Fr. Guillermo A. Arboleda baptizes DeAndre Scott on April 22, 2018.
“Becoming Sheep in Jesus’ Flock”
A sermon by Fr. Guillermo A. Arboleda for the 4th Sunday in Easter (B) on the occasion of four baptisms at St. Matthew's Episcopal Church.
“Very truly, I tell you, anyone who does not enter the sheepfold by the gate but climbs in by another way is a thief and a bandit. 2 The one who enters by the gate is the shepherd of the sheep. 3 The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5 They will not follow a stranger, but they will run from him because they do not know the voice of strangers.” 6 Jesus used this figure of speech with them, but they did not understand what he was saying to them.
7 So again Jesus said to them, “Very truly, I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. 8 All who came before me are thieves and bandits; but the sheep did not listen to them. 9 I am the gate. Whoever enters by me will be saved, and will come in and go out and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.
11 “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.”
Baptism is about becoming sheep in the flock. From this day forward, Ahsareia, DeAndre, Quentin, and King are full sheep in Jesus’ flock, full members of Jesus’ Body. They have just the same status, rights, and privileges as the oldest, wisest Christians anywhere on earth. They have been loved, accepted, and exalted by God that much.
That’s kind of a weird thing to say. It might imply that baptism is all anyone needs to do to be a good Christian. As if you can come to church for a time, get baptized and then leave until you need to get married or bury a loved one (if you ever come back at all). This has become a common pattern for Christian living in our society over the last century or so. It’s a major cause of the decline in church attendance and participation over that period in every denomination of Christ’s Body.
But the sheep and shepherd metaphor that Jesus uses this morning helps us see a different path forward. Jesus says, “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” (10:14-16).
Jesus is the Good Shepherd and all Christians are sheep in his flock. I don’t know if you’ve spent any time around real, live sheep, but they’re not the brightest animals around. They stumble and bumble around together. They wander off and get lost if they aren’t confined in a fence. And if there isn’t a shepherd to protect them, they can get eaten by wild animals, like wolves.
So the most important thing a Shepherd needs to do with the sheep he raises is teach them to listen for his voice. Jesus explains this earlier in John 10: “The gatekeeper opens the gate for him, and the sheep hear his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. When he has brought out all his own, he goes ahead of them, and the sheep follow him because they know his voice” (10:3-4).
From the time sheep are born the Shepherd picks them up and holds them so they get used to his touch and scent. He names them and calls them by name so that they come at his call. If the sheep don’t come at the Shepherd’s call, they put their lives at risk. It’s important to stay with the flock because there is power and protection in numbers.
If the sheep is rebellious or stubborn and doesn’t listen for the Good Shepherd’s voice, other noises and calls in the wild will get its attention. That sheep may enjoy living outside the fence for a time, but that life is lonely and dangerous. The sheep that scatter are weak to attacks from wolves and other enemies, and they often never see it coming.
That’s why we all need the church. One of the most important things we do in our worship together is listen to God’s Word. It’s not an accident that we hear readings from four different parts of the Bible every Sunday. It’s not an accident that we listen to competent preachers expound on the Scriptures. It’s not an accident that we recite together the most important prayers of our Tradition -- prayers that remind us who God is, who we are, and what we believe.
We need that kind of rhythm and repetition over the course of a lifetime in order to learn the voice of Jesus. Our Good Shepherd’s voice is distinct and unique among all the other forces of the world, because it come from our Loving Creator instead of fallen creatures. But the world is noisy and it is easy to get distracted. We can have trouble distinguishing the voice of God from all the other voices and noises that crowd our lives.
That’s why all Christians, not just the newly baptized are invited by the Book of Common Prayer to “unite ourselves with others to acknowledge the holiness of God, to hear God’s Word, to offer prayer, and to celebrate the sacraments” (BCP, p. 857). Worship is, among other things, a training ground for Christians. It’s the time we set aside to get re-connected to the Good Shepherd’s Voice and to become rooted in the Vine that is Jesus Christ.
And it’s important for these four who are about to be baptized, and for all of us, to create time and space in our lives for prayer and worship. We need to talk to God, but we also need to listen. And the more time we make to listen to and speak with Jesus, our Good Shepherd, the more our lives will be transformed by God’s amazing grace today and always. Amen.
The four newly baptized siblings (from left to right): Ahsareia Moon, DeAndre Scott, King Scott, and Quentin Scott.