Easter 4A: The Sheep and the Gate-keeper


Gospel text : John 10:1-10
gate o sheepold
 

Pope John Paul II, the good shepherd.  

The most beautiful and meaningful comment on the life and the legacy of our late Holy Father, Blessed John Paul II, was made by the famous televangelist Billy Graham. In a TV interview he said: “He lived like his Master the Good Shepherd and he died like his Master the Good Shepherd.” In today’s gospel, Jesus claims that he is the Good Shepherd and explains what he does for his sheep. (Fr. Tony Kadavil) 
Rev. Tony Campolo loves to tell the story of a particular census taker who went to the home of a rather poor family in the mountains of West Virginia to gather information. He asked the mother how many dependents she had. She began, "Well, there is Rosie, and Billy, and Lewella, Susie, Harry, and Jeffrey. There's Johnny, and Harvey, and our dog, Willie." It was then that the census taker interrupted her aid said: "No, ma'am, that's not necessary. I only need the humans."   "Ah," she said. "Well, there is Rosie, and Billy, and Lewella, Susie, Harry, and Jeffrey, Johnny, and Harvey, and...." But there once again, the census taker interrupted her. Slightly exasperated, he said, "No, ma'am, you don't seem to understand. I don't need their names, I just need the numbers." To which the old woman replied, "But I don't know them by numbers. I only know them by name."
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by Fr. Tommy Lane

The TV is my shepherd I shall not want,
It makes me to lie down on the sofa.
It leads me away from the faith,
It destroys my soul.
It leads me to the path of sex and violence for the advertiser’s sake.
Even though I walk in the shadow of Christian responsibilities,
There will be no interruption, for the TV is with me.
Its cable and remote control, they comfort me
It prepares a commercial for me in the midst of my worldliness
And anoints my head with secular humanism and consumerism.
My covetousness runs over;
Surely ignorance and laziness shall follow me all the days of my life,
And I shall dwell in the house of wretchedness watching TV forever.

(I heard this parody on Psalm 23 in a homily broadcast on EWTN on March 18 2002)
 
*****
From Father James Gilhooley  

September 11, 2001, the Pentagon was slammed by a hijacked airliner. People were trapped in the flaming building. A police officer ran inside and kept repeating in the darkness, "Follow my voice." Six people did. They owe their lives to that voice.  
This parable has lost impact in our urban society. A city kid in a college Scripture class told his professor, "I don't get any kicks being called a sheep. They're stupid and are led around." A farm boy didn't buy it: "I've seen a herd of sheep running wild. And could they move! If my father hadn't called to them and corralled them, they would have torn up our whole place." The city boy stayed quiet. To control sheep the shepherd must be Superman. City slickers need not apply.  
 I was traveling through the Holy Land. I saw a shepherd with his large flock. I checked him out. Neither of us could speak the other's language. We didn't have to really. He was all muscle. The staff he was carrying in his hand would make a serious impression on my head. I felt like the 100 pound weakling that everyone kicks sand on at the beach. If there was going to be trouble, I wanted him on my side. Better, I would be standing right behind him.  
 
 God's image as Shepherd did not originate with Jesus. It preceded Him by centuries. One finds the figure of speech strewn throughout the Old Testament like a common pebble. You will discover it in the Books of Zechariah, Isaiah, Ezechiel, and Jeremiah for openers. And don't forget the celebrated 23rd Psalm which is our Responsorial Psalm today: "The Lord is my shepherd." The early Christians enjoyed the shepherd analogy. Matthew   and Luke as well as today's John applied it often to their Leader. Among the earliest pictures, perhaps the earliest, we find of Christ on catacomb walls is the young Jesus dressed as a shepherd with a sheep over His shoulders. It remains ever popular.  
 St Augustine used the shepherd analogy for the apostles themselves in the fifth century in The City of God: "The first holy men were shepherds."
 A lot of us feel boxed in by life. We are unwilling characters in a nihilistic Jean-Paul Sartre drama. Our options we tell ourselves are limited. There is no way out. Consequently clinical depression is becoming an increasing phenomenon among us. Along comes Jesus the Shepherd to tell us, "I am the gate." In another spot, He repeats the point, "I have opened a gate in front of you." If we are as sharp as we say, we will use the Shepherd as the way to make our break-out into green Elysian fields. We will run through His gate, bang it behind us, and never look back. (Joseph Donders)  
 Secondly, shepherds know their sheep by name as John tells us today. Marry that thought to the scriptural report that God writes the names of each one in the palm of His hand. Imagine your name on the lips of God Himself in His role as the Shepherd as He calls to you. If I am going to be anybody's sheep, then let it be Christ's, a certified 2000 year old winner. I do not wish to be forever a nine digit number that can only be traced by a Big Brother computer. I want a Christ who knows my name, my features, and my requirements better than the back of His hand. The sweetest sound in the world, said the monk, is the sound of your own name. Compare that to the guy who says to you for the fourth time, "Sorry, but I forget your name again." (Donders)  
 I buy into the Good Shepherd analogy. I need a strong pull in the right direction. I've been dumber than many sheep. There have even been occasions when I wish I had that ring right through my nose. I wish Jesus had been pulling it. I need to hear His strong voice I need a shepherd to lead me. Unhappily I need one who will even kick me in the tail. I don't need a general barking orders and staying behind the battle line.  
 Conscience is the e-mail your head gets from the Shepherd, saying to you, "Follow my voice. You have nothing to lose but your sins." (Billy Graham) So, the Lamb who died to save us is also the Shepherd who lives to lead us. Christianity remains the religion of the incredible, the religion of the astonishing, the religion of the breathtaking. (Unknown)  
 Incidentally, a friend said to me, "Someone told you about the Good Shepherd. Have you told anyone lately?" I have. I've just told you. But have you?   
*****
 
Michel de VerteuilGeneral comments
According to the liturgical tradition, the gospel reading on the fourth Sunday of Easter speaks about Jesus as shepherd, which is the theme of chapter 10 of St John’s gospel. This theme is dealt with in several sections or “movements”, as is often the case in this gospel. One movement is read on this Sunday each year of the three year cycle; this year we read the first movement.
Jesus good shepShepherd is one of the biblical titles for a leader, a memory of the days when the Jews were sheep rearing nomads. The passage therefore  invites us to celebrate people who have “shepherded” us by touching our lives, some through direct contact, others  from reading about them or hearing their stories.
We remember, too, great world leaders, in modern times or in the past, and recognise that they were the presence of Jesus in the world, “shepherding” the human family.
The passage can also be an examination of conscience on how we are fulfilling our vocation as parent, teacher, guide, friend, or leader in the church community.
Actually, the shepherd theme (or “parable”, as it is called in verse 6) is only in verses 1 to 5. In verses 7 to 10 Jesus speaks of himself as “the gate”.
The special characteristic of good shepherds is brought out in the passage in the relationship of trust between them and the sheep. They are trusting and in turn they inspire trust in those whom they lead. This wonderful quality – so rare in our experience – is expressed in a series of images, each of which can touch us deeply.
The shepherds “enter the sheepfold through the gate”, they are not devious; they “call the sheep by name” – no haranguing; they “go ahead of the sheep” – no looking back to see if they are being followed. The sheep “know the voice” of the shepherd; their relationship is almost instinctive, of the heart.
The image of the gate is not as well known as that of the shepherd and is more difficult to enter into, but if we make the effort it can be very touching. Leaders who are like a gate are the opposite of possessive; they are content to be the humble instruments through which others can “go freely in and out”, making their own way to “life to the full”. A wonderful picture indeed of great parents, teachers, community leaders and friends.

