What's So Great About Sheep?

Rebecca Sheridan
Sunday, May 8, 2022
Acts 9:36-43

    As I said at the beginning of worship this morning, today is sometimes called Good Shepherd Sunday, and so our images in our scripture remind us that Jesus is not only the Lamb of God but also our shepherd.  We are to listen to Jesus’ voice and follow him.  The struggle for us today, of course, is that most of us have had little experience with sheep and shepherds other than eating some lamb chops occasionally, perhaps.  Today, to call someone a “sheep” is usually a derogatory comment.  A “sheep” is someone who is meek, submissive, stupid, timid, and so on.  People who act like sheep follow the crowd without thinking for themselves.  But the Bible describes people of faith being like sheep and God like our good shepherd over 400 times.  It is probably one of the most common descriptions of the relationship between God and God’s people in scripture.  So today, we ask, “what’s so good about being a sheep?”
    For hundreds of years in the region of Israel up until today, sheep have been a vital source of clothing and food.  Shepherds still today go to great lengths to protect their sheep because they are a valuable source of income and sustain the local community’s economy.  Sheep are indeed followers – but they follow the shepherd because in the shepherd’s hands they know they are safe and protected.  What would be a good analogy for us today that might carry this same kind of positive description of our relationship with God that our culture can understand?  Jesus our Good Shepherd and us as sheep is to God as our Waze app or GPS and we to good drivers, with the GPS system navigating traffic patterns, safely guiding us to arrive at our destination in a timely fashion?  It just doesn’t have the same ring to it.  Let me know if you think of a better metaphor for our relationship with a God who guides, protects, comforts and leads us in contemporary language.  For now, let’s try to reclaim the label for ourselves as “sheep” as a positive one!
    In our first reading from Acts, we see some pretty powerful examples of sheep who follow Jesus our Good Shepherd.  Finally, we see Peter at his best!  At Jesus’ transfiguration, Peter wants to stay up on the mountaintop forever.  Jesus rebukes Peter for not understanding his mission that the Messiah must suffer and die.  On Good Friday, Peter denies Jesus.  And just last week, for whatever strange reason post-resurrection, Peter puts on his clothes and then jumps in the lake when Jesus shows up.  Next, he doesn’t quite understand what Jesus is asking him to do when Jesus asks him three times to “Feed my lambs, feed my sheep.”  Peter sometimes gives us the impression that he is not the sharpest sheep in the flock, but here in Acts 9, he gets it right.  He has just healed a man who has been bed-ridden for 8 years, Aeneas, in the name of Christ.  And in the passage we just heard, Peter’s actions to raise Tabitha from the dead mirror what Jesus did in Luke chapter 8 to raise a twelve-year-old girl from the dead.  Peter sends everyone outside, he prays, and says, just like Jesus did with the young girl, “Get up.” And she does!  This is really something – Jesus gives his sheep, his followers, power even to raise people from the dead.  
We don’t just get to see Peter as a faithful disciple of Jesus in action, we also hear about another lesser-known follower of Jesus, Tabitha herself.  Tabitha is the only woman in the New Testament explicitly called a disciple of Jesus.  We hear how she was devoted to good works and acts of charity, and how so many, especially widows, have been touched by her ministry of making and distributing clothes.  Jesus, through Peter, raises Tabitha from the dead because her work is not finished here on Earth.  The raised Tabitha will continue serve others, especially the least in that society, the widows, and to show others what it means to follow Christ by using the gifts she has – her ability to make clothes and her wealth to share those clothes with those who can’t afford it.  Many put their faith in the Lord because they see Tabitha raised from the dead, and so both she and Peter offer a powerful witness to what Jesus has done for their lives.
    What can we learn from Tabitha and Peter in this story?  Well, being a sheep in terms of being a follower of Jesus is a good thing!  As God’s sheep we are of infinite worth and value to God, every single one of us.  And we are vital sources of hope and life for our community because of our connection to Jesus the Good Shepherd.  God has given each one of us gifts and talents to share with others for the sake of Christ’s kingdom.  Maybe you can’t make clothes or raise people from the dead – but every one of us has something to contribute.  Jesus needs us to be his sheep, to listen to his voice and follow where he leads.  And here’s some more really good news about being Jesus’ sheep:  Jesus says, “I give them eternal life, and they will never perish.  No one will snatch them out of my hand.”  This means that no matter what, even when we are weak, scared, and sometimes don’t follow through just like imperfect Peter – we have eternal life and cannot be snatched out of the Lord’s hand.  We can share that same hope with others.  We can ask, who is hungry for hope in our community today, and how might we share our hope in Christ, in new life, second chances, and possibilities with them just as the disciples did of old?  
    Today, we welcomed Mia and Felicia into our church family.  Through Mia’s baptism, NOW we commit to helping her grow in faith and listen to Jesus’ voice in a world which can be scary and difficult to navigate.  We remember as God’s sheep that we are connected to a whole flock – we are not alone.  We have other believers to support us and encourage us on our faith journeys.  We give Mia a candle today as a reminder that even a baby can let her light so shine before others to give God glory.  We all have a part to play, from the youngest of us to the oldest of us in following Jesus and calling others to follow, too.  Mia, just like everyone else gathered here today and in churches throughout the world, is a valuable sheep of God’s fold, full of God’s hope and possibility for a world in need.  Remember, Peter doesn’t heal Aeneas or raise Tabitha from the dead on his own – it is only through the power of Christ working through him that he is able to work these miracles.  Listening to Jesus’ voice and following him as our Good Shepherd, we, too, are able to do great things.  Thanks be to God!  Amen