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A Sermon for the Second Sunday after Easter
by Dr. Robert Crouse 

6 May 1984

St. James’ Church, Halifax

 “I am the good shepherd.”  John 10




Because Jesus uses this image of the good shepherd in today’s Gospel, this Sunday is sometimes called “Good Shepherd Sunday”.  For at least sixteen centuries, the Church has read this Gospel lesson on this particular day, and it is, of course, obviously appropriate for our consideration of the implications of the Resurrection: we see Jesus as the Divine Shepherd, Son of David, Shepherd-King of the New Israel, who leads his flock through death to life.


It is an image with very immediate appeal to imagination and sentiment, but it is also an immensely rich image, with profound lessons for our own spiritual lives.


In the ninth chapter of St. John’s Gospel, there is the story of Jesus’ healing, on the Sabbath day, of a man who had been born blind.  The remainder of chapter nine, and most of chapter ten, are occupied with the Pharisees’ protest against this action, and Jesus’ explanation of it.  Our Gospel lesson, which comes from chapter ten, is part of that explanation.  “As the Father knoweth me, even so know I the Father: and I lay down my life for the sheep.”


What then, is the meaning of this image of the Good Shepherd?


First of all, it is an image of the divine providence, a symbol of the all-seeing, all-knowing, all-loving pastoral care of God, who upholds all things by the word of his power, who rules and governs all things, and moves them to their appointed end.  He it is who enlightens our spiritual blindness, and opens our deaf ears to hear his word.  He it is who heals the sickness of our heart. It is he who raises us from the death of sin unto the life of righteousness.  Nothing falls, even for an instant, outside that providence: “Not a sparrow falleth without your heavenly Father.”  Nothing in all creation is outside that presence and care.  “In him we live, and move, and have our being.”


“O Lord, thou hast searched me out and known me,” cries the Psalmist, “thou knowest my thoughts from afar – Thou art about my path and about my bed, and art acquainted with all my ways.  Whither shall I go then from thy spirit?  Or whither shall I flee from thy presence?  If I climb up into heaven, thou art there:  if I go down to hell, thou art there also.  If I take the wings of the morning, and dwell in the uttermost parts of the sea,  even there shall my hand lead me, and thy right hand shall hold me.”  (Ps. 139)


Men’s capacity for waywardness is great, and man’s capacity for meanness, and stupidity, and sheer, downright wickedness is horrifying; and yet, the providence of God is never for one instant thwarted.  From temporal evils, he brings immortal good; from death he brings life.  Certainly, in the world, we have tribulations manifold; but for those who know Christ’s Resurrection, there is no longer such a thing as hopeless tragedy.  “All things work together for good to those who love God.”  The wolf, indeed, comes; but our good shepherd is no hireling, and he does not flee. All things – however base, however miserable, however wicked – all things work together for good to those who love God.  Even our nastiest sins,  repented and forgiven, are occasions of more abundant grace.  As John Mason Neale’s hymn puts it:

The trials that beset you,

The sorrows ye endure,

The manifold temptations

That death alone can cure,

What are they but his jewels

Of right celestial worth?

What are they but the ladder

Set up to heaven on earth?

The first and fundamental lesson of Good Shepherd Sunday, then, is simply this:  We whose eyes have been opened to the light of Christ’s Resurrection must learn to live in the sure confidence of God’s providence – his good shepherding – which surrounds us and upholds us in every instant, which brings good out of evil, and life out of death.  That lesson is, I think, the very basis and starting-point of Christian spiritual life, and a lesson of the utmost relevance for every one of us.  “The Lord is my shepherd, therefore can I lack nothing.”  That is the basic principle.  We have many substitutes for it, of course, many other grounds of security and confidence, but they are really nothing but hirelings, and when the wolf comes, they vanish pretty quickly.


The image of the Good Shepherd is a symbol of God’s universal providence:  but, on another level, it is also a symbol of Christ’s governing of his Church, and therefore, we often refer to the Church’s leaders as “pastors”, which simply means “shepherds”.  On that level, the image of sheep and shepherds is perhaps not so generally agreeable an image nowadays, in an age of secular democracy, when it seems that popular opinion ought to govern, and that vox populi is vox Dei


The Church is out of tune with the times;  it is not, and cannot become, a real democracy, so long as it claims to preach the Word of God, which is not simply the consensus of popular opinion, and so long as it practices sacraments and disciplines which are divinely ordained, and not simply responses to popular demand.  Try as it will to accommodate itself to the intellectual and moral conventions of a secular age – and sometimes, it seems to me, it tries pretty hard – it can never really be successful without ceasing to be the Church.  Perhaps it’s better to recognize from the start that the Church is, has always been, and must always be, out of tune with the age.  It must be in the world, of course, and seek to make itself intelligible to the world, and yet it must never be of the world, never at home in the world. “Be not conformed to the present age,” says St. Paul, “but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind.”  If the Church seeks worldly success and popularity, it seeks its own destruction.


This ambiguity of the Church – in the world, not of the world – makes shepherding always a difficult occupation; and the difficulties have perhaps never been more apparent than they are in our own times. Pastors are ordained to preach the Word of God, to administer the sacraments, and to care for souls committed to their charge.  They must not be purveyors of the conventional wisdom of this present age, nor reflectors of current popular opinion.  They are to be faithful stewards of the mysteries of God; surely they dare not be hirelings who work for the daily wages of popular acclaim.


One could, of course, speak at length of the problems and perils of the Church in a secular society, and I’m sure there can be no one here who hasn’t some sense of the tensions and curious mixture of sincerity and folly which seem to accompany the current rather chaotic “up-dating” of the Church. But behind all that, and through all that, we must never lose sight of the basic message of Good Shepherd Sunday:  Our blind eyes have been opened to the light of Christ’s Resurrection;  it is God’s good providence which shepherds us, through life and death, and he will lead us to the green pastures of eternal truth and goodness;  of which we have a foretaste in the sacred banquet he gives us here.  And thus we pray, in the words of an ancient Eucharistic hymn:

Very Bread, Good Shepherd, tend us

Jesu of Thy love befriend us

Thou refresh us, Thou defend us

Thine eternal goodness send us

In the land of life to see.

Thou who all things canst and knowest,

Who on earth such food bestowest.


 Amen. +