Prayer Reflection
mandela Lord, we remember with gratitude the great people we have known,
in the world and in our country:
teachers, fellow workers, community leaders,
parents, grandparents, uncles or aunts, elder brothers or sisters.
We remember how they came to us openly, without pretense,
passing through the open gate.
We knew immediately it was someone who understood us,
a voice we had always longed to hear.
We felt we were being called one by one, each by name.
They said what they had to say and went ahead,
not looking back suspiciously to make sure we were following,
and we did follow because we knew we were not with a stranger.
Lord, we ask you to bless leaders in our country and in the world.
Give them today the grace to look into their hearts
and ask themselves are they real shepherds of the flock.
Have they come openly through the gate like shepherds, or deviously like thieves?
Have they come to give life or to steal, kill and destroy?
Do they speak a foreign language that the sheep cannot recognise
so that they naturally run away from them?
Do they take the trouble to know their sheep
so that they can call them out one by one, by their own names?
Is their relationship with people one of trust,
freeing them to go ahead of the flock,
or must they always be looking back, wondering if they are being followed?
Lord, we ask you today to send us many good priests, religious and lay leaders,
men and women who will be like a gate to a sheepfold,
without the slightest trace of possessiveness,
happy to be a passageway
through which many will pass freely and live life to the full.
Lord, we pray for the Church
as it emerges among the ancient cultures of Asia, Africa and Latin America,
as it exists side by side with other faiths.
We pray that we may not be envious of things that others have and we don’t,
that we may never be destructive or the cause of people or institutions dying,
but rather that we may be true shepherds
whose only concern is that people may have life to the full.
Lord, we pray for our Church which is experiencing a bad patch in our  history,
one of pain, scandal and betrayal of trust by some of our leaders.
Help us to relearn to trust in emerging good leaders who are of trying to guide us as Jesus did.
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Thomas O’Loughlin 
 Introduction to the Celebration
Who do we follow? This is the question that today’s gospel puts before us. Many of us would like to think that we follow no one, that we make our own decisions and choose our own paths. Yet, our experience tells us that we are often led — look at advertising— and often led astray: look at how many brigands have incited human beings so that the worst of crimes and destruction have been justified? But the choice of Christ as our shepherd is the choice to bear witness to the victory of life, and love, and forgiveness over the forces of death, domination, and vengeance. So where do we stand in terms of calling ourselves disciples?        

Homily Notes
1. In many places this is ‘Recruitment Sunday’: ‘we need priests because without priests there will be no Mass – so if there are some generous, unmarried men in the congregation, why not join up now!’ However, whether or not such appeals have any effect, it is best to avoid the whole topic as it abuses the liturgy by turning the moment in the assembly’s week when its president is charged with helping his brothers and sisters reflect on the mystery of Christ into an advertising slot. Preaching is a sacred task and no other end, however noble, can justify replacing the Sunday homily with a piece of promotional work.
2. Since the gospel text is opaque, and the use of allegory as its key usually results in something that is little more than a free association of ideas, it is worth inviting people to explore the dynamic underlying Luke’s ‘sermon’ in Acts, for this brings us face-to-face with what the evangelist saw as the kernel of the Christian vocation. So instead of a formal discourse, invite the assembly to work through the text meditativly, noting its main features.
3. The text can be conceived as trinitarian in structure. It sup­poses that the kerygma’s audience, both the audience described in the text and the text’s audience, begin from a position of belief in God who has brought them into existence, sent them his revelation, and exercises a providential care for them. This is the starting point of faith in God, who once the Son has been recognised will be acknowledged as Father; and with it goes a recognition of human need and incompleteness. This notion of providential care and the human predicament of sin is clearer when the whole text of Acts 2:14-41 is read – which could be summarised in a few words.
Voc SunThe Father has sent us, his children, his Son. Then we are given a list, of sorts, which set out what we receive through Jesus and his victory over death – we should note that Luke locates his sermon in the context of Easter, the Paschal mystery, and its proclamation:
– Jesus’s life, death and resurrection reveal the life of God;
– through Jesus we are remade as a community: the People of God;
– Jesus calls us to share in his Paschal Mystery and to enter his communion in baptism; and
– Jesus draws us to repentance, a new vision, a new lifestyle. We as baptised people have received the gift of the Spirit.
We are those ‘whom the Lord our God will call to himself’.
4. Such a recollection of the structure of the Paschal Mystery is appropriate to Eastertime. Moreover, the text of Acts lends itself to this narration of ‘the wonderful act of God’ which every Sunday Eucharist celebrates. A fitting conclusion to a homily whose style is a meditative pondering of a text is to simply read the final sentence of this section of Acts 2:42, which Luke imagines as the on-going effect in the hearers’ lives of their conversion on the day of Pentecost (the verse that opened the reading on Second Sunday of Easter), and this makes a good transition, after some moments of silence, to the recitation of the Creed.
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John Litteton
Gospel Reflection
There are several reasons for the lack of interest in priesthood as a way of life. Among them is undoubtedly the model of priesthood that is currently practised. Obligatory celibacy is another reason. But the most serious reason is the growing secularisation of society and the consequent absence of faith from the lives of many people.
In general, society has become more overtly materialistic and individualistic. Attentiveness to sacred and religious matters has waned. The Church is perceived to be a remnant from the past that has little or no relevance now. In such a situation, the significance of priesthood becomes meaningless. So it is not surprising that fewer men seriously consider being a priest.
A priest is a man who, having already been baptised, receives the sacrament of holy orders when the bishop ordains him. The priest is ordained to serve as a spiritual leader of God’s people in the local church. He imitates Jesus the Good Shepherd. This means that his essential role is to form and support a Christian community based on the proclamation of God’s word and the celebration of the sacraments. In particular, the priest presides at formal gatherings for worship, especially the celebration of the Eucharist. Thus he facilitates people in the expression and nurturing of their relationships with God.
What, then, distinguishes the ordained (or ministerial) priest from the priesthood of other members of the Church? The essential nature of ordained priesthood that distinguishes it from baptism is that the ordained priest acts ‘in the person of Christ’ (in Latin: in persona Christi) or stands in the place of Christ, especially when he presides at the celebration of the Mass and when he absolves sin. This is not to deny Christ’s presence in the people assembled.
Crucially, ordination to the priesthood brings about a change in the character of the man being ordained. This means that the priest, whose person is conformed or moulded to Christ, becomes ‘another Christ’ (in Latin: alter Christus). The priest is called to imitate the Good Shepherd who lays down his life for his flock. The priest is charged with the task of knowing, loving and caring for those who have been entrusted to his pastoral care.
Being a priest can sometimes be difficult. This is not to suggest that other vocations, for example, to married life or to religious life, have no problems. They most certainly do. The life of a priest requires faith, permanent commitment, prayer and humility. It is about self-sacrifice and total service of God and his people. But it is also a rewarding and fulfilling way of life.
Priests share in and help to make sense of the joyful and sad occasions in people’s lives. They regularly have opportunities to share Christ’s healing and life-giving power with people so that life can be more meaningful. They teach people to be faithful to the Good News so that they are like sheep who follow Jesus the Lord who is the Good Shepherd.
signs of timesNo priest is perfect. Like all people, priests are always being called to conversion. We live in a society where confusion abounds and in a Church where many members are disillusioned. We need priests today more than ever because our world is crying out for signs of hope and God’s presence in many situations that have become distressing and futile.
There is still much work to be done in building the kingdom of God in our world. Priests are absolutely necessary for this task. It is time for us to pray more fervently for the priests that we have and for more vocations to the ordained priesthood. It may even be time for some of us to consider pursuing the priestly vocation or, perhaps, re-imaging the model of priesthood.
For meditation
I have come so that they may have life and have it to the full. (Jn 10:10)
Lord, give us all a new heart and new spirit
     Lord, give us all a new heart and new spirit
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Fr Donal Neary, S.J
Follow in Love
The first big moment of vocation is baptism. The anointing of  chrism at baptism might be called the anointing for vocation.
The baptismal vocation is for witness, love and service. This is expressed in ways in which people live out their baptism in married life, single life – and within the single life, maybe religious life or priesthood.
Our active witness is to the life and the values of Jesus in our lives. Teaching is not itself a vocation, for example, but the way we teach is a way of living out our vocation. It is the same with many of the helping professions and employments. Being a good neighbour can be a living out of our vocation.
We witness to love in marriage, in family, extended family, and in friendship. Any love is a sharing in the love of God. In the moments of unselfish love in any relationship we are living out our vocation. When we love, we are doing God’s will!
We witness to service in the wider world in our care for the poor and in welcoming the stranger.
In a place of silence, let the words ‘Come, follow meecho in your mind and heart.
Lord, be with me as I offer myself in partnership with you
to work in your world.
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From the Connections:
 
