FOURTH SUNDAY AFTER EASTER
April 17, 2016
The Rev. Peter Ingeman (ret.)
In the Name of God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit
Basically, there are two ways to heard sheep.
And just how do you know that, you may ask?
Well, we lived in Germany for a while many years ago. We lived in a little village in a mostly rural area in the southwest corner of Germany, in the hills close to the border with France. It was a postcard village, complete with a picturesque ruined castle on the hill, narrow winding streets and a village square with a monument. The village was nestled in a valley at the foot of steep, wooded hills. The valley opened on to a plain filled with farms
Villages and places like that change slowly and painfully; in some ways we were living in a time capsule of many years ago. Some of the farming methods and machinery were pretty modern, but a lot of the past was to be seen. We would encounter wagons pulled by massive draft horses as often as we would encounter tractors. Livestock was everywhere, pigs, cattle and sheep, lots and lots of sheep.
There were what I considered huge flocks of sheep on the farms; they were also the living lawnmowers of the region, often in the center of town or moving through the street.
When you are sitting in a car, waiting for a flock of sheep to clear the road, a task which they never hurried no matter what your schedule might be – sheep have no schedule – one can observe a great deal about sheep herding.
And now I imagine you’re thinking, “I wonder when he’ll come to the point, assuming he has one.” It’s this: The first way to herd sheep, the one we all envision, is for a shepherd to have a dog, a small, hyperactive, yapping dog that constantly circles the flock and keeps them in line. The dog can move the sheep along; it can chase down the sheep that wander away from the flock and make them run back to huddle together in the safety of the crowd. How can a dog do all that? Because the sheep are scared to death of the dog. The dog drives the sheep with threats of terrible consequences if they stray or disobey. The shepherd walks behind, following the flock while the dog does all the work. That’s herding method number one.
The other method is the bell-sheep. It was really common to see a shepherd walking at the head of a flock of sheep. With him would be a sheep wearing a bell around its neck at the head of a flock leading the way. As far as I could see it just looked like any other sheep, a sheep among sheep, not distinguishable in any way except by what it did. It led by calm example, showing other sheep where to go by going there before them, finding the green pastures and cool waters and the sheep followed trusting the shepherd.
John the Baptist proclaimed Jesus to be “The Lamb of God.” Lambs were very important in the time of John and Jesus. Of course, in this part of the world we don’t actually see lambs very often but we have mental image of them, cute, white, cuddly little creatures. It was not so in the time of Jesus; lambs were for sacrifice in the Temple. Lambs were a gift to God, the life of one creature as a ransom for the life of another from sin. It recalled the ancient Israelite tradition of the scapegoat, a goat on which everyone’s sins were placed and was then driven out into the desert to fend for itself. With it went all the people’s sins.
John also says that Jesus, the lamb, will take away the “Sin of the World.” John says “sin,” not “sins.” There was, and is, just one great, all-pervading sin, “self-will.” The great sin is preferring my way, my path, to that of God, putting myself in His place, being unconcerned about anyone else of the common good. The sin is straying from the flock and going it alone. It is the antithesis of following the bell-sheep, the antithesis of following the shepherd, Jesus.
Jesus is the “Lamb of God,” the lamb that God gives as a sacrifice for His flock, for you and me. Jesus goes to the cross in perfect obedience to the will of the Father and therein is to find God’s great love for us. God could, if he chose, and there are those who think He should, drive us into being an obedient flock, sicing the dogs on us when we stray. That’s not God’s choice and it doesn’t work very well anyway.
Jesus is all three; He is the “lamb of God,” He is the bell-sheep, above all He is the Good Shepherd who goes before his flock, showing us, his sheep, the path we are to travel to the security and comfort of eternal life in the loving presence of God.
In His Holy Name