West Point Grey United Church
Apr 21, 2024

Good Shepherd

Psalm 23, John 10:11-18

Psalm 23: The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want.He makes me lie down in green pastures; he leads me beside still waters;[a]3 he restores my soul.[b] He leads me in right paths[c] for his name’s sake.Even though I walk through the darkest valley,[d]I fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.You prepare a table before me in the presence of my enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup overflows.Surely[e] goodness and mercy[f] shall follow me all the days of my life, and I shall dwell in the house of the Lord my whole life long.

John 10:11-1811 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. 13 The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. 14 I am the good shepherd. I know my own, and my own know me, 15 just as the Father knows me, and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. 17 For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. 18 No one takes[a] it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father.”


It seems that many people share a common childhood experience. When parents read a story to children or watch a movie together, the first question that children like to ask is, “Who is the good guy and who is bad?”  We are educated and raised in such a dualistic world. Rarely do children ask what makes a man good—at least, I did not ask.

After Sunday Service, sometimes I hear, “ you had a good reflection today, Linda.” This is the congregation’s most common, simple and direct response to my preaching. Most of the time, I reply, “Thank you.” And then I asked myself., “Is it really the feedback you anticipate? What does that actually mean? What was good about it? Does it really mean anything? What does it communicate anyway?” So, I can honestly say that if I did not know what is good about this sermon or reflection, the word “good’ is rather a useless adjective; it means nothing. What is the good quality of a reflection or sermon? The Homiletics Professor will tell you that it should be biblical and gospel-centred and should be clear and helpful.

In the book of John, the evangelist John uses many dualistic symbols to describe the two different worlds, the words of the opposites, such as good and bad, day and night, heaven and earth, light and darkness, life and death, spirit and flesh. I suggest that today, let’s get out of the dualistic symbols and focus on what makes Jesus the “good” shepherd. What does “good” mean? The Good Shepherd means love and justice.

Firstly, Jesus is the Loving Shepherd.  

When we talk about shepherds, we naturally talk about sheep.Sheep are social animals; they are followers by nature. They are directionless. They are not fierce at all, have no sharp teeth, and don’t have fast legs; they cannot run fast when there are predators.  They are completely dependent upon a shepherd for their well-being and their survival. The first thing that we should understand is that Jesus is saying here that sheep are like all of us. We are like sheep who have gone astray. Each of us has turned to our own way. David began Psalm 23 saying the Lord is my Shepherd. He talks about the Lord that way because David understood the similarities between himself, humanity, and sheep. 

In John 15 verse 13, Jesus would say just a couple of chapters later, “Greater love has no one than this that he lays down his life for his friends.” Jesus lays down his life as a demonstration of his love for us.  At the very beginning of the text, Jesus says that he gives his life for the sheep, and then in verse 15, Jesus says again that the good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The good shepherd stands in the way of harm to protect his sheep. They would risk their lives fighting against predators like wolves and lions, thieves and robbers who would wish to destroy, harm or steal the flock. 

In the middle of February, I heard the news about a traffic accident in Burnaby; a girl was saved by her friend. Her friend put herself in a dangerous position for the sake of this girl’s life. This girl’s friend laid down her life as evidence of her love. Jesus did not just say that he loved us; he showed his love for us on the cross while we were still sinners, even if we were not worthy of it. Christ died for us. 

Secondly, Jesus is the Justice Shepherd.

We cannot talk about loving without realizing justice. Psalm 23 is a beloved passage that brings comfort to many of us.  However, on Good Shepherd Sunday, there is a risk of focusing too much on the individual aspects, such as “my shepherd,” “restores my soul,” “leads me,” and “you are with me.” While it is true that the Lord is our shepherd and Jesus is our good shepherd, we must be careful not to make the Divine exclusively our own. 

The United Church calls for inclusive language, seeking a balance between the historical and the new; finding words that include all the people of God. And careful readers may have noticed that in Voices United, the lyrics that used to say “I, my” have been replaced by “we, our.”  in the first person plural to represent the collective voice of a group.

Jesus uses the metaphor of a shepherd attending to the needs of the sheep to describe the realm of justice on earth. Jesus explicitly says, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (John 10:11).  In the realm of justice, shepherds will go to extreme lengths, even as far as risking their own life, to protect the vulnerable. Thank goodness Jesus cares for those sheep. In the realm of justice, there is inclusivity.Jesus cares for even more sheep, too! Jesus’ compassion and care are not limited to the known sheep. The realm of justice goes further than one can imagine, and Jesus cares for sheep that some might rather ignore or discredit. Jesus is explicit again: “I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd” (John 10:16). Good Shepherds strengthen the weak, heal the sick, bind up the injured, bring back the strays, and seek out the lost.

I want to invite you to look at David Hayward’s cartoon on the screen. David is a pastor.
He left his church and then went into a new area to use his pencil to push the boundaries and challenge our thinking. Basically, his cartoons are more than just cartoons. They inspire and create conversation. 

God’s love is a gift. We can use this gift to love God and love our neighbours. Let’s build our faith community to be a loving, welcoming church with radical hospitality.