First Congregational Church
April 26, 2015
4th Sunday after Easter, New Member Sunday
“More Than Ever”
Rev. Dinah Haag, preaching
Q: What do you call a sheep covered in chocolate? A: A Candy Baa. Q: What do you get if you cross an angry sheep and a moody cow? A: An animal that's in a baaaaaaaad moooooood. Q: How many sheep does it take to knit a sweater? A: Don't be silly - sheep can't knit! Q: What do you call a sheep that is always quiet? A: A shhhheep!
There are 200 references to sheep in the Bible. 45 of them are found in the New Testament and all but six are found in the four Gospels. Most of us could quote at least a couple verses about sheep, most likely because they have been highlighted from some of the earliest of Sunday School classes.
Sheep are kind of cool - actually, they’re probably pretty warm with all that wool. But watching a spring lamb bounce around is certainly entertaining. We look at old paintings of landscapes with sheep and our blood pressure goes down, absorbing the pastoral scene of all that is right with the world.
One of the words I truly dislike is the word sheeple. It’s a combination of the words sheep and people and is as offensive to me as racial slurs or other derogatory terms. For those who have been fortunate enough to avoid the term thus far, it refers to a person who is foolish and easily led, someone unable to think for themselves.
It’s true that sheep don’t have the highest IQ in the animal kingdom. They are smelly and they will walk off a cliff without a shepherd to steer them to safer places. And in the day, to be a shepherd is just a few steps above the status of a slave or criminal. But like so many other subjects and instances, Jesus turns the concept of sheep and shepherds on its head.
Our scripture passage for this morning really starts back in the 9th chapter of John. Jesus had - gasp - healed a blind man on the Sabbath. The healed man’s neighbors brought him to the Sabbath police, aka, Pharisees. A “discussion” ensued, tempers got hot, and after ways were parted, Jesus went to the healed man once again, wherein the man “saw” Jesus as the Son of Man, which rilled up the remaining Pharisees. That’s when the discussion turned into a sermon.
11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. 13 The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.
14 “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. 17 The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”
Thank you, Judy. I wonder how many others get this passage confused with the parable from Matthew about the one sheep wandering away from the herd of 100; the shepherd leaving the flock to rescue the one. I’d not really thought about it before, but in that passage from Matthew, Jesus asks the listeners, “What do you think?” Here in John, Jesus says, “I am.” There is no opinion or parable here; it is the way it is.
The way it is, is that without Christ, we are easily separated. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again; there are so many 180 degrees in this church family, and that is so good. There are democrats and republicans, phd’s and GED’s, Michiganders and out-staters, Swedes and everyone else, and we stay together because of Christ being our shepherd.
Yesterday morning I was listening to the Moth Radio Hour - or last half hour as was the case - to a story from Bruce Feiler. Bruce and his wife have twin daughters and when they were three years old, Bruce found out he had a rare form of bone cancer. The surgery they did on him was only the third performed in the world; even the surgery was risky. So as he looked to the days ahead, assuming he would die sooner rather than later, Bruce was afraid that his daughters would not only forget his voice, but he would miss the opportunities to teach them the important things he had learned in life.
So Bruce came up with the idea of creating a Council of Dads for his daughters. They altered the membership when his wife got into the discussion, but basically, this group of six gentlemen were the ones of whom his wife would ask advice, and were to teach the girls about life and travel and experiences and how to live, because they taught Bruce those very things.
It’s a great story, firstly because Bruce tells the story - meaning that he’s still among us. But it also describes the bridges of friendship that were strengthened because they were willing to make a conscious effort to invest in the Council of Dads, their group, their herd, their congregation. Bruce and his wife realized that we all need a “council” in our lives, because we need people who will “be there” for us.
I was so excited when I heard this story, and how it fit in with this passage, and how there were folks today that were going to say, “This church family is my herd.” But I was bothered about a couple lines in the middle of the passage, verse 16. “I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd.”
I guess I’d probably heard those two sentences as sort of a passive-aggressive command to “get out there and make disciples” - or else. But then came this poem of the day from Steve Garnaas-Holmes.
“This is not instruction for us
to go out and convert people.
It's a promise that the Good Shepherd
gathers us in a flock, a community
deeper than our making,
greater than our knowing.
Other races and cultures,
other religions and values,
other times and ages,
other species, other worlds—but ah,
we keep imagining
such a small flock, don't we?”
We get that Jesus laid his life down for us. We can appreciate - even though it was so long ago - the cost of what Jesus did - out of love - for each of us. We honor God and Christ and even the Holy Spirit in the way we live, which includes how we care for the flocks in which we find ourselves. More than ever, people need to see the goodness of God - through us. So shall we pray?
God of all flocks and herds, we are grateful that your son chose to be our shepherd. Help us to live up to the calling you have for each of us, as members of your flock. Help us to develop our senses that we can see your leading and feel your guiding. For the councils, families, herds and congregations in which we find our lives, we thank you. For all the blessings you shower on us, all your people say, Amen.
For those wishing to hear Bruce Feiler’s story, you can find it at
Just the messenger. And the collector and arranger of that which has been received. References available upon request.