My scripture comes from John 10: 1-18
I’ve often said …and not because I am one… that Mothers are amazing. They’re teachers and disciplinarians. They’re cleaning ladies and doctors, and nurses and psychologists and counselors. They’re coaches and chauffeurs. They’re developers of personalities, molders of vocabularies and shapers of attitudes. Mothers are a gift from God. The love of a mother for her children is unlike any other love that has ever been created. It’s beyond belief. It’s truly amazing.
Several years ago, while traveling in Ireland I was fortunate enough to visit a sheep farm and observe the love of a mother for her baby lamb in action. The little baby lamb was only one day old and this was a first time mom. I wasn’t the only intruder in the pen, there was also a puppy who was antagonizing this new little lamb and its mother. As the puppy ran around the sheep the ewe was very insistent that it stay away from her baby. She stamped her feet at the puppy and shielded the lamb with her own body. It was an incredible sight to watch as this mother practiced her love for her baby by protecting that baby from what she believed was danger. Finally the owner walked over toward the puppy and the puppy backed off. He then approached the baby lamb and instead of getting defensive the mother allowed him to pick up the baby with no problem. What was the difference I wondered?
This week I finally realized exactly what that difference was, and today I want to talk with you about some lessons that I learned from that Ewe which I believe we each can take away from this place today.
In our text today we have a lesson… taught by Jesus …using the symbolism of sheep. For some of you the conclusions that Jesus drew will not be difficult to understand because you are familiar with sheep. While others might have a more difficult time due to a lack of experience with farm animals.
There are two very important lessons that we can learn from sheep. The first lesson comes from the fact that the sheep recognize their master’s voice. Seamus, who owned the sheep that I visited in Ireland told our group that his sheep could be all the way across the field and if he yelled for them, it didn’t matter what he said, they recognized his voice and came bolting across the field. The sheep wouldn’t respond to me when I talked to them, rather they became afraid and as I entered their fenced in area they hightailed it across the field and huddled together out of fear. The sheep recognized the voice of their shepherd because a relationship existed between them. They recognized the voice of their shepherd because it is the shepherd with whom they spend their time. It is the shepherd from whom they receive everything they need to survive. That brings us to our first lesson.
We must recognize our master’s voice. The only way that we can do that is through a relationship with him. Jesus said that his sheep recognize his voice. They don’t follow any one else but rather wait for his leading and go where he calls them. Ladies and Gentlemen: when we are in relationship with someone, when we know them intimately we cannot help but recognize their voice. Just like sheep recognize the voice of their master because of the relationship that they have with that master, so you and I are called to be so intimately involved in relationship with Jesus Christ that we know his voice. There should be no question when he calls.
I don’t where you are, but maybe you have a hard time hearing God’s voice. It’s not audible like we’d like it to be. But this is for certain: God does speak to us. The question is: can we discern that voice from all the other voices we are hearing? The only way to do that is to become so intimate in our relationship with God that we know that voice. I want to encourage you to continue to seek the type of spiritual life that would allow you to enjoy a close walk with your shepherd.
The second lesson I learned from the ewe this week is to follow our Master. Sheep are by nature followers, at least most of them. Mrs. Gad-about was a very attractive sheep. Her body was beautifully proportioned. She had a strong constitution and an excellent coat of wool. She had bright eyes. She bore sturdy lambs that matured rapidly. She was hot stuff in the sheep world. But in spite of all these attractive attributes she had one pronounced fault. She was restless – discontented – a fence crawler. She caused more problems for her shepherd than all the rest of the flock combined. No matter what field or pasture they were in she would search along the fences looking for a hole she could crawl through to feed on the other side. With Mrs. “Gad-about” it was a habit. She just wasn’t content and never learned her lesson. But what made matters worse was that she taught her lambs the same tricks. They followed their mom and became skilled at escaping. Even worse still was the example she set for the other sheep who followed her lead. In order to save the flock the shepherd had to get rid of Mrs. Gad-about. You see within a flock there can be only one shepherd. The sheep must follow their shepherd and not be distracted by other sheep. With a relationship that is built over time between a shepherd and his sheep, the sheep eventually come to place complete trust in their shepherd to the point where they will follow him anywhere he leads. Let me tell you all….That’s the kind of trust that we are called to have in our shepherd, Jesus Christ. We are challenged to give ourselves completely to his care, because in the same way that we as parents are looking out for what’s best for our children, so too God is looking out for us. God like a parent can see much farther than we are able and can prevent us from unnecessary harm.
Much like sheep you and I also are threatened in at least two ways. First of all we are threatened by predators. For a shepherd, predators are the biggest concern because a sheep has no means of self-defense. While sheep are very alert and untrusting of strangers they have no way to escape danger except to run. With modern day fences the issue is not as serious but the principle is still extremely relevant. A sheep needs the protection of its owner. You and I are no different. The scriptures speak of the devil as a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour. There are forces which would seek to destroy you but the good news is that your master is someone who is more powerful than them. But it is crucial that you remain within the fence. You can’t go looking for a hole to climb through but must remain within the care of God. You must remain within that intimate relationship.
The second danger that a sheep is susceptible to is of being “casted”. The word is an old English word and refers to the position of a sheep when they are on their back with their feet in the air. The sheep will be lying on its side and may role over too far and when they start trying to get up they often will fight to hard and make matters worse. A sheep can actually die if they are left in this position for too long. Often you and I believe that we are can make it on our own. We like to think that we’re independent, but the reality is we’re not. Without the constant care of our shepherd we may find ourselves kicking and thrashing in life unable to get ourselves out of the mess that we’ve created. While we may not die physically because of our struggle we are not able to experience the kind of life that we were created to live a life that Jesus says in this passage he wants to give us: an abundant and real life, more and better than we ever dreamed of.
Ultimately the greatest lesson that we can learn from the Ewe is that we are all in need of a shepherd. The 23rd Psalm says “He maketh me to lie down in green pastures.” Those who know about sheep know that the only time that sheep will lie down is if they trust their shepherd and believe they are safe. The only way that you and I can truly experience the peace and contentment that we desire is to be involved in a relationship with our Shepherd, Jesus Christ.