Sunday, April 22, 2018

Jesus the Ideal Shepherd - Earth day Sunday - John 10:11-18

Who remembers Timmy and lassie and the well?

 Little Timmy Martin wasn’t Lassie’s original owner on CBS. That was Jeff Miller, played by child star Tommy Rettig in the show’s first three seasons. But when Rettig was able to get out of his TV contract, in 1957, he was replaced by the younger, cuter, equally accident-prone Timmy. Jon Provost, who played the role, titled his 2007 memoir Timmy’s in the Well—but in the book, he points out what might seem unbelievable to us now: Timmy never once, in the show’s 571 episodes, fell in a well!

Now, Timmy did manage to fall in the following (a partial list): two lakes, a gap between two railroad cars, two abandoned mines, quicksand, and a badger hole. Damn, that kid spent a lot of time falling into things. But he seemed to have no problem with wells. His great-uncle Petrie did fall into a well once, in season 4’s “The Crow”, and his adoptive dad Paul almost fell in a well in season 10’s “The Crow,” but Timmy seems to have avoided the family curse regarding groundwater. Not Lassie herself, however! Embarrassingly, the usually sure-footed collie fell into a well in the season 17 two-parter “For the Love of Lassie.” “What’s that, Timmy? Lassie fell down a well? You’re kidding me! Get the camera, this is going to be our Christmas card photo this year.”

“I am the ideal shepherd. The Ideal shepherd lays down his life on behalf of his sheep”
Really, I am sorry I do not believe this for one minute.  Yes, I believe Jesus is the Shepherd, but I believe Jesus goes way beyond any ideal that one may have of any shepherd.  I mean at most a Shepherd’s job is to hold the flock together.  If one goes wondering astray to bring it back into the fold. If wolves showed up, the shepherd’s job is to make noise to scare them away.

I went looking for any dying shepherd story and well I only find one…this one.

 I wonder why?  Today is Good Shepherd Sunday.  Interpreted in the spirit of Johns Gospel, in the spirit of Love this is an all welcoming all-inclusive day.  Unfortunately, some have chosen to take this Parable, as literal and out of context and use it to diminish and or exclude those of other faiths. 

This is the story of the Blind man, this is the context of Jesus speaking to the blind man and then to Pharisees.  This is a parable or as close to one as John gets. The Harper Collins study bible says this;

This is the closest thing to a parable of the Gospel of John. It seems to present a highly realistic picture of Palestinian sheepherding in ancient times, and hints at a plotline.  The “Parable” focuses first on the gate, and then on the shepherd.  For another possible parabolic image sheepfold, an enclosure, often with stone walls, where several shepherds could bring their flocks for safety at night. [1]

So, this is where I break from a restrictive reading. I believe if we read this text in the context of Johns Gospel it leads to a unique place.  Let’s recall the opening of Johns Gospel;

In the Beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. He was in the beginning with God. All things came into being through Him and without Him not one thing came into being. (John 1: 1-4)

Through the opening words of Johns Gospel and todays text I see a place where we can honor all faith and all people and all of creation.  For if everything came into being through Christ then all, each one of us are of Christ. “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold, I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice.” The is always room for the other sheep, those of other flocks.

Heck we have our differences.  Lord knows there are other flocks.  There are differences among ourselves as UCC, among Christians as people who follow Christ, and as a world made up of “4,200 religions. According to some estimates, there are roughly 4,200 religions in the world. The word religion is sometimes used interchangeably with "faith" or "belief system", but religion differs from private belief in that it has a public aspect.” [2] There is a belief of the Golden rule, a thread of ultimate truth that runs throughs most religions. Dr. Ernest Holmes wrote in 1948;

We should waste no time in futile arguments as to what religion or spiritual outlook is right or wrong, but gladly accept the evidence of anyone’s prayer and faith as a demonstration of that person’s belief. Too much time is lost in arguing whether or not one’s philosophy is the only correct one, her religion the only true one, his method of procedure the only effective one. Let us leave these arguments to the contentions of smaller minds and try to find the thread of Truth running through all systems. Let us build on the affirmative and forget the negative. [3]

Do not panic, I am not negating Christianity.  You are in the right place, the right pew, you are where you need to be and where you are called to be just as I am. What is it we are called to? We are called to love all and so it runs through the faiths and practices of many in the world.

Sikhism says; “Be not estranged from one another for god dwells in every heart” (SRI GURU Granth) Sahib

Zoroastrianism; “Human nature is good only when it does not do unto Another whatever is not good for its own self” (Dadistan I Dink 94:5)

Islam; “No one is a believer until you desire for another that which you desire for yourself.” (Sunnah)

Judaism; “What is hateful to you do not do to your neighbor That is the entire Torah the rest is commentary go and learn” (Rabbi Hillel to Shammai Talmud Shabbat 31 A)

Jainism; “In happiness and Suffering in joy and grief regard all creatures as you would your own self.” (Lord Mahivir 24th Tirthankara)

Bahai; “Blessed are those who prefer others before themselves” (Bahai’u’llah Tablets of Baha’ uallah 71)

Do unto others as you would have them do unto you (Luke 6:13)

What I am saying is that this Gospel reading and Johns Gospel points to a Christ Larger and broader than we really understand. “In the beginning was the word and the word was with God and the word was God! And all things came into being through him” (John 1:1-2) well that kind of puts away any chance we have at diminishing any one! That also puts all creation on a level playing field.

