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John 10_11-18

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TITLE:   Sheep-loving Jesus                       SCRIPTURE:    John 10:11-18

Jesus said:

      "I am the good shepherd.
      The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
      The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep,
      sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away--
      and the wolf snatches them and scatters them.
      The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep."

Then Jesus says once again, "I am the good shepherd."  The New Testament was written in Greek.  The word that is used here for "good" is kalos, which means "good" in a lovely sort of way -- a noble sort of way.  In his commentary on the Gospel of John, William Barclay likens the phrase, "good shepherd," to the phrase, "the good doctor." 

I don't hear that much anymore -- "the good doctor."  It has a quaint ring about it -- perhaps because Barclay wrote his commentaries many years ago.  It was not uncommon then to hear that phrase -- "the good doctor."  Maybe it was related to the very personal attention that doctors gave us in those days.  Some of you may remember your doctor making house calls when you were a child.  You would be sick with the flu or some other routine illness, and the doctor would come to your house -- usually in the evening after dinner.  He carried a black leather bag with his stethoscope and some other doctor-tools.  He carried some medications too.  He would take your temperature and listen to your heart and lungs -- You can still feel the cold metal of that stethoscope on your chest and back.  He would tell you what to do, and it made you feel better to have his advice.  "The good doctor."  That he was!

We have good doctors today too.  Not many of them make house calls -- it wouldn't be a good use of their time.  But the good doctor today has healing power far beyond that of the good doctor who may have come to your house.  The good doctor today can use CAT-scans and MRI's and a host of other tools to figure out what is wrong with us.  When I was a child, the good doctor did exploratory surgery to find out what was wrong.  Young people today have never heard that phrase -- exploratory surgery -- but it used to be quite common.  Do you know what exploratory surgery means?  It means that the doctor doesn't know what's wrong, but he will cut you open and look around.  Maybe he'll figure it out. 

Thank God that the good doctors today have better tools and better skills.

There are different kinds of good doctors, but they all have one thing in common.  Good doctors are devoted to those who need their help.  They give themselves to the care of their patients. 

I read about a good doctor this week.  Her story was featured in the current issue of the Readers Digest (May 2006, page 149).  Her name is Adele O'Sullivan.  She practices medicine in a clinic for the homeless in Phoenix, Arizona.  But lots of homeless people never visit her clinic, so she goes to soup kitchens and shelters to treat them.  The good doctor!  Until that article came out, not many people were aware that she is a nun.  Her love for the needy comes from her love for Jesus.  The good doctor learned her craft at the feet of the good shepherd.  I wasn't surprised.  Jesus had a special place in his heart for down and outers -- and he calls us to love them too.

Jesus said,

      "I am the good shepherd.
      The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.
      The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep,
      sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away--
      and the wolf snatches them and scatters them.
      The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep."

Not many of us know a shepherd today.  Even fewer of us have tried to raise sheep.  Sheep, of course, are easy to love from a distance.  They aren't big enough to be threatening.  They look as cute as a button with their fuzzy wool coats.  Warm, fuzzy, and friendly -- that's a sheep for you!

But sheep can be maddening to raise.  I have to admit that I have never tried to raise sheep, but I have read stories written by people who have.  Dumb as dirt -- that's a sheep!  Sheep seem always to be able to find the hole in the fence to get out, but never to get back in again.  The whole flock would follow the leader over a cliff.  It isn't quite as easy to love sheep when you have to deal with them day by day -- at least that's the impression I get from people who raise them.

I guess that sheep are a little like homeless people.  Homeless people aren't easy to love either.  The story about Dr. O'Sullivan told about a homeless man who apologized when she raised his shirt to listen to his heart and lungs.  He hadn't had a bath in two days, he said.  My guess is that he hadn't had a bath in two weeks -- or maybe two months.  But the good doctor told him that it was o.k. and went about her business. 

Jesus is the good doctor.  He loves us even when we smell bad.  Jesus is the good shepherd.  He loves us even when we are stupid.

Being a shepherd can be dangerous.  The sheep that looks like a warm, fuzzy pet to you looks like dinner to any number of wild animals.  The Old Testament tells the story of David, the shepherd-boy.  It tells of him killing a lion that was trying to get his sheep.  It tells of him killing a bear that was trying to get his sheep.

Most of us don't know much more about lions and bears than we do about sheep.  I am just as happy not to know much about lions and bears.  I would not be happy to encounter a lion or a bear in my yard.  A lion or bear can kill you with one swipe of a paw. 

But David -- still a boy -- stood his ground when faced with a lion.  David stood his ground when faced with a bear.  He fought them to the death.  As it turned out, he was the one left standing when the battles were finished, but it could have gone the other way.  David risked his life for his sheep.

But Jesus did even more.  He said:

      "I am the good shepherd.
      The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep."

Jesus came to die, but he also came to conquer death.  His death would have been meaningless without his resurrection.  He came to die that we might live.  He came to die on the cross so that he might break the bonds of death so that we might have eternal life.

Could God have found some simpler way to save us?  Probably!  But God chose the way of the cross and the open tomb, because he knew that nothing could compel our attention like the sacrifice of his Son -- and nothing could give us more hope than the open tomb.  God also chose the way of the cross to show us the kind of life that he calls us to live.  In Paul's letter to the Philippians, he says:

      5 Let the same mind be in you that was in Christ Jesus,
      6 who, though he was in the form of God,
      did not regard equality with God
      as something to be exploited,
      7 but emptied himself,
      taking the form of a slave,
      being born in human likeness.
      And being found in human form,
      8 he humbled himself
      and became obedient to the point of death--
      even death on a cross.

            (Philippians 2:5-8)
The picture is that of a Son raised in a palace -- but a Son who cared more for his people than for his own comforts.  And so he left the palace to live among us -- to be born, not in a fine hospital, but in a stable -- to live, not in Rome, but in a small village in a far corner of a not-very-important country -- to serve, not as a warrior, but as a shepherd -- to die, not as a hero, but as a criminal. 

Paul concludes his words about Jesus by saying:

      9 Therefore God also highly exalted him
      and gave him the name
      that is above every name,
      10 so that at the name of Jesus
      every knee should bend,
      in heaven and on earth and under the earth,
      11 and every tongue should confess
      that Jesus Christ is Lord,
      to the glory of God the Father.

            (Philippians 2:9-11)

Philip Schaff, the great historian, said this about Jesus.  He said:

      "Jesus of  Nazareth, without money or arms,
      conquered more millions  than Alexander, Caesar, Mohammed, and Napoleon.
      Without science and learning,
      he shed more light on things human and divine
      than all the philosophers and scholars combined.
      Without the eloquence of the school,
      he spoke words of life such as were never spoken before or since,
      and produced effects which lie beyond the reach of orator or poet.
      Without writing a single line,
      he has set more pens in motion
      and furnished themes for more sermons, orations, discussions,
      works of art, learned volumes and songs of praise
      than the whole army of  great men of ancient and modern times.

      Born in a manger and crucified as a malefactor,
      he now controls the destinies of the civilized world
      and rules a spiritual empire
      which embraces one third of the inhabitants of the globe."

This sheep-loving Jesus -- who loves us even when we smell bad -- who loves us even when we do stupid things -- calls us to love others in the same way. 

This sheep-loving Jesus -- who gave himself in service to the undeserving -- calls us to go and do likewise.

I invite you to search your heart during this coming week to see how Jesus, the good shepherd, might be calling you to join in his mission to serve those in need.

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