Easter 4, 2015 (Preached at Amherst Presbyterian Church)

Good morning!

It is such a treat to be at Amherst Presbyterian Church this morning!  Having the family all get into one car on Sunday morning is a rare experience for us.

While it can feel like Matt and I have two very different congregations, or flocks, being here with you on Good Shepherd Sunday is a great reminder that really we are all, Presbyterian or Episcopalian, part of Jesus’ one big flock of sheep.

When we think of Jesus as the Good Shepherd, we often think of the story from Luke, in which Jesus compares himself to a shepherd who has a flock of 100 sheep, but when one goes missing, he drops everything to find that sheep.  That passage gives us a feeling of deep security—that no matter what happens to us in our lives, we know Jesus will stay with us.

But our passage today is getting to a slightly different aspect of the Good Shepherd.  And our story really begins at the beginning of the 9th chapter of John.

The Pharisees are shocked, SHOCKED, I tell you, because Jesus has healed a blind man. As you know, Jesus was all about taking people who had been exiled from their flocks by disease or demon possession or blindness and healing them so they could re-join community.

The Pharisees, rather than delighting in the blind man’s return to his flock—his return to community—are immediately suspicious and begin a line of inquiry into the healing.  First they are convinced he’s lying, and after interviewing him twice and confirming with his family that he had been born blind, they are so annoyed by the claims he makes about Jesus, that they exile him once again and force him to leave the city.

Usually when Jesus heals someone, we never hear from that character again.  But in this instance, Jesus is so outraged by the Pharisees’ treatment of this man, that he seeks the exiled man out and has this deeply profound conversation with him, in which he reveals that he is the Son of Man.  Jesus treats the man, not as someone who should be exiled, but as someone who is special enough to understand Jesus’ divine nature.

And when the Pharisees start huffing and puffing again, Jesus tells this story about the Good Shepherd.

He compares the Pharisees to a hired hand.  The Pharisees are supposed to be taking care of God’s people, but somehow along the way they have lost track. They have become more interested in rules than in welcoming all people to God’s flock.  If a true threat comes to attack the sheep, the hired hand will run away.  The Pharisees, despite their best intentions, do not have God’s people’s best interests at heart.

Jesus goes on to say that in contrast to the unreliable hired hand, he is the good shepherd.  He foreshadows his own death when he explains that the good shepherd is willing to lay down his life for the sheep.  Jesus is utterly and totally committed to his flock.  Whether he is tracking down the formerly blind man, or walking towards his death in Jerusalem, the Jesus of the Gospel of John is completely in control and completely loving.

This love he has for humanity isn’t rooted in how wonderful we are.  After all, we are the kind of people to berate a blind man for being healed!  Jesus’ love for us is ultimately rooted in the love he has been given from his Father. Jesus is able to love us, because his Father loves him and his Father loves us.  Jesus invites us into that loving relationship as we become members of his flock.

In fact, it is in the Gospel of John where Jesus instructs his disciples to “…love one another. Just as I have loved you, you also should love one another.”  What makes our Christian communities distinctive—or what should make our Christian communities distinctive—is the love we have for one another.

We follow a shepherd who sought out and welcomed every kind of person.  The wealthy, the poor, the old, the young, the healthy and the invalid were all invited to follow Jesus.  Jesus broke down the barriers between people and God, but also broke down the barriers between people themselves.  The Good Shepherd’s flock now truly contains every type of person you could imagine from communities across the world.

Including people who are different from the mainstream in our flocks can be challenging.  We are more comfortable with people who look like us, who have stories to which we can relate.  But just as Jesus always looked outward to gather in more and more people into his flock, we too are called to open our minds to who belongs.

In 2003, at Trinity Episcopal church in Torrington, CT, the Rev. Audrey Scanlan and Children’s minister Linda Snyder got a phone call from a parishioner who had a son with autism.  Bringing his son to a regular church service was proving extremely challenging.  His son did not have the executive function to sit quietly for an hour and changes in light and sound could be deeply upsetting to the child.  Audrey and Linda worked with the family to create a church service to which this child and his friends could be fully themselves.  One in which they were not required to sit still and in which the liturgy was simple, hands on and consistent.  The service was a huge success.  Many families in the community who had felt completely isolated from church, finally felt welcomed back into the flock.  Audrey and Linda published a curriculum called Rhythms of Grace and many churches across the country now use programs like it to welcome to church members of the community who ordinarily would not feel comfortable or welcome in a church service.

