“I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me” John 10:11-18
The fourth Sunday of Eastertide is traditionally Good Shepherd Sunday. It’s one of the seven “I am” ways that Jesus describes himself in John’s Gospel.
I am, he said . . . the bread of life (Jn 6:35), the light of the world (Jn 8:12), the door (or, the gate) (Jn 10:9), the resurrection and the life (Jn. 11:25), the way, the truth and the life (Jn. 14:6), the true vine and my Father is the vine dresser (Jn. 15:1) and this, the Good Shepherd (Jn 10:11).
Actually, there is an eighth but while it’s not metaphor it is more profound. Jesus said, “Truly, truly, I say to you, before Abraham was, I am.” (John 8:58). When he said this to his fellow Jews, they picked up stones to throw at him. But, that’s a whole ‘nother sermon for a whole ‘nother Sunday.
Jesus said, “I am the Good Shepherd. I know my own and my own know me.” That’s a lovely pastoral message of identity and relationship but it begs the question, If Jesus is the Good Shepherd, what, then, does that make me?
short answer? Sheep. It makes us sheep.
If Jesus is the Good Shepherd then we are the sheep. Suddenly, that doesn’t feel quiet so pastoral and caring, does it? Well, not to me, anyway.
I, like most Episcopalians I know, are not fond of being considered just another dumb sheep in the flock of Jesus. I mean, seriously? In fact, I don’t know too many Lutherans or Presbyterians or Methodists who would warm up to the identity of being dumb sheep.
if the metaphor of dumb sheep doesn’t work for an Episcopal identity, what
does? What image or metaphor would you use to describe yourself as an Episcopalian?
Of course, there is the one about Episcopalians being “God’s Frozen Chosen”. Or, that there is a special place in hell for
Episcopalians who can’t tell their dessert fork from their dinner fork.
(NB: Proving that, contrary to popular mythology, Roman Catholics don't have a sense of humor about themselves, I learned as a child that there is a special room for Roman Catholics that everyone has to tip-toe by because Catholics think they're the only ones allowed in heaven. I think I was a teen before I got the joke.)
And, of course, there's this old favorite about Episcopalians:
Q: How many Episcopalians
does it take to change a light bulb? (in ascending order)
A: Two. One to mix the
martinis, and one to call the electrician.
A: Ten. One to change the bulb, and nine to say how much better they liked the old one.
A: Twelve. One to do the work and eleven to serve on the committee.
A: Change the light bulb?! My grandmother gave that light bulb!
I also found some stuff written by Garrison Keillor, who used to have a show called “ A Prairie Home Companion” on Public Radio until some past indiscretions caught up with him and he was banished. He’s still a really great talent and storyteller. Keillor grew up Plymouth Brethren, a very conservative Evangelical Christian Movement which he left as an adult to become Lutheran.
his comparison of Lutherans and Episcopalians:
Episcopalians are proud of their faith,
You ought to hear ‘em talk
Who they got? They got Henry the 8th
And we got J.S. Bach.
Henry the 8th he had six wives
Trying to make a son.
J.S Bach had 23 children
And wives, he had just one.
Henry the 8th’d marry a woman
And then her head would drop
J.S. Bach had all those kids
Cause his organ had no stop.
Praise heaven, I believe
Praise heaven, I believe
I’m a Lutheran, a Lutheran, it is my belief,
I am a Lutheran guy.
Episcopalians I don’t mind
But I’m a Lutheran ‘til I die.
Except, of course, that he wasn’t. After his second divorce, Keillor moved to NYC and began attending Episcopal Churches. He was sometimes seen attending midweek services at St. Michael’s on the Upper West Side. He famously attended Sunday services at Holy Apostles in the Chelsea neighborhood of lower Manhattan.
Here are some of the things he’s said about what it means to be Episcopalian
- Episcopalians believe in prayer, but would practically die if asked to pray out loud.
- Episcopalians like to sing, except when confronted with a new hymn or a hymn with more than four stanzas.
