Theme:  “The Shepherd and the Stranger”

Text:  John 10:1-10      Date:  Sunday, May 3, 2020

You don’t have to understand anything about shepherds and sheep to understand this text.  It’s based on the universal fact that sometimes strong bonds are formed between persons and animals; for example, a shepherd and sheep, a cowboy and a horse, a child and a dog.

This relationship between a person and an animal is a practical arrangement.  They take care of each other.  The shepherd takes care of the sheep, and the sheep provides wool and meat for the shepherd.  The cowboy takes care of the horse, and the horse provides transportation for the cowboy.  The owner of a dog cares for the dog, and the dog provides companionship for its owner.  We know what this text is about—the relationship between a human being and an animal.

But, in the course of time, there can develop in the relationship between a person and an animal that is more than practical.  It becomes a relationship of deep affection.  The sheep means more than meat and wool, the horse more than transportation, and the dog more than a companion.  Affection develops.  The animal becomes part of the family.  

“The children would be devastated if we did something to that sheep or got rid of it.”  “You mean you just keep it back there and feed it and care for it and have the vet out when it gets sick?”  “Yes.  That’s right.”  “But isn’t that costly?”  “Yes, but we love that sheep and we are willing to risk a great deal to take care of it.

I’ve seen it on TV.  A house is on fire.  The family is standing out in the yard.  “Is everybody here?”  Somebody gasps, “Oh, no!” and rushes back into the flaming house to get their old arthritic dog whose been in the family for 17 years.  He can’t see, can’t hear and can hardly move.  This person rushes into the flames and brings out this old dog that everybody loves.

The shepherd has a little enclosed area out there where he brings the sheep to keep them safe.  There are cougars and wolves out there that would love to kill and eat one of those sheep.  So the shepherdlies down across the gate and he says, “Anything that comes for the sheep will have to come by me.”  

When I was a kid, friends and I would go on Saturday to see movies about Wild Bill Cody, Buffalo Bill.  He had a horse he loved named Powder Face.  One night a band of Sioux stole his horse.  Days later he found where the Sioux were camped and at night slipped into their camp, past their tents, found Powder Face, unhitched him, jumped on top of his horse and rode past the snoring Sioux to his home.  “You risked your life?”  “Yes, but it was for Powder Face.”  The bond between Buffalo Bill and his horse was strong.

What the New Testament is saying in effect is that Christ went into the enemy camp and rescued us.  He went into the burning building and brought us out.  He laid himself down across the doorway and said, “Anybody who bothers my sheep must first take my life.”

But this New Testament story also says here comes a stranger.  He looks like a shepherd, sounds like a shepherd, maybe he is a shepherd, but the text calls him a stranger.  Why is it in a good story when you have a good guy (a shepherd), it won’t be long until you have a bad guy (a stranger)?

Why does a stranger come?  He isn’t a shepherd.  Maybe the stranger comes because he gets an ego (more)

boost out of being the head of a flock of sheep and he says, “This is my flock.”  It may be that he comes because he gets a feeling of power in leading a flock.  Or he may come because he can make some money stealing a sheep and selling it.  

I don’t know why he comes, but the sheep know the difference between the shepherd and the stranger.  How do they know?  The stranger looks like a shepherd, dresses like a shepherd, sounds like a shepherd, has the presence and good voice of a shepherd, good credentials and letters of recommendation.  How do the sheep know?

In the church, in the Christian faith, in religion, it’s extremely difficult to know.  Here we have an atmosphere of trust.  We open up and talk with each other and share our lives with each other in an air of trust and vulnerability.  I go into the hospital, call on the telephone, visit the home, and I’m welcomed with a smile, glad to see you, heard about you, wanted to meet you.  We share our lives with each other in an atmosphere of trust and honesty and vulnerability. And in comes this stranger.

How do the sheep know the difference between the shepherd and a stranger?  It’s hard to know. When people questioned Jesus about where his teachings came from, he said, “My teaching is not minebut his who sent me.  Anyone who resolves to do the will of God will know whether my teaching is from God or whether I’m speaking on my own” (John 7:15-17).  The way the sheep know the difference between a shepherd and a stranger is that they have lived with the shepherd long enough to know the difference.

There’s a marvelous little story in the book of Acts chapter 19 about St. Paul who is ministering in the city of Ephesus, and the people are amazed at how successful he is.  A man named Seeva has seven sons who want to go into the ministry on their own terms, with their own style and way.  So they carefully watch Paul and how he spoke, when he raised and lowered his voice, how he held his hands and gestured, how he rocked on his feet, all those things preachers do.

Finally they thought they got it all down, and they went to visit a man who was seriously ill, and they did what Paul did and said the words Paul said and laid hands on him the way Paul did.  The man looks up and says, “Jesus I know and Paul I know, but who are you?”  Even in his sickness he knew the difference between a shepherd and a stranger.

Why do I say all of this to you?  In the time I’ve been with you as your interim pastor, I’ve appealed to you on behalf of the gospel of Jesus Christ.  I’ve spoken with you on the hope of heaven and what gives you peace of mind and heart.  I’ve appealed to you on the needs of our society.  I’ve spoken of our need for personal and spiritual growth.

I appeal to you today to read your Bible, to pray and to spend some time each day with the Good Shepherd Jesus.  Why?  So that you will be able to distinguish between a shepherd and a stranger, because that’s what you’re going to do in calling a new pastor.  When you call your new pastor, will you get a shepherd or will you get a stranger?  

I hope I won’t hear you say, “Well, he’s tall and handsome, she’s nice looking, he has a nice head of hair, she has a good voice, and he has personal charm and charisma.”  No.  No.   I want someone to say, “Now there’s a shepherd!”

How are you going to know that?  You will be clueless unless you live with the Good Shepherd Jesus.  That’s your new assignment—to live with and spend time with the Good Shepherd.  Will you do that?  The time will come when someone will stand before you and ask, “Do we have a shepherd or do we have a stranger?  How in the world will you know?