Providing a way for children with autism to worship Jesus in a safe environment is the way Trinity Episcopal Church decided to live like Jesus’ flock.  But each church community has its own set of opportunities.  If Sweet Briar does close, Amherst will undergo a transformation over the next few years.  You don’t know who will buy the property, what kind of people will be moving to town or what their needs might be.

But our Good Shepherd invites us to keep our eyes open and our hearts welcoming.  Just as we take care of each other in love, we also reach out in love, ready to incorporate whoever needs us into our life together.

The Good Shepherd will lead us—whether we are here at Amherst Pres or up the road at St. Paul’s Episcopal.  All we have to do is follow.



Easter 4, Year B, 2012

I am the Good Middle Manager.  The Good Middle Manager asks for reports on time.  The Consultant, who is not the Good Middle Manager, sees the buyout coming and leaves the employees and runs away and the corporation calls them in and fires them. The consultant runs away because a consultant does not care for the employees.

The Good Middle Manager doesn’t quite have the same ring as The Good Shepherd, does it?

The image of a shepherd is a romantic one.  We think of Heidi in the Swiss Alps, and those sentimental paintings of Jesus with a baby lamb in his arms.  While the life of a shepherd might be far removed from our experience, to the crowds that followed Jesus, the idea of someone being a shepherd would have been as familiar as someone being in management is to us.

And not only that, but Hebrew Scriptures are filled with shepherds.  Abraham was a shepherd, Jacob was a shepherd, Moses was a shepherd, and of course David was a shepherd.

What about being a shepherd makes a person so likely to get called into service by God?  Why does Jesus identify with this job?

Shepherds must be both responsible and courageous.  They must seek out good pasture in which their sheep can feed and they must diligently protect their flocks from wolves and other predators.

Unlike herding cattle, which can be done from behind, a shepherd leads from the front, calling out to her sheep, who know her voice and follow her.

Abraham, Moses, and David all ended up being called to rely on these skills when it was their turn to lead people.  Whether they felt prepared or not, each of them became responsible for leading God’s people to new places and new adventures.  And each of them had to defend God’s people against various dangers.

Jesus, of course, is more than just a shepherd of us, his followers, he is The Good Shepherd.  He is not a hired hand, who is going to run away.  He is not a Pharisee who has lost intimacy with God’s people.  He is not a consultant, who has professional distance.

Jesus is the Good Shepherd. Jesus loves his flock of followers and they followed them, and still follow him, by listening to his voice as it is handed down to us in the Gospels. For generations now, Christians have learned that by following Jesus, they are led into rich pastures.  Following Jesus leads to intimacy with God.   Following Jesus leads to lives rich with meaning.

Lately, I’ve been reading books about parenting.  This week I am reading a book called “Raising Happiness” by Christine Carter.  Dr. Carter has done a ton of research about what generates happiness.  She has carefully compiled this research and thought about how parents can use it to raise well adjusted, happy human beings.

Frankly, she could have titled her book, “Being Sheep:  How following The Good Shepherd can lead to a Lifetime of Happiness.”  She covers the importance of having deep social connections, practicing gratitude, letting go of perfectionism, learning how to ask for and give forgiveness, serving others, learning self control, even eating together!  If that doesn’t sound like life in Jesus’ sheepfold, I don’t know what does.

Dr. Carter describes behaviors that Christians who follow Jesus should be practicing whether we have read her book or not.  Our Shepherd leads us into community.  Our Shepherd acknowledges our imperfections and chooses to take the fall himself, teaching us about forgiveness. Our Shepherd shows us how God is at work in the world, teaching us gratitude.  Our Shepherd is a servant, teaching us to serve.  Our Shepherd gives us the Holy Spirit, empowering us to have self control. And, of course, Our Shepherd gives us the gift of the Eucharist, which we eat together every week.

The sheepfold is not a perfect place.  After all, it is filled with sheep.  But the sheepfold is this amazing crucible in which we sheep can practice all the things the Shepherd teaches us.  It is in the sheepfold, this very church, where we can practice asking for forgiveness when we have wronged someone; serve one another, practice gratitude for all God has given us; work on self control of our bodies and speech; and encounter that Good Shepherd as we gather together weekly to partake of his body and blood.