THE WORD:

Chapter 10 of John’s Gospel is Jesus’ “Good Shepherd” discourse.  In today’s Gospel reading, two kinds of sheepfolds or corrals are mentioned:  In the community or town sheepfold, the real shepherd was recognized by the gatekeeper and his flock knew his voice and followed; out in the fields, the shepherd slept across the corral opening – his body became the corral gate.  Both “gates” are beautiful images of the Redeeming Christ, the “Good Shepherd” who lays down his own life to become the very source of life for his people.
John places these words of Jesus right after the curing of the man born blind (the Gospel read a few weeks ago on the Fourth Sunday of Lent).  The evangelist uses these references about shepherds, sheep and sheep gates to underline the miserable job of “shepherding” being done by the Pharisees and the temple authorities as in the case of the blind man.  John is writing in the spirit of the prophet Ezekiel (Ezekiel 34):  God will raise up a new shepherd to replace the irresponsible and thieving shepherds who feed themselves at the expense of the flock.

HOMILY POINTS:
In today’s Gospel, Jesus calls himself the “gate” of humble justice, selfless compassion and ready forgiveness that leads us to the dwelling place of God.   In this Easter season, God invites us to pass through the threshold that is his Risen Christ: to leave behind our sadness and fears and doubts in order to come into the safety and warmth of God’s hearth of peace and compassion.
When our spirits ache over what has been lost, when we lose our moral and ethical way, when we feel our footing slip beneath us as we try to navigate life’s twists and turns, Christ’s voice can always be heard above the noise and din our lives if we listen for it with hope, conviction and faith.
Sometimes we look at the Gospel from our modern, sophisticated perspective and quietly dismiss what Jesus says as too unrealistic or too simplistic to deal with the complex problems we must face.  But there is no high- tech, comfortable, convenient road to living the Gospel of forgiveness, compassion and justice.  “To have life to the full” demands that we journey by way of the “gate” of Gospel wisdom, charity, reconciliation, compassion and justice.

You hear it in the voice . . .
A few years ago, the theology department at a major university hosted a church leader from central Europe.  The Soviet Union had just come apart and the pastor’s country was emerging from a long dark night of oppression into the first light of freedom.  At a dinner for the pastor, guests were full of questions about what was happening in Europe and the former Soviet bloc. 
The minister responded slowly and cautiously at first, measuring his words, weighing their risk, a man unaccustomed to candor among relative strangers.  But as he gained confidence, he spoke of his church’s struggle through hardship and persecution under the Communist regime. 
He told about the days under totalitarianism, how the church was officially tolerated but always undermined and repressed, how the clergy were always monitored by secret agents who had infiltrated their ranks.
“We would have a meeting about some matter of church business,” he recalled, “knowing for certain that not everyone seated at the table could be trusted; some of the ‘clergy’ present were, in fact, government agents.” 
The pastor paused for a moment and then added, “But even though these government spies were careful never to betray their true identities, we could always tell who they were.”
“But how?” someone asked.
“The voice,” he replied.  ‘The voice.  Something in their voices would give them away.”
[Thomas G. Long, Whispering the Lyrics: Sermons for Lent and Easter.]
 
The pastor and his community developed an instinct for discerning the true voice from the false, the deceitful, the deceptive.  Every day so many voices shout at us, assault us, demand from us, seduce us.  But if we are tuned to the voice of Christ — the voice of compassion, of peace, of justice, of mercy — we begin to discern the manipulations and falsehoods in the noise and begin to hear Christ in the voices of those crying out to us for compassion, for acceptance, for justice.  The challenge facing every disciple of Jesus is to listen for his voice in the quiet of our hearts, in the center of our spirits.  If we listen carefully and faithfully, we can discern the voice of the Good Shepherd leading us through the “gate” to the kingdom of his Father in our midst. 
*****
Fr. Jude Botelho:

In today’s first reading Peter contrasts what God did to Jesus with what the people did to Him, they crucified Him. The hearers moved to guilt ask, "What must we do?" Peter's answer was to reform, repent and be baptized. Those who heard Peter realized they could no longer believe and act as they once did. In accepting Peter's message today, we too must make the changes in our lives that reflect the One whose rule we follow. What is God asking of me right now? Listening with faith demands a response or else the Word is rendered impotent in our lives.

Repentance –admission of guilt
One day Frederick William I visited a prison in Postdam and listened to a number of pleas for pardon from prisoners who had grievances against the law’s injustice. All said they had suffered imprisonment on account of prejudiced judges, perjured witnesses, and unscrupulous lawyers. From cell to cell the tale of wronged innocence continued, until the king stopped at the door of a cell inhabited by a surly inmate who said nothing. Surprised by his silence Frederick said jocularly, “Well, I suppose you are innocent too.” “No, your Majesty”, was the startling response. “I am guilty and richly deserve all that I get.” The king shouted at the jail authorities and asked them to do something urgently. “Come and get rid of this rascal quick”. The prisoner who admitted his guilt showed potential for improvement. The others were not likely to change.
G. Francis Xavier in ‘The World’s Best Inspiring Stories’

