I AM

Jun 28, 2020 | Aaron Couch

I Am: The Good Shepherd

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So the subs are right here and it like, I'm like, Ooh, that makes me kind of want to, I don't know, jump or something. Hi, good morning family. How are you? So glad you've joined us here or online. Thank you for being with us this morning. We're going to do something radically different than we've been doing in the sermon series so far. Our pattern has been to introduce the god or goddess that we are talking about, and then to jump into the scripture and wrestle with some of the comparisons. Today, we're not going to do that. There’s several reasons why, number one is we're talking about the phrase “I am the good shepherd” and the god here is the god pan. Pan has the legs of a goat, the torso and head of a human, but then horns coming out like a goat. Does this sound vaguely familiar at all? This would be like Mr. Tumness from the Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, right? Here’s the problem. You can't talk about Pan in a way that is PG 13 or less. And so, we're not gonna do that. The other major reason why we're not going to talk about Pan is because this teaching of  “I am the good shepherd” is in conjunction and in the same passage with one we talked about last week, we said, “I'm the door”. And so, we're gonna have to kind of talk about these together. That being said, today's message is going to be one of the more difficult ones that I will ever preach. Difficult in that this is a hard, if you're going to really wrestle with this message, this one is a hard one to hear. So I just, I want you to know I've had, I've got lots of extra prayer going on for me this morning and over this last week, just in preparation for this message, because if there was ever one that flies in the face of American culture, this would be it. And so I want to wrestle this morning with something that I think is really potentially very profound for all of us.

This, “I am the Good Shepherd” phrase. It's in this John 10 passage and, and Jesus has been talking about, uh, I'm the door. I want to show you some pictures. Let's, let's start with some pictures. Here's picture number one, this is a sheep pen. And remember that what Jesus is going to say is, I'm the door and anybody who comes over the wall is a thief and they only come to steal, kill and destroy. The only reason that you wouldn't go through the door is in order to steal, kill, and destroy. That's important for us to grapple with when we're talking about Jesus is the door. So we were talking about last week, this, this God of transitions, how do we handle these things that come in and out of the door of Jesus? And so, that sheep pen is also called an inn or a penduceon. That’s the Greek word this particular sheep pin is in the region of Galacia. You might, that might sound familiar to you. The book of Galatians was written to the region of Galatia and this sheep pen is found there. It's in modern day Turkey, which is where we're going, hopefully in September, some of us are going there and we're very excited about it. Let's look at the next photo. This is the door. For the record, this is not the ancient door. I don't know if you guys are like, “is that the…” No. It's wooden. But this is the door where the sheep will come in and out. And in this particular, sheep pen, you can put two or three flocks of sheep. Remember we talked about this last week. That's okay. Because when they call them out, they will be able to leave. But this door is where in the ancient world, the shepherd would sleep in the doorway. So the sheep are in the pen and the good shepherd sleeps in the doorway so that nothing can come in or out to hurt the sheep, unless it's willing to scale the wall. And if something is willing to scale the wall, it's a thief and a robber. And what is its job? Steal, kill and destroy. Make no mistake about it, no matter how we want to twist what comes into our life. Another way, if it doesn't come through the door, if it's not given access by the good shepherd, it is only in your life to steal, kill, and destroy. 

And that's why these two ideas are connected in John chapter 10. So I want to read John chapter 10, we're going to go back to verse one. We're going to catch the whole door conversation and then lead into Jesus as the good shepherd. So here's what it says truly, truly. I say to you, he who does not enter the sheepfold by the door, but climbs in another way, that man is a thief and a robber. But he who enters by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him, the gatekeeper opens. The sheep hear his voice, and he calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he is brought out all his own, he goes before them, and the sheep follow him, for they know his voice. A stranger, they will not follow, was by the way we talked about this last week, but this is true. Like, even today in Bedouin shepherd culture, it's really important that the shepherd brings in an apprentice early on, because if a shepherd tragically dies in a surprising way, those sheep won't listen to anyone else. Like the whole flock has to be butchered cause they'll die. They won't listen to a stranger’s voice, so they have to bring it -- and here's another interesting thing. If a shepherd is walking with his sheep and the sheep get on one side of a canyon, um, they gotta be really, really careful calling to their sheep because the sheep will take the most direct line to the Shepherd's voice. Then they can cause all kinds of damage to the flock. If they run in, you know, like lemmings off a cliff, they will not hesitate because they trust the Shepherd's voice. Like maybe there's an application or two there for us -- a stranger, they will not follow, but they will flee from him for, they do not know the voice of strangers. This figure of speech Jesus used with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them. 

