Sermon. Fourth Sunday of Easter Anzac Day 25 April
Acts 4:5-12. Psalm 23. 1 John 3:16-24. John 10:11-18
Today marks two significant days, one which invites us to remember those who fought alongside Australian’s in world wars and the other a Church tradition, that this Sunday is known as Good Shepherd Sunday. For me, the two seem inextricably linked. Today we remember those who have died in war, those who gave their lives. Jesus said, ‘no one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for his friends’ (John 15:13)
In John chapter 10:11, Jesus says, ‘I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep’. Jesus was speaking to the disciples of his death and the kind of death it would be. Jesus would lay down his life for all. And the fact that this statement about the Shepherd being willing to die for the sheep makes a stark image of what kind of Shepherd this is. This shepherd that we speak of today, this remarkable yet humble Shepherd has a lot to teach us about humility but also about a tenacity and determinedness to stay the course, to finish what he came to fulfill.
In my mind, this image of Jesus does not provoke an picture of a shepherd in white, demurely holding a lamb upon his shoulders with a meek and mild persona. In my short experience of sheep on a farm, shepherds, or at least those caring for them, have a number of qualities. First of all, they require strength, particularly those who shear the sheep for their fleece. This is no mean feat at all. Shepherd’s as described through the Old and New Testament’s were, to take the sheep out to pasture, sometimes far from the village, building a sheepfold from rocks and guarding the sheep from wolves. Defending them against attack.
Secondly, shepherd’s needed to keep the flock together. This takes quite a bit of determination and patience. Sheep sometimes, having minds of their own, to stray. Generally speaking, sheep will follow one another but now and then one or two will stray from the flock and then the shepherd needs to secure the flock and go in search of the ones who have wandered. When Jesus saw Zaccheaus in a tree, they would share a meal together. Many grumbled to see Jesus eat with Zaccheaus as they considered him to be a sinner. But what was Jesus response, ‘the Son of man came to seek and save the lost’. Lost sheep often got caught in places they could not get out of. Stuck in a bush or in the crevice of rocks. Lost sheep need to be sought out and brought back into the fold.
Thirdly, the Shepherd is not a hired hand. In the gospel reading, we discover the hired hand does not own the sheep, does not take the same responsibility for the sheep as the shepherd would. And so, when things get tough, when the wolves come to attack the sheep, the hireling flees, leaving the sheep vulnerable to the wolves. The hired hand does not care for the sheep. One true characteristic of the Shepherd is his care of the flock. The shepherd will do all they can to ensure the sheep are fed, that they have water to drink, that they are safe out on the hills or in the valleys, and are kept safe from attack by wolves. Jesus, the Good Shepherd, knows the sheep because he cares for them. Not in a wishy washy kind of way, but with great care and respect for each one. With a love that demonstrates how much they are cared for, even to the point of death. In our gospel reading, we are told that Jesus is willing to lay down his life for us.
It’s not an easy metaphor for us today, shepherd’s and sheep. Those of us who have grown up in the city are far removed from life on the land where sheep or cattle graze and farmers do the hard work of ensuring they are fed and cared for. Our lives are even further removed from the life of Shepherd’s of the Old Testament, like Abraham, or David, or Moses whose job it was to ensure their sheep were well cared for. The tradition of Shepherds were handed down from father to son, and often young people cared for the sheep. David was the youngest son, left to care for the sheep out in the fields. The metaphor Jesus used was perfect for his audience. They were familiar with the image of shepherd and sheep, familiar with the lowliness of the task, the poverty that often accompanied shepherds, and sometimes, the lack of respect as well.
Its hard to imagine that someone would choose to die for their friends. History tells us that many of the young people that went to fight in the first and second world wars thought they were off on a great adventure, only to discover the grim reality of war and so many of them would not return home. We remember their sacrifice, we honour the fallen.
Jesus gave an example of what it means to be a ‘good shepherd’. Even if it is a metaphor we risk misunderstanding, or that doesn’t quite fit in our 21st century world. I wonder what metaphor you would use instead? Nevertheless, Jesus made it quite clear what kind of Shepherd he is. Where strength is grounded in humility, where choosing to seek out lost sheep is grounded in compassion and , where choosing to die is grounded in a love so great that we cannot comprehend it.
Whatever we choose to name this day, whether it is both and, both Anzac Day and Good Shepherd Sunday, may we remember those who lost their lives in war and honour them. May we also call to mind that Jesus gave his life for us, his friends. In John 10:14, we read, ‘I am the good shepherd, I know my own and my own know me, Just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. May each one of us today come to know and experience the love of the Saviour, Jesus Christ, who died, and rose again, that we might have eternal life.