The Fourth Sunday of Easter, Year B, The Church of the Good Shepherd, Brentwood

“We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us-- and we ought to lay down our lives for one another” (1 Jo. 3:16).

This is a homiletical set-up if there ever was one: Good Shepherd Sunday a few weeks before the retirement of a long-serving and highly-regarded rector. Not just any priest, but one who planted the church and who has served faithfully for over twenty years as the pastor of the flock. This time has been one of remarkable growth at the Church of the Good Shepherd. In a place where there was no church, a community came to birth; not just a community but a missionary outpost of the Good News of Jesus’ death and resurrection. There’s much to celebrate. I’m very grateful for the work of Father Randy Dunnavant in this diocese as pastor and priest at the Church of the Good Shepherd.

On Good Shepherd Sunday it’s traditional to preach about Jesus the Good Shepherd, which is the great image given us in the Gospel of John, in the tenth chapter. “He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out” (Jo. 10:3), Jesus says. “I know my own and my own know me” (Jo. 10:14), as in our Gospel today. In other words, the shepherd and the flock are in relationship. Then again, “I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly” (Jo. 10:10). Jesus is the shepherd who guides, the one who leads to the source of life as a shepherd guides to green pastures and living waters (Ps. 23). Then, when danger threatens, the shepherd interposes himself between the flock and what threatens it. As Jesus tells the disciples, “The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep” (Jo. 10:11).

Guidance, relationship, life, and sacrifice: these are the attributes of the Good Shepherd. John’s Gospel, however, takes us further in the relationship between Jesus and the disciples. “No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends”, Jesus tells his followers in the fifteenth chapter. “You are my friends if you do what I command you” (Jo. 15:13-14). Here we’re no longer talking about the relationship of sheep and shepherd but the relationship of friends.

The pastoral imagery of the flock, you see, will only carry us so far. “I do not call you servants any longer, because the servant does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father” (Jo. 15:15). The Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep not because they are his flock but because they are his friends.

Our reading from the First Letter of John captures this insight in this way: “We know love by this, that he laid down his life for us-- and we ought to lay down our lives for one another” (1 Jo. 3:16). The virtue of love is illustrated by acts of service and sacrifice, in the giving of life for others. We come to know love by seeing it lived out in the life of Jesus Christ. Love finds its highest example in the sacrifice of the Good Shepherd on the cross but its meaning is not exhausted there. The example of Jesus is meant to be imitated and shared in the Christian community as we expend ourselves in the service of others, following in his footsteps.

I believe that parish life, the life of the Christian community, is the place in which service and sacrifice can be cultivated and learned. It’s the practical laboratory of the Christian life, where we learn what it is to be the flock, and to be the friends of Jesus. We also learn to love each other, and to reach out in love beyond the community of faith. That’s the value of Christian community. You may have thought you were planting a church, but in fact you were creating a place where the Christian life, the following of Jesus in service and sacrifice, could flourish and take hold in this particular part of Williamson County.

Our confirmands today are witnessing to the power of Christ’s example, and the calling of this community of faith. You are following the One who is at the head of the flock. You have learned how to love each other, and to call each other friends. In the days ahead, the Good Shepherd will continue to guide you to green pastures and living waters. Well done, Church of the Good Shepherd.

  • The Rt. Rev'd John Bauerschmidt, Bishop of Tennessee