April 25, 2015

The Good Shepherd Models Sacrificial Love (Easter 4)

Jesus is teaching his followers the cost of being a serious Christian. Just as His life, witness and ministry modeled self-sacrificial love; so we as His followers are to model the self-sacrificial love of the ancient shepherds. This is not easy in our time:
·         Self-sacrifice is foreign to our a self-centred narcissistic culture
·         We live in a culture which has a very confused and opposing understanding of what love is – being nice, avoiding conflict and not offending others
·         Do we go along to get along – even if the result is people not gaining – or loosing eternal spiritual life – OR do we risk unpopularity by offending - to help people
·         Sometimes Jesus ministry was offensive and challenging
·         We need to understand that if we really love people we may need to sacrifice our comfort zone and challenge them
1. The Good Shepherd lays down his life for his sheep
Jesus is again using a practical example from the physical world to explain how we can grow in our spiritual life. Jesus is the Good Shepherd Himself as he voluntarily lays down his life on the Cross for all of humanity. Just as a shepherd would give the sheep what they need to survive – food, water and protection; Jesus gave us what we need to survive spiritually – a new way to forgiveness and eternal spiritual life.
·         Contrast the self-sacrifice of Jesus as the owner who really cares for the sheep; with the failure to love of the hired hand
·         Jesus  “owns us” in a spiritual sense as our Saviour
·         God the father “owns us” as our Creator
·         Holy Spirit “owns us” spiritually as the one who makes us holy

2. The Good Shepherd knows and is known by the sheep
Just as an ancient shepherd would develop a lifelong intimate love relationship with his sheep; so Jesus is developing a lifelong intimate love relationship with us through the Holy Spirit. In the Readings (1 John 3.16-24) we are told “The one who keeps Gods commands lives in him, and he in them. And this is how we know that he lives in us: we know it by the Spirit he gave us.”
·         Might be frightening to people who are not aware of a personal experience the Holy Spirit
·         Could be saying you haven’t “got it”
·         I did not consciously experience the HS until after I had read the whole Bible and learned how to pray at about age 35
·         It takes time, effort and experience to develop this relationship
·         Good News is we do know when we have “got it”
·         Signs of the Spirit are the gifts of love, joy, peace, kindness, patience and healing
·         This kind of love is way beyond “being a good person”

3. Good Shepherd has authority from God over resurrection life
We are all called to be like the Good Shepherd. Jesus has shown us the way to resurrection life. He has also given us, as the flock or the worldwide Christian Church (including all the denominations which believe in and obey the teachings of Jesus) the authority to lead people through our witness, teaching and sacraments into eternal spiritual life. With this authority comes responsibility. Those of us who “get it” or know, have a responsibility of love to tell those who do not know or “get it”. We are all called to model the self-sacrificial love of the Good Shepherd in caring for those around us – our neighbour:
·         People need physical water – but also the spiritual water of the Good News of forgiveness and salvation in Jesus Christ
·         People need physical food – but also the spiritual food of the Bible, prayer, public worship and practical teaching
·         People need physical protection – but also the spiritual protection of Baptism, Holy Communion, Confession and Absolution and Healing Ministry
These Readings challenge us to move out of our comfort zone and take the self-sacrificial risks of a Good Shepherd in challenging and spiritually nurturing and protecting all of God’s children in Jesus Name!

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