Text: John 10:11-18 and 1 John 3:16-24
My current ministry travels had me in Germany recently. We have a 3-day program that helps people transition from deployments to the Middle East. We take people from an intense, high pace, and regimented environment they had on deployment and help them ease back into normal life. We take them on trips out into town, give them time to rest, and do workshops…all to help them them “slow down” before they reintegrate to life back here in the States.
Part of the program is getting people from place to place….let me just tell you, it is like herding cats. Getting 90 people on buses, reminding them of where they need to be, finding out they’re on the wrong buses, and waiting for up to an hour because people lose track of time while they’re out in town…..what I have learned is that I am not very good at herding people what so ever.
In fact, while pastors are sometimes referred to as “shepherds,” I’ll admit my track record at herding is pretty horrible. Whether as a pastor, chaplain, youth minister, or even wrestling coach, getting people to go in the directions they need to and convincing people of doing things that are good for them is frustrating and hard work!
But then I remember the words of my good friend, who preached at my ordination service on this very text:
You are not the Shepherd. You are not the savior.
Let me ask you this: does it ever bother you how little control we have to get people to say and do things that are really good and beneficial for them? You know, things like trying to get a toddler to eat their vegetables, getting your partner or spouse to change that annoying little habit, or getting that friend to come to church? Or, maybe it’s convincing others to change their politics, pushing a teenager to pad their resume so they can get into the right college, or pushing a friend to seek counseling for a problem they struggle with.
You and I try to herd people for all sorts of reasons, if we’re honest. Maybe we’re aware of it or not, but we like to think that if we get good enough, we can shepherd the whole human race and even ourselves out of the chaos and madness going on in our world today. If we and others could just pull ourselves up by our bootstraps and get it together, right?
Maybe you’re like me, and you wish you had that much control. But then things like Syria…..or another school shooting….or our kids bring home a lousy report card….or our friends won’t go to addiction counseling…..happen.
We are not shepherds. We are not saviors.
“Trust and obey, for there’s no other way….to be happy in Jesus, but to trust and obey.”
I was reminded of this little hymn while I was preparing my sermon this week. I grew up listening to it in my church back in rural Minnesota. Spring time is also a time of year I think a bit more of my upbringing on our dairy farm. Farming is a labor of love: spring time is filled with plowing, picking rock, planting seeds in the ground in time so that they’ll grow and produce a good harvest in the fall. Fences are repaired in the spring so that cows can be pastured in order to have healthy calves who replenish the herd of milk cows.
Some years, that labor of love produced exactly what we hoped. In others, crops were completely destroyed and we lost a good number of calves. Most years, it was somewhere in between. But one things farmers understand – maybe more so than any of us in our modern life today – is how little control one has over their environment. The labor of love guarantees nothing, but it’s important to do it year after year. Farmers understand that ultimately they must trust that their labors will produce whatever is needed to live….and for a lot of the farmers I grew up around, that trust was that God would provide in the best and worst of years.
That lesson has stuck with me over the years. Trust and obedience. Faith and love.
Our passage from 1 John gets at this. Our attention is called to the fact that there is only One who lays their life down for the world – Jesus. All we can do in response to that is “believe in the name of Jesus Christ and love one another”. In other words, “trust and obey” – faith and love. We are obedient in the ways we love one another and ourselves, trusting that as we love, there is a good Good Shepherd who has and continues to draw us to him. We love, trusting that the Good Shepherd has saved us.
And perhaps that changes how we live in the world. Rather than control in an attempt to save ourselves and others, we simply trust and love.
Rather than get our loved ones to change for the better, we simply love them the way they are.
Rather than trap ourselves in ways of progress and improvement, we embrace life in such a way that we appreciate and savor what is in front of us presently.
Rather than push others to “get their stuff together” before we’ll welcome them in, we go and walk with them through their struggles and valleys, without judgment or hidden agendas.
Rather than define ourselves and others by what’s unlovable, we trust in the Good Shepherd who gathers us to him always because we are so loved…..every part of us. In that good news, we’re able find the courage to love ourselves and one another. We trust and obey…in acts of love.
There is only One Good Shepherd. There is only one savior. Thanks be to God for that. Amen.