It is in this sheepfold that we try to follow our Shepherd together.  We may bump into each other occasionally, step on one another’s toes, get into each other’s patch of grass, but we are all trying to go in the same direction, listening for that voice so we can follow together.

Whether we are a rummage volunteer, Sunday School teacher, grounds beautifier, mission trip goer, St. Nick’s wreath maker, chorister, priest, sexton, usher, verger; we are all in the same flock, following the same Shepherd.

We are a few weeks away from moving into our summer rhythm at Trinity. This is a perfect time to take a few months and for all of us to listen to our Shepherd’s voice.  Where is our Shepherd leading us?  What new adventures are in store?

Whatever they are, we know we can trust our Good Shepherd to lead us safely on the journey.

Thanks be to God.


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.

Christmas Eve, Year A, 2007

Are you lost?

We all get lost sometimes.  I get lost around these parts fairly regularly.  I wept like a little girl more than once my first year as a priest in Greenwood, when I was lost in the country because someone had stolen a street sign or because I missed an obvious landmark.  We get lost in other ways, too, of course.  We forget who we are and start acting in a way that is false and hurtful.  We get lost in the deep seas of grief or depression.  We get lost in our relationships.  We get lost in our social circles, in school, or at work.

Getting lost is a human problem.  Even Mary and Joseph were lost for a little while.  They were travelers against their will, filling a civic obligation.  They were not wealthy and had not planned ahead.  They were going through an experience that must have been completely isolating and strange.  They were in an unfamiliar land and in a completely unfamiliar situation. 

Being lost is scary.  Being lost makes us feel vulnerable and unprotected.  We are not people who are designed to be lost.  We are designed to be safe at home, blanketed in love and security.  Yet, like sheep, we get lost.  All the time.  Over and over.

Wouldn’t it be nice if when we got lost, someone would come after us?  Wouldn’t it be wonderful if there were say.. .a shepherd who would guide us through our difficult and lost times?

It is no mistake that the first visitors Jesus had after his birth were shepherds.  After all, God could have sent the angels to any group of people.  Why not milkmaids, shopkeepers, or doctors?  Why were shepherds the lucky ones who got to hear the good news first?  The author of the Gospel of Luke is an extremely careful storyteller.  He is not loose with words and carefully considers every detail in his account of the Gospel.  The fact that shepherds were the first to visit Jesus should grab us by our collars and shake us to attention.

Where else in Scripture is the image of the Shepherd used?  Why would shepherds be the first to visit Jesus?

Shepherd imagery is used throughout the Hebrew Scriptures.  Imagery of Israel as lost sheep begins as early as Numbers:

Numbers 27:17 who shall go out before them and come in before them, who shall lead them out and bring them in, so that the congregation of the LORD may not be like sheep without a shepherd.”

Verses almost identical to this can be found in 1 Kings and 2 Chronicles.

Later, King David describes feeling shepherded by God in the Psalms, when he says in the 23rd psalm:  The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not want.

But God does not speak of himself as a shepherd explicitly quite yet.  First, in Isaiah, the prophet records God telling him that a king will,

feed his flock like a shepherd; he will gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and gently lead the mother sheep.

But of course king after king after king failed these ideals, so God begins to identify himself as the shepherd of these lost sheep.

Years later, in the 31st chapter of Jeremiah, the prophet says, “Hear the word of the LORD, O nations, and declare it in the coastlands far away; say, “He who scattered Israel will gather him, and will keep him as a shepherd of a flock.”

And then the prophet Ezekiel fleshes out this imagery further, saying that God as shepherd will rescue his people:

Ezekiel 34:12 As shepherds seek out their flocks when they are among their scattered sheep, so I will seek out my sheep. I will rescue them from all the places to which they have been scattered on a day of clouds and thick darkness.

Ezekiel goes further and says God will act as Shepherd through King David:

 Ezekiel 34:23 I will set up over them one shepherd, my servant David, and he shall feed them: he shall feed them and be their shepherd.

Remember that before David was King of all Israel, he was a shepherd boy.  The author of Luke is setting up Jesus as the great Shepherd who will gather God’s people together. Jesus comes from David’s line-so Jesus already has David’s credibility both as shepherd and as king.

