Gospel: John 10:1-10
[Jesus said:] 1“Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. 2The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. 3The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.” 6Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.  7So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. 8All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. 9I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. 10The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.”

(Munchie is hopping back and forth, while Beaky counts.)

B  One… two… three… four… five…

P   What are you two doing?

M I’m pretending to jump over a fence.

B  And I’m counting as Munchie jumps over the fence.

P   Why?

M Because I’m practicing being a sheep!

B  And sheep jump over fences!

P   They do?

B  Of course they do!  People talk about it all the time!

M And people count them!

P   Oh, I see! But when people talk about counting sheep jumping over a fence, they’re actually talking about using their imaginations, and they do it to relax themselves, so that they can fall asleep.

M Oh! Good!  Because jumping over a fence all day really makes me tired, even if it’s just a pretend fence.

B  Yeah. It would be much easier just to open the gate and go through the fence, rather than over it… except when you're a bird, and can fly over, like me!

P   Jesus talks about sheep, and gates, and even going over fences in today’s Gospel story.

M Yeah! …but he didn’t talk about the sheep going over the fence, he said it was thieves and bandits that do that!

P   Yes, Jesus was using a story to show how sometimes, people do the wrong thing…

B  …like the thieves that climb over the fence to steal the sheep!

P   Yes!

M But, how do the people—I mean the sheep—keep themselves safe from the thieves?

P   Well, Jesus says that the sheep don’t just sit there and wait for the thieves to pick them up.

B  They run away?

P   When they realize this person that came over the fence is not there to take care of them, but to steal them, they look instead for the one they know, the one who loves them.

M They look for Jesus!

P   Yes! We learn from Jesus how to love one another, rather than using other people just for our own gain.

B  Like thieves!

M And bandits!

P   Yes. Actually, we all do things wrong now and then, but Jesus shows us a better way, and gives us the opportunity and the inspiration to start over and to do things better.

B  We get a second chance!

P   Sometimes many second chances…

M and inspi— inspi— the encouragement to do better!

P   Yes, inspiration is encouragement.  You got it right!

M Does that mean it’s bad to jump over fences, even in pretend?

P   No.  It all depends on why you’re jumping over the fence.  If it’s because you want to steal some sheep, or make them misbehave…

B  Then it’s wrong!

P   But if you get a responsible person to help, and jump over that fence to help someone else…

M Then it’s good!

P   Right! Let’s pray:  Thank you Jesus, for being the one we can always trust, for helping us to know what is right every day.  Keep us in your care.  Be our shepherd.  Love us, and we will love you, too.  Amen

Grace to you and peace from God, our Father, and our Lord and savior, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Today is known by many as “Good Shepherd Sunday,” so I’m wondering today what it really means to be sheep of this good shepherd.

Many people have a very low opinion of sheep, assuming that sheep are stupid, blindly following whatever new craze arises and never thinking for themselves.  This, however, is not actually the case, and we’ve really known this for a very long time, at least as long as Jesus’ words of today’s Gospel reading, as he insisted that his sheep were smart enough to know his voice, and not to follow someone else who was only interested in stealing them away.

If we consider what it means to be sheep, then we also need to consider which shepherd ultimately guides us.  Is it Jesus?

Today, there are people scoffing at what they cannot see, because what they can see is much too obvious, and what they believe is even more obvious—to them, that is.

These people believe that the restrictions put in place in response to the pandemic are overblown for political reasons.  I’m not going there, but I would like to share with you something about belief.

A few years ago I showed the youth of the Confirmation Class a video about stewardship of creation:  I showed them, “The Lorax,” and I’m sorry but I’m not sure if I showed the original that was created directly from the book in the early 70s, or the more recent one that appeared in 2012.  I’ve done both over the years.  I mention this because the youth have a real difficulty believing that there ever was any place where the blue of the sky was regularly obscured by smog. They couldn’t imagine not having a safe supply of water coming from the kitchen tap, even though this danger has arisen more recently not so far away in the city of Flint, Michigan.

In March, when Italy was put under strict quarantine, something surprising happened very quickly.  Dolphins appeared in the canals of Venice.  Yesterday I saw a picture of a bear with a tag in each ear (which tells me it likely lived in some kind of bear refuge) standing on the rail of a deck and peering in the window.  The caption noted that after two weeks of lockdown the bear had come to see what was wrong.

The newspaper in Duluth on Thursday and Superior on Friday noted the first quarter loss of over a billion dollars for Husky, which owns our local refinery that is under reconstruction since the explosion two years ago.  Small businesses have been shuttered.  Church buildings are largely vacant, and eerily silent other than during our live worship experiences, and our voices have echoes that are not usual when we generally gather.  Some working people have no job.  Others are working amid fears that may seem nebulous, difficult to define.  Some still insist that this pandemic is all a political hoax meant to scare people into voting a particular way.

Jesus says, “My sheep know my voice, and they follow me.” How do we follow Jesus today, through this?

Following Jesus may seem so simple, but what about when we’re distracted?  Sheep sometimes are distracted by a patch of nice green grass… what if we become distracted because we can’t pay the rent or the mortgage?  What if we’re distracted because this home schooling makes us feel inadequate?  What if we’re distracted because we coughed, and we’re tired?

What if we’re distracted by something else—by people who are shouting that we are stupidly being misled?  Even Jesus’ sheep sometimes get lost.

So how do we stay centered on the voice of Jesus? How do we avoid becoming lost?  What is the most important thing?  What does Jesus say is most important?

In today’s text, Jesus speaks of sheep knowing his voice, and not following the voices that come in over the fence with the intention of stealing.

When asked elsewhere what was most important, Jesus answered that it is most important to love God with your entire being… but he didn’t stop there.  Jesus says it is just as important to love your neighbor as yourself.

Today, this means we find ways to help people to live. We find ways for people with no job because of the safety restrictions to have food and shelter.  We find ways to provide masks for those on the front lines and in the store aisles.  We find ways to let off steam that won’t put others at risk.  We find ways to refresh when we are broken down.  We share in ways we haven’t shared for generations, maybe in ways that were not even possible a generation ago…  We share materials and hopes and dreams, without sharing the infection, using whatever ways possible to avoid doing so.

We become sheep who follow the very difficult task of loving God and neighbor when it seems that the loudest voices speak primarily not for others, but for individual freedoms, many related to money.

We have made money so important in this society. Let’s be careful that it does not become the voice that distracts us from Jesus, from the call to love others, from the call to share God’s love with all creation.  Let’s commit ourselves to using what often distracts and leads astray instead to provide for those among us most in need of assistance.

Let us be sheep of Jesus, loving our neighbors, loving ourselves, and loving the God who loves us all.

In Jesus’ name.  Amen