In today's gospel, Jesus adds to his previous images of himself, of being both the Shepherd and the gate of Life. During the time of Jesus there were two kinds of pens, the common village pen and the field pen. In the first half of the gospel he alludes to the common village pen. He refers to the early morning routine when the shepherd came to the village pen to get his flock and lead it out to pasture. As a good shepherd he calls each one by name. Among the Hebrews, sheep were most often raised for wool and for milk, consequently the animals became like pets, part of the household, each having their own individuality. Those of us who have household pets may understand the intimate bond between the shepherd and his sheep. Minding the sheep was not a business but a life. The shepherd did not see the sheep as a flock but as an extended family, where everyone is important. Basically what the passage communicates to us is the personal care and concern of Jesus, the caring shepherd. In the second half of today's Gospel Jesus refers to himself as the sheep-gate, which refers to the field pen and specifically he refers to the narrow opening in the pen through which the sheep passed. Jesus says: "I am the gate for the sheep." What does Jesus wish to tell us when he says He is the door of the sheepfold? In today's world we are more and more conscious of security and safety and we make sure that our doors are well bolted and secure. In Jesus' time it was not the gate of the sheepfold that was important, it was the person, the shepherd, who lay across the gate provided security and protection to the sheep by being the door. In that sense the role of the shepherd as the doorway was crucial to the sheep. Jesus is crucial to the believer. He is the gate, the guardian who protects us from harm. He is the door, the one who provides us passage to the Father, He is the one who is the gateway to the fullness of life. It is only through Him that we can have the fullness of life

“I am the gate”
In his book 'The Holy Land', John Kelman describes a field pen. It consists of a circular stone wall about four feet high with an opening in it. Kelman says that one day a Holy land tourist saw a field pen near Hebron. He asked a shepherd sitting nearby, "Where's the gate for your pen?" The shepherd said, "I am the gate." The shepherd then told the tourist how he herded his flock into the pen each night and then lay down across the entrance. No sheep could leave the pen and no wild animal could enter it, without stepping over his body.
Anon

"This was included in the tickets!"
There was once a family that had fallen on hard times when business failed and they lost almost everything. One day a kind-hearted neighbour came to enquire if there was anything that he, and the other neighbours, could do to help. The father said he would dearly love to take his wife and children and land somewhere in the US, where they would have a chance to start a completely new life. The neighbour agreed to consult his friends and see what they could do. Several months later they presented the family with tickets for a journey by sea from Cobh to New York. The family had never been out of the country before, and had no idea how best to prepare for such a voyage. With their home-spun pragmatism, they bought bread, last week's bread, which was stale but cheap. They got lettuce and cheese and filled several boxes with sandwiches. Armed with this and their few possessions, they went aboard, and they all moved into one cabin, a frightened, insecure little bunch. On the first day, second, and third day, when they were hungry, they ate sandwiches. On the fourth, fifth, and sixth day, the sandwiches were beginning to go off, and the very thought of sandwiches was enough to add to the sea sicknesses most were experiencing. With a day or two to go before arriving in New York, one young lad was so hungry and so sick that he begged his parents to let him have a penny or two, so that he could go up on the deck and buy a few sweets. The father gave him a few pence and off he went. An hour later, he had not returned, and his family was really worried. The father reluctantly left the safety of the cabin and ventured on deck in search of his son. When he got up on deck he just couldn't believe his eyes. There were rows and rows of tables, with a huge crowd sitting around them, eating a meal. In the middle of them was his son, with a plate piled high with chicken, potatoes and vegetables, and he was drinking a large glass of coke. He was stuffing himself with sheer delight and didn't notice his father coming up behind him. The father was shocked and growled under his breath "Why have you done such a stupid thing? You know we cannot afford this." The young lad's eyes lit up, as he turned to his dad and said "But daddy, we could have had this everyday. This was included with the tickets." Imagine someone arriving in heaven, looking around and expressing amazement at the beauty and joy of it all. Jesus turns to such a person and says "But you could have had this all the time. This was included with the tickets."
Jack McArdle

Knowing his voice
A few years ago, a friend and I were driving across the Navajo Nation to visit Steven Plummer, Episcopal bishop of Navajo Land, when we came upon a flock of sheep grazing near the road. My friend asked me to stop and take a photograph of her with the sheep. As soon as she got out of the car, the sheep moved away, and, as she walked toward them, they again moved farther from the road. They would not let her get anywhere close enough for my camera to get both her and the sheep in the same frame. They did not know her or her voice and stayed safely far away.
Carol Hampton

Amazing Grace

John Newton was the son of an English Sea captain. When he was only ten his mother died and he went to sea with his father. At 17 he rebelled against his father, left his ship and began living a wild life. Eventually John took a job on a cargo ship that carried slaves from Africa to America. He was promoted rapidly and soon became captain of the ship. Newton never worried whether slave trade was right or wrong. One night a violent storm blew up at sea and the waves grew to the size of mountains. They picked up Newton’s ship and threw it around like a toy. Everyone on board was filled with panic. Then Newton did something he had never done since leaving his father’s ship. He prayed. Shouting at the top of his voice he said, “God, if you will only save us, I promise to be your slave forever.” God heard his prayer and the ship survived. When Newton reached land, he kept his promise and quit the slave trade. Later he studied in the seminary and was ordained pastor of a small church in Olney, England. There he won fame as a preacher and composer of hymns. One of the most moving hymns Newton wrote is the one that praised God for his conversion. The words read: “Amazing grace! How sweet the sound, that saved a wretch like me! I once was lost, but now am found, was blind, but now I see….”
Adapted from Al Rogers’ story of John Newton

Watching over them
Cheryl Cassidy was a registered nurse. One afternoon she arrived at the Arts centre to pick her daughter Rachael from her dance lesson. She usually used to run another errand before picking up her daughter –procure milk. On that day as she turned that corner, she changed her mind and did not go to the milk booth. This decision saved her daughter’s life and eight other lives. Instead of waiting in the car as she usually did, that day she went into the dance studio. There she found her daughter along with eight others overcome by carbon-monoxide poisoning. With the help of the family across the street she was able to pull out each one out of the building and revive them. Later referring to the watchfulness of God, Cheryl very finely concluded: “Somebody was watching out for these girls besides me.”
John Rose in ‘John’s Sunday Homilies’

*****
ILLUSTRATIONS: 

From the Collection of Fr. Tony Kadavil 

1.     Moses, the shepherd-leader:  

The Jews had a lovely legend to explain why God chose Moses to be the leader of his people. "When Moses was feeding the sheep of his father-in-law in the wilderness, a young kid ran away. Moses followed it until it reached a ravine, where it found a well to drink from. When Moses got up to it, he said: `I did not know that you ran away because you were thirsty. Now you must be weary.' He took the kid on his shoulders and carried it back. Then God said: `Because you have shown pity in leading back one of a flock belonging to a man, you shall lead my flock Israel.'"  

2.     Alexander, the shepherd of soldiers.  

When the emperor Alexander the Great was crossing the Makran Desert on his way to Persia, his army ran out of water. The soldiers were dying of thirst as they advanced under the burning sun. A couple of Alexander's lieutenants managed to capture some water from a passing caravan. They brought some to him in a helmet. He asked, "Is there enough for both me and my men?" "Only you, sir," they replied. Alexander then lifted up the helmet as the soldiers watched. Instead of drinking, he tipped it over and poured the water on the ground. The men let up a great shout of admiration. They knew their general would not allow them to suffer anything he was unwilling to suffer himself.  

3.     “It will kill you if you move.”  

A soldier dying on a Korean battle field asked for a priest. The Medic could not find one. A wounded man lying nearby heard the request and said, “I am a priest.” The Medic turned to the speaker and saw his condition, which was as bad as that of the other. “It will kill you if you move,” he warned. But the wounded chaplain replied. “The life of a man’s soul is worth more than a few hours of my life.” He then crawled to the dying soldier, heard his confession, gave him absolution and the two died hand in hand. 

