A privilege this morning to share a reflection from The Rt. Rev. Jeff W. Fisher, Bishop Suffragan of Texas, adapted from a sermon given last month at Trinity Episcopal Church in The Woodlands, TX, “Not Your Grandma’s Good Shepherd”. You can read more of Bishop Fisher over at his blog.

11 “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. 12 The hired hand is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. 13 The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.

14 “I am the good shepherd; I know my sheep and my sheep know me— 15 just as the Father knows me and I know the Father—and I lay down my life for the sheep. 16 I have other sheep that are not of this sheep pen. I must bring them also. They too will listen to my voice, and there shall be one flock and one shepherd. 17 The reason my Father loves me is that I lay down my life—only to take it up again. 18 No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have authority to lay it down and authority to take it up again. This command I received from my Father.”

Last year, in 2014, the film American Sniper premiered. The film has gone on to gross over 541 million dollars at the box office. This makes American Sniper the highest-grossing war film of all-time.

american_sniper_still

American Sniper tells the story of Chris Kyle, who is portrayed in the movie by Bradley Cooper. Chris Kyle was the deadliest marksman in United States military history, with 255 kills from his four tours during the war in Iraq.

Now, I fully realize that American Sniper has received both positive and negative feedback. Yet one cannot ignore the amazing box office interest in this film. It is evident to me that people have a desire – to see a skilled and dedicated war hero on the big screen. It is evident to me that people have a desire – to see a tough and strong man, a man who lays down the lives of others – and who is willing to lay down his own life.

In American Sniper, there is a scene early on in the movie that shows the early life of Chris Kyle. In this scene, Kyle is a young boy, sitting around the dinner table with his family. His father instructs – or shall I say yells at – his sons, saying:

“[Boys], there are three types of people in this world: Sheep, wolves, and sheepdogs. Some people prefer to believe that evil doesn’t exist in the world… Those are the sheep. Then you’ve got predators, who use violence to prey on the weak. They’re the wolves. And then there are those blessed with the gift of aggression, an overpowering need to protect the flock. These men are the rare breed who live to confront the wolf. They are the sheepdog.”

Three types of people are described: Sheep, wolves, and sheepdogs. Yet the description of these three types of people is different than the description we find in the Gospel of John.
In American Sniper, there is no mention of a savior. There is no mention of a Good Shepherd.

movies_benreed_t658

In the Gospel of John, Jesus says:

“I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The wolf comes…and snatches [the sheep] and scatters them. I am the good shepherd… And I lay down my life for the sheep.”

In the film American Sniper, there are sheep and wolves and aggressive sheepdogs.
And in the Bible, there are sheep and wolves – and a loving Good Shepherd. And Jesus is that Good Shepherd. The Good Shepherd lays down his life for the sheep.

Today in the church year is the Fourth Sunday of Easter, which is commonly called Good Shepherd Sunday. Because on this Sunday, each year, we read different passages from the tenth chapter of the Gospel of John. On this Sunday, each year in the Gospel of John, we hear Jesus say to us: I am the Good Shepherd.

Now as a boy, I went to Sunday School. And as a boy, my mother read bedtime stories to me from the Golden Book Children’s Bible.

Framed on the wall of my Sunday school classroom was a picture of Jesus as the Good Shepherd with Jesus looking very sweet. And in my illustrated Children’s Bible, Jesus as the Good Shepherd looked – so precious. When we think of Jesus as the Good Shepherd, we tend to picture a sweet, little Jesus, hugging a tiny white fluffy sheep, as if it is a miniature poodle.

Jesus-Good-Shepherd-06Yet I believe that Jesus is not your Grandma’s Good Shepherd. As 541 million dollars at the box office testifies, no one is that interested in a pale and wimpy guy hugging on to a poodle.

Yet I am interested in a tough guy – who protects me from being scattered and snatched by the wolves. I am interested in a strong man – who is not afraid to kick the mighty off of their thrones. I am interested in a real man – who lays down his life for me, for me, on a cross. I am interested in a tough, strong, real Good Shepherd.

You see, I don’t need a hug. I need a Savior!

When I am disheartened by a bad day at work or by a heart crushing disappointment or by a stupid mistake I have made, I don’t need someone to say to me: “Well, bless your heart.” No, I need a strong Good Shepherd who loves me, even when I have messed up. I need a Savior!

When I encounter cruel injustice and blatant racism and the flagrant abuse of power, I don’t need someone to say to me: “Well, that’s not very nice.” No, I need a strong Good Shepherd who will kick the you-know-what of the rulers of this world. I need a Savior!

When I experience cancers and catastrophes and deaths swirling around me, I don’t need someone to say to me: “Well, that must be hard for you.” No, I need a strong Good Shepherd who protects me from being snatched up by the wolves. I need a Savior!

And Jesus is my Savior. He is my strong and tough Good Shepherd, who lays down his life for the sheep. The Good Shepherd has proved – over and over again – his unfailing love for me. The Good Shepherd has proved that he will go to the ends of the earth for me – because he lays down his life for me – on the Cross.

In the movie American Sniper, the father of Chris Kyle believes that there are three types of people: Sheep, wolves and sheepdogs. Yet in the Gospel of John, we learn that there are sheep and wolves – and then there is the Good Shepherd. And the Good Shepherd is not your Grandma’s Good Shepherd, all sweet and cuddly and precious.

No, the Good Shepherd is strong and tough and real. The Good Shepherd is strong enough – to save you. The Good Shepherd is tough enough – to love even you. AMEN.