The Rev. Bob Pierson
Every year the 4th Sunday of Easter is called “Good Shepherd Sunday” and we hear part of John's reflection on Jesus as the Good Shepherd from the gospel of John, Chapter 10. This year we get the end of the chapter where Jesus is talking to the people in the temple who want to know if he really is the Messiah, and his answer is “I have told you and you do not believe. The works that I do in my Father's name testify to me, but you do not believe, because you do not belong to my sheep.”
Do we believe? Do we belong to Jesus' sheep? Do we hear his voice and follow Him? My guess is yes, most of the time. But every now and then we do get distracted and we don't hear him as clearly as we might. There are many voices competing for our attention. Some are in tune with the shepherd's voice, and some are not. Part of being a faithful Christian is learning to hear God's voice more and more, and that takes practice. We need to take the time to listen to God, every day, so that God's voice is very familiar to us. And when we hear God's voice, we need to choose to follow.
As I was thinking the other day about how this relates to my personal experience I recalled our dog, Brinkley. He's a miniature poodle, and his curly hair makes him look a little like a lamb. While he's much more energetic than I imagine a lamb would be, he knows my voice, and when I call him, he comes. When I say, “No, Brinkley” he stops doing whatever it is that he shouldn't be doing. And while I am not sure that I would actually lay down my life for him, I certainly sacrifice my time and attention to care for him. I don't want anything bad to happen to him and so when we are out walking, I am looking out for things that might be trouble and guiding him away from them.
That's how I imagine Jesus guiding us. He calls us many times a day and we respond. While he doesn't have us on a leash, he is warning us to stay away from things that could be trouble, and we can choose to listen or not. If we don't listen and fall into trouble, he's always there to help us deal with the consequences of our choices and hopefully, we are learning to pay attention to him the first time so we don't have to deal with those consequences again.
There's one more way that Brinkley reminds me of my relationship with God. Every morning when I sit in the rocking chair to spend time in prayer, Brinkley comes and jumps up in my lap. He likes to rest in my lap as I pray. I've learned to see that as a metaphor for my own prayer. Just as Brinkley rests in my lap, I am resting in God's lap when I pray. I am letting God hold me and gently caress me, letting me know that I am loved and cared for. I am reminded that God gives me eternal life, and that I will never perish. I hear God's voice telling me that “goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.”
My favorite musical setting of Psalm 23 is “Shepherd Me, O God” by Marty Haugen. The refrain goes like this: “Shepherd me, O God, from all my wants, from all my fears, from death into life.” That's my prayer for all of us today.