The Good Shepherd is the One who Calls
‘The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life, and have it abundantly.’John 10:10
This is the final verse of this Sunday’s Gospel, John 10:1-10. This Sunday, the Fourth Sunday of Easter, is special in two ways – it’s Good Shepherd Sunday as well as Vocation Sunday. This week has been set apart to acknowledge Jesus as the Good Shepherd, the one in whom there is no lack, the one who leads us to the Father, the one who, through His sacrifice, bought us freedom from sin, earned us salvation.
It’s also Vocation Sunday because we can’t focus on the Good Shepherd without focussing on the nature of the Good Shepherd and what the Good Shepherd came to do. Traditionally, Vocation Sunday was a day of intentional prayer for those called to ordained ministry and the religious life. More recently, it has been expanded to include lay ministry recognising that everyone is called to a ministry – lay or ordained – and through that ministry, into a deeper relationship with God through the Good Shepherd. As Jesus says in the reading, He goes ahead of the sheep and the sheep follow Him because they know His voice. Indeed, we cannot talk about the Good Shepherd unless we also talk about the call of the sheep by the Good Shepherd.
Vocation – Finding Voice
But just what is a vocation, and why is there need to focus on it? The Oxford Concise Dictionary defines a vocation as ‘a strong feeling of suitability for a particular career or occupation’. It also defines a vocation as ‘a person’s main employment or main occupation, especially one requiring dedication’. Instantly, my eyes are drawn to two phrases: ‘a strong feeling of suitability for’ and ‘requiring dedication’. If I had to express it in my words, and, noting that the word ‘vocation’ is rooted in the Latin word for ‘voice’, I would say that a vocation gives voice to who we are at heart. When we respond to the voice of the heart, which is also where we find intimate connection with God, we find fulfilment. That fulfilment allows us to experience abundance, the abundance of God’s provision and sustenance.
This Sunday’s Response, Psalm 23, expresses that sustenance and abundance this way:
‘The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not be in want. You spread a table before me in the presence of those who trouble me; you have anointed my head with oil, and my cup is running over. Surely your goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever.’Psalm 23:1, 5-6
Vocation – The Struggling Voice
But why is a vocation important? Why is a vocation so important that the Church has set aside one Sunday of intentional prayer for vocation? Perhaps the more fitting question is why not? I ask why not for we are all sent here with a call on our lives. The story of the call and commission of the prophet Jeremiah begins with God’s declaration to the prophet, ‘Before I formed you in the womb I knew you, and before you were born I consecrated you; I appointed you a prophet to the nations’ (Jeremiah 1:5). Our story is no different. Our story is no different because everything that God does, including our creation, is intentional, deliberate, and purposeful. God is a god of purpose. Like God, in whose image and likeness we were created, we ought also to be intentional and purposeful in what we commit our lives to. That can only happen, though, if we find our voice – if we find the thing that speaks to who we are at heart, if we find our vocation, and, for having found it, pursue it, and pursue it diligently, faithfully, and dedicatedly.
Because the path to vocation is important, it is not easy. The path to vocation isn’t easy as there are many distractions that we encounter on the way, beginning with who our parents want us to be. How many of us have found ourselves on paths that responded to the desires of our parents, and not to our heart? Parents, how many times have we imposed our desires on our children, much to their frustration, and the frustration of the relationship between us and our children?
Distractions also include the culture in which we learn and grow – girls aren’t good at sciences and math. Boys are supposed to go after what they want regardless of what anyone says. Depending on how a boy learns this, it can manifest itself as abusive and selfish tendencies.
What about messages that money is everything so that you choose only a career that makes money, never mind where you find joy? Distractions are also to be found in the fact that much of our lives is spent trying to be someone else, spent telling ourselves we’re not good enough. We are raised not to be comfortable in our skin. How many industries thrive on this discomfort with who we are?
Shelly Francis in an article entitled, ‘Listening for the Voice of Vocation’ published on the website, Random Acts of Leadership, says, [the voices of vocation]
‘[are] not the voices telling you what you should do to achieve success, or the ones telling you to follow in somebody’s footsteps or to satisfy harsh inner critics. It is not the voice of your ego demanding with grim determination that you make your life something it’s not.’Shelly Francis, Listening for the Voice of Vocation
She goes on to quote Parker Palmer who, in Let Your Life Speak, wrote:
‘Vocation does not mean a goal that I pursue. It means a calling that I hear. Before I can tell my life what I want to do with it, I must listen to my life telling me who I am.’Parker Palmer, Let Your Life Speak
Vocation – Getting Closer to God
Our Christian faith helps us understand that that ‘life telling me who I am’ is God. Because God, our Creator, who knows us best, who gave us life, never intended for us to live our lives following in someone else’s footsteps. God intends for us to live our lives walking the path along which He calls us – this is the path along which we find our vocation, our heart, fulfilment and ultimately, experience the abundant life which He has in store for us.
