Good Shepherd Sunday
May 03, 2020 | Bryan Simmons
Passage: John 20:19-31
Do you guys realize that it’s only been a month and a half since we’ve done this. It’s been a month and a half since we started trying to figure out what all of this means, how to stay at home, social distance, do online worship. Does that feel like only a month and a half? Or does a month and a half feel like 10 years at this point? I’m getting frustrated. I am grieving what we have lost; I am grieving what was normal that cannot be normal right now. I am frustrated, as I’m sure you are as well. And as Pastor Ryan said, we are eagerly anticipating a time when we can get back together and worship together but that time does not clearly look like now.
There is hope that down the road we can do that. But it’s this in-between that I think is so frustrating. It's Shepherd’s Sunday today, and on Shepherd’s Sunday we usually get to talk about how stupid sheep are and how they need a leader and how fun it is to follow Jesus because we’re like stupid sheep, and we need to follow Jesus. We usually actually get to ignore the 1st Peter text today. Larry Otteman, our video lector, read it so well today and instead of focusing on how sheep need a leader and how Jesus can be our Shepherd, it focuses on how that Shepherd suffered for all and how suffering becomes a part of our life too.
It would be hard to ignore this text today; it may be even fool-hardy to do so. It’s no secret that we are in a worldwide pandemic, and this worldwide pandemic has thrown overboard what we knew as normal. It has made suffering rise to the surface so that we can’t just brush it under a rug and pretend it’s not there. Every one of us is affected in one way or another; we suffer, either emotionally from the impact of having to uproot and change our daily routines; physically, some of us are actually exposed to this virus and suffering from it, thankfully I don’t believe we have any in our congregation yet; financially, we are suffering from the economic impact of staying at home and not gathering; some of us are affected by the impact of staying at home, maybe it’s not a safe place to be emotionally or physically. Well, if you haven’t tuned out by now, I will be getting there, don’t worry. But there is this reality that we’re dealing with: this reality of suffering and this reality that it’s happening to everybody, this is such a commonality that we have never experienced before in this world for our generation.
Now, Peter, when he was talking to these initial believers of Jesus, these followers of The Way, he talks about this idea of suffering justly and suffering unjustly. And we’re not talking about suffering justly, we’re talking about the unjust suffering part. He brings up Jesus saying, “Christ also suffered for you, and so thereby gave you an example so that you should follow in His steps,” and Peter goes on to talk about how He committed no sin when He was abused, He didn’t return abuse. He Himself bore our sins in his body on the cross, and that can trick us a bit. That can trick us into thinking that our way must be suffering for Jesus. That we somehow must do that. If we’re going to follow Christ, then we must suffer like Christ.
But I think Peter is talking on a deeper level here, because none of us can follow Jesus the way Jesus led. None of us can. For to do so would be for us to go to the cross on behalf of all humanity, spend three days in hell, and rise again. That was reserved for the Son of God; we do not suffer like Jesus did. But to follow Jesus, to follow this great act of love, to follow this amazing grace is to open ourselves up to the reality of a suffering world, is to open ourselves up to the potential that we might suffer more because we follow Jesus, this ultimate testament of love in our lives, the salvation that we have in Jesus.
For we live in a world of sin and death and grief and pain. A world of suffering. It is a world that was caused by our sin, this world of suffering. But it is a world redeemed by God, by God’s own suffering in Jesus Christ. So we rage, and we fight against this world of suffering while we live in that love of Christ. To be followers of The Way is to love like Jesus did, and so that puts us in situations where maybe we know that our economic life and status have been hurt by this, but we find ourselves wanting to give. We want God’s people to not suffer, just like Jesus didn’t want God’s people to suffer. We find ourselves maybe trimming the grocery budget a bit and not hoarding as much as we could because we know that other people need it even though we want to make ourselves secure.
When you’re guided by The Way, when you’re guided by Jesus, when you’re guided by this Shepherd who has suffered once for all, it makes us vulnerable. Not because the Shepherd doesn’t protect, but because we love as Jesus loves. And we know the voice of the Shepherd, and we know this way of love and truth, but sometimes we do try to go listening for other voices, because those voices might give us a better answer than we were hoping for. But Jesus persists, because we cannot be like bandits and thieves trying to claw our way into the comfort of the kingdom by any means necessary. We follow Jesus, the Way, the Truth, the Life, the Great Shepherd of the sheep, the very gate by which we enter the kingdom.
And it is this duality of this suffering of this world and the comfort of the eternal kingdom that we live, and we know that, in the suffering, there is an end. We know that, in the eternal kingdom, through the gate of Christ, we will go in and out and find pasture, find nourishment, feed our very souls. We are promised that no suffering in this world will ever amount to the glory and grace we have in the eternal life of Christ. You are forgiven; you are eternally loved; in suffering, you have hope. And I hope that gives us joy in this time; I hope that we can see this suffering for what it is: not some sort of pious way to heaven, but as a reality that we live in that is going to be destroyed once and for all on the Last Day.
You and I have this hope in Christ who was raised from the dead for you and for me. It is Easter after all, and this may be the strangest Easter season we’ll encounter in our generation, but the truth of Christ reigns supreme. Christ is risen! Christ is Risen indeed! Hallelujah! That truth is for you and for me, regardless of the suffering that we find in our lives. May that carry you forward into eternity.