4.     "I guess you must be a sheep dog."

A pastor was discussing the 23rd Psalm with some children in his congregation. He told the children about sheep, that they weren't smart and needed lots of guidance, and that a shepherd's job was to stay close to the sheep, protect them from wild animals and keep them from wandering off. He pointed to the little children in the room and said that they were the sheep and needed lots of guidance. Then the pastor put his hands out to the side, palms up in a dramatic gesture, and with raised eyebrows said to the children, "If you are the sheep, then who is the shepherd?" He was pretty obviously indicating himself. A silence of a few seconds followed. Then a young girl said, "Jesus! Jesus is the shepherd." The young pastor, obviously caught by surprise, said to the little girl, "Well then, who am I?" The girl frowned thoughtfully and then said with a shrug, "I guess you must be a sheep dog."  

5.     Pastor’s vacation:  

It's been said that every pastor ought to have six weeks of vacation each year, because if he is a really good shepherd, he deserves it; and if he is not a very good shepherd, his congregation deserves it.  

6.     "May I see your driver's license?"  

Everyone, it seems, is interested in my numbers. I go to the grocery store to buy some groceries. After the checkout woman rings up my bill, I pull out my checkbook and write out the check. She takes it from me. She looks at the information. Numbers tell her where I live. Numbers tell her how to reach me on the telephone. "Is this information correct?" she asks.” Yes, it is," I reply. "May I see your driver's license?" she asks. She looks at my driver's license and writes some more numbers on my check. Finally, I am approved. The numbers are all there. I can eat for another week. One could wish it were a bit more human and personal. So the IRS knows me by my tax number. My state knows me by my driver's license number. My bank knows me by my bank account number. My employer knows me by my social security number. On and on it goes for you, for me, for everybody. Everybody knows my numbers. I am not sure that anyone knows me! The numbers game that is played in our culture is one symptom of loneliness and alienation that surrounds us today. "All the lonely people, where do they all come from?" That is a line from an early song by the Beatles. Loneliness. Isolation. Alienation. These are the realities of contemporary civilized life. "I am the good shepherd." Those were Jesus' words in our reading from John's gospel text for this sermon. "I am the good shepherd; I know my own and my own know me ..."  

7.     Jesus knows his sheep by name:  

There have always been people with a good memory for names: Napoleon, "who knew thousands of his soldiers by name . . .” or James A. Farley, "who claimed he knew 50,000 people by their first name . . .” or Charles Schwab, "who knew the names of all 8,000 of his employees at Homestead Mill . . .” or Charles W. Eliot, "who, during his forty years as president of Harvard, earned the reputation of knowing all the students by name each year . . .” or Harry Lorayne, "who used to amaze his audiences by being introduced to hundreds of people, one after another, then giving the name of any person who stood up and requested it.” (7) But can you imagine Christ knowing all his sheep by name? That's millions and millions of people over 2,000 years. No wonder we call him Master, Lord, Savior – watching over his flock, calling each by name. 

8.     “I only know them by name."  

Tony Campolo loves to tell the story of a particular census taker who went to the home of a rather poor family in the mountains of West Virginia to gather information. He asked the mother how many dependents she had. She began, "Well, there is Rosie, and Billy, and Lewella, Susie, Harry, and Jeffrey. There's Johnny, and Harvey, and our dog, Willie." It was then that the census taker interrupted her aid said: "No, ma'am, that's not necessary. I only need the humans." "Ah," she said. "Well, there is Rosie, and Billy, and Lewella, Susie, Harry, and Jeffrey, Johnny, and Harvey, and...." But there once again, the census taker interrupted her. Slightly exasperated, he said, "No, ma'am, you don't seem to understand. I don't need their names, I just need the numbers." To which the old woman replied, "But I don't know them by numbers. I only know them by name." In today’s gospel Jesus the good shepherd says that he knows his sheep by name.  

9.     “I'd like to preserve my integrity and credibility."  

About 4 years ago, Mark Cuban, owner of the NBA's Dallas Mavericks, offered WGN Chicago Radio sports-talk host David Kaplan $50,000 to change his name legally to "Dallas Maverick." When Kaplan politely declined, Cuban sweetened the offer. Cuban would pay Kaplan $100,000 and donate $100,000 to Kaplan's favorite charity if he took the name for one year. After some soul searching, and being bombarded by e-mails from listeners who said he was crazy to turn down the money, Kaplan held firm and told Cuban no. Kaplan explained: "I'd be saying I'd do anything for money, and that bothers me. My name is my birthright. I'd like to preserve my integrity and credibility." Skip Bayless, Chicago Tribune (1/10/01), Leadership Summer 2001) The name "Christian" is our birthright. From the moment of our baptism and our birth into the Kingdom of God, we are the sheep of the Good Shepherd who promises to lead us to green pastures and beside the still waters. The Voice of the Shepherd protects us. 

10.  His master’s voice:  

Have you ever seen the painting done in the 1930s of a dog, looking with a cocked head, at an old gramophone? The name of the painting is His Master's Voice, and it's a symbol of what Jesus is saying to us. "The sheep listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out." 

11.  “I know the psalm. The pastor knows the Shepherd.”  

A famous actor was the guest of honor at a social gathering. As people gathered around, they asked the actor to recite excerpts from various literary works. He obliged and did so brilliantly. Finally, an elderly pastor asked the actor to recite the 23rd Psalm. The actor hesitated at first and then agreed on one condition. The pastor would return the favor. The actor’s recitation was brilliant and eloquent. People responded to the actor with lengthy applause. The pastor’s rendition was feeble and frail. But when the pastor finished, there was not a dry eye in the house. Finally, the actor broke the silence with these words: “I know the psalm. The pastor knows the Shepherd.” “The Lord is my Shepherd, I shall not want.” Do you know the Shepherd? Have you found Him to be good? Have you discovered He is all you need? 

12.  “Then we FLEECE them!”  

Two television evangelists were talking. One was explaining how he was seeking to be the ideal shepherd to his television flock. “There are three ways I seek to do that,” he said. “What three ways do you mean?” asked the other evangelist. “Well” he explained, “First, we FIND them. Every year we find new stations to carry our ministry. Then we FEED them. I give them the plain unvarnished word of God.” “But what’s the third thing?” asked the second evangelist. “Well,” he answered, “Once we’ve found them and fed them, then we FLEECE them!” Some TV evangelists have become quite proficient at fleecing their flock. I hope you understand that nothing could be farther from the example of Christ. Jesus said, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep . . .” Fleecing the flock is a long way from laying down your life for them. 

13.  “But I never jumped.”  

A paratrooper who had recently resigned from the military was asked how many times he had jumped out of an airplane. He said, “None.” A friend of his asked, “What do you mean, ‘none,’ I thought you were a paratrooper?” He said, “I was, but I never jumped. I was pushed several times . . . but I never jumped.” The hired hand never jumps. He has to be pushed. Churches often have hired hands in them. Not our church, of course. But other churches are full of people who have to be pushed to do what they know they ought to do. Jesus did not have to be pushed.

