I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father; and I lay down my life for the sheep. And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd- (John 10)
The sheep are called to live life together, not apart.
I believe that is one of the most important principles that we can take away from the readings for this Good Shepherd Sunday. Think about the imagery that Jesus uses when talking about what it means for Him to be a Shepherd of His sheep. He describes his sheep as being in a sheep fold or sheep pen. A sheep fold is a fenced in structure to keep the sheep together and to keep them safe from the dangers all around them. So, when Jesus is talking about Christians, he talks about them being gathered together, living life together, united by and kept safe by Jesus our Good Shepherd.
When we explore what Holy Scripture says about the Christians and how they are called to live life together, God’s word is filled with imagery that shows us this very same idea.
For as in one body, we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. (Romans 12)
The cup of blessing that we bless, is it not a participation in the blood of Christ? The bread that we break, is it not a participation in the body of Christ? Because there is one bread, we who are many are one body, for we all partake of the one bread. (I Corinthians 10)
Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body. (Hebrews 13)
Now I rejoice in my sufferings for your sake, and in my flesh I am filling up what is lacking in Christ’s afflictions for the sake of his body, that is, the church… (Colossians 1)
On the contrary, the parts of the body that seem to be weaker are indispensable, and on those parts of the body that we think less honorable we bestow the greater honor, and our unpresentable parts are treated with greater modesty, which our more presentable parts do not require. But God has so composed the body, giving greater honor to the part that lacked it, that there may be no division in the body, but that the members may have the same care for one another. If one member suffers, all suffer together; if one member is honored, all rejoice together. Now you are the body of Christ and individually members of it. (I Corinthians 12)
These and many more in Scripture show Jesus’ purpose and design for His people, which is the Church, here on Earth and for His Church which is His people eternally with Him.
I want you to take a look at the people around you. Take a good, hard look at them. In faith in Jesus Christ, you will be living eternally with these individuals in the Heavenly City, New Jerusalem. Wrap your head around that. People you know and love, people you’ve seen from a few pews over, individuals that annoy each other, all together in the Heavenly Courts, living life together. I do think, that in our minds Heaven is often like our own personal little heaven, with the people we love and want to see again but we don’t really think about the people who we don’t really know or care for occupying that space as well, and occupying that space, eternally with us. So, in the Heavenly Courts, we don’t each receive our own personal sheep pen with just the people we like hanging out forever. No, we live in the city of God with all of the saints together with Jesus. So, y’all better get used to each other because y’all will be together for really, really long, long time!
Just as the sheep will be living life together eternally, the sheep are called to live life together here and now. Living life together, means most often for Christians being gathered together around God’s Word preached and taught, and receiving Jesus’ Sacrament in His Body and Blood and the washing of Holy Baptism. Then living our lives outside the walls of the Church family house, loving and caring for each other and all of those in our world.
It really is the image of a family living together in the family home. They come home from work and living (now we can actually start doing that stuff again outside of the house) and gather together in the family home. We get cleaned up and take showers. We eat our meals together. We talk about our day, we care for each other, and work on projects together, and then leave the house the next day and do it all over again. That’s a great image of what it means to be Church family living together.
You can’t do this remotely. You can’t really live life together, remotely. We’ve kind of learned this past year with COVID. We have so many loved ones we haven’t been able to see, to hug, to just be with. We can do great stuff with Facebook, FaceTime, email, calling, and texting, but it’s really not the same and we long to be simply with each other living life together with our loved ones we couldn’t see. I was just able to go over my Grandmother in law Franny’s house yesterday. We’ve all been shot, (vaccinated) and we could finally just spend some face-to-face time with her. It was so good to be together.
It is the same with a Church family, any church family, really. We are called to simply live life together around the Word and the Sacraments. There are of course times and circumstances when this can’t occur. Sometimes it is illness and chronic disease, sometimes it is work schedules that are beyond our control. When these things occur, the church family surrounds those that can’t be there together, the Word and Sacraments is brought to them. We use tools like Facebook and YouTube whenever possible. But ultimately, the norm for what our Lord has designed a Church family to be is sheep of the flock together, in a sheep fold, living in a Church home, together. We strive to move towards that, whenever possible.
Because, if we try to do “Church” remotely only, it can become no different than a tv show or a sitcom. You don’t like the show that day on Netflix, there are a gazillion other shows there you can flip too. You don’t like a character on a tv show family, you can find a different tv show family to be a part of, and then a different one again when they start to bother you. That is not living life together, that is channel surfing. Life together and worship does not come with a remote control.
The sheep are called to live life together, not apart.
Sheep family together whenever possible.