Leaders: Shepherds or Thieves?
May 10, 2020*
By Pastor John Partridge
John 10:1-10 Acts 2:42-47 1 Peter 2:19-25
There is a common theme in the movies, in literature, and even in computer hacking that should sound familiar. If you can impersonate one of your enemy’s leaders well enough, you can fool them into giving you all kinds of information. And you might even be able to take control of something valuable. Computer hackers have been known to call in to the information technology or computer department at a company headquarters pretending to be the CEO, or the president, or some other corporate official, act as if they forgot their password, and try to convince someone to either give them the password over the phone or reset their password in a way that gives the hacker access to the company computer network with the access of that corporate officer. Likewise, we’ve all seen movies where someone masquerades as a military general, or someone else in order to steal something, to rescue someone, or to save the world or something.
In short, if you pretend to be someone’s leader, and can fool them well enough, long enough, you can do a lot of damage and can steal almost anything you want. And as familiar as that theme is to us in literature, in movies, and real life, it ought to make sense when we read almost that same story in scripture, and we do in John 10:1-10, when Jesus accuses Israel’s Pharisees of impersonating real leadership.
10:1 “Very truly I tell you Pharisees, anyone who does not enter the sheep pen by the gate, but climbs in by some other way, is a thief and a robber. 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 listen to his voice. He calls his own sheep by name and leads them out. 4 When he has brought out all his own, he goes on ahead of them, and his sheep follow him because they know his voice. 5 But they will never follow a stranger; in fact, they will run away from him because they do not recognize a stranger’s voice.” 6 Jesus used this figure of speech, but the Pharisees did not understand what he was telling them.
7 Therefore Jesus said again, “Very truly I tell you, I am the gate for the sheep. 8 All who have come before me are thieves and robbers, but the sheep have not listened to them. 9 I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. They will come in and go out and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life and have it to the full.
Jesus’ accusation is that the leaders of Israel are only masquerading as leaders so that they can steal what they want, destroy what they want, and kill whomever they want, so that they can benefit themselves rather than offer leadership that genuinely cares for the people for whom they are responsible in the way that a true shepherd cares for their sheep. Jesus explains that this is why many people do not follow the example of the Pharisees. It is because the people, also known as the sheep, are smart enough, and sensitive enough to the calling of God, to know that these are not true shepherds. Likewise, this explains the popularity that Jesus has, because the people recognize the care of the true shepherd in him.
But recognizing Jesus as our shepherd, and as the true shepherd of God, has implications for every one of us not only in what we believe, but in how we act and how we respond to the actions of others. In 1 Peter 2:19-25, the Apostle Peter says this:
19 For it is commendable if someone bears up under the pain of unjust suffering because they are conscious of God. 20 But how is it to your credit if you receive a beating for doing wrong and endure it? But if you suffer for doing good and you endure it, this is commendable before God. 21 To this you were called, because Christ suffered for you, leaving you an example, that you should follow in his steps.
22 “He committed no sin,
and no deceit was found in his mouth.”
23 When they hurled their insults at him, he did not retaliate; when he suffered, he made no threats. Instead, he entrusted himself to him who judges justly. 24 “He himself bore our sins” in his body on the cross, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness; “by his wounds you have been healed.” 25 For “you were like sheep going astray,” but now you have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of your souls.
That means that, as followers of the true shepherd, we are called to do what is right, and what is best for everyone, regardless of the cost (much like many of our Mother’s sacrificed what they wanted so that we could have the things the we needed and wanted). There is, of course, no commendation if we are punished for doing wrong, but we our actions are commendable before God if we are punished for doing what is right. Because we were once lost, and because we have returned to the Shepherd and Overseer of our souls, we are called to be like him and to do what is right regardless of what it costs.
Well that sounds nice, and it certainly applies to those of us who find ourselves in leadership, but what does it mean otherwise? Most of us are not being persecuted for our faith. What does it look like to bear the cost of doing what’s right? How does doing what is right apply to the ordinary business of day-to-day living for ordinary people? And Luke offers an answer to that question in Acts 2:42-47 where he says:
42 They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and to fellowship, to the breaking of bread and to prayer. 43 Everyone was filled with awe at the many wonders and signs performed by the apostles. 44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 They sold property and possessions to give to anyone who had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
Simply put, the followers of Jesus Christ made it a habit to be together, to share meals together, to share the stories of what they had seen God do in their lives, in the lives of the apostles, and in the lives of others. And they not only shared these things, they shared all that they had. They used what they had to meet the needs of others, not just the needs of those who belonged, but the needs of “anyone who had need.” I know most of our parents taught us to share, but this is different. This takes sharing to another level. This kind of sharing costs something. The followers of Jesus Christ sold some of the things that they had, and they sold off property, just so that they could give it away and care for those in need. They invited people with nothing to eat, to eat with them, in their homes because their faith was sincere.
Clearly, this goes far beyond giving from our excess, or even giving a tithe, or a tenth, to the church. This was truly sacrificial, costly, giving. But the end result was that their hearts were glad, they praised God, the people of their communities noticed what they were doing and universally thought well of them, and God blessed what they were doing. “The Lord added to their number… daily… those who were being saved.”
As we read scripture, both today and any other day, we often find that we are both sheep and shepherd. We are sheep because we follow Jesus as our shepherd, but whenever we have leadership over others, whether that is over employees at work, over students at school, over our children at home, over volunteers at church, or anywhere else, we are called to lead like Jesus. Because Jesus sacrificed to do what was right, we are called to lead sacrificially as he did. We must do what is right, and good, for those under us, and those around us, even when doing what is right costs us something. We are called to be loving, …and giving, …and caring, even when doing so costs us something.
Because, in the end, Jesus says that there are only two kinds of leaders… shepherds… and thieves.
We are surrounded by examples. As we open our newspapers and watch the evening news it often isn’t difficult to find people in positions of leadership that seem to use their authority to enrich themselves and get what they want regardless of who gets hurt. But occasionally, we see people who stand out in stark contrast to that kind of leader. Occasionally, we see people who are willing to take a stand for what’s right. To stand up for the people that work for them or for the people they represent. Unfortunately, that kind of selfless leadership shouldn’t be so unusual. It’s something that every follower of Jesus Christ has been called to do.
We each get to choose for ourselves, every day, what kind of leader we will be.
Will we be shepherds?
Or will we be thieves?
It shouldn’t be that hard, but I pray that we will all choose wisely.
Have a great week everybody.
You can find the video of this worship service here: https://youtu.be/zVDiugvyzu4
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*You have been reading a message presented at Christ United Methodist Church on the date noted at the top of the first page. Rev. John Partridge is the pastor at Christ UMC in Alliance, Ohio. Duplication of this message is a part of our Media ministry, if you have received a blessing in this way, we would love to hear from you. Letters and donations in support of the Media ministry or any of our other projects may be sent to Christ United Methodist Church, 470 East Broadway Street, Alliance, Ohio 44601. These messages are available to any interested persons regardless of membership. You may subscribe to these messages, in print or electronic formats, by writing to the address noted, or by contacting us at secretary@CUMCAlliance.org. If you have questions, you can ask them in our discussion forum on Facebook (search for Pastor John Online). These messages can also be found online at https://pastorpartridge.wordpress.com/. All Scripture references are from the New International Version unless otherwise noted.