   14. “I give my life for my sheep”:

We applaud when a man or woman gives his or her life for another. Such instances do come along from time to time. Murfreesboro, Tennessee. May 28, 1989: "Former NFL football player Jerry Anderson," read the newspaper account, "died Saturday after pulling two young boys out of a rain-swollen river about 40 miles southeast of Nashville. Witnesses said Anderson saw two boys, thought to be 11 or 12 years old, attempting to cross a dam spanning the river. One or both boys fell into the water. According to Officer Bill Todd, ‘Mr. Anderson jumped in the water and managed to get the little boys out, but witnesses said he went under two or three times and about the fourth time, he didn't come back up.’" He gave his life to rescue two small boys. Of course, you don't have to be an American or a football player for such heroic actions. In a Middle school in the Ukrainian village of Ivanichi a young teacher died sometime back. He absorbed the blast of a hand grenade to protect his pupils. What was a grenade doing in a middle school? According to the London Times, the teacher, a graduate of the KGB border guard college, had been delivering the military instruction that is a compulsory part of the curriculum for Soviet children. He was teaching them how to handle what should have been an unarmed grenade. When he pulled the pin a wisp of smoke showed that a live grenade had become mixed in with demonstration grenades, and he gave his life. You don't have to be a man to perform such heroics. Many years ago a woman carrying a baby through the hills of South Wales, England, was overtaken by a blizzard. Searchers found her later frozen to death in the snow. Amazed that she had on no outer garments, they searched further and found her baby. She had wrapped them around the child, who was still alive and well. He grew up to be David Lloyd George, the Prime Minister of Great Britain in World War I. 

15.  Big Brother is watching us:  

Ever since 1984 hit the bookstores, people concerned about individual privacy and freedom have looked for signs that Big Brother is becoming a reality in our society. And it is true that more and more of our urban landscape is being observed by security cameras. But that is only one way our privacy is being invaded. There was a news report several years ago that Israeli scientists are now marketing a microchip that, implanted under the skin, will protect film stars and millionaires from kidnappers. The chip emits a signal detectable by satellite to help rescuers determine a victim’s approximate location. Originally the chip was developed to track Israeli secret-service agents abroad. The $5,000 chip doesn’t even require batteries. It runs solely on the neurophysiological energy generated within the human body. The firm which developed it, Gen-Etics, won’t reveal where the chip is inserted but said that, at that time, 43 people had had it implanted. Since this report was published there has been an explosion of interest in this technology. Farmers keep tabs on the health and safety of their cows and other livestock with such chips. But the use of such devices to monitor human beings is almost limitless. Already there is a monitoring bracelet for Alzheimer patients, so that families can use GPS systems to help find loved ones who might have wandered off. Would it be inconceivable that loving parents might want to monitor the whereabouts of their children via satellite? Why not have a chip implanted. Pet owners are already using such technology. Some cynics have suggested that some wives might want to monitor their husbands. Soon we will see signs, “Big Brother is watching.” Here’s what’s amusing to me. There are people who have no difficulty believing that one day the government will keep track of us all, but who cannot conceive that an all-knowing God can take a personal interest in each of His children, hear each of our prayers, and be responsive to each of our individual needs. 

16.  Images are highly influential 

They become emblazoned on the wall of our minds, and they evoke a wide range of responses. Millions of people will remember the fireman carrying the baby out of the ruins of the Murrah Federal Building in Oklahoma City. World War II veterans, particularly the ones who served in the South Pacific, will always remember Mount Surabachi and the Marines who raised an American flag at its summit, as well as the image of General MacArthur returning to the Philippines. Neil Armstrong taking that first step on the moon in the early '70s is frozen in many memories, too. If you were old enough to watch and understand television in l963, you probably remember young John F. Kennedy, Jr., at the casket of his father Jack. Much closer to our own time, many of us will long retain the image of students running out of Columbine High School with their hands over their heads. Some images are immensely powerful and have a tenacity that is tireless and timeless. If there is one image associated with the Christian faith which, more than any other, has found an enduring place within the collective life of the Christian church, it is the image of Jesus as the good shepherd.  

17.  Hannah and Her Sisters

A recent movie by Woody Allen was titled, Hannah and Her Sisters. The movie deals precisely with that theme. It is about Hannah and her sisters and how family life gives some sense of stability to life in a fractured world. The part played by Woody Allen in the movie is the part of a man who is constantly afraid that he will get some terrible disease. He is what we call a hypochondriac. As he comes into the movie, we see him on his way to the doctor. The doctor assures him that nothing seems to be terribly wrong, though some additional tests need to be made. Woody cannot calm himself over these additional tests. He is sure they will find something terrible. "What are you afraid of," one of his friends asks him, "cancer?" "Don't say that," Woody responds with a look of terror. More tests are performed. A cat scan is prescribed for his head. He is sure they will find a brain tumor. But his fears are unfounded. The doctor announces to him that all is well. In the next scene we see Woody coming out of the hospital, kicking up his heels, and running joyfully down the street. He is celebrating. But suddenly he stops. We know instinctively why he stops. He tells us in the next scene. "All this means," he says, "is that I am all right this time. Next time it will probably be serious.” Our lives are lived in constant danger. Woody Allen's character overplays the danger. But the danger is there. There are all kinds of realities that imperil our lives nearly every day. Accidents might befall us. Natural disasters strike. Oppressive structures of life weigh us down. Disease stalks us and death awaits. That is the way life is. We live our lives in constant peril. Woody Allen might have exaggerated a bit, but he is right. Human life is an endangered species. Death calls a halt to every human life. "I am the good shepherd," Jesus says. "The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep." 

18.  The Bismarck:  

In the beginning of World War II, the Nazis commissioned a massive battleship named the Bismarck. It was the biggest fighting vessel the world had seen up to that time. With the Bismarck the Germans had the opportunity to dominate the seas. Very soon after it was commissioned, the Bismarck sank tons of Allied shipping and allied aircraft. Its massive armor plating resulted in the boast that the Bismarck was unsinkable. But the Bismarck was sunk. And it was sunk due to one lone torpedo. A torpedo hit the Bismarck in the rudder. As a result the battleship zig-zagged through the sea, unable to reach harbor. It was only a short while before the British navy was able to overtake and destroy it. No matter how large the battleship may be, it is doomed without a rudder to direct it. Floundering on the waters of chaos without a rudder, the Bismarck is a modern-day image of a world without the direction of Jesus the Good Shepherd. Without the Lord, the world is headed toward chaos. But with the Lord there is guidance, direction and purpose in life.
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Fr. Jude Botelho:

That old man knows the Shepherd

A group of men sat around debating good and bad memories. As a result of the discussion, an impromptu contest began, to test their memories. One young man, with some artistic talent and training in voice production, recited Psalm 23, 'The Lord is my Shepherd'. His rendition was very effective, and it drew thunderous applause, so he had to recite the psalm a second and a third time. The second 'contestant' was difficult to hear every word as he, too, recited 'The Lord is my Shepherd'. When he was finished, there was total silence in the room. Something strange had happened. Unconsciously, many people felt a sense of inner stirring, and a few began to whisper a quiet prayer. The young man, who recited the psalm first time around, stood up and explained the different reception to the two recitals of the same psalm. 'I know the Psalm,' he said, 'but it is obvious that old man knows the Shepherd.'

