This homily was preached on Sunday morning, May 4, 2014,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Dn. Joseph Gleason.
Gospel Reading: John 10:11-16
In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, our God is One. Amen.
There was a hired man set to watch over this flock of helpless sheep, and he set a very good example for these sheep. He didn’t have anything to do with wolves. He never lied to the sheep and told them that wolves were a good thing. In fact, he even showed video tapes to his sheep, and read books to his sheep about how dangerous the wolves are. Not a day went by that he didn’t show them a video about the “Big Bad Wolf” or read them a story about “Little Red Riding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf”. He taught the sheep over and over and over that wolves are bad. And then one day a wolf arrived and he — just like we read in this parable from Christ — he ran. He was scared of the wolf. He ran away, he didn’t care about the sheep, he didn’t protect the sheep. And all the sheep recognize, “This is a wolf!” But there was no shepherd there to protect them, and the wolf scattered the sheep and ate several of them for his meal.
Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd.” He’s the good shepherd, and these Pharisees are just the hirelings. They’re just the hired hands, just the servants. They don’t really care about the sheep. They may teach and teach and teach, but they will not lay down their lives to protect the sheep and to fend off the wolves. Jesus shows himself as the good shepherd, for he was willing to lay down his life for us, his sheep. So we can easily know that he is the good shepherd — he is the shepherd and the bishop of our souls.
Jesus is the one we are to follow as our shepherd. But we are called by his name, we are called Christians, for we are to be “little Christs”. We are to be Christ-like. And one of the most important ways that we are called to be Christ-like, one of the most important ways were are called to be Christians, is to imitate him in his role as a good shepherd. For you see, from the very beginning, God has given husbands to be good shepherds to protect their wives, fathers and mothers to be good shepherds to protect their children, and bishops and priests and deacons to be good shepherds to protect the Lord’s flock.
And how many times in history have we seen that these shepherds have been derelict in their duties, and the sheep have suffered because of it? It’s the entire story of Scripture. You start in the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve. Adam was supposed to protect his sheep, his wife. When the serpent shows up, before Eve even starts a conversation, he should have been over there battling that thing to protect Eve from the serpent. But he just stands by, more of a mouse than a man. Now he doesn’t encourage Eve, he doesn’t say, “Oh, Eve, you need to listen to the serpent. Hey Eve, you need to do what God commanded us not to do.” No. He had never spoken anything to her but truth. He had never suggested that she do anything other than obey God. But when the serpent came, he did nothing!
Husbands, when your wives have started talking to the serpent, have you ever just kept your mouth shut and stood by because you didn’t want to fight? And it’s a sad thing, because not only were you too scared to fight the serpent, not only were you too scared to fight off the wolf, no . . . you were too scared to fight with the sheep! You didn’t want to fight with her. And so for the sake of peace in your relationship, you turned her over to be consumed by the wolves, by the serpent. You were not a good shepherd.
Parents with children, there are so many sad and difficult examples, but let’s look at David. I like David because it says in Scripture without a shadow of a doubt; he was “a man after God’s own heart”. He was someone in whom God took great pleasure. He was a great king of Israel; he was a good man. He wrote the Psalms that — three thousand years later — we still sing today in Church. [David was an] ancestor of our Lord God and Savior Jesus Christ. [He was] a good man, a man after God’s own heart. And yet, as a father, my own heart breaks and I literally have been moved to tears – just bawling – when I come to that Scripture where he’s just pouring himself out, “Oh Absalom, my Son, my Son!” For you see, his son was dead. And not dead as a righteous man, but dead in rebellion against God and against his father, hating his own father to the point that he was trying to get his own dad killed.
That’s not all it says in Scripture. It says that when Absalom was young, he was handsome, he was strong, he was popular . . . but nobody ever said to him, “What are you doing?”
His dad wasn’t a dad to him. He didn’t get on his case. He didn’t hold his feet to the fire. He didn’t obey the Scripture that commands parents to lay heavy burdens of labor and work on their sons. He didn’t correct his son. He didn’t raise up his son in the fear and admonition of the Lord. And his son ended up not only rejecting God, but rejecting his own father David as well, and finally dying a rebellious death at enmity with God and his family.