- Episcopalians believe their Rectors will visit them in the hospital, even if they don’t notify them that they are there. (#Fact)
- Episcopalians believe in miracles and even expect miracles, especially during their stewardship visitation programs or when passing the plate. (Also #Fact)
- Episcopalians drink coffee as if it were the Eighth Sacrament.
- Episcopalians are willing to pay up to one dollar
for a meal at church.
And finally, you know you are a Episcopalian when:
- It’s 100 degrees, with 90% humidity, and you still have coffee after the service.
- You hear something really funny during the sermon and smile as loudly as you can.
- When you watch a Star Wars movie and they say, “May the Force be with you,” you respond, “and also with you.”
And lastly (PS: Especially in THIS church), it takes ten minutes to say good-bye.
Now, I don’t think you can agree with any of those things – or even some of those things – and consider yourself a dumb sheep. That said, it’s what Mr. Keillor wrote a few years back about attending church on Easter that really struck a deep cord of truth:
Resurrection is not something we Christians talk about in the same way we talk about our plans for summer vacation or retirement, but it is proclaimed on Easter and the hymns are quite confident (with added brass) and the rector seemed to believe in it herself and so an old writer sitting halfway back and surrounded by good singers has to think along those lines. It’s right there in the Nicene Creed and in Luke’s Gospel — the women come to the tomb and find the stone rolled away and the mysterious strangers say, “Why seek ye the living among the dead?”
And then, on my way back from Communion, the choir
struck up a hymn, “I am the bread of life,” with a rocking chorus, “And I will
raise them up. And I will raise them up. And I will raise them up on the last
day.” As the congregation sang, a few people stood and some raised their hands
in the air, a charismatic touch unusual among Anglicans, and then more people
stood. I stood.
I raised my right hand. I imagined my long-gone parents and brother and grandson and aunts and uncles rising from the dead and coming into radiant glory, and then I was weeping and my mouth got rubbery and I couldn’t form the consonants. I stayed for the benediction, slipped out a side door onto Amsterdam Avenue, and headed home.
That’s what I go to church for, to be surprised by faith and to fall apart. Without the Resurrection, Episcopalians would be just a wonderful club of very nice people with excellent taste in music and literature, but when it hits you what you’ve actually subscribed to, it blows the top of your head off.
Here’s what I think: I think it’s good Anglican theology to think both/and instead of either/or. By that I mean that I think we can know and believe that Jesus is the Good Shepherd without needing to think of ourselves as sheep – dumb or otherwise.
You know, I hear people say
they are very concerned that, because of Zoom and FB Live Broadcasts, people
won’t come back to church.
I have to tell you, I hear the concern but don’t think that will happen.
If anything, I think people will stay home just as often as they used to, but at least now they have a way to stay connected to a worshiping community. And that will make all the difference in their lives of faith. And, ultimately, in the church and in the world.
We follow a Risen Savior, a
Resurrected Lord, whose name is Jesus. Some call him the Good Shepherd, for
others he is the door. Some say he is the way and the truth and the life, and
others say he is the Light of the World.
The truth of our faith is that He is all those things and more. If we follow him we will not be lead into simple, easy answers to life’s questions; rather, we will be led deeper into the questions that are at the center of the mystery that is our one, wild, precious life here on what the Prayer Book calls “this planet earth, our island home”.
Sometimes we follow him blindly, yes, sometimes like lost sheep who are mindless and aimless. And then, there are moments when it hits us – seemingly from out of nowhere but usually in church, surrounded by others who also may not be fully aware why we are where we are – and, we hear Jesus say, “I am the good shepherd. I know my own andmy own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I laydown my life for the sheep.”
And in the midst of the incredible
depth of the mystery of those words, we understand something – not only in our
heads but deep in our hearts – just who Jesus is and who we are because of
Jesus. And then we are surprised by faith and fall apart, knowing that Jesus,
the Good Shepherd, is always there to catch us and help us get back together