Sermon for Easter 4 2020

+In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

“Never read the comments.” This has become the refrain when it comes to articles and videos online, and I need to start following this sage advice. Unfortunately, I’ve discovered that for some reason I can’t hide the comments when I’m watching the governor’s daily briefings online on my laptop. So, I’ve seen that derogatory slur used by people who think we’re dealing with a media-driven hoax against those who trust epidemiologists and other experts who say we’re in the midst of a real pandemic with Covid-19. “Wake up, sheep,” the incendiary comments often say, “and liberate Ohio!”

None of us likes to be likened to sheep, because the implication is that we are mindless followers. But look again at what Jesus is saying. “The sheep follow [the shepherd] because they know his voice. They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.” Perhaps we’ve underestimated the sheep. As smelly and dumb as they might seem, they know that their well-being is dependent on the shepherd. They are hard-wired, through their evolutionary history, to follow the leader. They know that their safety is dependent on doing so, and they’re smart enough at least to be able to discern between one who will lead them to safety and one who will steal them away.

I wonder if most of us are really as discerning as the humble sheep. Even those of us who are intuitive enough to discern someone who’s genuine from a con-man most of the time, can nonetheless occasionally throw our lot in with a sheep-thief. I don’t just mean that we can fall in with a rough crowd, though for some that is an issue. I mean we can totally misplace our confidence, failing to follow the Good Shepherd in favor of some other leader.

And it should be no surprise that for us modern people the most common thief one might trust instead of the Good Shepherd is none other than oneself. Most of you have heard me say things along these lines before, but it bears repeating. Thanks to sin, we believe that we have everything we need within ourselves, and our own culture has exacerbated this fault of our nature. We believe in rugged individualism. We say “God helps those who help themselves” (which I hope you know, comes neither from the bible nor from a Christian thinker), we say we must pull ourselves up by our own bootstraps and we believe seeking direction from someone or something outside of ourselves is a weakness. So the online invective against trusting experts and instead following one’s “gut” is just another example, I think, of our culture’s sin; our false soteriology which holds that salvation (however you define the term) is to be found within oneself and that reliance on any outside authority is a sign of weakness or foolishness.

It is difficult for us to follow. On this level the sheep might have it more together than we do, because they know when they aren’t on the right path. They can recognize the shepherd’s voice, and they know they’re in trouble when they don’t hear it. We humans are so smart that we can convince ourselves that we’re going the right way when we aren’t. We tell ourselves that on the path of life there’s no need to pull over to the gas station to ask for directions or to turn on the GPS device in our car, because we’re smarter than that, by gosh. We don’t need experts, whether it comes to public health or spiritual health, because by God I know better. This is precisely the kind of pride which can precede a tremendous fall.

So, maybe, we shouldn’t get offended when we’re called sheep. Maybe there’s something we can learn from those silly beasts after all. Maybe we can learn that we should cultivate enough humility that we can be led by another. The Good Shepherd is always ready to lead our unruly hearts, but we must be humble enough to receive his direction. Christ is ready to bring us to the heavenly banquet, his rod correcting us and his staff comforting us along the way. We can’t become haughty or petulant or we’ll strike out on our own, thinking our own directions better and we’ll end up falling into a pit. Thank God, we already find ourselves in the flock, which is Christ’s Church, and the shepherd is leading us as we hear his direction in scripture and in prayer, in the wisdom of holy tradition, and in the breaking of bread. If, then, we are modest enough to listen, to listen carefully to the voice of the Shepherd, we may rest assured that we will be led to the springs of the water of life and will dwell with God in eternity.

+In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.