Fourth Sunday in Easter, Year A, 2008

Have you all seen the ATT commercial with Sven?  Sven is a giant blonde Swede. We first meet Sven as he is sitting squarely between a sleeping married couple.  As they wake up, Sven tells them that the wife’s stocks are up, and the husband’s stocks are down. He tells the husband about all his emails as the husband walks to the bathroom. Sven then wakes the daughter and reminds her she has kung fu at 2:00.  Then, as the family has breakfast, he takes out a flip chart and makes sure everyone knows the day’s schedule.  At the end of the commercial, he greets everyone at the front door with giant wool sweaters as he tells them to bundle up because of the cold outside.  The products ATT are selling are their smart phones, but I am left wanting not a phone, but a Sven!

How great would it be to have a chirpy, efficient, tall Swede guide me through my day? Sven would make sure I ate a nutritious breakfast, remembered to do the laundry, wore the appropriate clothes for every occasion.  When I got distracted on Facebook, he would gently but firmly remind me the importance of finishing my sermon in a timely manner.  He would make sure I worked on my quilt instead of watching another episode of Jeopardy.  If I had a Sven in my life I would be more productive, more efficient, more in shape.  (Sigh.)  I want a Sven!

But, I don’t have a Sven.  My phone is not even smart-the only thing it can do is. . .make phone calls. It’s amazing that I remember to show up for church, really.

Sometimes, when I think of Jesus as the Good Shepherd, I’d like him to be a little more like Sven.

I’d like the Good Shepherd to guide this little sheep around and make her more efficient, more effective, more focused.

But it turns out, the Good Shepherd is not a self-help guru.  The Good Shepherd is not Tony Robbins, Dr. Phil, or Stephen Covey.  If we follow the Good Shepherd, we won’t learn a new system for organizing our desks, or an exercise plan that will help us have rock hard abs, or a method to raise our children as productive members of society.

After all, sheep don’t have existential crises or schedules that need to be organized.

Sheep just are.  They eat, they sleep, they follow.

I don’t know about you, but that sounds heavenly to me!

I, like many of you, I’m sure, have a serious case of wanna-be-shepherd-itis.  Wanna-be-shepherd-itis is a terrible condition in which you forget you are a sheep and try to be a shepherd instead.  Instead of peacefully following the shepherd, the sheep tries to take over.

Let me describe to you how this goes terribly, terribly wrong:

My preparations for Chuck’s sabbatical have not been the most calm, centered and spiritual exercises.  Instead of quietly saying my prayers and waiting to see what God would have me to each day, I propelled myself into quite a tizzy.  I cleaned off my desk and filed a year’s worth of paperwork.  I made a giant list of all the tasks I need to accomplish, For some reason, I even insisted on frantically deep cleaning my refrigerator at home and organizing the spice rack, as if having expired tins of cloves and moldy leftovers hanging around might seriously affect the quality of my work this summer.

As I wound myself more and more tightly, the circumference of my anxiety widened and soon had nothing to do with the sabbatical!

Luckily, Matt pulled me from the brink and reminded me gently that I was worrying about things over which I had no control.  Matt reminded me that I am not the shepherd of my future.

What a relief!  In that moment I was able to take a deep breath and take my rightful place as a sheep.  When Jesus reminds us that we are sheep, he tells us that our job is to be responsible for the present.  We don’t need to worry about what has happened in the past, we don’t need to worry about what will happen in the future.  Our job as sheep is to learn our Shepherd’s voice and then be quiet enough to identify that voice among the throngs of voices we hear every day.

And we are inundated with voices, aren’t we?  One of the byproducts of our marvelous technology is that it multiplies exponentially the voices we hear.  Two hundred years ago, you heard the voices of your family, friends, colleagues, newspapers and books.  Then the radio was added, next television, then cable television, and finally the internet.  Now we can have access to almost any voice we want.  Even the soothing voice of Sven the Swedish home organizer.

Jesus refers to thieves and bandits presenting themselves as false shepherds.  At the time, he was probably speaking about the Pharisees or false messianic leaders who came before him.  I think, though, if we look hard enough we can find plenty of thieves and bandits in our own day.  Whether religious, political, or media leaders, there are plenty of people who would happily lead us by the nose, pumping us full of false information. Thankfully, none of these voices are our true Shepherd.  Thankfully, our Shepherd is a Good Shepherd who is full of truth, and honor, and love.

Distinguishing the Shepherd’s voice from the cacophony we hear every day is not easy, but it is worth the challenge.  Listening to that voice is not only the right thing to do, it is also in our best interest.  Remember-the Good Shepherd is not a self-help guru.  The Good Shepherd is not going to help us frantically do anything.  Instead, the Good Shepherd will help us to be-to be still-to know ourselves and to know him.

Our Shepherd longs to guide us to lush green fields, abundant with life’s blessings.  Our Shepherd is armed with a rod to protect us from harm and a staff to gather us when we go astray.    Our Shepherd wants only what is good for us, unlike so many of the voices we hear!

No matter what madness is happening around us, the Shepherd will lead us to a quiet place inside ourselves where we can feel safe and secure and loved.

No other voice, no one else, not even Sven, can lead us there.

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