Jack McArdle in 'And that's the Gospel truth'

 
Recognizing the Master
One of the memories I have of the home of my birth was a dog we had, called Roxy. We lived on a fairly quiet road but, as the years went by, the number of cars increased. Irrespective of how many passed by, Roxy was quite indifferent. Then, suddenly, the ears were at full stretch, up he sprang, and he raced at full speed along the road. There was no sign of anything coming, but we all knew that my mother was on her way, driving back from town, and was probably several hundred yards away. With all the cars, this is the sound that Roxy recognized from a distance. By the time he met the car, my mother had rolled down the window on the passenger side, slowed down slightly and, with the car still moving, Roxy sprang right into the front seat and accompanied her on the latter part of the journey. I'm sure most of us have known unique relationships between animals and humans.

Jack McArdle in 'And that's the gospel truth'

 
"I lay down my life for my sheep." He here vows that he is prepared in every way to fight and face danger on behalf of his friends and kindred; confirming by the emphatic repetition of his intention that he is indeed the good shepherd. For they who abandon the sheep to the wolves are rightly named cowards and hirelings. But he is prepared to defend them, so that he does not falter even in the face of death, is with just reason called the good shepherd.......... We must keep in mind that Christ did not suffer death for us unwillingly; rather he seemed to walk towards it of his own will, though he could with ease have avoided suffering had he wished not to suffer. Therefore, in that he freely and of his own will suffered for our sakes, we behold the greatness of his love and goodness towards us."
- St. Cyril of Alexandria, The Good Shepherd
 
Does anyone care?
The Broadway musical 1776 dealt with those critical days and weeks in our history when our forefathers debated the Declaration of Independence. At one point in the debate, the fate of our great nation was like a pole standing in wet sand. It could fall either way: backwards into the past and continued domination by England, or forward into the future and newfound freedom. One night John Adams, one of the freedom fighters, was terribly worried about the outcome. Standing all alone in the darkness of Independence Hall, where the great debate was being held, he began to sing in words like these: "Is anyone out there? Does anyone care? Does anyone see what I see?" -These are the same words Jesus is singing in our darkened world. He is singing all alone, hoping greathearted people will hear him: "Is anyone out there? Does anyone care? Does anyone see what I see?"

Mark Link in 'Decision'

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From Sermons.com:

 


Leadership. We all want good leadership. Good shepherds to lead us in and out of green pasture. We vote hoping to elect it, we apply for jobs hoping to work for it, and we go to school hoping to be educated by it. But we do not always find it. The trust we place in our leaders can be broken. So what are we to do? John 10 holds the answer.

Look at the picture Jesus gives us here in John 10: This wonderful vivid portrait of a shepherd caring for his sheep. The shepherd would lead his sheep out to distant areas and stay there for days. Being a good shepherd he created a temporary corral, a pen to keep the sheep in when they were not grazing. Using the crude stones of the field a shepherd could quickly put together such a structure and at night he would lay his body down in the opening of this corral making himself the door. No sheep could wonder away at night unless it stepped over the sleeping shepherd and no wolf could come in to do harm without waking the shepherd. He is the gate.

Do you see what is happening here? More than any other duty the goal of the shepherd is to protect the sheep. This is how you know a good shepherd from a bad shepherd. Does the Shepherd. . .does the leader have the best interest of his people at heart? How do you know that he or she is a good shepherd? You know by looking at the sheep.

Looking at Jesus' teaching here in John 10 I want to ask a few questions and see what the answers might be?

1. What are the needs of the sheep?
2. What are the traits of a bad shepherd?
3. What are the traits of a good shepherd?  

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A pastor friend who lived in an apartment complex in San Francisco tells about the time that he and his wife parked their brand new Honda Accord under cover in the secured parking area next to their apartment complex. The next day they decided to celebrate the purchase of that new car by going out to breakfast together. Not only would they enjoy eating out together, it would give them another opportunity to drive their new automobile. Leaving the apartment building, they greeted the guard on duty at the gate of the parking garage. They walked along a row of parked cars and, he reports, as they walked up to their new Honda they knew right away that something was not right because the passenger side front door was not closed completely. As they drew closer they discovered that the dashboard had been broken, the radio was stolen as well as, believe it or not, the burglar alarm! They called the police and the person who took their report said, "Let me guess, you were parked at that nice apartment complex on Burlington Avenue and your car is a Honda Accord. Am I right?" "Yes," he responded, "do you already know about this?" "No," replied the person on the other end of the telephone, "but you are the eleventh person who has called us this morning from that apartment complex and all of you were parked in that same undercover parking lot and you all own Honda Accords and all of your dashboards are torn up and your radios and burglar alarms stolen."

Can we imagine how violated that couple felt? When they spoke again to the guard at the gate he told of how a guard had been on duty all through the night but the thieves did not enter by the gate. Instead they scaled a fence on the far side of the parking lot and did their work under cover of darkness. Thieves violate the common trust of the neighborhoods and communities they rob. They steal not only car radios or whatever else they choose to take, they also create emotional turmoil for the people in those neighborhoods and communities. Jesus says, "Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit" (v. 1).

Come with me to one of the most moving and inviting chapters in the entire Bible. John chapter 10 is also one of the most beloved passages in all the scriptures. The teaching in this chapter reminds us of some of the parables that Matthew, Mark, and Luke record in their gospels. However, there is one glaring difference and we find it in verse 6 where John calls these words from the Lord's lips a "figure of speech." It is an allegory not a parable. Jesus is not talking about violated cars here but about something far more important and vital....
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I Am The Door

George Adam Smith, the 19th century biblical scholar tells of traveling one day in the holy land and coming across a shepherd and his sheep. He fell into conversation with him and the man showed him the fold into which the sheep were led at night. It consisted of four walls, with a way in. Smith asked him, "This is where they go at night?" "Yes," said the shepherd, "and when they are in there, they are perfectly safe." "But there is no door," said Smith. "I am the door," said the shepherd. He was not a Christian man and wasn't speaking in the language of the New Testament. He was speaking from an Arab shepherd's viewpoint. Smith looked and him and asked, "What do you mean you are the door?" "When the light has gone," said the shepherd, "and all the sheep are inside, I lie in that open space, and no sheep ever goes out but across my body, and no wolf comes in unless he crosses my body; I am the door."

George Adam Smith
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The Gift of Free Will

Today's society presents us with many choices and possibilities that only seem to grow more numerous with time and the "advance" of culture. They say that "variety is the spice of life" and I suspect it is true. Yet, the many choices that stand before us can be confusing. We need to learn how to wisely use the gift of free will, our ability to choose. This gift, if used constructively, can provide much good for our world, but if abused it can create untold grief.

Wisdom dictates that in order to use our gift of free will wisely, we must ask ourselves some important questions concerning how well we follow Jesus, the shepherd and gatekeeper, in the decisions we make. What are the criteria that we use to make the important decisions of our lives? Do we seek out family and friends, colleagues and associates? What place does God have in our decision making process? What responsibility do we feel for those God has entrusted to us? Young people, students, or subordinates at work all look to elders and superiors to lead them. By following our lead will people find the pasture of life or are we leading people astray by the conduct of our lives? What choices have we made lately? Were they helpful and did they aid us along the path of life or were they destructive? If they were harmful, did we have the courage to change and make a better choice? When we make decisions are they based solely on our needs and wants or do we consider the desires of others?