Let’s return for a moment to the verse quoted at the beginning of this message. Jesus said, ‘the thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy.’ What better way to steal and kill and destroy than for us never to quite know who we are and who we are called to be? When we spend our lives chasing after an identity that isn’t ours, we spend a lifetime chasing after something that isn’t ours. In a way, this is coveting, and we know what the Bible tells us about coveting. And because this is not the life that God intended for us, we spend a lifetime that turns out to be mediocre at best, and barren and unfruitful at worst. We spend a lifetime that cheats us of the abundance into which we are being called, an abundance that we experience only when we find our true vocation, the voice of our heart, the call of God.
Vocation – Choosing God
I suppose it comes down to this: what do you want? Do you seek barrenness, or do you seek abundance? Returning again to John 10:10, Jesus, in, this, one of His ‘I Am’ discussions, reminds us that He came that we may have life, and have it abundantly. It is what we are called to when He calls us. We are called to an abundant life. That life includes an abundance of His love, a love that, as we are reminded in the Epistle, 1 Peter 2:19-25, led Jesus to ‘[bear] our sins in his body on the cross, so that, free from sins, we might live for righteousness […]’ (1 Peter 2:24). That life includes an abundance of His provision, such that we ‘shall not be in want’ (Psalm 23:1). That life includes an abundance of rest as He makes us lie down in green pastures, and an abundance of restoration as He revives our souls (verses 2 and 3 of the Psalm).
The thief, though, doesn’t want us to enjoy this abundance and, for that reason, the path to vocation, is fraught with challenges and stumbling blocks. Let us not be discouraged, though, for Peter in his epistle reminds us that ‘it is a credit to [us] if, being aware of God, [we] endure pain while suffering unjustly’ (verse 19), just as Christ suffered unjustly. Psalm 23 reminds us that we will walk through ‘the valley of the shadow of death’. The challenges we experience on the path to vocation, finding our true voice, are part of the enemy’s plan to steal and kill and destroy. However, as we are reminded in Genesis 50:20, even though the enemy intends us harm, ‘God [intends] it for good, in order to preserve a numerous people’. And so, for that, we are not to fear. For that, we must rejoice. As James writes in the first chapter of the letter named after him,
‘whenever you face trials of any kind, consider it nothing but joy, because you know that the testing of your faith produces endurance; and let endurance have its full effect, so that you may be mature and complete, lacking in nothing.’James 1:2-4
Vocation – The Intention of God
Beloveds, because of the distractions and the difficulties along the way, we must be intentional about our vocation. Because of the distractions and difficulties along the way, it is important that we persevere. I encourage you, though, for, in full knowledge of the distractions and difficulties along the way, God has poured into us the love and the power of the Holy Spirit so that we are enabled to answer the call of the Good Shepherd and, in so doing, to find our vocation. The Good Shepherd who calls us wants us to experience an abundant life. Jesus has said it. Would He have said it if it were not so?
Now, admittedly, even if we do not find our true voice, even if we don’t find our vocation, we do taste and see the goodness of the Lord. God is a god of such abundant love that we do access the foretaste of His love even when we are not pursuing our vocation. That foretaste is intended to draw us into a closer relationship with God. In a way, it should bring us to the point where we think to ourselves, ‘If this is what I enjoy in distant communion with God, what more awaits me if I seek close communion with Him?’
This Sunday, Good Shepherd Sunday, the Shepherd’s call should be ringing in our ears. This Sunday, the Shepherd calls us by our name and leads us out. How have you been called? How are you being called? In what way, in what ministry can you respond to that call? Have you grown in your relationship with the Shepherd to recognise His voice and to follow where He leads? Have you asked God to speak for you are listening, just as Samuel did? Have you opened yourself to receive the direction of the Master, the one who knew you before He formed you in the womb and who consecrated you before you were born? Have you submitted yourself to guidance along right pathways for His Name’s sake, or are you still in rebellion, resisting the call?
Vocation – Path to the Abundance of God
Dear ones, the Good Shepherd offers you abundance. Your vocation – your calling, the voice of your heart, your strong feeling of suitability – is the path to that abundance. God has placed so many gifts in us, gifts that will grow from strength to strength by the power of the Holy Spirit. How are we using our gifts for the building up of the body of Christ, individually and collectively? Let us not be found guilty of having buried our talents. Let us call upon the Lord, let us ask God to speak, let us listen, and, when we hear the Shepherd’s voice, let us follow. There is abundance that He offers. Will you cheat yourself of that abundance, or will you, by intentionally seeking your vocation regardless of your age, dwell in the house of the Lord for ever where you will enjoy His abundance? I know my choice; I pray the same for you.
Until next time, I pray you the love of the Father, the peace of the Son, and the joy of the Spirit. Amen.
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