This sermon was preached on the 21st of April 2024, Good Shepherd Sunday, in the Anglican Parish of Kalamunda-Lesmurdie

Text: John 10.10-18

Parables are worlds spun from story. And these are worlds that we are invited into, invited to inhabit, invited to experience. So let’s enter, imaginatively, into the world of the parable we heard today.

It’s quite a scary world. Sheep are gathered together, in a fold. That’s a place, somewhere in the countryside, where they would have been enclosed, perhaps to spend a night. A place that helped their shepherd to protect them.

I can almost picture the night of this parable. It’s dark… there’s no moon. There’s wind, there’s a freezing rain. There are frequent flashes of lightning. And with each flash, eyes are revealed in the dark: the eyes of wolves, seeking to prey upon the sheep, encircling their prey.

All that protects the sheep is the boundary of the sheepfold, and their shepherd, who stands faithfully, steadfastly in the night, braving the wind and rain, facing off the wolves.

This is the world that we are invited into: a world of conflict, of danger… of fear. And I struggle with that. The world of this parable is, in many ways, horrible. It’s not a world that I want to inhabit. And yet… there is this difficult reality to life. There is such a thing as conflict, and violence. There is such a thing as evil.

And there are boundaries to our world. They’re everywhere. Human beings seem drawn to classify and sort the world, to draw lines on maps, to find ways to distinguish one group of people from another group of people.

Parables, of course, are allegorical as well as imaginative: they gesture towards realities in the world.

We hear of wolves, preying upon sheep, and we think of evil forces at work: of malign intent, of violence, chaos, and disorder.

We hear of faithless servants, and we think of the religious leaders that Jesus was in conflict with: those who would play a part in the arrest, trial and execution of Jesus.

We hear of the Good Shepherd, and we think of Jesus of Nazareth, Jesus the Christ.

We hear of sheep and we think of… ourselves, perhaps? The Church, holy and universal, the Church gathered within these walls?

Sheep are an interesting analogy for people. A challenging one. Sheep are funny creatures. We’ve bred them to produce more and more fleece, and so nowadays they are entirely dependent on humans, on those who care for them, and sheer them.

Every few years there’s a story of a sheep that’s escaped being found out in the wild… usually it has some cute name, like Herbert. And it’s found out on its own, weighed down by tens of kilograms of wool. Sheep aren’t exactly bright, they aren’t exactly independent: mostly, they follow the one or two leaders in their flock, or their shepherd. And this is, of course, a story that was originally told for rural people, for people who would have known all of this. I wonder if they were as bemused by it as I was, when they really thought about it.

And there’s another thing: sheep sometimes get lost. They wander off. And every now and again, the flock rejects one of their own, and that sheep is forced to depart, to go off on its own.

If it’s lucky, that sheep finds a home elsewhere. If not, it will struggle to survive. After all, these sheep inhabit a world populated by wolves, a world of threat.

Sheep are a strange fill-in for human beings, a challenging one. And bringing this reflection back to the real world, I feel called to wonder what becomes of the human beings that the Church excludes?

Those who leave, either because they’ve been excluded, or because they do not feel accepted, and so find it simply too painful to remain?

“I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.” (John 10.16)

There will be one flock, one shepherd.

And the Good Shepherd lays down their life for the sheep. For every sheep. The Good Shepherd’s sacrifice is for you, for me, for the person who we just heard driving by the church in their car just now. We know nothing about that person, except one thing: that Jesus sacrificed himself, for them.

The sacrifice of Jesus upon the cross was for you, for me, and for that stranger. For each of us, totally, and equally. Jesus offers protection, care, salvation, to each of us, in this life and in the life to come. Jesus does what every faithful shepherd does: Jesus cares for the greatest of us, and Jesus cares especially for the least of us.

And Jesus cares for those who we do not care for ourselves. Those who are beyond what we think of as being our flock. Those whom we rule out of bounds. All of us are offered self-giving love. All of us are offered protection. All of us are offered nurture, and care.

And we all have in us the capacity to model our lives upon Jesus, upon the Good Shepherd. We have the capacity to look beyond the lines with which we divide and circumscribe the world, with which we divide and circumscribe humanity.

Jesus offers us that freedom. The freedom to trust that, in the end, there is only one flock, and one shepherd. Those things that distinguish us from one another, our various forms of diversity, of culture, of sexuality, of age, ability, gender and gender identity, race, … none of these things have to separate us from one another.

The Good Shepherd protects all.

The Good Shepherd nurtures all.

The Good Shepherd loves all.

We have the freedom to love our fellow human beings. To share the Good News of Jesus Christ. To let go of division, and instead look to the Good Shepherd, the one who declared:

“When I am lifted up from the earth, [I] will draw all people to myself.” (John 12.32)

Embrace this. Embrace it and we will grow together in discipleship.

Embrace it and come to better know our Creator, to grow in our love of God.

Embrace it, and so together we will dare to accept God’s love for us.