His hope has been lost for his son Absalom, and all he is left with is tears, crying out for the son that he failed to shepherd as a good father. With our children, is it ever the case that we say, “Hey, I’ve always told them the right thing to do. I’ve always set a good example for them. I’ve always told them that you should be in church. I’ve always told them that you should not lie. I’ve always told them that you should be kind. I’ve always told them that you shouldn’t fill your minds with filth in music and TV and books and stuff. I’ve always told them the right things to do.” Well, that does just as much good as showing videos and reading books to your sheep, telling them how dangerous the wolves are. It’s not enough.
No, when the wolves show up you get your staff – or your Mossberg 500 or your Remington 870 – and you hightail it towards that wolf, you get in between that wolf and your sheep, and you kill the wolf.
Being a good shepherd does not just mean being a good example. Being a good shepherd does not just mean telling them the right things to do. Being a good shepherd means you stomp on the snake’s head and you kill the wolf. You defend your sheep!
It’s not just husbands and wives.
It’s not just parents and children.
It’s also pastors and churches.
There are many churches today – even inside the Orthodox Church – where the priests teach wonderfully, where the priests set a good example. But then when it comes down to where the rubber meets the road, in a confessional and in face-to-face contacts with their parishioners, when it comes to rooting out every last bit of sin mercilessly – mercy on the people, but merciless on the sin – they’re cowards. Because, “Well, what would my Bishop say if a third of the congregation just decided not to come back? What would the Bishop say if we don’t grow as fast as they think that we should? What would the board say? What would my salary say if there’s not as much money coming in as we think we need?” And so, for all of these other self-centered concerns, they’re not good shepherds. They do not defend and protect their sheep.
To this day, there are many people, whether they be priests and bishops and deacons, whether they be husbands with their wives, whether they be parents with their children, that have thought of themselves as really good shepherds. They say, “I set a good example, I don’t have any photos or posters up on my wall that say, ‘I love wolves’. None of that! I don’t lie to my wife. I don’t lie to my children. I don’t lie to my parishioners and tell them that wolves are good. No! For years and years I keep telling them, ‘This is what’s good, this is what’s good, this is what’s good…’, and I tell them the truth right from Scripture.”
If you’re not willing to lay down your life and get in between the wolf and the sheep and kill the wolf, then all of your teaching is in vain. It’s just a crap shoot. It’s just a roll of the dice. Because maybe your sheep will listen to you – maybe they’ll successfully fight off the wolf, or maybe not. With your wife, with your children, do you just want to play with a “maybe”?
Let’s say it’s a real wolf, and let’s say it’s [your children named] Hunter, David and Daphni. Let’s say for the past eight years you’ve daily told them, “Look, this is what a wolf looks like, this is what a wolf smells like, this is how you kill a wolf, this is why a wolf is bad…”
And then you look out [the window] and Hunter, David and Daphni are playing just across the street there, and you see a real wolf come up. Would you just go to the window and watch out and say, “Well, I told them wolves are bad, they should know what to do.” Or would you be high-tailing it out that door to get in between them and that wolf and say, “If you’re going to take a piece out of those kids, it’s going to be over my dead body.” That is a good shepherd!
Now it gets difficult, because you are physically defending your sheep. You’re getting in between your sheep and sin. And I’ve got a little secret for you that’s really not a secret at all – sheep like sin. You get in between the sheep and their sin, and you’re going to find out that the sheep can bite too. The next time your wife wants to flip on the TV to her favorite TV show and you know . . . it’s one that you’ve said a hundred times, “That’s not godly. That’s not bringing Christ into our home.” But she wants to watch it anyway. Are we men without chests? Are we cowards?
Or can we get in between our sheep and the wolves and say, “That channel goes off or I’m unplugging this thing. If you plug it back in and turn it back on, then I’m taking this outside and I’m taking a sledgehammer to this thing.”
Now, it was a slightly different situation because Amy was in agreement with me over it, but there are some of you that have been here long enough that you’ll remember on Palm Sunday a few years ago I took my (What was it?…30-, 40-, 50-inch, I forget) 30-some-odd-inch TV, about yea big, and another TV out into the parking lot here, and as part of our Palm Sunday festivities, I took a sledgehammer – I took a hammer to the TVs. Now I know that not everything that comes through there is always a wolf. But so many of them do come through there; I just finally decided to shut the gate – shut that gate entirely. That’s what we did in our home.
