I am preaching this Sunday at St. Mark's. In the Church calendar, we call this Sunday "Good Shepherd Sunday." The psalm appointed for the day is #23, "The Lord is my Shepherd." The Gospel lesson is taken from John 10:11-18. In this passage Jesus likens himself to the good shepherd who lays down his life for his sheep and takes up his life again. He is not like the hired hand who runs away.
I have two streams of thought for possible sermons.
First, Jesus says that there is "one flock, one shepherd." He has other sheep that he will call and bring into this fold and he will look over all of them. Here, I am struck by the fact that the shepherd looks over the flock, not over each individual sheep. It is not as if each sheep can go wherever he wants and graze in whatever pastures he desires. No, in order to be under this shepherd, you must belong to the flock. In the same way, there is no such thing as a "Lone Ranger" Christian. Followers of Christ can only do so by binding themselves to one another and to God. Jesus is not my personal shepherd, but a shepherd of this flock.
And what good news that is for the church at this turbulent period of time. Our own little branch of God's Church, that of the Episcopal tradition, is being swept about by controversy and hate. Individual churches, dioceses, and provinces are looking to Jesus as their shepherd, they are claiming him as their own shepherd. They say that the wolf has come and snatched parts of the church away.
But in accordance with this passage, we are members of one flock. If we choose to leave that flock, we also leave that shepherd. Then the wolf will surely come and snatch us away.
My other idea comes from my experience in the Children's Hospital. There we used the story of the Good Shepherd for the kids and their families. In this way, they could insert themselves into the story and make it real for them. When asked what the wolf was in their own lives, the responses were often startling but honest: "My cancer," "My father who abuses me," "needles," "surgery." By turning their attention to what was hurting them most, they instantly realized what a great hope there was in the Good Shepherd. This Good Shepherd does not abandon his flock; no, this Shepherd loves so radically that laying down his life is the last full measure of his devotion toward us.
I think this second idea would be a more powerful sermon. It would give me a chance to break out of the academic sermons I have been preaching. Thoughts?