This is a cosmic Christ a Christ bigger than any one faith or religion; Richard Rohr explains it this way;

Understanding the Cosmic Christ can change the way we relate to creation, to other religions, to other people, to ourselves, and to God. Knowing and experiencing the Cosmic Christ can bring about a major shift in consciousness. Like Saul’s experience on the road to Damascus (see Acts 9), you won’t be the same after encountering the Risen Christ. [4]

Christianity is just beginning to understand and learn of this.  Yet if we flow with the Cosmic Christ that all things are created through, we can understand and accept Jesus as a shepherd for all. “I am the good shepherd I know my own and my own know me”. Richard Rohr goes on to explain;

“The Cosmic Christ is Divine Presence pervading all of creation since the very beginning. My father Francis of Assisi intuited this presence and lived his life in awareness of it. Later, John Duns Scotus (1266-1308) put this intuition into philosophical form. For Duns Scotus, the Christ Mystery was the blueprint of reality from the very start (John 1:1). Teilhard de Chardin brought this insight into our modern world. God’s first “idea” was to become manifest—to pour out divine, infinite love into finite, visible forms. The “Big Bang” is now our scientific name for that first idea; and “Christ” is our theological name. Both are about love and beauty exploding outward in all directions. Creation is indeed the Body of God! What else could it be, when you think of it? [5]

I repeat “I am the Good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me…I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold.” (John 10:15-16) If I have gone too far for you, tell me so, it is okay.  If I have not gone far enough, challenge me.  But I truly believe this Gospel message today is one of inclusion. The same inclusion we proclaim daily that “no matter who you are or where you are on life’s Journey you are welcome here.  It is also why we proclaim this is an open table it.  This table belongs to no one and everyone for it is Gods table if you are a child of God you are welcome here.

Our challenge as Christians is to be the welcoming table at all times.  We are called to be hospitable first and then to go further. Jesus is the gate through which many shepherds have gone, Jesus is the word through which all creation comes.  Now we just have to honor that in each and everything and everyone.

This includes but is not limited to care for the earth itself. Now I know if I mention climate change some believe in it and some do not. However, what if I put it this way. The Gospel calls for a climate change.  A change in the way we treat each other and the way we treat, care and respect the earth.

Frederica Helmiere teaches eco-theology at Seattle University, and environmental writing at the University of Washington. She holds a Master of Arts in Religion from Yale Divinity School and a Master of Environmental Science from Yale School of Forestry and Environmental Studies. Freddie and her husband serve a new church start in South Seattle called Valley & Mountain, a spiritual community rooted in deep listening, radical hospitality and creative liberation
 Here is what she had to say about earth day…

Today is Earth Day – the 48th Earth Day since its beginning in 1970. On this day we honor creation and recognize its groaning. In one sense it is strange that we devote just a single day per year to reflect upon our home – the tapestry of life that allows us to breathe, eat and function. One day only to praise and marvel at the unfathomable complexity and splendor of life on this earth, and one day only to mourn and repent what we now recognize as the large-scale deterioration of every single system that supports life on this earth, while the other 364 days of the year we condone business as usual in un-creating these complex life systems that God has placed on this earth. We do indeed walk through a valley in the shadow of death.

In a 2010 Pew survey, Americans were asked whether religion influenced their thinking on tougher laws and regulations to protect the environment. Around 5 percent said yes.

That is sad for our churches and faith leaders. The created world is a revelation of God’s power and gracious presence, a table that God has prepared before us. It is green pastures and still waters but it is also a finely tuned atmosphere and complex network of biodiversity; it is interrelated earth systems that allow life to flourish. This sacred quality of creation demands sharing and moderation, antidotes for our excessive consumption and waste that end up harming the poor most of all. Rich people and countries contribute most to changes in Earth’s climate, resulting in catastrophic events like droughts and superstorms, whose victims are the poorest and most vulnerable, largely in Africa and parts of Asia.

Serving as a good shepherd of creation means accepting these painful truths, hearing the groaning voices. In the gospel reading today, we can compare those in power as the hired hands. “The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away.” Perhaps Christ was a bit exasperated with the religious leaders at the time he said this, but it may be just as true today’s many climate scientists, scholars, community and faith leaders are today. Especially with the quote “Climate” of today’s administration.

We are called, not just to believe, not just to honor creation and hear its groaning, but to act in response. A humorous headline from the satirical newspaper The Onion reads, “‘How Bad for the Environment Can Throwing Away One Plastic Bottle Be?’ 30 Million People Wonder.” This tongue-in-cheek jab draws attention to a sentiment that surely many of us feel: I am only one person – what difference can I make? But the truth is that we are never just one, we are never alone. And we must act, alongside our brothers and sisters and church community, because God calls us to be engaged, fruitful humans on this earth.

There are many simple changes we can make in our own practices from using bamboo instead of plastic ware. Recycling what we can. Changing out our light bulbs. Composting. Planting trees. Eating all of our food and eating foods that cause less waste.

And so, as we reflect this day on God’s creation around us and the work that lies before us, we know that in this task we are not alone. We know that God walks with us, that the incarnate Cosmic Christ joins the earth in groaning, and that there is a way out of this dark valley if we can allow ourselves to be led by the trustworthy voice of the Good Shepherd.

May we be equipped to distinguish and heed this voice, one that guides, cajoles, urges us to follow the paths of goodness and mercy. May we recognize the goodness of the earth’s complex, beautiful systems and feel mercy for those who suffer disproportionately from the effects of environmental degradation.

And may we have ears to hear the voice of the earth, one that has been speaking all along and desperately needs our attention.[1]

[1] general, ed., The HarperCollins Study Bible: New Revised Standard Version, Including the Apocryphal/Deuterocanonical Books, ed. student (San Francisco, Calif: HarperSanFrancisco, 2006).
[2] wikipedia, List of religions and spiritual traditions, April 27, 2017, accessed May 2, 2017,
[3] Barry Ebert, Teaching our Children Well, 2015, accessed April 2, 2017,
[4] Richard Rohr, e-mail message to, October 22, 2017.  Richard Rohrs daily Meditation.
[5] Ibid.


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