So we've read all this last week. So Jesus, again said to them truly, truly I say to you, I am the door of the sheep. All who came before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. I am the door. If anyone enters by me, he will be saved and will go in and out and find pasture. So what Jesus is saying is, listen, there've been a lot of people that have tried to capture your attention, but I'm the only one who can tell you what it is to be one of my children. One of my people, nobody else gets to influence that decision. Are you with me so far? The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that you might have life and have it abundantly. So Jesus’ desire for us is that we have an abundant life. I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. He who is a hired hand and not a shepherd, who does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees, and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. He flees because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep. 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. And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason, the Father loves me, because I lay down my life that I may take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have the authority to lay it down, and I have the authority to take it up again. This charge I have received from my Father.

So, Jesus is saying, I'm the door. Remember the picture? I'm the door in the sheep pen. And I am the good shepherd. I'm the one who's willing to stand in the door and refuse to allow anything to get in the way of what is only good for the sheep. And that's so important for us to grapple with, because what we do in our world is that we allow culture to kind of influence what we think is, what the good shepherd is allowing in and what it isn't. 

And so I want to show you a diagram. And this actually is from a friend of mine Bill Westfall. He did some doctoral work on some of this stuff. And to me, this is really, really profound. The two kinds of lives that we pursue. And, and one of the stories you're going to know really, really well. And in fact, I won't even have to hardly coach you on it. I will get the story started and you will be able to finish it. I promise let's look at this let's first of all, let's look at the good life. This is, this is a life that we're invited to pursue the good life. Here's how the story of the good life begins. Number one, we got to get good grades. Why? You know the story. So you can get into a good college. That means it's really important, right? Like we've this is how, this is how we get to the good life. Okay. Why do we need to get into a good college? Yeah. Get a good job. Not just a job. You guys you're so familiar with this, right? Not just a job, but a career. Right? We want, it's not just any job. It's not good enough to have just any job. We got to have a career. And what makes that career worth pursuing? Money and --put it up there -- benefits the career provides for me a certain cut. You guys are like, yeah, absolutely. This is yup. Yeah, sure. Why I'm doing this right now? Are you okay? So we get good grades and so we can get into a good college so we can have a good career. So that career will provide us with benefits. Why do we need those benefits? What do they do for us? They give us security. And so the good life, the life that, and by the way, did any of you take a class on this? Was there a, like a 12, when you hit 12 years of age, we put you in a classroom and brainwashed you to believe that this was the good life. This is so entrenched in our culture, that we look at this, “the good life” as a way to show that God's been blessing us. But here's the problem. Jesus didn't invite us to a good life. He didn't say I came that you might have life and have that goodly. Jesus wants us to have an abundant life. Now, what kind of life is that? What kind of life is that? This is, there's another kind of life. The one that we're invited to in the, in the Bible. And you're like, okay, wait, where, where is this going? Right. Well, the abundant life starts with love, right? Like it, it begins like this is what Jesus says. It's the most important commandment. Love God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength and love your neighbor as yourself. It hinges on love. It hangs on love. Everything about the abundant life begins and ends with how we love one another. It's not about us standing back and trying to figure out where everybody who has a different opinion than me is wrong. It's about building space, where we can create connection and love for one another. For all people. Followed by justice. You're like, wait a minute, what are you talking about?  It's biblical. Like I didn't just make this up. By the way, this sermon was done before any of these protests about racial equality, were ever happening. Maybe it's a message that God wants us to hear, now. The word justice isn't retributive justice. It's not, you do the crime, you do the time. That's retributive justice. The word justice is the word mish pot in the Hebrew. It means distributive justice -- that we don't take more than our share. And we fight to make sure that everybody has their share. Now let me qualify that because then now everybody wants to get mad at me. Doesn't mean that everybody has the same share -- that's communism, right? That's not what that means. But what it means is everybody's been given a portion in this world of whatever it is and our job as God's people is to love everyone enough, to fight, to make sure that they all have it. That no one is getting taken advantage of in order for somebody else to get ahead while this person suffers. But that as we become more that we're bringing everybody up with us. This is the heart of justice.

The abundant life begins with love, and that love should lead us to justice. You can't be a follower of God and not care about justice.

