First Lesson: Acts 2: 42-47
Responsive Reading: Psalm 23
Second Lesson: 1 Peter 2: 19-25
Gospel Lesson: John 10: 1-10
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
Let me begin this morning with a story from my childhood. When I was eight years old, my dad had put up a tree house about seven feet off the ground for my friends and I to use. My parents being quite cautious attached to this tree house a ladder that was meant to be used for every journey up and down from the tree. I had a group of friends from the neighborhood that would frequent the tree house. As a child, I was the most risk averse of the children in our group. My friends Tommy and Danny discovered that they could jump down from the tree house, rather than take a boring ladder. So Tommy and Danny began to jump down quite frequently from the tree house, while I would watch. Tommy and Danny in all their jumps never managed to get hurt, so I believed that I could jump down like them also. So one day, I decided I was going to make my first jump down from the tree house. Now when Tommy and Danny jumped they always managed to jump straight down. They maybe even hung with their legs dangling along the edge before jumping off. I had a different idea for my first jump though; I was going to jump as high into the air as I could, thinking that I would be able to fly like superman. Judging by the title of the sermon as you probably guessed; my first jump would end up being my last jump. Soon I would be an eight year old boy having to use a walker, and the next three months were going to be spent in a cast. What does this tale of my broken leg; have to do with our gospel lesson? I’ll get back to broken legs in a little bit.
Our Gospel lesson for today comes to us from John the 10th chapter. This lesson takes place right after Jesus heals a Man who born blind, the discussion before this miracle between Jesus and his disciples centered on the following question, “Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?”
Our lesson for today occurs right after a long debate regarding the meaning of the Blind Man’s healing. The passage consists of two basic parts. The first part of the passage consists of Jesus describing the work of his ministry in comparison to herding sheep. The second part of this passage makes sense of the analogy.
So why does Jesus seek to interpret the Blind Man’s healing by comparing the people of Israel to sheep?
1. Sheep are vulnerable to attack.
“The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”-John 10:10
Second story- when I was at Luther Seminary, I managed the Seminary Mailroom. One Saturday early afternoon a guy came in who appeared to be frantic. The Guy said he lived across the street from the school; this story seemed plausible with so many different people living either on or near campus. This guy claimed that he had locked himself out of his house, and he needed $20 bucks to pay a locksmith. This guy said he would come back in twenty minutes, and give me $40 bucks to go buy lunch. Being my normal self, I handed the guy twenty without giving it much thought. As you can guess, I never saw this guy again.
As I tell the story I realize how completely sketchy this guy’s story was, and to be totally honest I am somewhat embarrassed to admit it. This story reminds us all though how we often fail to see and recognize the forces both spiritual and earthly that are out to attack us before it is too late to respond.
The reason Jesus compared his followers to sheep is because of the nature of our enemies, how we are often defenseless against the wolves and coyotes of life in sin, death, and the power of the devil. Those who are seeking to destroy our faith along with crushing our spirit.
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.
We know these words from the 23rd Psalm.
We hear these words and we immediately know they are words of comfort directed at us. Perhaps the greatest image of the Lord being our Shepherd is the Sunday school painting with Jesus holding a lamb in his arms no differently than a mother would hold her child. We see this painting, and it quickly brings us peace. We do not want kids to be done with Sunday school without understanding the meaning of this painting.
For even though none of us probably know shepherds, there are a few things we know about shepherds. We know shepherds as being caring and loyal in every circumstance that comes before them. A shepherd cares for his sheep, no differently than a mother would care for a child that she carried in her womb.
The relation that Jesus speaks of between the sheep and the shepherd only makes sense if one realizes the nature of the very forces which seek to threaten us nearly every single day.
2. Sheep often stray
“All like sheep gone astray”- Isaiah 53:6
I want to tell you this morning the story of a Major League pitcher named Barry Zito. Barry Zito came up with the Oakland A’s and was a star. Two years into Zito’s career, he won the Cy Young award as the best pitcher in the American League. After six and a half seasons in Oakland, Zito signed a seven year contract with the San Francisco Giants for $126 million dollars. Zito’s contract was the richest given to a pitcher at the time that he signed it. Zito’s time though in San Francisco was a disaster. Zito ended up in such low regard that just four years into his contract; he was left off the San Francisco Giants roster as they won the World Series.
