Life is uncertain and unpredictable. No surprise there, right? The longer we live in this world, the more concretely we know that reality. So, as a way of coping, we instinctively learn to hedge our bets, to keep our options open for as long as we can. A big part of the economic mess our country is in—indeed, the economic mess the world is in—comes from people trying to do just that: hedge their bets and reserve their options. That’s where the expression “hedge fund” comes from, and it’s the principle that lies underneath those incomprehensible financial instruments known as “derivatives” that are the culprits in our financial crisis. And it’s not at all hard to understand what makes people do this sort of thing. There is a cacophony of competing voices out there giving us advice, presuming to give us the straight facts on this or that, trying to make us trust them. It’s intimidating. I had a salesperson from Embarq call me the other night—of course, while I was trying to hold the phone in one hand and a dinner plate in the other while a cat tried to give me a backrub—this person from Embarq wanted me to switch our long distance to their plan, which is quite a bit more expensive than the plan we’re on presently, but she offered a nice discount on what we’re paying for our internet connection. I couldn’t keep it straight in my head, and when she said, no, she couldn’t send me an email with the details, I politely declined to continue the conversation. I was reserving my options, hedging my bets. We do this when we can’t see clearly why we should listen to one particular voice above all others.
Today we have one more voice inviting us to pay attention. It’s the voice of Jesus, the voice of him who calls himself the Good Shepherd. Jesus is calling us—that is, the Good Shepherd is calling his sheep—and saying “Follow me. I’ll protect you. I know where the green grass and the cool waters are. You can eat and drink all you need. I’ll watch your back.” Unfortunately, his voice is just one sound among many in our cacophonous environment. Some of us have responsibilities of work—and sometimes the literal voice of a boss—to pay attention to. Most of us have family members who are telling us things or asking us things or otherwise demanding our attention. Many of us have a difficult time tearing ourselves away from Facebook or Yahoo News or our favorite blogs and websites. And if all we do is watch TV or listen to the radio or drive around town we are still assaulted by various forms of advertizing that says, “Buy this. Do that. Think this way.”
It is in such an environment that the voice of Jesus the Good Shepherd calls out to us. It’s confusing. It’s intimidating. So we hedge our bets; we reserve our options. We hold back on the strength of our commitment to him. We don’t ignore him. We don’t abandon him. We continue to follow him … but we do so at a safe distance. Like a savvy airline traveler, we know how far we are from the nearest exit row. In the back of our minds, we’ve planned our escape route, just in case we need to get away … to get away from it all … including the competing—indeed, the persistently competing—voice of the Good Shepherd. Our Christian faith, our Christian identity, our involvement with the church—these all make up one part of our lives, one part among many other parts, one good thing among a great many good things that we are involved in and weigh against one another.
But, what if we stop? What if we stop just for a moment? What if we stop and just listen, listen to Jesus? When we do so, we discover that there’s something just a little different about Jesus the Good Shepherd, something that distinguishes his voice from all the other competing voices, something that makes it stand out from all the rest, something that begins to make us feel safer and more secure about not hedging our bets with him, not needing to pay such close attention to keeping out options open. We discover one very important fact about the Good Shepherd, and it’s this: The Good Shepherd is willing to lay down his life for the sheep. In fact, the Good Shepherd has laid down his life for the sheep.
That’s it. I can’t make it any plainer. And it makes all the difference in the world. No politician is willing to lay down his or her life for the people they call to follow them. General Motors desperately wants to sell you a car, and they may end up losing their corporate life, but, if so, it won’t be because they laid it down willingly. Only the Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. And in so doing, he demonstrates the extent of his love for us.
And in demonstrating that love, Jesus the Good Shepherd earns our trust. We see in his wild, untamed, unqualified, unrestricted, self-giving love the authentication of his credentials as the only One worthy of being followed with abandon. When an out-of-uniform law enforcement officer tries to interact with us officially, the first thing we want to see is his or her badge. The badge authenticates their position, and is the basis for their asking us to do something that any stranger off the street would not legitimately ask of us. The nail marks in the hands of the risen Christ constitute his badge. They constitute the basis on which he makes requests of us that are quite extraordinary, quite unlike anything anyone else could ask and get away with it. The willingness of the Good Shepherd to lay down his life for the sheep provides us with the assurance we need to follow him completely—no reservation, no hesitation, no hedging of bets, no quick scan for the exit row. It’s not that Jesus is simply more important to us than anything or anyone else. It’s that he becomes the lens through which we look at anything and everything else. His voice isn’t simply the loudest among many; it’s the one for which we tune out all others, listening to him first, and then hearing the others in the light of what we have heard from him.
In the words of the old Victorian hymn: “Jesus calls us o’er the tumult of our life’s tempestuous sea. Day by day his clear voice soundeth, saying, “Christian, follow me.”
Alleluia and Amen.