This sermon is prepared for the Fourth Sunday of Easter, April 17, 2005, based on John 10:1-11, and presented at Resurrection by Pastor Jim Kniseley.


Dear Friends in Christ,


Today is “Good Shepherd” Sunday.  Our scripture lessons prompt us to see Jesus as the one who cares for all of us as a really good shepherd cares for his sheep, and we are further prompted to make sure our Christian community reflects this caring image in our life together.


Most of us know about shepherds and sheep from our Sunday School lessons.  We remember that a shepherd is supposed to take care of and guard the sheep.  At night, the shepherd calls the sheep together to a safe place, called the sheepfold. 


A nineteenth century biblical scholar tells of traveling in the Holy Land and coming across a shepherd and his sheep.  He fell into conversations with the shepherd and the man showed him the fold into which the sheep were led at night.  It consisted of four walls, with a way in.  The scholar asked him, “This is where they go at night?”  “Yes,” said the shepherd, “and when they are in there, they are perfectly safe.”  “But there is no door,” said the scholar.        “I am the door,” said the shepherd.


He wasn’t a Christian and was speaking from an Arab shepherd’s point of view.  The scholar asked him, “What do you mean, you are the door?”  “When the light has gone,” said the shepherd, “and all the sheep are inside, I lie in that open space, and no sheep ever goes out but across my body, and no wolf can come in unless he crosses my body: I am the door."”


To me, it is obvious that Jesus understood this vital role of the shepherd, so he used this image to teach us what he is all about.  Both in this life and the next, he is our good shepherd; he protects us and really cares for us.  He is the door, the gate to eternal life; we can’t get to heaven except through him.


There are some warnings in today’s gospel lesson, warnings about bad shepherds.  Jesus could have been talking about the Pharisees of his day, or he could have been reflecting on the various kings of Judah and Israel.  Kings were often viewed as shepherds for their nation.  I believe that Jesus’ words aptly apply to today’s pastors and bishops.  How do we know that a pastor or bishop is a good shepherd or a bad shepherd?




The best way is to apply the standards of Jesus that are presented in John’s Gospel.  Does the shepherd have the best interests of the people at heart?  Is the shepherd providing protection for the sheep or just looking after the interests of the shepherd?  Is Jesus Christ being preached and taught as foremost for everything that happens in the congregation?


There was once a busload of tourists traveling through Israel.  Their Arab guide had just finished telling the visitors about how the Palestinian shepherd typically walks ahead of the flock, when one of the tourists looked out the window and saw a man driving a herd of sheep, brandishing a large, menacing-looking stick.  Delighted with the opportunity to one-up the guide, he pointed out what he saw.


The guide immediately stopped the bus, bounded down the steps and ran over to the man with the stick.  The passengers could see the two men talking and using their hands in animated Middle Eastern fashion.  Finally, their guide turned and walked back to the bus, a big grin on his face.


Back aboard, the guide turned to the tourists and proclaimed in triumph, “ I have just spoken to the man.  Ladies and gentlemen, I want you to know he is not the shepherd.  He is the butcher.”


So today we make sure this message is clearly presented:  Jesus is the Good Shepherd and wants all of us who are entrusted with church leadership to really care for our people and not ever be considered the butchers…


Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd.  The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”


You and I understand that Jesus is really saying that he would give his life, he would die on the cross, so that you and I would be able to enter the gates of heaven as forgiven, saved children of God.


Just suppose that you wanted to share this good news with someone who had no knowledge of sheep and shepherds.  How would you do it?  What image or metaphor would you choose?


This story comes out of Alaska and the experience of Christian missionaries.  The missionaries struggled to tell the Christian story to the Inuit people, the ones they called Eskimos.  It was no easy task, because life in Bible times was so different from anything in the Inuit experience.  The story of the Good Shepherd posed particular problems, for none of the Inuit had ever seen a sheep.  Finally, one of the missionaries learned of a strange and noble practice of the Inuit people that communicated this truth.



In times of severe famine, in the endless, dark days of arctic winter, it sometimes happened that a brave young man would go off across the ice, armed only with a pointed stick.  He would walk until he encountered a polar bear, the deadliest animal of the arctic.  The hunter would do whatever he could to provoke the bear to anger.  Finally, the bear would rear up on its hind legs and raise its deadly claws to strike.  At that moment, the hunter would set the blunt end of his pointed stick in the ground, and brace it against his foot.  When the full weight of the bear fell down upon him, it also came down upon the stick.  Pierced through the heart, the bear was sure to die – but not before it had the opportunity to finish off the hunter.


The next day, the villagers would follow the hunter’s tracks, until they came to the place where the two bodies lay – the bear’s and the one who had slain it, and in the frozen bear meat they would find enough food to survive the famine.


That is how the story of the good shepherd became, in the Inuit language, “the story of the good hunter.”


On this Good Shepherd Sunday, we again hear the voice of our Good Shepherd, Jesus Christ, who proclaims to us, “I am the gate for the sheep…I am the good shepherd.  The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.”


Thank you, Lord Jesus.  Amen.