Your wife wants to go somewhere and do something and you say,
“Well wait a minute… this is what you’re supposed to be doing, and those people that you’re wanting to go hang out with at that thing, well, I know what they’re like. I know what kind of influence they are. No, honey, I know you’re going to be upset with me, but you’re not doing that.”
She’s like, “Well, I didn’t ask your permission, I’m doing it.”
“No, honey, you’re not doing that.”
“Well, who do you think…”
“I’m your shepherd. I’m protecting you from the wolves and you’re not going to whatever that thing is.”
“Well, that’s male chauvinism, that’s just wanting to grind…”
No, no, no, no, no. Male chauvinism is how the devil twists all this around. For you see, if a guy is just trying to serve himself, if he’s saying, “Oh, you can’t hang out with your friends, you can’t go to church because I want you to stay home and fan me with palm leaves and feed me Bon-Bon’s and bring me a beer to my easy chair while I watch football,” that’s male chauvinism. Then you are being a pig! But if you stand up as the man in your house and you lay down the law and you let your wife know this is how it’s going to be, and your motive is entirely her protection and the protection of your family, that’s not male chauvinism; that’s being a good shepherd. That is the very point at which you are supposed to be in charge and the leader of your home. Do not allow your wife to play with the wolves! Don’t allow her to have that conversation with the serpent. The moment that serpent comes in your house, you chop his head off and you stomp on it.
With your children we do the same thing. We say, “Well, I’ve told you that you ought to be reading your Bible instead of playing those video games. I’ve told you that instead of fighting and arguing and being like that, that you should be kind to each other. For years I’ve told you what you should be doing, that you should keep stuff clean and you should be orderly and you should be respectful. I’ve set a good example. I’ve told you all the right things.”
The shepherd’s rod is for fighting off the wolves. It’s also for giving a sound whack on the rump of a sheep that needs to be redirected in another direction. I don’t care what the wolves are – if it’s the TV shows, and maybe it’s not sexually explicit stuff, maybe it’s not murder and bloody, maybe it’s just one of those “innocent” TV shows where the people have nothing to do with God and the kids talk disrespectfully to each other and to their parents – turn it off! That has no place in the home of a Christian. If it’s video games that are bloody and include murder, if it’s movies that include that kind of stuff, turn it off. Get it out of your house.
Maybe it’s just distractions. Maybe it’s good things like gardening or shooting guns or playing board games or anything, that in and of itself, is harmless. And yet your kids are more addicted to having fun and seeking pleasure than they are in seeking the things of God. Well, maybe they need a fast from those things for a while, so that you can get things settled in your family that:
“We’re not here to have fun . . . We’re here to be godly. We’re here to be holy.”
“I’m not here to raise you up to be 35-year-olds in a man-cave drinking beer, watching football and playing video games. I’m here to raise you up to be godly men and godly women, and so you are in some training. And I’ve only got a few years left until you turn 18, 20, 25 . . . and with these few years that I have, I’m going to raise you up to be men, and I’m going to raise you up to be women.”
“And anything that distracts you from that is a wolf, and I’m going to cut it off. Anything that distracts you from becoming a godly man or a godly woman, I’m going to kill that serpent.”
Am I doing it because I just want to be controlling, and I want to grasp my kids and make sure that they have no room to breathe?
No, you seem to forget . . . it’s the serpents that wrap around you and constrict you to the point that you can no longer breathe. The serpent is trying to kill your children! If you want your children to be able to breathe, then get the boa constrictor off of them and then they will be able to breathe.
They’re so drowning in self-centeredness, and pleasure, and pleasure-seeking, that they don’t even have enough lung space to breathe in the peace that comes through a disciplined life – of prayer, and studying Scripture, and patiently honoring your father and your mother, and waiting upon them, and waiting upon the Lord. It’s their self-centeredness, it’s their pleasure that is killing them, that is making them unable to breathe. Kill the snake! Kill the wolf!
Have the courage as a dad and as a mom, to not let your kids decide for themselves.
I’m sorry, but that’s one of the stupidest things that I have ever heard come out of parents’ mouths. And it’s dangerous for me to say this, because in this day in this culture, I’ve heard it come out of the mouths of many parents: “Well, we just want them to decide for themselves.”
