get in our out without waking him up.The sheep also recognized the voice of the shepherd, and would not respond to anybody else.
In our world today, there are many voices that call people to follow them.Tom Cruise has become a very outspoken disciple of L. Ron Hubbard and Scientology saying, “follow me.”There’s the Muslim voice saying “follow me.”There’s the Buddhist voice saying “follow me.”We can think of example after example of the many voices speaking to our souls today, all of them saying “follow me.”
What does Jesus say about such people in our Gospel lesson today?Verse 1 says, “I tell you the truth, the man who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber.”And then in verse 5 he continues, “But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognise a stranger's voice.”And then finally in verse 10 Jesus says, “The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”
We hear those other voices too.Some may be obvious, but others are more subtle.The voice of sin in our lives is there trying to lead us away from our Saviour.We might not think of ourselves as being gullible sheep that would follow the lies of L. Ron Hubbard or Mohammed, but haven’t we made some other bad choices?Haven’t we heard and obeyed the voice of lust, greed, gluttony, laziness, anger, envy and pride, sometimes called the “seven deadly sins?”Haven’t those voices drowned out the voice of Jesus too often in our lives?
And what happens to us along the way?Don’t we become like that sheep that has wandered away and separated itself from the flock?That happens to people you know.Just like sheep who cannot hear the voice of the shepherd, their whole deportment changes.People become fearful and skittish and try to hide from God.
But we can take heart.If we look at Matthew chapter 18 verses 12-14, we can see just how much our Good Shepherd cares for us.Jesus says:“What do you think? If a man owns a hundred sheep, and one of them wanders away, will he not leave the ninety-nine on the hills and go to look for the one that wandered off?And if he finds it, I tell you the truth, he is happier about that one sheep than about the ninety-nine that did not wander off.In the same way your Father in heaven is not willing that any of these little ones should be lost.”
Jesus does not want anybody to be lost; in fact, he expresses such a strong loving concern over even one that does wander off, that there can be no doubt whatsoever as to how important each and every soul is to him.His love for us is so strong that we should never feel insignificant or unwanted in his sight.
Jesus came to this earth as our Good Shepherd, who lovingly tends us as his sheep.That Good Shepherd is himself the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world, your sin and mine.When we get lost along the way, or when we listen to other voices enticing us and beckoning us away from him, we hear his loving voice above it all.
Through faith in him as our Saviour, we have our place amongst his fold.In verse 10 of our Gospel lesson, Jesus says:“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”Through faith in Jesus our Saviour, we indeed have that life he promises.In this world, we have hope, and that is something that none of those other voices can give us.We have hope, because we know that through our faith in Jesus, our sins are forgiven and we have our place assured in God’s heavenly kingdom.
Curnamona Station is a big place.To find lost sheep, they have to use airplanes and motorbikes to comb those 768 square miles of ground.Sheep wander off and they need to be found.Left on their own, they can become feral.They will hide, run away, and be skittish.Eventually they will die out there on their own, either from neglect, or by natural predators like dingoes.Lost sheep need to be found.
Adrian and Gloria Johnson in Australia can tell you that tending sheep takes a lot of work, and it can be tough sometimes to keep them all together.But the sheep know the voice of their Shepherd, and will follow him.
As Christians, we hear the voice of the Good Shepherd.We hear him speaking to us through the Bible, the true Word of God.We know that his voice is true and will never lead us astray.He leads us to green pastures and quiet waters.He protects us from our enemies.He heals us and delivers us from everlasting death.He makes our wounded spirit whole, and deals with us in goodness and mercy.And with Jesus leading us, we know that we will certainly dwell in the house of the Lord forever.