John 10: 11-18

            I have always felt that one of the great deficiencies in Christian preaching is the single-minded focus on what Christ does FOR us with almost total disregard for what Christ expects OF us.
Today's Gospel and Psalm on the Good Shepherd provides a case in point.
“The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want.”
“I am the good shepherd.  The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”
All the heavy lifting of salvation is done by God; all we need to do is receive it. Is this the totality of the Bible's message?
Much Christian preaching today would suggest that the answer is yes.
But the Gospel this morning provides us more than a description of the Good
Shepherd; it gives us a stark contrast in imagery.
On the one hand we are given the Good Shepherd who is willing to lay down his life for his sheep.  Of course, Christ is the Good Shepherd who is willing to lay down his life for his sheep.
On the other hand, we are presented with the image of the hired hand.  The hired hand neither cares for the sheep nor is he willing to risk anything for them when they are threatened.
Now all too often we reflect on the Good Shepherd imagery as simply a way to describe our Lord, His selflessness, His love, indeed His divinity.
But the description of the Good Shepherd and the hired hand also suggests a
contrast for the way we live our lives.  So rather than the predictable homiletic
praise of the Good Shepherd, I want to explore the guidance that resides in the imagery of today's Gospel.

I freely confess that I love Samuel Clemens' quotes; they are usually funny and
most of the humor hides practical and ethical lessons worthy of study.  Here are a couple of my favorites.
 “It is better to keep your mouth closed and let people think you are a fool than to
open it and remove all doubt.”
“Age is an issue of mind over matter.  If you don't mind, it doesn't matter.”
“If you tell the truth, you don't have to remember anything.”
“Do the right thing, It will gratify some people and astonish the rest.”
“Kindness is the language which the deaf can hear and the blind can see.”
I want to frame my sermon with two quotations from secular men; the first is
from Mark Twain; the second from Albert Einstein.
The first is this: “The two most important days of your life are the day you
were born and the day you figure out why.”

There is much to think about in this quotation for the Christian.  Christians
believe that life is a gift from God, and we believe that every life has a
God-given purpose.  So the task of figuring out why we were born is to
discern God's purpose for our lives.
What makes this so challenging is that as we age, God's purpose for our
lives may well change.  It may be enough when we are 20, 30, or 40, you
see, to simply settle for believing in, loving, trusting, and endeavoring to

            obey God.  But as we grow older, as we encounter what Shakespeare called

            the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune, our purpose is likely to share

            what we learn in the process with others.

            As we accumulate the products of a successful life, we may well be called to

            use those products in a way that makes life easier for those who are struggling.

            It is incumbent on Christians, I think, to continually consider what God is calling

            us to do at every stage of our lives.  Answers to prayer, for example, likely come

            with a strong hint that God wants us to share what faith and trust in Him, through

            prayer, can do.

            Like Mark Twain, Albert Einstein left us numerous quotes worthy of reflection.

            Though not often as funny as Twain's, Einstein's quotes nonetheless invite us

            to apply their lessons to our lives.  Consider the following statements from the man

            who enumerated the theory of relativity.

            “The difference between stupidity and genius is that genius has its limits.”

           

            “The world is a dangerous place to live; not because of the people who are

            evil, but because of the people who don't do anything about it.”

            “Learn from yesterday, live for today, hope for tomorrow.”

            But the quotation that I want to relate to today's Gospel is this: “The great use of a life

            is to spend it for something that will outlast it.”  This applies spectacularly, of course,

            to the life of Jesus Christ.

            But if we believe as Scripture instructs us, that we are created in the image of

            God, in the image of Christ if you will, then we are called to model the life of

            the Good Shepherd.

            Blessings and answered prayers are gifts to would-be good shepherds to be

            shared with sheep.  Just as Christ did, we are called to spend our lives on

            something that will outlast them.

            What immediately comes to mind in this regard is our children and grandchildren.

            Sharing the hard lessons of life, providing help for college, encouraging them to

            heed the wisdom in some of the quotes we have shared are ways to spend our lives

            on things, on people, that will outlast us.

            But I would suggest that sharing what we have learned and continue to learn about the

            purpose of our lives, figuring out why we were born as Clemens encourages us, and

            devoting our lives to something that will outlast them as Einstein counsels are ways

            for us to model the Good Shepherd, rather than just acknowledging what He does

            FOR us.

            AMEN

 


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