A Sheepish Kind of Glory

Pretend it's not Sunday and you're NOT at church. Somebody asks you, "Quick, tell me: 'Best promise anybody ever gave you… What would you answer?… (Volunteers)… Thanks. OK, now in fact we are in church. So what would you say if I asked you, "What's the best promise Jesus ever made to you?"… (Volunteers)… Some of us might want to answer with that old Wesley (Charles) hymn, "Changed from glory into glory, till in heaven we take our place, till we cast our crowns before [him], lost in wonder, love and praise." But you know what? A long, long time ago, one Hanukkah, Jesus takes a walk. He's strolling in the Temple, there on Solomon's Porch. And some of the Temple's other great teachers and leaders are there too. And they demand to know the real story about Jesus. And they give him the chance to offer up his very best promise in a way they (and everybody else) can clearly understand. And you know what our Lord and Savior answers there that day? According to John's Gospel, Jesus promises us a sheepish kind of glory! A sheepish glory? What kind of glory is that, anyhow?! Well, let's put it this way"

He says we're connected and protected. He says our glory is to know we're like sheep and to know our very own shepherd! We're all in this life together. We're connected! Just knowin' that oughta help us through this week and through this world. We don't have to go it alone. And we don't have to stand alone, either. We're protected. Oh, don't you just love it that the leaders of his day complain, "Jesus, don't keep us in suspense. Are you the Christ, the Messiah, the Savior, or not?" Don't you love his answer? "The problem isn't that I haven't said or haven't shown you enough. It's that you're not my sheep! My own know my voice. And I know them. And they follow me." Here's the thing. We have to understand we're kinda sheepish, you and me. And that that's a good thing. Precisely because it allows us to know Jesus as our shepherd. And that's the best thing of all.

Allow me to share with you some good stuff about being sheepish. (See, that's usually not much of a compliment.) Sheep stick together. They flock naturally, particularly in the company of the One they know will see to it they're fed, quenched and sheltered. Sheep don't set the boundaries of the flock themselves. And sheep are no dummies. (More about that in a minute.) They are natural followers when the right leader shows them the way. And they are less in danger when together than apart.

The glory of Jesus' sheepish promise to us is that he is good enough, strong enough, leader enough to keep us together. His staff is not in the shape of a crook, but a cross. He will say to us at the last, "Nothing can separate you from me, not even this. So come unto me… and I will give you rest." After-Easter-Morning Christians take note. Time after time, when the Risen Savior comes, he finds his own, "gathered together in one place", whether in the upper room or at the lake or even at the day of Pentecost. Not only are we connected in this way, we are also protected. "Stay here (together) while you wait for the Spirit to come," he says. "Let these (gathered in the Garden of Gethsemane) go," he says to those who arrest him. See, he wants to keep his promise to Heaven, "Of those whom you gave me, I lost not one." It's just what he says on Solomon's Porch one Hanukkah morning, "My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, [and they follow me and I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish,] and no one shall snatch them out of my hand." Why does the Church gather to this day? Why do we say that in the end, there really are no individual, free-lance believers? Because Jesus would have us be sheepish. That is, connected, and in that very way protected. From hunger of the soul. (He is the shepherd who leads us by still waters, makes us to lie down in green pastures, and restores our spirits.) He's the one to protect us from the wiles of the Evil One.

Jesus celebrates the sheepish glory of those who listen, and promises us we can hear him. Don't be fooled. We sheep aren't fools… unless we submit to being frightened. And there's nothing to fear as long as we can hear the shepherd's voice. Wanna know a cool thing about sheep? Despite their reputation, they're really quite smart. Britons have studied them and learned that sheep have terrific memories. They can pick out a particular face in a line of pictures, especially if it belongs to those who've fed them. Some can remember up to 50 faces for over two years! (How's that make you feel about your own skills with names and faces. Sometimes it looks to me I lack not just horse sense, but sheep sense! You?) Sheep have marvelous hearing. Pretty much perfect- pitch, when listening for their leader. And they will always move toward those who won't let them go hungry. And they have the good sense not to set the boundaries on the flock themselves.

Our Savior invites us into a sheepish glory that listens and knows the pure, sweet sound of his voice because we know the spiritual food he gives. Come to know him well, and we'll always know a phony voice when we hear one. And we will not follow. "Satan, take the hindmost!" If the world says, "Power is the way, might makes right, and the end justifies the means," we will say, "No." If those of us who want to be the most righteous get a little carried away, and begin to say we know who loves Jesus and who does not, who will be saved and who will not, the rest of us need to hear the voice of the shepherd anew. He is the one who says, "I have other sheep, not of this fold." In fact he says, "I am the good shepherd; I know my own and my own know me, [as the Father and I know one another]; 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 heed my voice. So there shall be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life of my own accord, that I may take it again…." Friends, there is no need of fear, and no need to scatter, the one really dumb thing both sheep and people do when fright overcomes sight, and we run without listening. ('You ever done that? I know I have.) 'Makes you wanna reclaim a little sheep sense, doesn't it? All we have to do is stand still and stand fast in the face of fear. And He will speak. And we will hear and recognize his voice, telling us to stay with him and with each other.

Here's the best promise. The greatest glory. Not just greener pastures or a bank of clover, but a banquet. There is no finer or more sheepish glory in store for us. "I give you eternal life, you will never perish. No one will snatch you from me." All we have to do is listen, come-when-called, and follow. We need to put away those times when we hear, but refuse to follow. It's not so hard when we hear him in the hospital room at 2 AM. "I am the good shepherd.…" But when the Shepherd calls us to follow him, sometimes through the valley of the shadow of death, self-denial, obedience, self-sacrifice, or unconditional love, we sheep seem to be hearing impaired sometimes! We're scared. And like sheep, that's when we do stupid things. We take a wrong turn, or we make ill-advised decisions, or we sometimes become self-destructive. Sometimes, we'll even forsake the Shepherd and turn instead to some bogus Beastmaster, who turns out to be a wolf in shepherd's clothing.

But listen… and follow… and we're way more than in-the-clover. We're-in-the-Kingdom with a place at the Banquet table, complete with our name on it. It's our Shepherd Savior who says, "I go to prepare a place for you, that where I am you may be also." Remember the words? "Lord, you prepare a place at your table for me in plain view, even with my enemies and all the evils-that-come-after-me lookin' on…. You've made a place for me anyway. Why, you anoint my head with oil; you let everybody see that I belong to you, and you belong to me. I'm chosen! Lord, how can I be of service?! O, I tell you, my cup of joy is overflowing! Surely goodness and mercy will follow me all the days of my life; and I will live in your house forever!"

A sheepish glory? Is that what we're promised? There is none better! Connected, protected, shepherded and promised; listening and hearing the sound of his voice. Following, feeding, at a banquet of choice.

Today. Listen. Come with all haste.
Come to his table, and share just a taste.

Communion is served.

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