Next that justice leads us to mercy. It's so much I want to say about this. That justice leads us to mercy. Like if you're, if you're gonna live in the abundant life, then when you go, well, you know what? You blew it. You blew it. You pay for it. You screwed your life up. You go do whatever you like. That's not the abundant life. The abundant life is rooted in love, which leads to justice, which leads us to mercy. Listen, if God, God has this unique way of being way better at being in control than me. And if God thinks that I need to suffer consequences because of some of my choices, guess what he's going to do. He's going to make that happen. So do I, as another human need to shake my finger at you and go, well, you dirty so and so?  No, that's not the abundant life. That's not the abundant life. It's the good life. It's not the abundant life. 

And the next after mercy, it leads to faithfulness, faithfulness to Jesus. Like think about this. The beatitudes, you could go all day about this. What Jesus says is, Hey, blessed, happy if you want to be happy in this world is what the, where the beatitudes begin, happy are the poor in spirit. Wait, what? That's not part of the good life, but it is. It is part of the abundant life. Blessed are those who mourn what, wait, what, how is that possible? Because we're more willing to press in and grieve the difficult circumstances in our world and in our life and in the lives of the people that we care about. When we do that, we find a place of wholeness and healing and freedom that doesn't exist when we just avoid what we feel, which is all about the good life. It doesn't matter what you feel about it. You go work hard and you go make money. Why? So you can have things and be secure in your mountain of things. Where's it right across the street -- there's a building dedicated to the acquisition of things that we don't even have in our house. We don't even get to look at them. This is the world that we live in.

And then after that, that faithfulness leads us to generosity. So the abundant life begins with love, but that love has to lead us to mish pot, to justice, which will lead us to mercy, which should then lead us to faithfulness. And that faithfulness should be expressed in generosity. This is the abundant life that Jesus lays out for us. And I would just ask this question, which life are you trusting? Which story is story a, the story of your life that, that you are like, I got to get good grades, by the way, do this do, if you've got high school kids, sit them down and do it with them. Run, run this by them. They'll be able to tell you the story, flawlessly. You got to get good grades. Why? So I can get into a good college. Why do you need to get into a good college? Because then I can have a career and get benefits and have security. And what we miss is that your stuff will never be a source of security. It never works that way. Now what a lot of us are saying is this, Well, I know where you're going, preacher. You're gonna tell me that I can't have both, but I can. No, you can't. And here's why -- so look at the next slide because the good life is built on the premise of self -preservation. I need to do for myself. By the way, very Western way to think about the world. Because we have an egocentric view of the universe. Everything that we understand to be true starts with self and then resonates out into the world. And that means that once I have enough, if there's enough leftover, then I'll be generous with that piece. But I got to take care of myself, first. I got to do that now, by the way, the elements of the story aren't evil. It's not bad to go to college. I like that I have a job. I really enjoy my job. Having a career isn't evil, the elements of the story aren’t bad. It's the way that the story gets told. It's rooted in self-preservation. That's not Jesus's way. What we do if we're in the abundant life is lay our life down. This self preservation is rooted in fear, worry, and anxiety. And I know that we want both. We want both lifes, but if anything doesn't come through the door, it's not from the good shepherd -- it's a thief that only exists to steal, kill, and destroy. We have to understand that the abundant life last slide is rooted in self sacrifice, but in order for me to be somebody who's truly sacrificial of myself, I have to be willing to trust that the God that I'm serving, that I'm living for that he's good. And that he's not holding out on me. If I believe that somehow it's my responsibility to keep for myself, to amass my own things, to provide some level of comfort in my life, then I'm missing the point entirely. And because of like the, the career's not bad, if it comes through the door, if it comes from the good shepherd, but if it comes for us as a way of building a certain kind of lifestyle that we want, we're missing it completely. I remember when 9/11 happened and the like, you know, I was in a little town in North Idaho and it unsettled me. I was young and it was in my mid twenties when that happened and all the, the things that that did to, to really push the button of where, um, where does our security lie. We had a prayer at church there at the time. And lots of these people came, came in to pray. And one of the guys that was there came up to me and he goes, I'm really scared. And I said, I, I, man, I understand. I'm really scared to like, he goes, yeah, because I had $6 million on the stock market and I've lost it. Which story do you trust?  

