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Second Sunday in Easter--May 7, 2000
Fr. William Sisterman
St. Dunstan's Anglican Church, Minneapolis, MN 
Readings: I Peter 2:19-25 and John 10:11-16

"I know my sheep and am known of mine."  

Today is the Sunday traditionally known as Good Shepherd Sunday. 

The Good Shepherd says, "I know my sheep and they know me." How do we know our Lord and how does he know us? Does he know us only intellectually? We know a lot of facts about Jesus. We know that he was born in Bethlehem in what today's calendar would be 4-5 B.C. (Scholars are a bit uncertain: they just aren't sure.) He was taken to Egypt. He was raised in Nazareth. He visited the Temple at the age of twelve. He worked for a time as a carpenter. He was baptized by John in the Jordan River. He healed and preached for approximately two and a half to three years. And He was executed as a criminal, approximately 28 or 29 A.D. 

We know some other things. We know some theology about him. He is one person with two natures. That is, that he is both man and God. All these things are important because Christianity is, after all, unlike every other religion in the world. Christianity is an in-history religion. It's not a philosophy about life. It's a religion based on what actually happened in our human life, that is, in history. But as important as these facts are, atheists and devils know at least that much. And it doesn't make them any better. Well, then, how about knowing Jesus emotionally? Others say that to know Jesus intellectually is not sufficient. The important thing about knowing Jesus is to feel inside yourself in a certain way about Jesus. They call this "being born again" or "accepting Jesus as my Savior" or "giving my life to the Lord" or "letting Jesus into my heart." Now these things are important too. Where you give your heart says a great deal about where you expect to find your treasure. 

We don't always find these warm feelings and emotions present within us. At those moments, when emotionally we're just as dead as stone, it doesn't mean that we've ceased to be Christians. Feelings are not dependable. We ourselves live in a time when love is seen as feelings rather than as commitment and look what a mess we've made of love in our society. An emotional rush may be thrilling, but it may also disappear at the next movement of the barometer. Then what do we have? How do we know Jesus? When Jesus said, "I know my sheep and they know Me," He was speaking publicly at the Feast of the Dedication, which we now know as Hanukkah. The feast celebrated the Maccabees, those brave Jewish soldiers who kept God's commandments, even when it cost them everything. The first time they did battle with the Greek armies, to try and throw them out and restore the Temple, came the Sabbath Day and they wouldn't fight and they got slaughtered. The Greeks said, "Aha, we'll go pick on them on the Sabbath Day; they won't fight. The Jews changed that strategy rather quickly. In future battles they gave themselves a dispensation for the Sabbath Day. That's how serious they were about keeping the Commandments of God. They stood there and died rather than break one of his Commandments. 

The mind and the heart are indeed involved in knowing Jesus, but they are not enough. To know Jesus truly is to know him as Lord. That is, with our mind: that he is God and man. To know him as the One to whom we are totally committed. That is, to know him with our hearts. These two kinds of knowledge must result in a certain way of living. We must also involve our wills and the choices we make. 

This is Good Shepherd Sunday in which we celebrate that the Lord is our Shepherd. That makes us His sheep. The clergy like to have fun when they're just among themselves about referring to their sheep because sheep are not among the brightest of animals. Until it's pointed out that one of the first things our Lord said to that first lot of bishops was, "I send you out as sheep among wolves. He was not referring to their parishioners! He was referring to those who would attempt to harm them. So we're all sheep. As I said, they're not the brightest of animals. Nor do they have, as far as we can tell, particularly strong emotions. They don't leap around like monkeys at the zoo or even butt heads like mountain goats. They just stand there and chew grass. But they can obey and they can disobey. 

Jesus calls himself our Shepherd. He does not call himself our Good Idea. He did not ever, so far as we know, call himself our Biggest Thrill. Rather, he called himself our Shepherd and we are to be his sheep; not just his students and not (to bring the terminology up to date) to be his groupies. We are his sheep. Like good sheep, we know him in following him. Living as he taught, not as some bright idea we think is better. And in worshipping as he taught, not as some bright idea we think is better. 

In the end, there is no other way to know Jesus. We can't think our way to being good Christians and we can't feel our way to being good Christians. We can only do what he set out for us to do; to live as he taught us to live; to follow after those whom he himself sent to be our shepherds; to worship in the only way the New Testament records that he taught us to worship: that is, to live by the Church's precepts in communion with the Church's bishops and centering our lives in the Church's Eucharist. 

If we know him, then he has promised that he will know us. "I know my sheep and they know me." He will know us in this way because he will see something of himself in us. Not as he knows facts about his creation. I'm sure that Jesus knows perfectly well that E=MC2. And I don't think he cares a whole lot. It's just the way he made things. Nor will he know us as he knows His spiritual foes. And he does know them. He could spot Satan at work quickly enough. 

In those who do follow him faithfully, in their lives and in worship and in the life of His Church, he will see something of himself. Imperfect, to be sure, in each of us and in all of us together. But still something that could have come from no other source. And it is to that that he will respond when we presents ourselves at his heavenly sheepfold. For that response he came once to make his life available to each of us, and he comes to offer himself - both for us and to us - in every Eucharist we celebrate. 
 

Please note: These sermons are offered for your meditation. If you wish to use them for some other purpose or republish them, please credit St. Dunstanís Church and Fr. Sisterman.