John 10:11-18 – 4th Sunday of Easter – April 29, 2012 – Delivered by Rev. Ann M. Aaberg
This week the battery in my watch died so I was forced for a couple of days to look beyond the usual place on my left wrist to keep abreast of the time. Of course, at some level I knew this already, but this week especially I noticed that there are a lot of clocks available to us throughout our daily round. On the microwave oven, the cable box, the bedroom clock radio, the dashboard of the car, some coffee pots, our computers, and a growing number use their cell phones to tell time now. Here’s the thing though, they’re not all in exact agreement – any one of those time sources can be a minute or two off from each other. In a meeting last Wednesday, without my watch, I asked for a time check and from four different people received four different times! So what’s the “right” time? Well, sitting in my retired Air Force statistician brother’s office is an atomic clock, considered the most accurate time standard available, on which our national and international time is based. If you really want to know what time it is with the highest standard of accuracy, you’ll consult an atomic clock, or at least a source based on it. You may have also noticed that one’s weight varies from scale to scale, especially between the home scale and the one in the doctor’s office! We have a National Office of Weights and Measures that offers recalibration services to make sure the market place reflects exact weight. For time, weight, and a host of other measurements, we use standards. Our economy is based on the gold standard. We use standardized tests in our schools to measure students’ ability or achievement or readiness. We have models and standards and definitions for just about everything – on a scale from 1 to 10, or zero to 5 stars. Measuring complexities of any kind is much more difficult. Job performance is one of those complexities. Leadership capability is another difficult one to measure. That’s when we may get into matrices or several weighted factors. We can’t point to one clear standard upon which we can measure one’s leadership capability. One clear-cut international measure to which we can always re-set or recalibrate like a set of weights and measures when we veer a little off course. Or can we? This morning’s scripture passage, thank God, offers to us the atomic clock, the gold standard of measuring leadership… I am the good shepherd. “Good” is translated for us from the Greek work kalos . We hear “good” and we might think “good, better, best” or “good”, the opposite of “bad”. But kalos implies that which is ideal, true, the “model”. Jesus is the “model” shepherd. The model shepherd lays down his life for his sheep. The model shepherd knows his sheep and they know him. Luther Seminary Professor Sarah Henrich writes: “Kalos shepherding, therefore, will protect at any cost those followers who are intimately known to the shepherd….the kalos shepherd knows the cost of protection and willingly pays it, in accord with God’s goal of the ultimate protection of the sheep.” Like any one of Jesus’ parables, we can consider several characters and perspectives here. There is the good, the model, the ideal gold standard shepherd. There is the hired hand, just in it for the hours and the money. There’s the wolf, just in it for a lamb dinner. There’s God the Father with our utmost care and protection in mind. And there’s the flock.
It’s always instructive in understanding a scripture passage to come at it from a perspective in which we have to stretch a little or get really creative. But this morning, my guess is that out of all the characters in this parable, including the potential perspective of the grass in the field, and even considering the perspective of those of us in leadership positions, with Jesus as the model shepherd, most of us here identify strongly with the flock. The question we are called to examine then is what are the standards of the model flock? If we indeed claim to be followers of Jesus, with him as the ideal shepherd, what is our gold standard? When we go astray, when we veer off the path or get tangled in the bushes, to what do we recalibrate? Probably the greatest commandments, as Jesus called them, would be our ideal standard, don’t you think? “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.” And “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” But what happens when the other flock comes along? That tricky last character mentioned: “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.” We may hold one standard when we’re together in our own flock, but what happens to our ideal, model beliefs and behaviors when the other flock shows up? In our neighborhoods, in our social circles, in our schools, in our country? At the time Jesus said this, it is generally agreed that he was talking to Jews and referring to Gentiles as his other sheep, non-Jews whom Jesus’ audience had no use for. Psalm 23 and the Good Shepherd passage offer us such beautiful, calming, comforting, reassuring images. We can imagine green hillsides and verdant pools and wooly lambs and gentle Jesus softly leading. AND this model shepherd is letting us know in no uncertain terms that he is willing to die, not only for this flock, but for all the other sheep as well. Friends, if Jesus truly is our gold standard, there are behaviors he modeled that we need to hold up as ideal and work towards, especially when it comes to other flocks, whether they be as close as our in-laws or as far as our national borders. Inclusivity: Jesus included in his meals and in his ministry the most scorned flocks of his time: tax collectors, sinners, prostitutes. Generosity: Jesus taught generosity to the point of advocating the sale everything and giving away the money. Justice: Jesus raised up to the authorities the issues of his day: the exploitation of widows and children and the poor and the ostracized; the extraction of money from the helpless; corrupt systems of greed. Forgiveness: And Jesus forgave the sins of all humanity and told us we needed to do the same. Unity: Jesus’ last prayer in John 17 was that they may all be one. Thank God we have the ideal model of Jesus to return to again and again when we need to be re-set. We can aspire to his perfect example, we can pray to him and know that he always hears, we can count on his everlasting presence, we can set our watches by him. The right time every time for all time. Thanks be to God and Amen.