And this sneaks into our life in so many subtle ways. It sneaks in. We don't even understand it. Like, I can't tell you how many times, even when I was in youth ministry, but now still I've had conversations with young kids who are like, I want to give my life to serve the Lord, but my parents don't want me to go into ministry. Cause I can't make any money at it. What?  Which story are we trusting? Or when we were dealing with college students back in Idaho and, and parents would say, if you get married before you graduate, I'm pulling my support of your college. If you do something silly, like get married, Why, like all the different ways that it trickles into our life that we want somehow to say, it's Jesus. Yes, Jesus. And these other things that provide a life. And that's just simply not the case. The only thing that provides the abundant life for us are those things that come through the door. Those things that are given to us by the good shepherd. You can't have both because one is rooted in self preservation and one is rooted in self sacrifice. And those two things don't exist together. The problem for us is that we, and when we get into these seasons, like we're in right now as a country where our economy is unsettled and we're trying to figure out like, you know, how do we be responsible in this world? And do we have a job? And, and my, the stock market is all over the place and what it really starts to reveal to us where we put our trust. And see, here's the thing we're talking about. These gods of Asia and Asia minor and how they wrestled with serving them. And it's one thing to say, you know, when you, when you get to where you need food, you know, Demeter's the one who provides that. That's one thing to say that, but the truth is we have our own gods that we serve in our own culture. And while they may have different names, they all try to provide for us things that only Jesus can give. Why would we ever go to the world for things that only God can provide? Jesus came that we might have the most abundant life -- have life to its fullest and yet, what we want to do is say, Jesus, I don't want to do it your way. I want to have the abundant life that you promise, but I want to get there through my own means.  And it just doesn't work. Just doesn't work.

I have so much more that I want to say, but here's the deal. If you're really wrestling with this this morning, this should unsettle you substantially. If you're like, whatever, preacher, we're just going to put up with you for the next five minutes and then be done. Um, okay. Just know this, anything that comes through any other access point, other than the door, other than the good shepherd, only exists in your life to steal, kill, and destroy. You will never have the abundant life that Jesus wants. And if I might just start meddling for just a minute, start meddling for just a minute, there's some easy ways to like, do you tithe? If you're like, no, which story are you trusting? It's easy math. And I'm not saying that to get at anybody. What I'm saying is the story that Jesus wants to tell her life always ends with generosity. And it's a clear command of scripture to tithe. So if I'm saying no, I'm not going to do that. Which story am I trusting? The one where I don't, I don't have enough to tithe. I have to make sure that I am taking care of. I have to make sure that I have enough. And then if there's anything left over, then, I'll do it. The unfortunate thing about that is, if that's your posture, you'll never have enough. If your posture is, I'm going to get, do what God says, and then I'm going to watch him, give me a life that's bigger and better than anything else I could come up with on my own. If that's our posture, then that's a totally different experience. When it comes to the opportunity to be generous. It's, it's easy math, this isn't complicated. It's just really stinging. When we start to really start exploring in our life, the spaces where we don't live up, we don't have the abundant life in our world yet. Well, good news. It's never too late. Like we can, we can choose today to do what God wants us to do.

I've a few implications, just some questions to wrestle with. As we move into our, um, our time of communion. Implication, number one, Jesus is a good shepherd. How has he been a good shepherd for you? Like if you don't have a good story to tell there, it might be worth exploring which story are you trying to trust in your world? Are you putting yourself in a position through faith? Where if God doesn't show up, everything's gonna fall apart.

Implication number two, Jesus has good things in store for us. If we'll trust him, like the story that Jesus is trying to tell through our lives and into the world, isn't a story of manipulation and control. It's a story of freedom and wholeness and his abundance, a story that brings everybody up. Jesus walks through the triumphal entry, you know, they, they do these crazy things. Like they lay down Palm branches and cloaks and they sing songs to him. Very specific songs that are all in acknowledgement of we're making you King Jesus and the Pharisees say, listen, you need to tell these people to be quiet. And Jesus recognizes that this is such a significant moment that he's like, look, if they're quiet, the rocks will cry out. Right? The next sentence he's standing, looking over Jerusalem, weeping. And the word that's used there to say crying is this deep wail of a cry. Like, it's not like, Oh, it's really special. It's not like that. Like, it's like the deep wail of, of like, he's like, this is such a significant moment that they're making me King. Then, then the next thing he does is weep because they have no idea what that will cost them. They want Jesus, and. The bottom line is that there is no, and Jesus has good things in store for us if we'll trust him, if we'll just let him tell the story of our life, it's not about control. It's not about us being under his thumb. It's about us being liberated to become what we've truly been created to be. The temple was supposed to be a place of prayer for all nations. It was supposed to be a place that exposed the heart of God to everybody. And what they did was they made it a source of manipulation and control to pad their own lives. When we just trust God's story, what happens is our life is better, but not just our life, the lives of everyone around us is better because we have an active role in helping that become more. Jesus has good things in store for us. If we'll trust him, what gets in the way of us trusting Jesus as our shepherd and leader? What gets in the way? You know, one of the things that I've been just personally processing as we've moved through this whole COVID thing. I don't know if you've heard of it. 
There's this global pandemic on, one of the things that I've personally been wrestling with is like, I don't want things to be different. I don't want, I don't want things to be different. I like how things were going. I was really enjoying it. And now all of a sudden, I feel like we're in this position where I'm not sure things are ever going to be the same. I've had a number of people that have been coming to our church for long, long, long, long time that are like, man, it's so exciting to see all the things that God is doing and God's doing a ton. It's been amazing. And they're like, it feels like we're becoming the church that we used to be. No, we're not. That doesn't mean that what we used to be was bad. What that means is, I don't think God's in the business of making us, taking us off the path and then bringing us back to where we used to be. I think that God's in the business of when we stay faithful to him, he takes us to new places. God doesn't want our church to be what it's already been. He wants our church to be a new place, place with a different kind of faith. One that's more, than n maybe it ever has been. Doesn’t make what we did bad? Doesn’t make the past bad? We need the past. We need to celebrate it. We need to honor it. We need to learn from it. There's a lot of things about the past that are really important. It's just not where God's taking us for those of you that were here. When, um, when Don Wilson was the interim pastor, you remember that y'all got Don Wilson. When he, one of the things that he says often as you can't, you can't drive a car forward, looking in the rear view mirror, right? If you do that, you wind up running into things along the way, that doesn't mean it wasn't good. What it means is the abundant life for us is forward. Not backwards.