That’s not just misguided, that’s stupid.
And maybe that doesn’t apply to anybody in here. If so, that’s great. If it does, don’t get mad at me. Don’t get angry at me. Go back and rethink it, relook at it. When it came time for your children to learn to brush their teeth, did you say, “Well, I don’t want to impose on them. I mean, what if they’re just not the ‘toothbrush type’? I’ll let their teeth rot and get yucky and gunky, and then, by the time they’re 18 years old, I’ll let them decide for themselves whether they want to brush their teeth or not.” I’m sorry, they won’t have any teeth left to brush if you wait until they’re 18. When you’re 4, when you’re 6, when you’re 11, why do you brush your teeth every day? Because mom and dad said, “You’ll brush your teeth every day.” Now, when you turn 18, when you turn 20, when you move out of the house, it’s true, you can rebel against that and choose for yourself to stop brushing them. It would be foolish, but you can do that. But as long as you live under my roof, I’m going to protect you from the wolves of plaque and gingivitis. You will brush your teeth!
When it comes to eating, I’m not just talking about pickiness with food, I’m talking about some kids that just don’t want to eat, hardly at all. Let’s say your kid goes two days, three days, and they just won’t eat a thing. Would you say, “Well, I don’t want to impose. By the time they get to 18 or 20, you know, then they can decide for themselves whether they want to eat or not”? Amy’s sister, Lisa, was like that as a little baby. It’s not that she wouldn’t eat much; she literally would not eat at all. Do you have traumatic memories of this, Betty? Do you remember what the nurses did? Did they tell you, “Well, you don’t want to harm her psyche by forcing her to do something that she’s just not ready for, so wait another five or ten years and then see if you can get her to eat”? Lisa never would have lived into adulthood if she had done that. These nurses told her, “It’s so critical that your daughter eat healthy food, it has got to be forced. And I don’t care what a battle it is, you get the food down her!” And if I remember right, didn’t they take you into a room, and you had to do it too? And was it torture as a mom to have this little girl screaming and crying and looking at you like, “What are you doing to me!” and having to force her mouth open and get food in her mouth and, whether she liked it or not, to get some nutrition down her? Are you glad that you saved her life? Was it worth it to save her life? Yes! If you had not forced her to do what she didn’t want to do, she would have died of starvation.
We need to stop thinking of ourselves as good shepherds because we’ve set a good example. We need to stop thinking of ourselves as good shepherds because we have told, 1000 times, our sheep, “Here’s what you’re supposed to do.” It’s time, if we are going to be good shepherds, for us to get up off of our shepherd butts, get in between our sheep and the things that are killing them, and – with force – kill the wolves!
Hey kids, this is one rare chance that you get to speak during church. In our home, sometimes you get sick, sometimes you get grumpy, sometimes you don’t feel like it and, because of that, how many days does Daddy allow there to be where we just don’t pray that day as a family? . . . [kids all respond] . . .
What? Zero?! But what if somebody is sick? What if somebody doesn’t feel like it? What if somebody is grumpy? What if somebody comes to visit? What if somebody complains?
. . . [kids all respond] . . .
None? Zero? No! I don’t let the wolves into my house. What are the wolves? The wolves are anything that would stop us from praying to God as a family. I don’t let it happen! In our house, how many days go by that we don’t sing praises to God as a family?
. . . [kids all respond] . . .
None? Okay. Well, how about this – I’ve got a better one here – we’ve got to get to some exceptions here somewhere. In our home, how many weekends out of the year do we miss church entirely? . . . [kids all respond] . . .
None. But I’m not talking about here in Omaha. I mean, we live here, I’m the pastor . . . obviously I have to come to church. But let’s say that we go on vacation to Colorado, or even better yet, Rapid City, South Dakota. We traveled over 1000 miles, we paid all this money for a big ol’ cabin near the woods, we went and saw sights and everything. And on the way there, while we were there, and on the way back, there were some Saturdays and some Sundays and some church services there, weren’t there? How many Sundays did you miss out on church? . . . [kids all respond] . . .
None! Well, how? We couldn’t come here to church.
. . . [kids all respond] . . .
What? Oh, there are churches there? We don’t even go on a vacation without finding out if there is a church there. If there’s not, then we don’t go on vacation there. When we go on vacation there, we go to church there. I don’t let the wolves into my house.
