The Rev'd Carlos de la Torre
Christ Church, New Haven, Conn.
Fourth Sunday of Easter
April 22, 2018
As a current New Haven resident, and as a former suburbanite of New York, Washington D.C., and Houston, I have to admit to you that I know very little about sheep. I can tell you where to get the best lamb vindaloo in town but after that my extended knowledge on sheep comes to an end.
Throughout the years, I’ve come to value the Fourth Sunday, sometimes referred to as Good Shepherd Sunday, as the one Sunday a year I learn a new random fact about sheep and shepherds.
Unfortunately, I have not done much research on sheep or shepherds nor have I read James Rebank’s highly acclaimed 2016 book, The Shepherd’s Life: Modern Dispatches from an Ancient Landscape. I’m sorry I come bearing no major herding advice or shepherding knowledge.
Having said all of that, there is one “sheep fact” I would like for us to consider when reading today’s Gospel passage.
A flock of sheep, like any other herd of animals, is made up of similar and yet distinct individuals gathered together for a common purpose. While there might be a shared bloodline among some in the flock not all come from one family. While they might look alike, sound and smell the same, this doesn’t guarantee that they’re actually related.
So when we hear Jesus refer to himself as the Good Shepherd, he is referring to himself as the guide, protector, and overseer of a flock. The shepherd of a flock that doesn’t share a singular bloodline or even a common background. The sheep of a flock have not chosen to be together but have circumstantially ended up as members of one flock, under one shepherd.
And here we gathered in this space like a flock -- individuals made up people from different bloodlines and families, from various backgrounds, with stories to share gathered by our own individual, and shared, desire to be under the care of the one shepherd, Jesus Christ. The one who knows us and the one we know.
You and I have most likely ended up in this place for a host of circumstances. And maybe those circumstances have changed for you throughout the years. Maybe we brought you here, is different from what’s kept you here. Yet we are here for one reason -- to praise and adore our Lord Jesus Christ, the one who knows us and the one we know. The one who has been our aid and support. The one who comforts us. The one who seeks to be in relationship with us. The one who has laid down his life for us.
Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep… So there will be one flock, one shepherd.” The death and resurrection of Jesus is our shepherd’s ultimate act of care and love for us his sheep in which God in Christ reveals to the world his desire that all might be one. That all the nations, and all of creation, may become one flock under the one shepherd, our Lord Jesus Christ. Through the resurrection, the cross is no longer sign of death and pain. The wood of the cross becomes the wood of our shepherd’s staff, through his cross our Lord seeks to guide us and leads us to the realization that we are to be one flock, one body. That we are meant to be his Body, the Church Catholic, united by the cross and joining in the resurrected life -- a life that gives us the strength to push against the darkness and evil of this world.
Even as our Lord and his Body, the Church, seeks to create one flock, we know all too well of the disunity that exists in the Body of Christ. We know that there are those who are not part of the flock, those are not active members part of the Body of Christ, either by personal decision or circumstance. And we can’t turn a blind eye to the fact that there are those who are not part of the flock because of others in the flock. Because of an individual’s, or group of individuals, personal desire for control and power. Sometimes this lust for control and power, human sin, can run so deep that it’s willing to alienate and hurt those who once belonged to the fold of Christ. Making those who have been pushed aside by some in the flock want nothing to do with the Church, the Body of Christ, and at worst they won’t nothing to do with God.
Even with our Lord’s intention that we may be one flock under the one shepherd, Jesus Christ, sin finds a way to distort our Lord’s desire for us.
But our Lord knows this about us, he knows of our capacity to create divisions and sin. But thanks be to God that in due time, in God’s time, all will be one. Not by our doing but by Christ’s doing. Not through our actions and voice but through the actions and voice of Christ himself. Jesus says “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice.”
It is not through our voice that Jesus will save, has saved, those who are not part of the fold. It is through his voice, the voice that shouted “It is finished” on the cross that the world is saved, it is through his voice that we can become one flock under the one shepherd.
Christ promises that he will bring those outside fold into unity, that they will listen to his voice. He does not promise that they will be part of the flock but he promises that he will speak to them and that they will listen.
This is our great shepherd. The one who seeks not only those in the flock but all of humanity. This is our God - Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.