Implication number three. Why is it so hard for us to allow abundant life, to win over the good life? Why is it so hard for us to just go, okay, God, if this is what you call abundance, I'll just do it. It's like we want to have a, a mental wrestling match with God as if we can out-think him. And here's what I've discovered in my own life. It's easy to trust God when I have 10 bucks in my pocket and that's it. The more that life affords me, the more difficult it is to continue to put that in his hands. Which doesn't mean that we need to sell everything and take a vow of poverty. What it means is we have a sacred responsibility to steward what God has entrusted to us to make sure that we're doing it in a way that produces the abundant life.

Last implication, who in your life needs to know Jesus is the good shepherd? Again, so much that I want to say, who needs to know Jesus as the good shepherd understand Jesus is the good shepherd, isn't Jesus as the finger pointing naysayer, that's not who he is. Jesus is the good shepherd. Is this gentle invitation to say, Hey, just trust me, just follow me. I'm going to work out things in life that are more than you could ever imagine. It's not just right. And it's not just me being a life bully because I'm stronger than you. It's better for you than anything you can come up with on your own. And the fear of the self preservation and the exhaustion and the anxiety and the worry that's promoted in the good life. It can all go away. 

I don't know who needs that message, but I would say this, Jesus, Jesus is a good shepherd for everybody. He's a shepherd that wants to take us to green pastures. He wants to give us everything that we need. Who's able to do a measurably more than we could ever think or imagined that's our good shepherd. But as long as we're going to try to pursue the good life we're getting in our own way. And Jesus’ invitation is to let him be the door, let him be the thing that gives access to us of whatever it is that he offers. Trusting that he's good and trusting that he has great plans for us.

As we think about our communion time, such an appropriate thing to take communion after a message like this, because Jesus's message is simply this. If you're going to follow the abundant life, it's going to look like what communion represents for us. It's going to look like a laying down of our life. Like we don't have to cling to it. We can to let it go trusting that what God will do with our life is more than what we can come up with on our own. Are we willing? The communion this morning isn't just about a thing that we do at the end of the service. Communion is about saying, God, I'm wrestling with this good life abundant life thing. And I take communion together with my church family to say, I want to be part of the abundant life. And in that space, we're allowing God permission to intervene and take away the things that are getting in the way of us living the abundant life. If we're willing to do that. We're going to take communion together and just a bit a sit and think with that.

On the night, Jesus was betrayed, took bread and he broke it. And he said, this is my body, which is given for you. So anybody who eats this bread, let's remember him this morning. Jesus laid his life down for us to have the abundant life. There's nothing in this world that can make that promise. He gave his blood and he said, this cup is a new covenant in my blood, which is shed for you. So whenever you drink this cup, do it in remembrance of me. 

Let's pray. Lord, man, culture is so subtle in the traps that we face are hard. Lord, may we be a group of people who help one another up to a standard that is bigger and better than anything we can create on our own Lord, help us to have clean discernment, to see where you're leading us. And where is the deception that this world is trying to offer us? Lord, it's a wrestling match. Forgive us for our wrestling. In your name. Amen. Let's stand and sing one more song.

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