Zito had been brought up in a very religious albeit non-traditional religious home. Zito had been brought up in New Age Spirituality. New Age Spirituality tends to place emphases on flowery ideas such as humanity’s inner goodness. Christianity tends to stress humanity’s differences with God; whereas New Age Spirituality tends to emphasize humanity’s oneness with God. The New Age Movement tends to de-emphasize things such as sin, evil, and judgment. The New Age Movement teaches humanity’s problem is one of sheer ignorance, keeping them from reaching their full illumination as individuals.
New Age Philosophy has been brought to the mainstream by people like Oprah Winfrey, Shirley Maclaine, and plenty of 21st century churches. As Zito kept encountering disappointment after disappointment from the highest of highs, he began to reconsider some things about the nature of his faith.
Barry Zito heard that there was no sin, yet such a statement is the very opposite of comforting when all you see around you is darkness.
Barry Zito eventually gets injured.
A few months after Zito’s injury, he was talking to his best friend who told him the story of the shepherd. How a shepherd will be leading his sheep and one of the sheep will be walking astray from the pack. The shepherd will then take the radical step of breaking the sheep’s leg, so that the sheep will have to rely on the shepherd to get better. But once that leg is completely healed, that sheep never leaves the side of the shepherd ever again.
This story illustrated to Barry Zito something important about the nature of faith. Faith is not dependent on our own sense of inner-goodness or motivation, faith is rather dependent on the promises of forgiveness that come to us as strayed sheep in our Gospel.
What Barry Zito’s story reminds us of is something important, Barry Zito needed to truly stray from the path that he designed for his life, to be able to find answers. Zito had to walk along a path that he would have never chosen for himself, yet it was on this path that the Shepherd’s ultimate work was revealed to rescue lost sheep.
3. Sheep need to be guided.
“When he saw the crowds, he had compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd.”- Matthew 9:36
The thing about sheep is that they are not dumb animals. The thing that makes sheep, so unique is their inability to act apart from the rest of the sheep. If the head sheep won’t eat, none of the other sheep will eat. Sheep tend to follow the crowd. I saw friend after friend jump out of the tree house; I needed to do it next. When you are eight years old, you will follow your friends over the edge of a cliff. Herd instinct will be stronger than intelligence.
When I was in high school, I was playing in a golf meet talking to a kid that had recently moved to a new small school. This kid’s new school drove him crazy! If one kid had a particular pair of jeans, then within two weeks, everyone else would make it a priority to have the same time of jeans. One kid would smoke, soon everyone else would smoke. Studies about human decision making tend to portray humans as risk adverse in all walks of life, the main reason that humans are so risk-averse is they fear standing out for the crowd.
Sheep at the end of the day are ultimately fearful creatures that will not lie down unless they know that the shepherd is in sight.
“A stranger they will not follow, but they will flee from him, for they do not know the voice of strangers.”-John 10:5
What our lesson in comparing humans to sheep reminds us of, is our need for a shepherd, a shepherd who is willing to lay down his life for his sheep.
Our Good Shepherd leads us to the Cross. It is on the Cross, that the Shepherd stays beside those who have strayed from him there whole lives. The Good Shepherd goes before us into the valley of the shadow of death and seeks to call his own sheep by name, so that they may come out upon the other side. Our Good Shepherd reminds us that we shall not go through anything that he has not already endured. On the Cross, the Shepherd became the Sheep, the Lamb of God who takes way the sin of the world, who cleanses us from all sin.
“The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice.”-John 10:3-4. Amen.
 John 9:2
 Lannon, Nick. “Barry Zito, a Broken Leg, and the Outer Christ.” MBIRD. 12.Dec.2012. Web.
 Keown, Tim. “A man in the game.” ESPN the Magazine. 1.Dec.2012. Web.
 The Asch conformity experiments of the 1950’s are one of many studies which highlight this general phenomena.