Lincoln Lutheran Church, Hoffman, MN
April 22, 2018/Easter 4, Year B
In the name of Jesus. Amen.
“It’s not what you know but who you know that matters.” So goes a familiar piece of conventional wisdom.
In just about any endeavor of life...as important as education, experience or hard work might be...those who REALLY get ahead cultivate the right kind of connections, build the best social network.
Because: “It’s not what you know but who you know that matters.”
And yet our gospel lesson from John 10 turns that little piece of conventional wisdom on its head...declaring to us that ultimately it’s NOT what you know or even WHO you know...but rather who knows YOU that counts.
“It’s not what you know or who you know...but WHO KNOWS YOU that matters.”
That Unconventional Wisdom pops right out of this text, as we hear our Lord Jesus declaring: “I am the Good Shepherd; I know my own...”
The greatest claim we can make is that we’re known, recognized, claimed, named, grasped, protected, held firmly—forever!--by Jesus the Good Shepherd.
Jesus knows you better than you know yourself.
You are far more than a blip on some celestial computer screen.
You are more than a number in a heavenly record book.
You are more than a “to whom it may concern” address on God’s mailing list.
You are KNOWN in such a way that you will never be “just another face” in the crowd.
The Good Shepherd knows you...with a knowing that recognizes your one-of-a-kind character, a knowing that keeps you from ever falling in the cracks--a knowing that means life for you and a future without end.
“I am the Good Shepherd,” says Jesus, “I know my own...”
I can still see the image from over 40 years ago.
It was about 3:00 a.m. on a farm just west of Tyler, Minnesota. Ma Christensen (who didn’t like it when her son-in-law called her that)…Ma Christensen would rise from her bed, pull on a snowmobile suit, boil water and stir up nine bottles of milk-replacer.
Then she would trudge out through the brisk late-winter darkness to the barn...where just the sound of that old rusty, creaky doorknob turning would trigger the insistent bleating of nine hungry little lambs.
Having heard their raucous greeting, the good shepherdess would climb into their pen and feed them...but not until she first called them each by name: Huey, Duey and Luey...Ringo, Midnight and Blacky...Maynard, Snowball and Lamb-chop.
They just looked like sheep to me: nine future mutton roasts, nine pre-cooked legs of lamb. I couldn’t begin to tell one from the other...but Ma Christensen?--she recognized each by sight, by name...she knew them as only someone can who cares enough, loves enough to get out of a nice warm bed and brave the icy prairie wind for the 3:00 a.m. feeding.
“I am the Good Shepherd; I know my own”...I know you better than you know yourself.
Isn’t that incredible…that such words should be spoken to us? Isn’t it amazing that you and I are are known by such a One?
Maybe...and then again, maybe not. As we mull it over, perhaps it isn’t as wonderful as at first it might sound.
To be known, after all, doesn’t exactly leave us in charge, in control, or calling the shots.
To be the one who does the knowing: that’s the more powerful position to hold.
But to be known: that takes matters out of our hands.
Now that I’m in my eleventh year of serving as bishop, having traveled extensively throughout the 21 counties of our synod, I am still surprised when—in a local café or other gathering place—someone recognizes me and asks: “How’s the bishop today?”
Though well-intended, such greetings still take me by surprise. It still startles me to be known by people I myself may not know.
And yet it happens—and there’s nothing I can do to stop it from happening.
Look at these verses from John chapter 10 more closely. The Good Shepherd rather selfishly grabs all the verbs, dominates all the action here. He’s anything but a wimp. The Good Shepherd knows his own, lays down his life for his own, takes his life up again, brings in other sheep so that there shall be (not might be, but shall be!) one flock and one shepherd. The
Good Shepherd does it all...insists on having it his way.
There can seem to be a threatening edge to being known by such a One. Because to be known by this Good Shepherd is to find yourself completely within his power.
What do you think of them apples? Can we take it—this being known by someone like this Good Shepherd?
Only as our eyes are opened, only as we are grasped by his gracious embrace, only as we are “over-powered” by the ardent love of this Good Shepherd.
Because, you see, this One who knows us better than we know ourselves is hopelessly devoted to us. That is his power over us.
What makes this shepherd good is that he has more, much more, than a hireling’s ho-hum interest in us. What makes this shepherd good is that he is good for something, good for us. He exists on our behalf.
And this isn’t just talk: it is a passionate suffering, a brutal death, and a grim burial for us. It is a willful, pre-meditated, eager laying down of a life for us. It is a Shepherd plunging into the icy waters of a raging river to rescue a wayward lamb: that is this Shepherd’s power over us...
...which is why his intimate knowing of us threatens no one except the Old Adam, the Old Eve, the ancient sinner in us who always wants to be in the driver’s seat.
The Good Shepherd’s knowing of us puts to death the self-focused, stay-in-charge-at-any-cost sinner in us...so that a new person, a newborn lamb with ears keenly attuned to the shepherd’s voice might come forth.
Only then do we know even as we have been known. Then we know our Knower because we have first been known by our Knower, overcome by his love that will not let us go, embraced in his arms that will never lose their grip on us, enfolded in protection no thief or wolf can penetrate.
“I am the Good Shepherd; I know my own and my own know me...” This knowing of the Good Shepherd comes full circle only when we know our Knower...and not us only, but all of those “other sheep” as well.
That fleeting reference to “other sheep” here in our text, reminds us that the Good Shepherd’s flock-tending is not yet finished.
There are still some “other sheep” out there! Maybe you even know some of them.
“I must bring them also,” Jesus declares. “So there shall be one flock, one shepherd.”
When he thinks of those “other sheep” the Good Shepherd never mutters under his break, “Leave them alone and they’ll come home, wagging their tails behind them.”
No. The Good Shepherd doesn’t practice the Little Bo-Peep Method of Sheep-Tending.
The Good Shepherd has a restless passion for those other sheep that matches his passion for us, a passion he shares with us so that we, too, start to “feel” for those other sheep.
“I must bring them in too,” he declares. “I must bring them through the still water of Baptism, I must welcome them to my banquet Table, I must draw them within earshot of my Voice so that they might know me even as I already know them...”
And we who all-too-often are sheepish about our part in the Good Shepherd’s ardent mission…we find ourselves nodding in agreement, echoing the shepherd’s resolve, getting caught up in his search for those beloved “other sheep,” sensing deep in our bones that it really can be no other way for us who are known by such a Knower.
In the name of Jesus. Amen.