How many times have I told you kids to be kind to one another and not to fight?
. . . [kids all respond] . . .
Lots? Okay. So, how many times at our house do you fight and Daddy hears it, and Daddy just doesn’t do anything about it? . . . [kids all respond] . . .
None. I don’t let the wolves into my house.
You don’t say, “Well, kids will just be kids. They’re going to argue and complain.” No! “Well, kids will just be kids. They’re going to disrespect their mother sometimes.” No! “Well, kids are just going to be kids. You know that sometimes they’re just going to get into TV and they’re going to get into the stuff that they’re doing that’s having fun, and they’re not going to have such an interest in Scripture and prayer and being with the family and being at church.” No! A good shepherd does not let any wolves into his house.
If you already know this and already are living this way, you know the wisdom of what the Scriptures teach on this. If you have not lived this way before, and if you have not thought of it this way before, don’t beat yourself up about the past, but let today be a new beginning that you say,
“I’m not content just to set a good example. I’m not just going to show videos and read books to the sheep to tell them how bad the wolves are. I’m not just going to nag and tell them over and over and over again what’s right and what’s wrong. I’m going to be a good shepherd.”
“As a husband, I’m going to protect my wife from the wolves even if it causes tension between us for a while, because my wife’s salvation is more important than my consolation and comfort in my home.”
“As a mother and as a father, we are no longer going to sit idly by while our kids do all of these things that they want to do, as we fruitlessly try to convince them to do what’s right. We’re going to realize that God has put these little sheep in our home to be protected. And even if the sheep want to eat poison, we’re not going to give it to them. Even if they want to go play with the wolves, we’re not going to let them. Even if they want to go have a conversation with the serpents, we’re going to stomp on the serpents. – Even if it makes my kids angry with me. – Of course I want my kids to like me. Of course I want my kids to swarm around me and hug me. But I will make them furious with me if that’s what it takes for me to kill the serpent, for me to kill the wolf, for me to defend my sheep from anything that’s trying to destroy their souls. And then, maybe, when they get a little older, then they will recognize that Dad and Mom were trying to protect them. In the meantime, whether they like it or not, I’m going to protect them.”
Listen to this Gospel again. I’m going to read it again:
“At that time, Jesus said unto the Pharisees, ‘I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd gives his life for the sheep. But he that is a hireling and whose own the sheep are not sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and flees. And the wolf catches them and scatters the sheep. The hireling flees because he is a hireling and cares not for the sheep. I am the good shepherd and know my sheep and am known of mine. As the Father knows me, even so know I the Father, and I lay down my life for the sheep. And other sheep I have which are not of this fold, them also I must bring. And they shall hear my voice and there shall be one fold and one shepherd.”
You can either be a good shepherd or you can be a hireling. And how do you know the difference? The good shepherd protects his sheep even if it means laying down his own life. In other words, his own personal comfort is the last thing on his mind. “Well my wife’s not going to be as happy with me if I’m this strong about it. My kids are not going to be as happy with me if I’m this strong about it. My parishioners are not going to be as happy with me if I’m this strong about it.” Your own personal comfort doesn’t matter. You lay down your life for the sheep, even if it causes you discomfort. That’s a good shepherd.
But the hireling, the hired hand, the one who is not a good shepherd – what does he do? He sees the wolf coming, he leaves the sheep, and he flees. And what he usually says is, “Well, I just don’t want to cause trouble. I don’t want to nitpick. I don’t want to impose my morality on them.”
I’m sorry . . . if you have some innocent sheep and you love them and you value them, I don’t care if they have a little sign and a tattoo that says, “I love wolves”, you get in between them and the wolves, and you kill the wolves. If that makes them mad at you, too bad. You have a responsibility and a job to protect the sheep that are put into your care. If you’re a man, then your wife is your sheep. If you’re parents, then your children are your sheep. If you are a bishop or a priest or a deacon, then the people of God are your sheep. Lay down your personal comfort. Lay down your life. Lay down your excuses. You pick up your sword, you pick up your gun, and you go after those wolves.
In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Our God is One. Amen.
This homily was preached on Sunday morning, May 4, 2014,
at Christ the King Orthodox Church in Omaha, Illinois, by Dn. Joseph Gleason.