When Jesus grows up he acknowledges his role as shepherd, too.  In the gospel of John, one of the primary images of Jesus is as the Good Shepherd.  In the tenth chapter of John, Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep.”  Jesus fulfills years of prophecy and steps into the role of God as shepherd, as our caretaker.

The shepherds who come to honor the infant Jesus foreshadow the infant’s future role.  Just as these shepherds gather and watch over their flocks, Jesus will gather the people of his time together.  Jesus will watch over them, and Jesus now watches over us.  A shepherd’s job is to tend to sheep:  to make sure they stick together, to make sure they have enough nourishment, to find any sheep that might go astray.  Jesus does that for us.

Jesus gathers us stray sheep here, now, in community.  Jesus invites us in from wherever we might have been a few hours ago: whether we were having a wonderful celebration or fighting with our partner, rolling our eyes at our parents, celebrating Christmas without a cherished loved one-wherever we were-Jesus gathers us together.

We gather, here, now, to remember that we are not stray sheep. We are not wandering in the wilderness alone.  We are sheep who belong to a shepherd.  A shepherd who loves us with great passion-such passion that he was willing to be born as a human, in a stable, to parents who were just as lost as we are.  A shepherd who would grow up and love us so deeply he would offer his very self on our behalf. 

Today we honor this Shepherd’s humble birth, and we give deep thanks that he has found each of us, and gathers us to himself.  We give thanks that with the birth of Jesus, we are no longer lost.

And we gather every week, here, in this space together, not just to remember this Shepherd, but to encounter him.  When we worship together, when we gather at the altar, when we offer each other the Peace, we meet this Shepherd and occasionally we get a glimpse of the deep, patient, all-encompassing love this Shepherd feels for each of us. 

We may be sheep.  We may be lost sheep.  We may even be spectacularly lost sheep, baaing away in the wilderness, but we are beloved, sought after lost sheep.  And that makes all the difference in the world.  Amen.

Easter 4, Year B, 2006

While I am normally a mature–and let’s be honest, sophisticated person–every time I hear Handel’s Messiah, I giggle hysterically when the choristers belt out, “We like sheep. . .”  Sure I know Handel uses the word “like” in order to make a simile, but for a brief moment it feels as if Handel has taken a break from telling us the glorious story of the birth of Christ and is just expressing affection for. . .well. . .sheep.

Maybe my giggles are just a way of disguising my discomfort.  After all, Handel goes on to compare US to sheep who are easily led astray.  US!  We are independent, free thinking, over educated human beings, not sheep!  Sure, we have a tendency to go astray or follow the crowd occassionally.  Baaaa. Once in a while some of us go out and buy something because someone else made it look really cool.  Baaa.  And, sometimes we fudge ethically to make a little more money so we can keep up with the Joneses.   Baaa.  And every so often we go into the voting booth, having done no research on the positions of the candidate.  Baaaa.

Okay.  Fine.  Humans may have a few sheeplike qualities. But still, we can trust our families, our friends, our culture, our government to guide us wisely, right?    If we decided to structure our life around the principles that we found on television, we’d turn out okay. 

And if trusting the television felt shaky, we could certainly trust the government to help us make right choices. 

And if trusting the government did not work out for us, we could certainly trust the Church, right? 

Well, not necessarily.  In today’s reading from the Gospel of John, Jesus warns us about the dangers of shepherds who are only hired hands.   Jesus is speaking to a group of Pharisees.  A few days back, Jesus cured a blind man.  Instead of congratulating the blind man, maybe buying him a round at the local watering hole, the Pharisees immediately start accusing the no-longer-blind man of lying and then pump him for details about Jesus.  When he does not give the Pharisees the answers they are looking for, they kick the formerly blind man out of town! 

Jesus hears about this event comes back into town, finds the blind man and the Pharisees, and begins telling the Pharisees this long parable about the Good Shepherd.  We tend to think of the parable of the Good Shepherd as a sweet one.  Gentle Jesus carefully leading us. . . but Jesus uses this story to ream out the Pharisees for being such jerks and bad caretakers of their flocks. 