If we find ourselves in positions of authority, do we make choices that are beneficial to all or are we selfish in our choices? Jesus' life demonstrates that suffering is part of the Christian life. Are we willing to make the decision that may cause suffering because it is the right choice, or do we shy away because we are afraid to endure a crisis for the sake of Christ's name?

Richard E. Gribble, CSC, Sermons For Sundays: In Lent And Easter: Building Our Foundation On God, CSS Publishing Company, Inc.
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Only Obedience

High in the mountains of North Wales in a place called Llanymawddwy, lives a shepherd named John Jones with his wife Mari and his black and white dog Mack. I stood one misty summer morning in the window of their farmhouse watching John on horseback herding the sheep with Mack. A few cows were quietly chewing their cud in a nearby corner while perhaps a hundred sheep moved across the dewy meadow toward the pens where they were to be dipped.

Mack, a champion Scottish collie, was in his glory. He came from a long line of working dogs, and he had sheep in his blood. This was what he was made for, this was what he had been trained to do. And it was a marvelous thing to see him circling to the right, circling to the left, barking, crouching, racing along, herding a stray sheep here, nipping at a stubborn one there, his eyes always glued to the sheep, his ears listening for the tiny metal whistle from his master, which I couldn't hear.

Mari took me to the pens to watch what John had to do there. When all the animals had been shut inside the gates, Mack tore around the outside of the pens and took up his position at the dipping trough, frantic with expectation, waiting for the chance to leap into action again. One by one John seized the rams by their curled horns and flung them into the antiseptic. They would struggle to climb out the side, and Mack would snarl and snap at their faces to force them back in. Just as they were about to climb up the ramp at the far end, John caught them by the horns with a wooden implement, spun them around, and held them -- ears, eyes, and nose submerged for a few seconds . . . .

When the rams had been dipped, John rode out again on his horse to herd the ewes which were in a different pasture. Again I watched with Mari as John and Mack went to work, the one in charge, the other obedient. Sometimes, tearing at top speed around the flock, Mack would jam on four-wheeled brakes, his eyes blazing but still on the sheep, his body tense and quivering, but obedient to the command to stop. What the shepherd saw the dog could not see -- the weak ewe that lagged behind, the one caught in a bush, the danger that lay ahead for the flock.

"Do the sheep have any idea what's happening?" I asked Mari.

"Not a clue!" she said.
"And how about Mack?" I'll never forget Mari's answer.
"The dog doesn't understand the pattern -- only obedience."
Adapted by Rev. J. Scott Miller from "The Glory of God's Will" by Elizabeth Elliot Leitch in Declare His Glory Among the Nations, pp. 129-130
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The Voice of a Stranger

I once knew someone who was a leader in the congregation. At one time or another he had filled most (if not all) of the important leadership positions in that church. More than that, however, oftentimes he was the one who would volunteer for those tough, dirty jobs that no one else wanted: washing dishes after a potluck supper, helping to teach the confirmation class, stacking shelves at the food bank.

This is the kind of person you would like to clone and with whom you'd like to fill the congregation, right? Wrong! This person was a delight to have around until things didn't go his way, and then he was a nightmare: disruptive, divisive, even destructive. He didn't understand the meaning of community and was not a team player. And when (not for the first time) he and his wife climbed into their huff-mobile and drove away after some disagreement, the congregation finally had the good sense not to beg them to come back. Finally that congregation had learned to distinguish between the voice of a shepherd and the voice of a stranger.

Verne Arens, (Good) Help Wanted
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Effective Leadership

Once there was an ecumenical crusade that was being held in a large city. Every imaginable denomination was in attendance for this unprecedented event. One afternoon the gathering was in session when all of a sudden a secretary rushed in shouting, "The building's on fire! The building's on fire!" Confusion reigned as each church group came together and did what came natural:

The Methodists gathered in the corner to pray. The Baptists cried, "Where's the water?" The Quakers quietly praised God for the blessings that fire brings. The Lutherans posted a notice on the door declaring that the fire was evil. The Roman Catholics passed a plate to cover the damages. The Unitarians reasoned that the fire would burn itself out if just given the chance. The Congregationalists shouted, "Every man for himself." The Fundamentalists proclaimed, "It's the vengeance of God." The Episcopalians formed a procession and marched out. The Christian Scientists concluded that there was no real fire. The Presbyterians appointed a chairperson to appoint a committee to look into the matter and make a written report.

And the church secretary grabbed a fire extinguisher and put the fire out.

Tom Lacey, Unleashing the Lord in Your Life
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Beyond Fleecing

The pastor of a rich suburban parish was speaking to the Sunday school kids. He told them that as the pastor he was like a shepherd and the members of his congregation were the sheep. He then put this question to them: "What does the shepherd do for the sheep?" A little fellow in the front row raised his hands and answered, "He fleeces them." True enough, shepherds go into the business for the purpose of fleecing, milking and feeding on the sheep. But when the Bible speaks of the leaders of God's people as shepherds, it envisions leaders who feed, protect and feel with the people as a good shepherd does for his flock.

Fr. Munachi Ezeogu, Jesus, the Good Shepherd
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Missing the Point

Isn't it amazing how sometimes we get all tangled up with the words we speak and end up not being clear about what we're trying to say? Back when I was in high school I had a poster that read, "I know you think you understand what I said, but what you don't understand is that what I said wasn't what I meant." Are you ever misunderstood? I've noticed that it happens everywhere, at work, at home, at school. Believe it or not, it even happens at church.

Every so often, Abigail Van Buren in her column, Dear Abby, runs a list of church bulletin misprints and church sign bloopers that prove that we in the church occasionally have problems saying what we mean. Here are some recent ones:

The bulletin of a church in Iowa announced: The Low Self-Esteem Support Group will meet Thursday from 7 to 8:30p.m. Please use the back door.

Another church's bulletin carried this announcement: Due to the Pastor's illness, Wednesday's healing services will be discontinued until further notice.

During a service one preacher made this announcement: "This being Easter Sunday, we will now ask Mr. Vassilas to come forward and lay an egg on the altar.

Another church newsletter had this: At the evening service tonight, the topic will be "What is Hell?" Come early and hear our choir practice.

Not to pick on the choir, but an announcement in one church read: Eight new choir robes are currently needed, due to the addition of several new members and to the deterioration of some older ones.

In today's Scripture we find that even Jesus sometimes had trouble speaking clearly enough for people to get what he was saying. Did you notice? Jesus is trying to make a point using symbolic figures of speech that his listeners just don't get. The images he uses of sheepfolds, thieves, gates and gatekeepers were very familiar to these people, and yet, they didn't understand.

Steve Jackson, The Power to Change Your Life
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What's the Gimmick?

For years St. Anthony's Catholic Church in San Francisco has served meals to people in need. Over the doorway to its dining room the church has posted a sign bearing the inscription: Caritate Dei. One day a young mechanic, just released from jail and new to St. Anthony's, entered the door and sat down for a meal. A woman was busy cleaning the adjoining table. "When do we get on our knees and do the chores, lady?" he asked.

"You don't," she replied. "Then when's the sermon comin'?" he inquired.
"Aren't any," she said. "How `bout the lecture on life, huh?" "Not here," she said.

The man was suspicious. "Then what's the gimmick?" The woman pointed to the inscription over the door. He squinted at the sign....