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05.11.14 She Calls Her Sheep by Name John 10:1-10 Sermon Summary

by on May 12, 2014

Metaphors for God make some people uncomfortable. They haven’t read their Bible closely enough.

Summary Points

  • Metaphors in the Gospel of John
  • The metaphor of the shepherd and how Jesus uses it
  • The four primary places to hear the shepherd’s voice
  • When it is appropriate to leave church, and the consequence if we don’t
  • The metaphor of God as parent, and how it helps us hear God’s voice today
  • Questions for discussion and reflection

The Gospel of John loves metaphors. In John, Jesus is the bread of life, the light of the world, the living water, the vine while we are the branches, and people have to be born again to enter the kingdom of heaven. Some people lament that metaphorical language for God makes God too slippery. They prefer literalism and direct correspondence between language and referent. Metaphor, they argue, makes it difficult to know God, when in fact, metaphor makes God more accessible, not less.

In this passage from John, Jesus borrows the metaphor of shepherd. The shepherd metaphor for God runs throughout the Bible, and here Jesus teaches that this is the mark by which one belongs to Christ: whether they listen to the shepherd’s voice and follow.

From the words of Psalm 23, when we listen, the shepherd:

  • Makes us lie down in green pastures
  • Leads us beside still waters
  • Restores our souls
  • Leads us in right paths

Or in the words of the opening line, following the shepherd satisfies us; we “shall not want” (KJV)

The Bible assumes the shepherd is always calling. The variable is whether we are listening. Sometimes the shepherd calls using extraordinary means, like a burning bush. More often it is subtle, like a whisper in a sheer silence. The problem many people have is don’t know how to listen.

The early church located four primary places for listening:

  • Apostles’ teaching, which refers to what we would today call scripture and sermon
  • Fellowship, which Acts makes clear isn’t coffee but a shared life together
  • Breaking Bread, during which they celebrate Christ’s resurrected presence and remembered his ministry
  • Prayers, in which they maintained a dialogue with God, listening as well as speaking

But because of God’s sovereignty, and the Bible’s preference for metaphor, we know that there are more than just these four primary places for listening. For whatever God wants to use to convey his Word becomes a messenger, an angel, and a sacrament.

Does this mean anything goes? No. Remember the second metaphor in this reading, namely that of the gate. If the shepherd is mobile, the gate is stationary. And Jesus is both. He says his sheep will “Come in, go out, and find pasture.” This is the pattern of the Christian life. We come into the church through the gate, which is Christ. Baptism into Christ represents this.

But there are times when we sometimes we have to leave the church to find pasture. If the shepherd calls us by name to find pasture, we have to leave. Leaving church is faithful if it’s done through the gate of Christ, and following the voice of Christ the shepherd. And this is why listening is so important.

This passage follows the chapter in which Jesus heals a man born blind. Everyone is excited about this except the religious elites, those who of the “in” group, those who went “into” the religious pen but then figured the shepherd would never call them out again. What we discover in this passage is that if you are “in” too long and never leave to find pasture, you will end up “blind”—John making use of metaphor once again.

When Christ is our shepherd, we may be led out of the pen to find pasture. It will always be through Christ and following his voice, but it happens. This is why I am not anxious when people “leave” my church. I call them, and if they want I talk or meet with them. I always invite them to explore, find new things, and either suggest them to our church or leave with our blessing. As long as they are following the shepherd’s voice in their life, who am I to close the gate?

One of the most well-known and oft-used metaphors in the Bible but especially Christianity is that of God as Father. But because it is a metaphor, God as Mother just as valid. It is important to acknowledge this because God has used both our parents to shape us and to speak to us. Even adults continue to be shaped by childhood. Sometimes for good, sometimes for bad; sometimes consciously, mostly unconsciously.

On this day (Mothers’ Day), and out of this passage, I invite you to reflect upon your own childhood; on fathers, but especially mothers. This passage invites us to see beyond them, through them—to see them as messengers and angels, to see God’s grace through them. Where our parents reflected God’s grace well, we give thanks. And where they failed—even catastrophically failed—we ask God to give us the grace to forgive.

Having discerned the shepherd’s voice through our parents, we are then better able to listen for the shepherd’s voice today.

Questions for Discussion and Reflection

  • What are some of your favorite metaphors for God—either from the Bible or your own life? How do these help you understand God? What do they say about you?
  • In what ways have you heard and followed the shepherd’s voice? Describe your entrance into the church. Have you ever heard the voice calling you to find pasture?
  • How well do the four primary ways of hearing God’s voice identified by the early church speak to you today? Are there other reliable places where you hear God’s voice?
  • Are you, or are there people you know, who are at risk of becoming religiously “blind” because they never leave the pen and find pasture? What does this look like and what might you do about it?


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