Jesus’ mention of shepherds would remind the Pharisees of Ezekiel 34-in which the Lord berates the Kings of Israel for taking advantage of their people, while benefiting themselves.  The Lord says through the prophet Ezekiel, “Ah, you shepherds of Israel who have been feeding yourselves! Should not shepherds feed the sheep? You eat the fat, you clothe yourselves with the wool, you slaughter the fatlings; but you do not feed the sheep.”  Jesus updates the image and portrays the Pharisees as false shepherds who do not protect the sheep.  You can imagine their outrage. 

They had been hard at work, crossing their doctrinal Ts and dotting their theologial “I”s.  Who is Jesus to tell them they have been careless?  They did not think they had done anything wrong at all.  In fact, they had been upholding traditions and truth, while Jesus burst in from nowhere to disrupt all their hard work. 

The Pharisees miss the point-Jesus is interested in the welfare of the sheep, not the details of how the sheep fold is constructed.

But Jesus, in the parable of the Good Shepherd, is doing much more than criticizing the Pharisees.  He lays himself out as the counterpoint to the image of the hired hand.  The hired hand, by the very nature of his job, is not terribly interested in the welfare of the sheep.  He will do a good job protecting the sheep as long as there are not difficult challenges, but the hired hand does not love the sheep like the Good Shepherd does.  The hired hand is ultimately most interested in the hired hand’s welfare. 

But the Good Shepherd’s eye is always on the sheep.  The Good Shepherd cultivates intimacy with the sheep.  He will guide the sheep, find the sheep when they are lost, and ultimately lay his life down for the sheep, rather than have them be attacked by the wolf. 

Who do we choose as our shepherds?  We appoint husbands, wives, lovers, parents, children, employers, best friends, movie stars, politicians, priests, writers, teachers, and philosophers as our shepherds, but even the best of these is only human, and subject to all of human weakness.  At their best a devoted spouse carries only the shadow of the love that the Good Shepherd has for you, the best philosopher carries only a shadow of the wisdom of the Good Shepherd, the best friend has only the shadow of the loyalty of the Good Shepherd. 

Of course we are called to be in relationship and to love and learn from the people in our lives, but we must be careful under whose leadership we place ourselves.  Recently I watched Enron:  The Smartest Guys in the Room.  This documentary traced the many steps that led to the Enron scandal.  What struck me most is the culture of ethical murkiness that Ken Lay and Jeffrey Skillings created.  Traders who came into the company with no illegal background, quickly assimilated into a culture that rewarded illegal transactions as long as they made the company money.   And, as we all know, the average person who worked for Enron walked away penniless, while the corporate leaders made hundreds of millions of dollars.  These shepherds did not care about their sheep.

Enron is a dramatic example, but every day we have choices to make about whom we follow.  Whether it is choosing an employer, a spouse, a friend, a social club, a political party or a church, we put ourselves in a position of trusting.  We trust that others will look out for our best interest, but that is not always the case. 

The good news is that The Good Shepherd does always look out for our best interest.  Following the Good Shepherd may not lead to instant gratification, wealth or conventional success.  Following the Good Shepherd may not even always feel good.  But we can trust that the Good Shepherd knows us, loves us, and will guide us with care.  We can trust that the Good Shepherd will be with us in pleasant pastures, beside still waters and through the dark and dangerous places in our journeys.  

You cannot get so lost that the Good Shepherd will not find you, put you over his shoulders and bring you back to the fold.  You cannot be so threatened that the Good Shepherd will not stand between you and the threat; and help you absorb the pain.  Most of all, you can trust the Good Shepherd to lead you into a life of integrity and meaning. 

The Good Shepherd is a shepherd who will not abuse you, not manipulate you, not take advantage of you.  He will use you, but he will use you for good, both good in the world and good for your own development as a Christian. 

To follow the Good Shepherd, we must know the Good Shepherd.  Earlier in this passage from John, Jesus explains that the sheep follow the Good Shepherd because they know his voice.  We must learn the Good Shepherd’s voice in order to be his followers.  If we don’t know his voice, we have no way to sort out what which is the Good Shepherd’s way and which is merely the way of hired hands. 

There is no magic trick to learning the Good Shepherd’s voice-the easiest way is to learn about the Good Shepherd by reading the Bible.  A lot of people in America have a lot to say about Jesus these days.  Instead of relying on them, or even on your priests, by reading the Gospels and Epistles you can start learning Jesus’ voice for yourself.  And if you create some silence in your life, and if you listen carefully, you might even hear the Good Shepherd call you by name.