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April 25th 2021 – Easter IV Acts 4:5-12; John 10:11-18

Independent sheep

Are you an online-shopper? The most difficult part of that is the vast range of choice, don’t you agree? If you need a printer, a new phone, something for the garden, if you are in our building and garden revitalization group, or if you are on the altar guild and want to order new wavers, all this choice. Hundreds of versions of each product. A new camera, a new baking form or a new sheep. Its crazy.

When did you last buy a sheep? Unbelievable… 1000 different breeds: Suffolk, Southdown, Romney, North Country Cheviot, Merino, Lincoln, Leicester, Columbia, and the Palestinian fat-tailed sheep.
So many kinds and all have their different qualities and special character, skills and weaknesses.

They have the reputation to be dumb and follow blindly. Well, apparently that is pretty far from reality. Sheep are intelligent, and studies have shown that they share a wide range of emotions with us humans; among them fear, relaxation, boredom, but also happiness and sadness.
I didn’t find it very helpful that the link under this article about the cleverness of sheep leads the interested reader to an article about Haggis, but still, the point is that we often underestimate sheep and see them all as uniform woolen white, more or less cute dummies.

The funniest thing seems to me that many of us Christians seem to be okay to be identified with this cliché image kind of sheep. We graze under the watch of the shepherd and when the shepherd sends the dogs, we rush to obey their lead and when the wolves come, we continue grazing in the hope that the shepherd will deal with them. If that was a sheep’s life, I’d not find the membership in that flock very appealing.
I would rather join the Scottish Highland Sheep. Hiking in the Highlands, you would find sheep again and again in the most remote areas, somewhere high up in the mountains, grazing alone or in small groups. They did not go astray or break away from the flock, they are just exploring the territory that is open for them. They will eventually be drawn back to the flock and are always part of it.

I like to imagine that we are drawn to be part of that flock of Christ not because it promises us a quiet life on the same 2 sqfeet of pasture but because the membership in Christ’s flock frees us and empowers us to explore the pastures that God has prepared for us. Always remaining a member of the flock, always drawn back at the end of the day because of the love to the shepherd Christ (I know that in real sheep and shepherd life, this image is a bit too kitschy – apologies, but I like it).

Because this shepherd, the good shepherd gives life and does not take life; the good shepherd of this flock frees the sheep and does not build the fence stronger and the pasture smaller; the good shepherd knows the sheep and knows what they can do; the good shepherd empowers the sheep so that they can resist the wolf; the good shepherd grows the herd by bringing other flocks to these pastures
Yes, this shepherd brings other flocks.
John chapter 10 is often quoted to proof that only Christians will be saved:

Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. (John 10:9b).

But few continue reading in the same chapter where it says that other flocks will join this flock of Christians, who seem not to be an exclusive club at all. And it will be Christ, the shepherd who invites them, not—looking back in history—the Christians inviting others by force. Christ will invite them, Christ will lead them, Christ will be the shepherd. But there is no word that being from another herd is bad, wrong or mislead.
There is more than one other flock even and if you do a little research, you will find, there is not only one flock but 1000 different breeds of sheep. Whatever kind or breed of sheep you think you are, sheep who are called by this shepherd are not called to follow blindly; they have to distinguish, listen to the voice of the one who calls them; is that the real shepherd or a false one?

Being a sheep does not take away your responsibility and it does not save you from discerning the right path.
We are called to discover the whole pasture and beyond. We are spread, dispersed, but drawn to the one flock by the love of the shepherd, that we encounter in the caring love of our fellow flock members.
The wolf is ravaging but we try to support one another with the help of our shepherd. Even if the priest sheep joins the overseas branch of the flock, the flock continues to serve one another and the shepherd.

And so there will be one flock, one shepherd (John 10:16c), drawn to this flock by the love and care of the shepherd who frees his sheep.